Thursday, July 20, 2017

FAQs from "Pre-Med Monday" Chat with Dean Cohen

If you missed Pre-Medical Monday Google Hangout with Dean Melinda Cohen, Dean for Health Professions Advising, or want to see what was discussed, check out the questions that were asked and the answers from Dean Cohen. Also be sure to check out the Health Advising FAQs for more information as well.

How can I get involved in research? Is there someone I can contact now to get started?
There are many wonderful and rich opportunities on campus to engage in research. I encourage you to begin exploring the various departments on campus by reading about our faculty and their research. When you are on campus next month, you can then contact the departments to set up meetings with faculty to begin exploring further.

How available is research to first-years? Could a first-year start doing research with a professor without having taken any classes with that professor?

There are many possibilities for first years. Our faculty research and their support our students is such a wonderful feature of Barnard. When you are on campus, you can contact departments to find out more about research opportunities for first years. Don't feel that you must begin research right away. In fact, research is not "required" for entry into health professional schools. I encourage you to take the first few months at Barnard to get acclimated, get settled with your classes, begin speaking with faculty and then exploring. Again, there is no rush!
We also have a wonderful Summer Research Institute that you can apply for in your first year for your summer after your first year. This is accompanied by funding for the summer. More information about SRI will be available in the Fall and a session will be held.

How accessible is research at Columbia for Barnard students?
There are many wonderful opportunities to engage in research at Barnard, at Columbia and up at Columbia Medical Center.

Course Selection
In terms of Pre-Med and the other requirements, is it common for people to graduate in four years?
Yes, it is very common and quite doable to complete all of the pre-medical / pre-health requirements and graduate in four years. Check out some sample course sequencing plans on our website:

I need to fulfill my math requirement and I am not sure if I can take Intro to Calc if I got a 4 on my exam. Do I need to take a placement test? I would love to get my math requirement out of the way!
Here’s a First Year Blog Post about choosing the right math class and placement advice from the Mathematics Department:  
You can also reference our 'coursework' page for information about fulfilling the math requirement for health professional schools:

If I took AP calculus in high school and got a 5 on the AP, should I take calc 2 or 3 next year?  Or should I even continue with calc? Should I take stats or a math like computer science instead?
In regards to math, you can choose to take Calc 2 or 3 (many students prefer Calc 3) next year, but it is not necessary if you have AP credit. Note: Math is the only subject where I encourage using AP credit to satisfy pre-med/pre-health requirements. I do encourage you to take Statistics as this is useful for medical/health professional school as well as the MCAT.

Can we use AP credits to pass out of the pre-med math requirement? How do we use this AP credit?
An AP credit for Calculus is sufficient. There technically is no "pre-med" path or major so you don’t need to worry about satisfying requirements for Barnard's sake. It’s all for prep for applying to medical schools/health professional schools and meeting admissions requirements. Check out our course requirements page for information about satisfying the math requirement for medical school:

There are also many stats course options such as a calculus based stats or psychology stats.  Which do you suggest for pre-med students?
Many of our students take Psych Stats and it is a great course (especially great if you are a psychology or neuroscience major). You do NOT need calculus-based statistics for medical / health professional schools. Check out our coursework chart for some options (note: you will need to be logged into your gBear account to access it):

I am beginning with a physics sequence in the fall. Is that uncommon?
This is possible, although not the "typical" start. Unless you are exploring a physics major, I encourage students to begin with Chemistry or Biology in their first year. Barnard physics courses require Calculus I (or AP equivalent) and Calculus II or III or permission of the instructor. If you wish to take Physics at Barnard, which I encourage, then you will either need to take Calculus II or III or get permission from the instructor (meaning not to take Calc II or III and just have Calc I). You should be aware that Physics at Columbia ONLY requires Calculus I or AP equivalent. This information is also available on our 'Academic Preparation' page on our website:

Can I begin the chemistry sequence in the spring and take it for both sophomore semesters?
The chemistry sequence is quite rigid and thus you can only begin it in the Fall at Barnard with General Chemistry I (which is only offered in the Fall).

Is there space for first years in Biology 1500 and General Chemistry I?
YES; a lot of space remains.  both classes are saving spots for entering students and everyone will be waitlisted at first -- professors will admit students one by one from the waitlist in early September.  See this first-year blog post:

For Biology 1500, it says BIOL-1001 or equivalent preparation is required. Would taking AP Biology in high school count as equivalent preparation? Without AP Bio, is BIOL-1001 a semester or a year long?
Receiving a 4 or 5 on AP Biology would count as equivalent preparation for Biology 1500. Students who wish to strengthen their biology background before beginning the Biology sequence can take BIOL-1001 in the fall and wish to move into the higher level sequence can then take BIOL-1502/1503 in the spring, and then BIOL-1500/1501 the following fall. Biology 1500/1501 and Biology 1502-1503 are NOT prerequisites for each other and do not have to be taken in sequential order. Check out the bio department website which has advice and a chart for introductory course selection:   

Can take the 1500 Bio course both in the spring and fall? On the website I saw that in the fall the course focuses on organismal biology and in the spring it focuses on molecular biology? Should I choose between one or the other?
The courses are not offered at the same time, only in separate semesters. You will need to take both courses to satisfy the prerequisites for health professional schools.

