Summer School Considerations

Many pre-health students consider taking one of their science course sequences (usually Physics or Organic Chemistry) in the summer.  Here are some of the things to keep in mind as you weigh the decision.

Policies of Health Professions Schools: Though most health professions schools accept science courses taken during summer school, the majority strongly prefer that most of your sciences be taken at your home institution during the academic year. The general consensus is that, if taken, summer science courses should be kept to a minimum (e.g. not more than one two-semester core science course during your undergraduate career).  Health Professional school admissions committees generally expect a summer school science course to be taken at a four year institution, preferably at a college or university of the same selectivity as Brandeis (to determine selectivity, check a college ranking publication, such as Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges).  In fact, some institutions will not accept courses taken at community colleges.

Since admissions requirements vary greatly, we strongly encourage you to research the requirements of individual health professional schools in which you’re interested and review their policies with regard to summer school.  If you have questions/concerns about a particular school, you should contact that institution directly.

The Pros to Taking Summer School Science Courses:

1) Taking a science course in summer school provides more flexibility in your academic pursuits.  Planning your timeline to graduation and to application to health professions schools takes a lot of careful balancing, and if, for example, you’d like to study abroad, or pursue significant research, or major in an area that doesn’t overlap with your pre-health prerequisites, moving a course or sequence into the summer may be the best option.

2) You have the opportunity to focus on one subject, without the distractions of a full schedule and co-curricular activities, potentially helping you raise your GPA.

3) As long as you have a good reason to take courses in the summer, and can articulate it well when asked in interviews and other situations, and the rest of your science grades and standardized exam scores are high, taking courses in summer can show initiative and responsibility for taking full advantage of your undergraduate career.

The Cons to Taking Summer School Science Courses:

1) Health professions graduate schools expect to see very high grades in summer school, since you’ll generally only taking one course. To gain a sense as to whether a candidate can handle a rigorous science curriculum, admissions committees tend to focus strongly on academic performance during the school year, when the student is taking a full course load.

2) Summer courses are taught over a very short period of time. Therefore, they may not be as in-depth as academic year courses. In addition, you may not retain the information as well in such an abbreviated time as you would if you’d taken a nine-month academic year course.  This could have implications when you study for and take your standardized exam (MCAT, DAT, etc.)

3) Due to the shortened time frame for summer school courses, the classes are generally intense and meet several times per week.  There is also a lab component for the core premedical science courses.  Given that health professions graduate schools expect a high level of performance in summer school courses, you should plan your schedule accordingly and be sure you can devote the necessary time to studying and preparing for the exams. Therefore, any additional time commitments (e.g. job, research, etc.) should be kept to a minimum while enrolled in summer school.  If you decide to take a summer school course, we recommend that you only take one summer school course at a time.

4) Summer school courses at schools comparable to Brandeis are generally costly.  Keep in mind your eventual goal of attending a health professional school that will likely leave you with a considerable debt, and the fact that you are unlikely to be able to work and earn money while taking classes during the summer.

Summer School and Your GPA: Grades for courses taken outside of Brandeis are not factored into your Brandeis GPA.  However, health professional schools (e.g., medical, dental, physician assistant, veterinary programs) utilize a centralized application service that calculates your GPA based on all college level courses taken, (for which you’ll provide a transcript from every college/university attended). It is the GPAs that are computed by the application services that the admissions committees’ schools utilize – not the GPAs listed on your undergraduate transcript.  All college/university level courses will be reported to health professional schools, and the grades earned in these courses will be factored in to the overall and science GPAs that the application services report to the schools.

Summer School -- Brandeis University Policy:
A student may complete courses at summer schools conducted by regionally accredited colleges and universities for placement purposes, general degree requirements (except academic residency), and major/minor requirements as allowed by individual departments/programs.  A student may earn credit for no more than three semester courses in one summer.  In other words, with prior approval, students may take summer school courses at another four year college/university but will only consider the course as “for purpose;” that is, the course/credits will not count toward the 32 courses needed to fulfill the residency requirement.

Health Professions Advising Recommendations:

  • Summer school science courses, if taken, should be kept to a minimum, but there are circumstances when taking a summer school course is appropriate (e.g. planning for study abroad).  In these instances, you should research school and course options carefully, and be prepared to explain your decision to take summer courses to the health professions schools to which you’re applying.
  • Summer school courses outside of the sciences are more acceptable – consider fulfilling other requirements, particularly those that are most time intensive (e.g., foreign language, studio art if it’s an interest) in the summer to make room in the academic year for sciences.
  • If you plan to take a pre-health pre-req in summer school, we recommend that you complete both semesters during summer session, rather than splitting up a year long science course, doing half during summer school at another institution and then completing the remaining semester during the academic year.  Splitting a sequence between two schools may result in incomplete coverage of the topics normally covered in a traditional year-long sequence.
  • Utilize the same study strategies for a summer class that you do for a year-long course.  Attend office hours, work in study groups with other students in the class, keep up with the materials (even more important in the summer than an academic year, since it moves so quickly).
  • Focus closely on materials taken in the summer when preparing for standardized exams (MCAT, DAT); schools may scrutinize these scores more closely in relation to the summer course, and you’re more likely to have a less strong memory for materials taken so rapidly.
  • Completing an appropriate elective covering similar material during an academic year (e.g. Biochemistry if you took Organic Chemistry in summer school) can potentially alleviate some doubts concerning your candidacy and ensure that you have a solid grasp of the material.
  • If you plan to take summer courses to make room to study abroad, also consider studying abroad in the summer.  This way, you can take all of your core sciences during the school year without losing the opportunity to study abroad.
  • Some students complete their core required premedical courses during the academic year, but then choose to take upper-level science electives (e.g. biochemistry, physiology) in summer school, thus broadening their backgrounds and (potentially) raising their GPAs. From a health professions admissions perspective, this is quite acceptable, but science majors should contact their respective departments for permission.

Getting Approvals:   Courses must be taken at summer programs of at least five weeks in duration with a minimum of 37 contact hours, and you must receive a grade of B- or higher to receive credit.  In order to be assured that credit will be granted upon satisfactory completion, you should obtain approval in advance through Irene Widugiris, Transfer Credit Evaluator, in the Office of the University Registrar.  You may do so by filling out the summer school credit petition form, which is available on the Registrar’s website.