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Vanderbilt First Semester Class Load?

Capta1n1Capta1n1 3 replies2 threadsRegistered User New Member
Hey folks! So I'm going to be signing up for my Vanderbilt classes this Monday morning, and I'm looking for recommendations for my schedule and for any interesting and easy AXLE courses. I'm a bio major and will also take all the premed classes.

Here is the course load that I put in my cart:

Intro Bio 1510 with lab (4 credits)
Gen Chem 1601 with lab and discussion (4 credits)
Psychology FYWS 1111: Stress, health, and behavior (3 credits)
MUSE 1010 (I plan to play in the orchestra). (1 credit)

Total 12 credits.

When I talked with my Vanderbilt counselor, she told me I should take another course because 12 credits is the bare minimum. I'm worried that adding a 5th class will be really stressful for me. So if I add another course, I want it to be an easy AXLE class. I know I can fit the class "20th century Germany" History 2300 into my schedule. Is that going to be too much extra work given that bio and chem will already be a struggle? Any thoughts or recommendations would be helpful. Also, I'm coming in with 8 AP credits, so I don't have to take any math, language, or English classes.
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Replies to: Vanderbilt First Semester Class Load?

  • fdgjfgfdgjfg 440 replies35 threadsRegistered User Member
    edited June 2018
    If you're going to double-up on gen chem and bio then I would honestly stick with 12 hours only. It's hard to do it because you feel like a slacker, and everyone here was a top student in high school. But it keeps you from getting smacked your first semester - it's hard to really understand the demands of the weed-outs until you're in them. Also everyone makes friends and goes out a lot first semester, so a lot of people who take too heavy of course loads have a choice between making poor grades and having fun (or something like rushing a frat if you're a guy). If you're in 12 hours you can do both.

    The exception to this would be if you're a high level student even here. For example, if you're coming in with 5's in both AP chem/bio, you might be fine with adding another class on top. This could be something like intro psych or intro sociology since those are sort of becoming pre-med requirements anyway. All of the low level intro english classes also aren't bad, and ethics used to be easy but I think there might be a new prof.

    You could also consider pushing back bio to sophomore year if you want to take more classes as a freshman.
    edited June 2018
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  • KSMom1518KSMom1518 231 replies10 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    Note that MUSE 1010 is only one credit, but they rehearse 3 times per week. I would plan on 3 hours each day including walking and tuning time. Another option is the Vanderbilt Community Orchestra (VCO) that is non-credit and meets once per week on Wednesday evenings. They do a great job and it does not take the same time commitment. Some students do go back and forth between those 2 groups based on class-load.
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  • MYOS1634MYOS1634 41877 replies451 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited June 2018
    I'd stick with 12 credits while you adjust to college. It does mean you can't drop any class. But since you already have a lot of credits thanks to AP, you can afford to start slow and avoid the major problem freshmen pre-meds encounter, "too much at once" with a first semester GPA that ruins their hopes by ensuring they'll have to dig themselves out every semester hence.
    (Note that pre-med and rushing are pretty incompatible. Rushing takes a lot of time and depresses your GPA, two things you can't afford if you're serious about med school.)
    edited June 2018
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  • privatebankerprivatebanker 5273 replies77 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited June 2018
    Pre med requires some advanced math even if you have the pre req covered for a bio major.

    I would take my strongest of bio and chem in first semester. Take the other in spring. You’ll thank me next summer.

    You don’t need to pass your classes you need to ace them for med school.

    And the competition will be fierce. Not with a each other directly but for the share of a’s available.

    Everyone will be nearly as bright and motivated as you for the most part.

    Add two interesting courses to get to 15 credit hours. You want an education. And it’s Vanderbilt. Enjoy what you can learn and explore.

    Also look at any winter break or intersession classes. Many times you can take a fun three week high intensity class and pick up 3 credits too

    edited June 2018
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  • amNotarobotamNotarobot 264 replies2 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    Totally agree with post # 1, 3, and 4 that you stick with your 12 credits 1st semester or drop either bio or gen chem and pick two easier classes to make a 14-15 credit semester. The 1 credit lab in bio and chem will take you lots of time to get the result and need lot more time to do the reports. My D's first semester had the gen chem and a piano class (1 credit with private lessons), and they took her so much time on them that her grades were not ideal at the end. Even thought, my daughter had AP chemistry in her HS, the chem class and lab there was much harder for her. Also the Blair class is quite far from the commons, as my D said to me, so you need to consider the time you will be needed to travel there each time for class and practice. If you want to be pre-med, you need a good start in your first semester to boost your confidence. Many of the freshmen did not do well in the weed out classes that they had to rethink their intended majors.