Should I begin the chemistry or biology sequence my first year?
This is a very good and challenging question as it really depends on the individual. Professor Jacob Alexander gives some wonderful advice about how to make this decision. Chemistry at Barnard is a 4-semester sequence, so particularly if you are planning to study abroad in your junior year, you should consider beginning with Chemistry. Check out Dr. J.'s post on the FY Blog:

When debating whether we should take bio or chemistry during the first year, do we consider which one would help us to achieve a higher GPA for the first year?
I personally wouldn't approach it in that manner. I would consider a few things: A) Am I interested in a chemistry or biology major? B) Which subject do I feel stronger in? C) Do I want to study abroad at some point? There is no one 'right' choice.

I do not plan on majoring in the sciences, but I do hope to study abroad. You mentioned that it might be a good idea to begin with the chemistry sequence if one plans to study abroad, but I am stronger in Biology. Should I start with the biology or chemistry sequence?
If you feel stronger in Biology, you can begin with Biology and we can work out a course sequence that allows you to study abroad. It may just require some summer courses to "catch up" but it's not insurmountable

Study Abroad and Summer Courses
How difficult is it to study abroad while fulfilling pre-medical requirements?
It is absolutely doable (and something I strongly encourage) to study abroad. It is a bit more challenging in regards to organizing/sequencing your pre-medical requirements, but with advanced planning it’s absolutely possible. As someone who is considering study abroad, you may wish to consider starting with the Chemistry sequence as this is the most rigid of the science sequences, so by starting in your first year, it creates more flexibility in your junior and senior year.
In my opinion, this has been something that medical schools appreciate and value as it provides a level of cultural competency to the applicant. It is NOT required to be a successful applicant, but certainly if you are interested in going abroad, I more than encourage you.

How do medical schools perceive a semester abroad? Can I do any of my science requirements abroad?
You can take sciences abroad but be cautioned of the following: medical/health professional schools will only accept science courses taught at an American University. Therefore, if you study abroad at an American-sponsored institution, then this is all good. But if you choose to study at an international program, which many of our students do, then you will want to steer clear of taking any sciences that you wish to serve as prerequisites (note: you can certainly take sciences, but they just won't fulfill the requirements for medical school and the like).

What is the policy on summer classes to help knock out our pre-med requirements?
In regards to summer courses, I encourage you to have a conversation with me about this as I don't typically encourage summer courses for a variety of reasons. We discuss this in our pre-health overview sessions and there is some information our website here:

Clubs, Internships, and Other Opportunities
Will we have a chance to meet with you, Dean Cohen,  before or during NSOP?
Absolutely! I will be holding two identical sessions during NSOP and will also have walk-in hours during that time. I then ask and encourage all of you to attend our Pre-Health Overview sessions that will begin when classes begin. These sessions are meant to provide a foundation of information to help orient you to all the resources available to support pre-health students at Barnard. You can read more about these overview sessions here:

Can we begin shadowing doctors/getting some clinical experience as early as our first year? Is this a usual route that pre-meds take their first year?
ABSOLUTELY! This is something I strongly encourage all of you to begin exploring! What better way to explore the field, gain experience and find out if this is the right path for you. Check out our 'Gaining Experience' page for more information:

What kind of hospital volunteer/internship opportunities are available to us?
There are SO many opportunities for clinical experience. We are SO fortunate to be in NYC with so many wonderful hospitals and clinical sites around us. We will continually post clinical opportunities on our pre-health blog (check it out here: Your fellow students and upperclasswomen are also incredible resources. In fact, the pre-medical student club on campus has a mentoring program that you will all be able to sign up for in the Fall and these student mentors have lots of great tips and insight into opportunities.

Are there opportunities or advising available for pre-veterinary students?
We have a wonderful pre-vet club on campus that is so supportive and helpful for students. The Columbia University Pre-Veterinary Society brings together students interested in veterinary medicine and organizes events and speakers regarding animal welfare for Barnard and Columbia communities. Facebook page  

Applying to Medical School
Do most Barnard grads who were pre-med go to med school right after or do most take one (or more) gap year(s)?
The majority of our students, 75% in fact!, take at least one year off after graduating before entering into medical school. However, there is no set timeline for all; it’s all about finding the right timeline for you!

What aspects of my application should I focus on (aside from grades), to ensure that I appear a well-rounded student but also someone who can excel at medical school throughout my three years?
This is a great question. As you have already hinted, there is more to an application than just good grades. Medical schools are looking for well-rounded individuals. I encourage you to check out our 'Gaining Experience' page ( to understand what these dimensions may be. And this is something we will talk about in depth at our Pre-Health Overview sessions, which everyone should attend as their "first" pre-health advising session with me.

What is the Flex Med program?
Flex Med is a program offered through the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (on the Upper East Side of Manhattan) that supports students who are interested in the arts and humanities and wish to have more flexibility in their coursework. You apply in your sophomore year to be accepted to Mt Sinai SOM and matriculate following graduation. It is not a binding program, but a very competitive admissions process.  Here is the program's website:

Do med schools like seeing varsity athletes? Is it possible to balance sports at Columbia with the pre-medical requirements?
Yes, schools love varsity athletes. They love well-rounded individuals who can demonstrate commitment, hard work, and teamwork!