December 6, 2021

Can Community College Students Become Doctors?

Badyah Senussi and Vanshika Goyal

Applying to medical school is a long and tedious process, and every decision you make contributes to your ultimate fate. But where do you start? You may be a high school student, college student, or even an adult thinking about going back to school to change career paths. 

Community college is a practical and affordable way to receive your education, but what about the stigma that surrounds it? Is it really true or just a myth? The following FAQs will break down every major concern you may have about community college to help ease your journey to medical school. 

Would attending community college affect my application to medical school? 

“What are my chances of getting into medical school if I went to a community college? Would it hurt my application if I enrolled in classes at a community college?”

These are some questions that may have popped in your mind when trying to decipher what to do. The answer to these questions are mixed and should be taken on a case by case basis. According to several sources, it really depends on which medical school you want to apply to and what classes they prefer you take at a four-year institution. Medical schools want to see if you can handle taking challenging courses and provide a good outcome in the end. They want to see if you’re ready for the rigorous journey that is medical school.

Overall, make sure your GPA is the highest possible, do well on the MCAT, and do research into the medical schools you are interested in. 

What major in community college would benefit me the most for medical school? 

Pick whichever major interests you the most. As a community college student, you likely won’t take too many major specific classes. It’s okay to take the first year or two to figure out where your interests lie and take more general classes. However, if you do know exactly what you want to study, then it’s alright to take some major classes if your community college offers them.

Focus on achieving high scores in the classes you take at community college, no matter what they are. The more engaged you are in your classes, the better you will perform, and the higher your GPA will be for medical school. Medical schools do not care what your major is as long as you have fulfilled all the prerequisite courses. Once you’re out of community college, you can even be a history or music major and still get accepted into medical school. 

Would it be more beneficial to transfer to a state university or a private one?

Choosing a university should be based on what is the most beneficial for you, and not what you think medical schools will like. It is far more important to perform well academically than to have the name brand of a college stamped onto your application. Pick the college that offers the courses, resources, and opportunities you would like to pursue.

Going to a state school and achieving top grades is a thousand times more valuable than going to an esteemed private school and blending in as an average student. For example, many pre-meds seem to think that an admission to a University of California is essential to highlighting their application after attending a local community college. However, this is simply untrue. Many people end up regretting their choices for various reasons including academic challenges and difficulty building relationships with professors.

What is the appropriate amount of time for a pre-med to spend at a community college? 

Two years is often quoted as the ideal amount of time to spend in community college before transferring into a university.

But, what you have to keep in mind is all the STEM classes you need to take, the time to study, any extracurricular activities, work, and leisure time won’t fit comfortably in two years. It is recommended to attend community college for at least three years.

If you already have a bachelor’s and want to apply to medical school but need to complete the prerequisites, two years is good. In the end, it is important to maintain the highest GPA possible. 

What if I completed the prerequisites for medical school at a community college? 

That is perfectly okay! Focus on doing well and learning the material in your pre-medical courses; your grades are far more important than the college where you earned them!

Make your two years at community college worthwhile and take whichever courses you need to, whether they’re prerequisites, GEs, or major specific. Don’t try to postpone all your prerequisites for when you transfer, as you will be burdened with all science heavy courses at once. This will likely result in poor exam scores and sacrificing your GPA. Instead, pace yourself and balance your easy and hard classes throughout your four years of undergraduate studies.

What are some extracurricular activities I can do while in community college?  

Being in community college provides flexibility, and you decide on the amount of classes you want to take and choose the appropriate time. This allows you more time to study and participate in extracurricular activities, such as being a teacher’s assistant (TA). This shows that you are familiar with the material being taught and can help students and assist the professor.

Other activities you could participate in are volunteering at a hospital and being a Red Cross volunteer. You can become a Blood Donor Ambassador, where you help sign in blood donors and make sure snacks and drinks are available. There are many blood drives on campus.

Some community colleges have an EMT course. This is a great opportunity to gain medical field experience. Not only that, but community colleges also provide certification to become a Nursing Assistant and a Home Health Aide. These opportunities are a step toward achieving the experience of working in the medical field. 

Even though community college provides multiple extracurricular activities, there may be some that will not be available. Having research experience as a pre-med student is important. Unfortunately, professors in community college are not conducting research, thus do not require the help of students. But, the professor could potentially connect you with a fellow professor in a nearby university who does need assistance in their research. 

What are the benefits for attending community college? 

You may be going back and forth on considering whether or not attending community college is a good decision. There are many benefits to attending, one of which is financial flexibility. The average cost of community college and getting an associate degree in the US is $3,570 per year. A four year university would cost $25,362 per year. You get to complete all general education and lower-division classes before transferring to university. By then, you would have an associate degree, a great boost to your resume, and accumulate less debt. With financial flexibility, you can change your major without financial strain compared to a university.

Community colleges are local so you won’t have to commute as far, which provides you more time to concentrate on school work and more time for extracurricular activities. Not only that, classroom sizes are usually smaller in community college compared to university. This allows you to interact more with the professor and fellow classmates and not feel overwhelmed when walking into a lecture hall.

Also, depending on the community college, there is a contract between the college and a university that if a student wanting to transfer completes all the requirements they are guaranteed an acceptance. An example is a program called Transfer Admission Guarantee (TAG), so instead of applying and feeling the anxiety of getting accepted or not, you are given a promise.  

How do I make pre-medical connections and meet other pre-med students at community college?

It’s more than likely your community college will have other students who are also pre-med. You can connect with them in your classes or by joining various pre-health organizations on campus. There are also many ways to meet students who are going into the healthcare field outside of college. Find relevant organizations either online or in your community that you volunteer with and meet new people.

Would a letter of recommendation from a community college professor be as valuable as a letter from a four-year university professor?  

Ideally, you would want to get the most recent recommendation letters you can. Since the university you transfer to is closer to your application date, you should attempt to get all your letters from professors there. To ensure this, start building connections with your professors from the beginning instead of waiting until the last few months.

Remember, you need at least two letters from science professors and one letter from a non-science professor. However, if you do end up having to ask a professor from your community college for a letter, know that it’s not the end of the world!

About the Authors:

Badyah Senussi is a graduate of California State University, Sacramento, with a B.S. in Biomedical Science. During her time at university, she was a Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) Facilitator, where she ran a classroom of students, helped them complete worksheets (specifically in physiology), and held office hours. Her ambition is to become a physician with a focus on mental health. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, baking, and writing jokes in hopes of doing stand-up comedy someday.

Vanshika Goyal is a graduate from the University of California, Davis with a B.S. in Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior. Her aspiration is to become a physician with a focus on patient-centered care and individualized treatment. She is currently an IGNITE fellow with Teach for America and a very active member of her community. In her free time, she enjoys writing poetry and painting.

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