    After the first year and a better second semester grades, my D is ready to take 18 credits semester for her sophomore year.
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  • bernie12bernie12 5430 replies10 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited June 2018
    @privatebanker @amNotarobot : "competition" only matters if the course is hard enough to be curved (usually substantially below mean of 75 at schools that grade like VU). I don't know if those 2 are (it doesn't appear chemistry is) that hard (if one is, it could be bio). It is about straight up performance. Do not put this idea of competition in their heads. With hard and smart work, those courses should be doable even with a social life (just don't go crazy).

    Also some (in fact most) folks CAN just start off "fine" and work harder in later years. This is not atypical as those medical and other graduate schools look for upward trends and most freshmen do have lower GPAs. Coming from an undergrad. STEM major, courses in later years often do not feel as hard not because of just a change in confidence about academic performance but because they are often run differently, you have adjusted to social environment, and you are just more experienced overall. I don't like putting pressure on students to essentially "manufacture" conditions to perform perfectly in their first year which could be the experimental year that gets semi-"forgiven". Let them figure it out and try the best they can. Most will end up in the B range anyway at least the first semester, and can use that as a springboard to make necessary changes and spark an upward trend. If they cannot live that down, I don't know what to say about how future challenges in undergraduate and beyond will be handled. Even as high achievers we/they need to learn to deal with challenges or exposed imperfection when it comes along. We could certainly learn our limits and what could be improved this way. Plus, depending on the major, a student may have to kind of "pile on" STEM in later years and I have seen this go worse than a typical lackluster performance in freshman year. You can no longer manufacture paper based perfection when the course load is ACTUALLY overwhelming.


    The only time I would HEAVILY (as you all are) advise against doubling up is if the student has no STEM AP experience/credits as @fdgjfg , or a low SAT math score (in the case of chemistry, say below 650 at an elite). I also still feel highly uncomfortable calling general chemistry at Vanderbilt a weedout when it looks like a standard general chemistry course with slightly harder exams. I feel as if there are harder pre-health cores there including bio despite it being pre-dominantly memorization focused (apparently Singleton retired-I would be wary of this course if one expects more than sort of rote and basic applied memorization. My friend who went there suggested that chemistry was on par/slightly harder than a normal AP course and significantly easier than his so made an A grade in those because they weren't that hard versus a standard curriculum, but biology courses tended to have a "firehose" approach and did not emphasize the problem solving his STEM focused charter school emphasized so he got Bs in both semesters....either way he ended up alright and graduated with near a 3.8 in chemistry and econ. after a 3.4ish freshman year that included those 2 Bs, and a B- in multi. He did gain admission to medical school. He learned how to perform well and freshman year taught him to deal with tough course loads better), but physics and math.

    I would honestly feel more comfortable if that person found something really easy (let us not pretend they do not exist) so that they can drop something if things go awry (as they still may). I just want us to get away from the scare tactics. Incoming freshmen are already scared enough. This obsession with credit hours as some indication of difficulty needs to go. When I mentored, I never asked students how many credit hours they were taking so much as WHAT were in the credit hours and then tell them if they are taking on too much or if they can afford to take a more challenging course that could be useful for their research, interests, etc (often these students were pre-med, so I know more challenge is usually blasphemous, no matter the reason, but many of them were excellent students who could indeed afford a B or something lower than an A here and there). I doubt a freshman seminar will kill them and while orchestra is a commitment, it may also function as a great escape from their 2 STEM courses and balance their mind out leading to enhanced performance. I just have doubts that adding an additional course that is simple is going to remotely kill them or reduce their chem and bio grades substantially below what they would be without the course or at all.

