Is MOL 215 Quantitative Principles in Cell and Molecular Biology a difficult course to do your first semester as a freshman? I might want to be a Molecular Biology major and I'm planning on starting as premed. I got a 5 on AP Biology and can use the credit to skip EEB/MOL 211 Biology of Organisms, but that class still interests me and I think it would ease me into getting used to Princeton's harder science courses. If I did 211 in the fall, I would do MOL 214 Introduction to Cellular and Molecular Biology in the Spring, which fulfills the same requirements as 215 but it is less math-oriented. I'm pretty good at math, I got an 800 on my math SAT and a 5 on Calc BC as a junior. But I'm worried that jumping into 215 would be too difficult my first semester, especially cause my Biology class wasn't great - I just studied hard for the AP exam. Any opinions?
You can always start out in 215 and drop to 211 in the first couple of weeks if it doesn't seem like your kind of thing. You should be fine in 215 as far as quantitative skill. Also, 215 had a better average course rating last year than 211 (by 0.5 on a 5-point scale), which also say 215 is much more interesting than 214, a class more focused on memorization than problem-solving.
Course ratings are on SCORE. I don't know if freshmen have access to them yet, but you'll get it before you have to sign up for classes. There's also a lot of fairly outdated information at scg.tigerapps.org. Both sites give course reviews. Grade distributions are not available anywhere that I know of.
As far as curves go, you have to keep in mind the other students in the class. Tons of people from across the spectrum of concentrations take ECO 100 - and many take it P/D/F - while the people who take ECO 300 are mostly ECO majors and probably care more about it since it's a departmental. So even though 300 has a slightly more generous curve (~35% A grades as opposed to ~30% in 100), the same student might have lower relative performance and a lower grade in 300 since people tend to put a lot more effort into 300 than 100.
Ok thanks! That helps a lot...and...About P/D/F...What is the point of this system? Are they looked down upon because they aren't graded the traditional way? Do you have to be strategic about choosing which 4 to take that way?
And will taking a 100 level class as opposed to a 300 level class decrease your chances of being a valedictorian (granted, you get As in both)?
The P/D/F system is designed so that people can take classes outside their comfort zone without having to worry about damaging their GPA. For example, I PDFed a fairly work-heavy comparative literature class as a freshman (I'm a math major), and that allowed me to put more effort into the two math classes I took that term while not having to worry about my grade in comp lit. I also PDFed a 300-level electrical engineering class, and I'm probably going to PDF the 300-level philosophy class I'm taking this fall. Some classes like creative writing are P/D/F only (and don't count against your 4 P/D/F limit), while others, such as small seminars that depend heavily on everyone's dedicated input, are designated no P/D/F.
I would imagine that PDFs are only looked down on if they're related to your concentration, in which case you probably should have taken them graded. For instance, you'll have to take all your departmentals in your concentration (and almost all courses for any certificate program) on a graded basis.
And finally, don't worry about being valedictorian at Princeton, because you won't be, and the sooner you accept that, the better. Princeton valedictorians don't ask questions about being valedictorian, they just walk into 400-level classes, do their work, and walk out with A's and A+'s.
I've heard good things about MOL 214/215, and supposedly if you're genuinely interested in the topic they're better choices than 211.
A quick note re: course feedback: all students are prompted to fill out course evaluations at the end of the semester, and most do, so the course evaluations on SCORE are actually a very good representation of students' opinions. The easiest way to access them (once your netID starts working -- don't know when freshmen get access to this) is to go to the public course offerings page (registrar dot princeton dot edu). Run a search, for example look at all MOL courses, and you'll see a button in the "eval" column on the right next to every course. I find that the evaluations are pretty helpful.
Some people also use the Student Course Guide (scg dot tigerapps dot org) but it's really out of date and most people don't contribute to it.
I'd also like to second FightTheTide's explanation of the P/D/F system. Nobody will look down on you for using it as you should -- to take courses outside your comfort zone! Just don't use them for courses relative to your main interest. PDFs are great because you can get a much more balanced workload that lets you prioritize your departmentals while still taking a variety of classes. (Also, you don't select the PDF option until halfway through the semester, so if you end up doing really well on your midterm, you can still take the course for a grade.)
not a regular on this site, so sorry for the late response. but i can chime in on mol-related stuff (current rising senior in the mol department and applying to med schools this cycle)
211 is more eeb focused and is more dissimilar to both 214 and 215. i can't say much about it, since i used ap credit to get out of it, but from what my friends have said it's not a good class. granted, this was when gould was still teaching it. seems like a team of 3 professors are going to head the class now. but in general, i would encourage you to use your ap credit if you can (since you're pre-med, this particularly goes for chem, math, and physics).
i took 214 spring of my freshman year and it was a fine class. again, things have changed since i took it since gavis and gitai seemed to have taken over for shenk. and while i don't know anything about their teaching capabilities or style, i can say that they are both good PIs and students in their labs seem to like them. if you took ap bio and did well on the ap exam, you should have enough of the fundamentals to make 214 a relatively easy and painless class. i was already familiar with 80% of the material covered in 214 from my high school experiences. labs are decent too. lots of down time for incubations (yay for late meal!), but you actually do get to cover important basic mol techniques and assays. it IS quite memorization heavy, but let's be honest. this is an important skill/habit to have if you wish to continue in the mol department. as you move up and take your core classes you'll find that while memorization is not the ONLY key to success, it will definitely help. a lot.
several of my friends took 215 and my lab mentor, a rising 5th year grad student, TAed the class 2 years ago. all say that it is definitely more math/physics based. and most students are actually in the cbe department, i feel. of course, there are benefits to a significantly smaller class size, but it seems like unless you're cbe or want to do a qcb (quantitative computational biology) certificate, it may be better to take 214 over 215. 214 is the traditional pre-med bio course anyways.
so, i guess i would actually recommend for you to not take 211 or 215. looks like that will mess with your tentative schedule (which, for the most part, is a very doable and good first semester freshman schedule). perhaps you can take a freshman AND a writing seminar, if you want to fill in a fourth class. or, if you're confident enough, you can actually go for orgo. several of my friends took orgo their freshman year and all came out unscathed. if you are interested in or have concerns about this you can pm me.