How to get into Medical School starting from Community College with little money…..

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So you want to become a doctor starting from a community college? Are you a non-traditional pre-med student?  Are you a high school senior who wants to be pre-med but doesn’t want to start from a big university because you can’t afford the expensive tuition or because you weren’t really focused in high school and didn’t do well enough on your SAT to get into the university of your dreams and want to start fresh from community college?


Congratulations! You are on a way to an amazing journey full of resources, supportive people and opportunities to reach your dream of becoming a doctor.


So many people think they need to start from an Ivy League University or other reputable 4-year university to acquire a competitive edge for being pre med. So many parents worry about saving up tens or hundreds of thousand dollars of money for their kids to go to a 4-year university thinking that that is the best way to get them into medical school. Instead of spending time on enjoyable hobbies during high school, many people spends thousands of dollars and an extended amount of time preparing for the SAT of the ACT to get the highest score that will get them into a 4-year university as a freshman. Many people tend to think that pre med students from community colleges are not taken seriously in medical school admissions.


I’m here to tell you that this is all a myth.


According to the AAMC Medical School Admission Requirements database, most medical schools accept at least some credits from community colleges. Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine recently voted to accept community college credit for the first time.

“We feel that people who use the community college system often have traveled a greater distance—more often they come from disadvantaged backgrounds that require them to use [that] system,” said Mark Henderson, M.D., associate dean for admissions at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis), School of Medicine. “We don’t count it against them in any regard.”


I am the living example.   I’ve been through this process of starting from community college as a nontraditional college student with almost no money, worked my up to transferring to my dream university and got into my dream medical school in California.  Now I am a practicing physician living the dream being able to heal many sick people.  And there are many other living examples out there.


What are the advantages of being a pre-med student starting from a community college vs. from a 4-year university


  1. Community Colleges are accessible to a wide range of students from various backgrounds


Unlike most 4-year universities, community colleges are very accessible to anyone. No complex admissions essay nor SAT score required. It just takes a few minutes to fill out an application with demographic information. Once you submit it, you are in. No age limit. People who have left academics for work for several years or even decades can easily come back and enroll. Even high school students can enroll in classes at a community college if they want to.


  1. Less expensive tuition.

Community Colleges are so much more affordable for in-state residents. The current California community college tuition is $46 per unit. If one were to take a full load of classes at a community college in the academic year of 2015-2016, the tuition would be $690-920 per semester, $1380-$1840 per year. This is a marked difference from $13432 per year tuition at University of California at Berkeley. You can save approximately $22000 by going to a community college for 2years and then transferring to a big university as a junior as opposed to going to a big university as a freshman.


  1. Smaller classes = more personal attention = less competition for resources

The quality of education at a community college can be as equivalent to or even better than that at a 4-year university for the lower division courses because the classes are smaller in community colleges than those at 4-year universities.  Less students per class meant less competition over lab equipment, better quality experiments for the physics and organic chemistry classes.


At UC Berkeley, there are 1500 students taking the General Chemistry class in the same semester. The professors at 4-year universities have to spend much time on research and publishing papers; they treat spending their time teaching undergraduate students on the introductory science classes as a minor part-time task.  The teaching is mostly delegated to the graduate student instructors.  It is hard to talk to the professor because you have to compete with so many other students to get her/his attention. Office hours with the professor is only 1hour per week and there were usually more than 20 students lined up in front of his office during that 1hour. It meant that if you were able to talk to the professor for even 5mintutes you were lucky. It makes it more difficult to build a close enough relationship to ask for recommendation letters when it comes to applying for medical school since at a big university, the professors are so overwhelmed with dealing with so many students.

In community college, there are only 10-20 students in the pre med science classes.  When I enrolled at Berkeley City College, I found out that many of the professors were PhDs from major universities such as Yale, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, Stanford, who wanted to solely focus on teaching undergraduate students and not have to spend time on research. They were truly dedicated to communicating the difficult concepts in an easy fun way to learn. The lectures and labs were taught by the professors themselves rather than relying on teaching assistances. They made efforts to get to know each student. They held long office hours. They were very approachable. They enjoyed hanging out with students going an extra mile answering questions. It was so much easier to build a trusting relationship with the community college professors. If you were a motivated student, it was easier to get passionate support from the community college faculty for letters of recommendations for scholarships, internships and medical school applications.


  1. Numerous Grants and Scholarship opportunities targeting community college students

Community college tuition is not only cheap but also in community colleges there are numerous scholarship opportunities to get a free education.  The government and corporations want to support community college education and aim to give disadvantaged students more chances to succeed in life. The federal government offers Pell grants and the state government also has their own grants, which you can get if you submit a FAFSA application online. If you are motivated to win a handful of scholarships, you can apply for a bunch of them and get free money that can easily cover your entire tuition and living expenses.


  1. Community Colleges represent the diversity of the society

According to an article published by AAMC reporter in May 2014, “The Distance Traveled: Community College Provides Path to Medical School,” nowadays medical schools are acknowledging the value of those students coming from community college to better serve the society. 

The Associate Dean of Student Admissions at UC Davis Medical School said medical students at UC Davis who come from the California university system have a connection to the local community and may return to practice there. “One of our goals [at Davis] has been to make the medical school class reflect, to a greater extent, the demography of California,” Henderson said. “What we’ve found is when we look at people who go to community college, there is often a broader representation of the society and citizenry of California.”


Overall, there are many reasons to hold your head up high and enjoy being a pre-med student at community colleges.


When you want something, the whole universe conspires to make it happen for you. – Paulo Coelo “The Alchemist”



Did you enjoy reading this article?  Please sign up below to receive my free newsletter on how to get into medical school.


Jinhee Park MD

Integrative Medicine Physician, Physician Entrepreneur, Creator of Community College Pre-Med Guide, LLC.

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