    @Capta1n1 I would shop courses (as in go attend them) to get the syllabus and maybe choose one with a fairly low or simple graded workload.
    edited June 2018
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  • BooBooBearBooBooBear 380 replies9 threadsRegistered User Member
    I think only 12 credits, when 3 are a low-level Psych class and 1 is a music class, is a little light. College is not THAT difficult if you go to class, study, and seek tutoring or help when necessary. You presumably worked far, far harder in high school to get admitted to Vanderbilt, and now you are afraid of an academic challenge? Certainly I agree that the additional course should be an easier one, not Linear Algebra or such, but you need to push yourself a little harder than this.
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  • bernie12bernie12 5430 replies10 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    @BooBooBear : Kind of what I wanted to say, but didn't want to be that blunt. Nice to know someone agrees with me.


    I honestly think a lot of people end up "feeling" that things are so much harder partly because they strongly desire to indulge in the social scene, perhaps over-indulge. Once that interest comes to fruition, every somewhat rigorous course feels like: "the most difficult thing in the world and so much harder than AP" and blah blah blah. For example, after seeing the general chemistry materials for Vanderbilt, I don't understand all the complaints unless it is usually taught poorly or with mediocrity, but even then. It looks like a very fair, standard level general chemistry course with content fitting for a more high achieving group, yet the exams indicate that instructors aren't being super pushy like at some similar caliber elites and yet I see the course gets the worst reputation on CC and elsewhere as if the course at VU is a special case over other selectives and it just isn't at all. I can see the complaints for biology but I am biased because I don't like the concept of fire-hose rote biology courses for elite students who basically already do surface learning in STEM really well. When I see chem and biology together in a schedule at these selective schools along with like 3 other much simpler courses, I think "oh how normal", I don't think "oh you might die and be shut out of med. schools forever".
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  • fdgjfgfdgjfg 440 replies35 threadsRegistered User Member
    @BooBooBear

    No offense, but are you in college yet? The level of competition is a lot different between high school and college, especially so at elite universities, where you have to play it safe much more if you want to protect your GPA and come out with a 3.85+. The "average" student in gen chem and bio here had a 34 ACT and was in the top 10% of their class in high school. Given the curve, that "average" student will be given a C+ in both bio and gen chem (class averages are brought to a high C+ or at best the C+/B- border, meaning 50% of the class gets C+ or lower). If you're premed and want to set yourself up with every advantage possible, you want an A, and A/A- grades are capped at the top ~15% of the class. The two 1-credit-hour labs also easily eat up 10-12 hours of worktime a week on top of studying for the lectures. If you're doubling up and taking both of these together, and it's your first semester of college, and you think you want plenty of time to rush/have fun/be out of the library, it's perfectly acceptable not to take anything additional.

    @bernie12

    I mean the classes honestly aren't really that tough, most people won't be too scared or conservative, will double up with 15+ hours, and go on to get a B or B- in both classes if they work reasonably hard. It's not the end of the world, GPAs do tend to trend up as an upperclassman, and they probably won't lock themselves out of med schools. However, for the type of person who's later on gunning for elite MD programs or any MSTP program, any sliver of advantage is worth pursuing (just consider that Vanderbilt Med's median stats are a 99%ile MCAT and >3.9 GPA). Sure, med schools consider upward trends, but at the bottom line your GPA is your GPA and you'll be treated as such. It's very easy for a ~0.1 chunk to be eaten out of your GPA just through mediocre performance by overloading yourself early on, which sucks when the margins of error are quite small. Also, in my experience, the kids who had rising trends and made it into elite med schools often had those rising trends by becoming ridiculously conservative and risk-averse in their course choices and credit-hour loads. If you're going to have to sell-out anyway, why not do it from the start and make sure you're giving yourself every advantage possible? If you're going BME though, sure, might as well ladle it on because you're getting reamed no matter what and have to survive much harder stuff, but if you're in bio or something it only gets easier after weeders.
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  • SincererLoveSincererLove 749 replies22 threadsRegistered User Member
    edited June 2018
    My D, CS premed, did 14 hours 1st semester, and ended with 4.0, with two lab classes Chem and physics. Agree with other posters... Premed bio and chem are a difficult combination. D had 5s and 800, and still couldn't figure out how to get As on chem test until the 3rd mid term.

