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Off-Campus Study and Pre-professional Preparation
Off-campus study for a semester or a full academic year is possible, but involves some trade-offs that must be considered in the context of your entire program of premedical preparation. In particular, going abroad requires detailed planning in advance involving your entire academic program.
If you go to another institution in the U.S. or Canada, the curriculum, and typically the grading system, will be familiar. You will have a relatively easy time finding appropriate premedical courses in most North American colleges and universities. You should keep in mind that credits earned for work at another institution can be transferred to Colby, but grades earned at another institution will not be counted as a part of your Colby GPA. These grades, however, will be reported on your applications to professional school, and will be included in the overall and science gpas looked at by admissions committees. The one notable trade-off in attending another U.S. or Canadian institution is that you will be faced with new faculty and an academic environment that may be different from what you have become accustomed to at Colby.
If you attend a foreign program (defined here as non-U.S. and non-Canadian) for a semester or a year, then the situation will likely be more complicated. You may have to forgo taking any of the core two-semester premedical courses while you are abroad (see Academics). Additionally, regardless of which specific courses you take, unless you attend a Colby program abroad for which your grades ultimately will be recorded in a conventional way on your Colby transcript, you may end up with a set of grades that are not easily interpreted by a medical admissions committee.
It is important to note that in our experience the trade-offs are less marked for the very best students than they are for those who are average or below-average. For students who have less than exceptional academic records, time spent in foreign programs may do little to enhance academic credibility. It may be more appropriate to stay on campus, or to attend a U.S. or Canadian program, taking conventional courses and earning the kinds of grades that will impress an admissions committee.
The most significant trade-off may be in regard to your timetable for applying to professional school. If you go abroad, you are likely to have to delay taking required courses until senior year, and apply to professional schools after you graduate (which is the more normal path for Colby applicants anyway, and not always due to studying abroad). Alternatively, in order to study abroad and stay on a timetable that will allow you to apply to professional school in the summer preceding your senior year, you may choose to take some of the required courses in summer school. If you choose to study abroad and hope to go directly to professional school after Colby, studying away in the fall semester is highly recommended because you should be studying in the spring of your junior year for the MCAT (taking the MCAT by April is critical) and no one wants to spend most of their time in another country studying for the MCAT.
The study abroad experience is, for many students, a transformative one and well worth delaying medical school by a year. There are some programs that are highly attractive to pre-health students, not because you can take your core courses, but because they have a health component or theme. DIS (the Danish Institute for Study Abroad) offers a semester experience that includes courses taught in a hospital setting and opportunities to learn some clinical skills and shadow physicians. IHP/SIT offers a comparative global health semester as well as other global health programs. Staff in Off-Campus Studies can help you learn about these options or identify others that might fit your interests in health care.
If you choose a study abroad option that is not health-centered, be sure to create opportunities for yourself, wherever you are, to observe in clinical settings or volunteer in health-related settings while abroad.
In summary, it is possible for students preparing for medical, dental, and veterinary careers to study abroad or at another domestic institution, but it does require careful planning well in advance, taking into account the factors mentioned above. As is the case for all off-campus study, a program of study for pre-professional students at another domestic or foreign institution should fit with your entire academic program at Colby.
IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS ABOUT THIS INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT THE HEALTH PROFESSIONS ADVISOR, CATE TALBOT ASHTON, IN THE COLBY CAREER CENTER FOR ASSISTANCE.