Written by Christopher Wong (PEACE Advisor)
Coming to Cal, I knew that I wanted to pursue to pre-med path, but had no idea how the college system in America worked. I joined all of the listservs for various science departments in my first semester (MCB, IB, etc.) and talked with other people on my floor in the dorms. Apparently, MCB is the hot major for those pursuing a pre-health degree. I wish I knew there were other alternatives that may be less difficult, like Public Health, Psychology, and Integrative Biology, but I probably would’ve taken MCB anyway out of interest in the topic.
With the majors explained, we can explore the relative difficulties of the classes. The undergrad courses in sciences tend to be very difficult, because of the large amount of people in the class. Some semesters have upward of 700 people in classes like Chem 1A, Chem 3A, and Bio 1A. The high population means that it becomes harder to reach the 10% mark, because then you are competing with more people. Generally, 10% of the class receives an A/A+, as the classes are curved. I’ve noticed that even when professors say the classes aren’t curved, there always tends to be some upward motility in the grades when they are calculated, but that could just be me.
Now, comparing the classes to other classes from different universities. From what I’ve heard, private Ivy League schools have grade inflation, in that a higher percentage of the class earns A’s. There are numerous articles on how Harvard has massive grade inflation and that the mean grade there is an A-. That may not be true for all private schools, but Cal, being a public institution, seems to cater to competition more. With community colleges or other state universities, the general trend seems to be that their classes are easier than the courses at Cal. The Math 1A equivalent at a community college, like Berkeley City College, delves less deeply than the material covered here. Not only that, the questions and homework are sparser and less complex. This also applies to science courses. Overall, Cal has a more difficult or equal curriculum than most other schools.
What does this mean for being pre-med? GPA is a very important factor, along with MCAT score, when deciding the application of a med school applicant. Of course, extracurriculars and personal statements are also important, but those two tend to be the first thing that an admissions committee member sees. With that said, if you enjoy the challenge and competitive atmosphere, then Cal would be a perfect match. If not, then rest assured in knowing that there are many resources aimed towards helping students succeed academically. In my opinion, Cal is a great place for any aspiring intellectual, and it should not be daunting to pursue any career path here. Would I recommend Cal for pre-med? Absolutely. Are there better or other alternatives? Of course, and if you happen to have a preference for another school based on prestige, location, or community, then by all means attend there, and congratulations to you! From personal experience, I have learned many things here, and am surrounded by people with similar ambitions. It’s a nurturing environment for the mind, as I am sure other places are as well. So, my final verdict, is being pre-med here harder than being elsewhere? Yes it is, it is more difficult. But you will come out feeling more confident, more powerful, and more enlightened as well.