    D was in Todd's chem class and the students with higher class averages sat in the back for finals, and kids she knew with C or C+ in the middle, so the competition was real and visual!!

    There will be organizations, clubs or ECs you want to join and new friends to hang out right away so you want to budget time for those activities as well.
    edited June 2018
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  • bud123bud123 699 replies6 threadsRegistered User Member
    Top goals for a pre-med:
    1. Survive freshman fall semester with a solid GPA. Most pre-meds are business majors by Thanksgiving.
    2. Adjust to the rigor of college. Classes that are difficult first semester seem easier next year.
    3. Adjust to being an average student. You are no longer the smartest kid in class and will fight to make a 75% on STEM tests. Many students struggle with this change.
    3. Adjust to new social environment. You will be away from your social support system, on your own, away from old friends, making new friends, & new freedom must be managed.
    4. Split up and survive the pre-med weed outs: Chem, bio, calc, physics, orgo.
    5 Use summer school to lighten your load if you can afford to do so.
    6. Play the GPA game. You can't afford to take academic risks if you are a pre-med student. It sucks but it is what it is.
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  • BooBooBearBooBooBear 380 replies9 threadsRegistered User Member
    edited June 2018
    @fdgjfg I am a parent with two advanced degrees, worked in business for 20 years including years of interviewing students for jobs, and now teach college, so yes, I understand classes, grades, and rigor. My own kids attend a rigorous private high school whose graduates usually go on to do very well in “elite” or other colleges, in large part because they were pushed just hard enough so that they do not experience too overwhelming of a bump when they hit college.

    Look, I get GPA protection and I also get the social adjustment to college, which is why I agree that the OP pick the courses with care, but the training wheels do not need to be slapped on. After 4 years of performing well in a rigorous high school curriculum, with Vanderbilt costing $70k (sticker price) a year, 120 hours to complete, and a long list of distribution requirements along with pre-med recommendations to complete, this is unnecessary conservatism. When you go to medical school in 4 years, are you going to ask to go part-time? When you become a resident, are you going to ask for extra time off on your shifts that no one gets? You are an adult now, at a top college with aims of pursuing one of the most demanding educational and professional career paths. You better get used to pushing yourself.
    edited June 2018
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  • bernie12bernie12 5430 replies10 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited June 2018
    @fdgjfg : I don't think anyone should START OFF gunning for that. From what I noticed, most who end up at the super elite medical schools and elite programs associated with others actually took higher than normal courseloads and kind of were not "managing" their schedules as much, and nor did they necessarily start off with those options in mind. Junior year rolled around and they said, "oh what do you know, I still have very strong GPA and I ended up scoring well on the MCAT, I think I have a shot at X elite or X MDPhD program if I desire".....I don't know too many who started off as sort of "wimpy" and over-protective of their GPAs thinking: "Oh I really only wanna go to X schools". They try their best and see what happens and many were just extremely talented so could get high grades with a higher than average course load. Many even bucked the trends of forfeiting AP credits and took things like freshman ochem, skipped bio 1. A whole crew of students I mentored took an analytical/research focused chemical biology course (they had to read primary literature every week and even had to write up a research proposal. I need not talk about the types of exams that woman gave) as first semester sophomores BEFORE taking biochemistry 1. That whole crew ended up at elite (let us say top 25) PhD and MDPhD programs. One MDPhD is at UCSF and another at Pitt and one of the PhDs is at Scripps and got a bid from MIT. These were the folks who I saw gain entrance into these elite programs (note, none had a 4.0, though the UCSF and Scripps guy were near it and the guy at Pitt had over 3.8 despite scoring a B in something each year and even a C+ in one course...yet several bids for elites).

    Very few I know were very standard high achievers. Even the more academically boring among the folks I know at minimum doubled up. There were two "rivals" that had 37/near 4.0/4.0, one ended up at Stanford (ironic, the near 4.0 made it into Stanford) and one at Cornell and in their frosh year, they took gen. chem and an intermediate biology course accessible to them because they AP credit (they also intentionally took the more analytically rigorous instructors available for pre-health cores and recommendations like organic and biochem. The only place they copped out was physics). Those 2 had relative planned perfection compared to the others I mentioned and even they were above average. Over cautiousness and elite medical schools usually just were not going together. Maybe trends are different at Vanderbilt, but I doubt it as the profiles of those gaining admission to those types of places are probably pretty similar. Also, let us keep it real, good luck gaining access to say..this program: https://meded.hms.harvard.edu/health-sciences-technology if you are overly concerned with doubling up in chem and bio and having a "legit" load of all things. I am guessing Emory just had a completely academic culture in pre-med (at least among those gaining access to the more elite medical schools). I find that strange, and it really wouldn't make any sense.

