Community colleges can be stepping stones for students interested in a variety of fields, including aspiring medical students. However, as a premedical student, your primary concern should be to learn and understand the information and principles reinforced in the premedical requirements, while strategically positioning yourself to stand out to medical school admissions committees.
Many students have asked if and how transferring from a community college to a four-year institution will impact how the admissions committee will view them. There is no single answer to this question, but we will address it from a few angles, so you can think about how it relates to your situation, and hopefully help make the right decision for you.
Contrary to popular belief, not everyone who becomes a doctor knew since kindergarten that they were destined for medical school. In fact, some of the most passionate and interesting applicants are late bloomers who did not succeed in high school. And for many of them, community college was their best (or only) choice.
Admissions committees are interested in determining if candidates are academically and emotionally prepared to succeed in the rigorous preclinical curriculum and if they have the maturity and interpersonal skills required of a caring, empathic physician. If an applicant begins his or her undergraduate education at a community college, excels academically, transfers to a four-year institution, and continues an upward trend by maintaining an excellent GPA, scoring well on the MCAT, and demonstrating a proclivity toward patient care and research, their educational path can be seen as an asset.
However, if applicants are matriculated at four-year institutions but decide to take many of their premedical requirements at community colleges, because they feel that it will be easier, this may be viewed unfavorably and lead the committee to question the applicants' motivations and level of preparedness.
The prerequisite courses are the foundation that students build upon during the preclinical years of medical school. Consequently, these courses are often given more consideration during the admissions process. If the applicant does not appear to have a strong foundation, the committee is less likely to admit the applicant, especially given the competitiveness of the medical school admissions process.
One caveat: If you have successfully completed the majority of your requirements at a four-year institution, especially the general biology, chemistry, and organic chemistry requirements, you will not hurt your admissions prospects by taking a summer course or two at a community college. The take-home point here is that taking your most difficult and important courses (from a premedical perspective) at a community college, with the hopes of securing a better grade, is not recommended.
The way admissions committees view community college credits truly depends on the circumstances. If an applicant decides to take many premedical requirements at a community college because the courses might be easier, that applicant risks being viewed as less competitive. Conversely, an aspiring medical student can use the experience as a bridge to a four-year university. With continued academic success, a strong performance on the MCAT, as well as clinical and leadership experience, one can realize the dream of being accepted to medical school.
Mark D'Agostino, M.D., M.S., M.Sc. is a Brigade Surgeon in the United States Army. As a Marshall Scholar, he earned a master's degree in Biochemistry at the University of Nottingham Medical School, and a second master's in Health Policy, Planning and Financing from the London School of Economics (LSE) and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). After graduating from Brown Medical School, he trained at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.