Studying Abroad As a Pre-Med Student
In my senior year of high school, there were so many factors that I considered in my search for the perfect college: acceptance rate, tuition, location, etc. On that list of things was the quality of the university’s study abroad program. I had known for a long time that I wanted to study abroad in college – the allure of living in a foreign country combined with my interest in European history strengthened my conviction to make studying abroad a part of my college experience. However, once I started my freshman year at Vanderbilt, I really had no idea how I was supposed to prepare for studying abroad. I was also intimidated by how it is notoriously difficult for pre-med students to study abroad due to the vast number of required classes that we have to take. After hours of research and scheduling this past year, I was able to finally solidify my plans to study in Copenhagen this fall! In order to save you all some time and stress, here are some important things to keep in mind in order to make the application process go as smoothly as possible!
- Pre-med requirements – The number one reason that I’ve heard students give for not studying abroad is that they didn’t have time in their schedules. This is especially true for pre-med students since it is generally recommended that our science requirements are taken within the U.S. The first thing that I would recommend is looking up pre-med and major requirements. Here is a guide that our Health Professions Advisory Office (HPAO) put together. Once I knew what classes I had to take and which ones I had already fulfilled through AP/IB classes, I put together a tentative four-year plan on Excel to visualize when I needed to take certain classes. Since you essentially have to clear out a semester, this spreadsheet will help you determine whether you need to take certain classes early. For example, general chemistry, organic chemistry, biology, and physics are all two-semester courses. In order to avoid having to take both semesters of these classes during junior year, which is when most people study abroad, you might consider taking one semester during freshman or sophomore year and finishing the second semester during the semester of junior year that you are not studying abroad.
- You can actually learn stuff while abroad! – Contrary to what many people believe, studying abroad isn’t just for traveling and avoiding your responsibilities. Since you still have to take classes, you can use this semester to work on your major while also trying classes that you wouldn’t normally find in the U.S.! When I was researching programs, I made sure to look for one that would allow me to complete requirements for my Neuroscience major. One website that was really helpful was the Study Abroad Course Search, which lets you see programs that offer classes that qualify for your specific major. The program that I am enlisted in, DIS Copenhagen, offers a wide variety of classes that can be directly transferred over as Vanderbilt credit. While I am abroad, I will be finishing my Neuroscience elective requirement and making progress on my Philosophy minor! I will also get to take a fun class called Anthropology of Food, which covers the influence of food in Scandinavian culture while also taking us on food tastings around Copenhagen.
- AXLE – If you’re in the College of Arts and Sciences, you have to complete a series of liberal arts requirements before graduation: Achieving eXcellence in Liberal Education (AXLE). While these classes are an awesome excuse for you to take cool classes that aren’t necessarily required for your major, they do have to be completed on Vanderbilt campus. Therefore, make sure not to save all of your AXLE courses for junior and senior year, or else you may find yourself having to stay on campus to complete them instead of studying abroad.
- Consider the finances – one thing that I really appreciate about Vanderbilt’s study abroad program is that your financial aid can be applied toward program fees if you’re studying abroad during the school year. Programs can be cheaper or more expensive than staying at Vanderbilt; however, it is highly likely that your financial aid will increase if you are accepted into a more expensive program. An important thing to keep in mind is that financial aid cannot be applied towards Maymesters or summer programs. Although the Global Education Office (GEO) offers some scholarships for these programs, it can often be difficult to find additional funding. Therefore, if it is important for you to receive financial aid while studying abroad, you might need to do some of the planning that I was talking about earlier.
- Research/Shadowing/Volunteering – In addition to a rigorous course load, pre-med students are expected to spend hours of their time outside of classes doing research in a lab, shadowing doctors, and volunteering. This can be a deterrent to studying abroad since it may be difficult to log hours in a foreign country. In order to avoid this problem, I would recommend starting all these activities early so that you can take a semester off without hugely influencing your plans to apply to medical school. However, also make sure to search program websites to see if there are opportunities to get involved in these activities while abroad. Although I will not be doing research next semester, my program offers a course that allows you to work as a research assistant in Copenhagen!
Whew, I know that was a bunch of information that I just threw at you guys. I hope that it wasn’t too overwhelming and that some of you will find it helpful in planning for your semester abroad. Please leave a comment or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want more information on studying abroad, life as a pre-med student, or anything else about Vandy! I look forward to hearing from you guys! Happy planning :)