    Those who accessed were CONSISTENTLY more aggressive across all 4 years even if they got a B in something freshman year (and many did). Also, from what I was seeing there, the outcomes between those with high MCAT/3.85+ were not very different (especially if highly awarded. One awesome girl, Chinese BTW, had 33 and 3.85, but had Goldwater Scholarship. It was "hello Northwestern MDPhD" for her. She also tended to engage the most rigorous courses and instructors when she could). Lastly, I would not use Vanderbilt, WUSTL, Hopkins, or Stanford med as the example as I think they are aiming for stats higher than Harvard's. Most of the elite med. schools of course want high stats, but like undergrad, some want something much more than that and in fact it seems that places like Harvard and Stanford may even factor rigor among the slice of high stats students that tend to apply. But again, the goal should be to stay in the running for an MD or MDPhD program and then see if you may have a chance at some of the top programs if that is what you want. It is a little pretentious to enter "gunning" for that yet being super conservative considering what I just described. Granted there are multiple pathways, it just seems those who access them tend to be among the more talented and ambitious who perform so well that they can "risk" extra rigor and even afford some Bs here and there (because they typically carry challenging course loads including credit hour wise) and still hit a high GPA target.


    @bud123 : Nice anecdotes but definitely hyperbolic on that 2nd one. I agree on everything else. My friend that I used as an anecdote actually doubled in chem and bio frosh year and used that to single in organic which he aced easily (though he had "K" and Rizzo...so take that as you will, though I haven't seen any particularly problem solving oriented ochem teacher there other than Townsend).
    edited June 2018
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  • fdgjfgfdgjfg 440 replies35 threadsRegistered User Member
    @bernie12

    I think it honestly depends on the student's background, and my bias might be showing here. There are two types of students who should do two different things:

    A: if you're a very talented student arriving very well-prepared from a top private or large public high school, you're going to be well-equipped to push yourself and you don't need to be conservative with your class selection. Of course the genius kids are going to go in, be very aggressive with what they pursue, and end up at the top places anyway. I mean, HST - those kids are top percentile demigods, of course the rules don't apply to them. And it was the same pattern here; most of the kids who end up as MSTPs at HMS, Stanford, JHU, UCSF, Penn, etc. were pounding full courseloads of advanced classes from the get-go. But these kids were also maybe Intel/Siemens finalists, were published in high school, had near perfect scores, and got scholarship money thrown at them - they know who they are, and they aren't coming on CC for course selection advice.

    B: on the other hand, if you arrive relatively under-prepared and are a mere mortal, that protectionism is crucial. Sure, by the time you're an upperclassman you should have adjusted to taking rigorous upper-levels, but that transition period is necessary so you don't 1). blast an insurmountable crater in your GPA (once you start dipping towards a 3.70 or lower, no matter your course rigor, you're going to have some major trouble at top places) 2). kill your confidence and momentum, and 3). keep yourself from having enough of a GPA buffer that you're not utterly desperate to reel in 4.0's to balance a weak start and can branch out on the actually important stuff (extracurriculars). Having a 3.85 vs. 4.0 isn't important, but making sure you can survive a tough transition and have a 3.85 instead of a 3.65 is big.

    The reason I'm personally biased is that I had a relatively weak high school preparation, bit off more than I could chew, and it was a huge pain to resurrect my GPA enough to the point that I was competitive for the places I wanted to go. By the end I was running with the big dogs course selection-wise and I did receive interviews and acceptances at multiple top-tier institutions listed in your post, but I wished I'd been a little bit more conservative early on (when the classes you're taking aren't even that interesting) so I could have taken more risks as an upperclassman when you can do cool stuff (less time collecting 4.0s, more graduate student classes, more time in research, etc). And honestly, while most of the kids accepted to T5 MSTP programs or HST had all of the ridiculous course rigor, MD-only programs at Harvard, Stanford, JHU seemed to care much more heavily about exceptional leadership, experiences, and extracurricular achievement (at least in the cohort that I knew at VU and met during interviews) - giving yourself a buffer to pursue these experiences is big.
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  • bernie12bernie12 5430 replies10 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited June 2018
    @fdgjfg : I guess I am simply saying group B should not come in specifically gunning for elite meds. They should cross their fingers, and see if they qualify when the time comes and until then, do the best they can. I am very well aware of those folks.


    As for group A: You would be surprised of its diversity. The ones I knew were not all perfect scorers and Emory Scholars, or Intel Finalists. I think the score thing actually depends on the curriculum at the school they attend. Like I do think, if one is a chem, bio, or neuro major at VU, scores and stuff may correlate better because last I checked tons of those courses/instructors did not have the super analytical emphasis (that looks like it is maybe more common in physics and things like BME which is fairly stereotypical) which would differ from most standardized exams. I find that once that emphasis happens, folks are more or less on a similar playing field because STEM students at elites are already so compressed score wise and there are but so many extraordinary STEM institutes or elite boarding schools and those students are nicely spread through non-HYPMS elites. What may make a difference is the INTEL stuff and research, but even then, there are tons of those who I wouldn't have put fully in your group A. A lot of group A. just had a great attitude towards learning/work ethic (they simply pushed themselves to higher limits) and a significant chunk envisioned themselves getting involved in research and doing honors theses (you cannot get Latin honors at Emory without a thesis) and these required students to take at least one graduate course, so you would actually get a decent amount who start off in (or looking like) group B, pursuing more challenging than normal course work likely because they needed courses that helped them in research and helped prep them for whatever graduate class they would take to fulfill honors requirements. As for scores...I knew a 1300 something girl who took a very challenging course load (mind you she was from Cambridge Massachusetts, go figure- but she took a grad. biophysical chem class by sophomore year), got over 3.9 (she got PBK), and is now at Duke for her PhD (she considered MDPhD at one point, but preferred pure research) in neuroscience (these programs may as well be like aiming for med).

    There were also a lot of "converters" who would do the standard gchem/gbio frosh year, then take a challenging STEM instructor (it is pretty uniformly organic, but is sometimes an intermediate or advanced biology or neuroscience course) sophomore year, fall in love/gain confidence with that type of learning, and then look more like a group A from there on forward. I think learning environment, incentive structures, etc at a school determine what group A and B look like at these places and how fluid they are. I am used to seeing group A get bigger as more group B students start enjoying research and things like that, basically after they grow their wings. They end up getting into medical school or changing to PhD track if they like their field and research enough. I just still feel many freshmen, especially those with AP credits, should give themselves a chance to learn what they need to improve and stuff, and maybe they could evolve into a near group A over time. I don't like the idea of fixed categories and talent levels and that high achievers should just "stay in their bracket"...this is the "fixed mindset" that usually assumes that unless you can look perfect doing something, it isn't worth trying and is based on the idea that only innate ability matters (so only where you start at the elite matters). I've seen tons of students evolve into great students and scholars over a 4 year period. Admittedly I think seeing good examples and great student and faculty mentoring/encouragement is key for the so called "group B" to elevate themselves instead of just always running off of fear of competition and "mistakes". I think many students come out of undergrad less developed personally and intellectually because of it. I don't think the nature of med. school admissions should do that to everyone in that group and am all for getting many to escape that attitude and perhaps do better than before. I think part of that is getting rid of some of the fear mongering. I personally save that for folks who have never took a STEM IB/AP.

    And those I knew at those places for MD had it all...including the course rigor. They didn't "just" have leadership and perfect stats.
    edited June 2018
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  • bernie12bernie12 5430 replies10 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Your story itself...you should be thankful, as I don't believe academics should be smooth sailing even if you were high achieving. There is value in a growth mindset, improvement, resilience, and I think you will/are benefit(ing) from it. You represent the fluid person. I would not view it as "painful". You received a realistic experience/Vanderbilt worked and grew from it.
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