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simpy

Thinking About a Second Undergraduate Degree?

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In the last week, I've finished my second undergrad degree and have been accepted to medicine. I constantly see people posting both here and in the general forum about whether doing a second degree is the right option, and there really aren't any stickies or any other resources addressing it. I thought posting my experiences might help others down the road.

 

Doing a second undergraduate degree is not a great way to apply to medicine. If you are an applicant who has a GPA that is almost competitive (or better), a second degree is a waste of time. A graduate degree is a much better option because it not only improves your chances of getting into medicine, but it might improve your chances of landing competitive residencies later on.

 

However, if you are an applicant with an uncompetitive GPA in your first degree, a second degree may be your only option. For instance, my GPA through my first four years was a 2.1 - not only was I ineligible at all Canadian (and international for that matter) medical schools, I would not be accepted at any graduate program. To pursue medicine, it was necessary to do a second degree.

 

Doing a second degree to enter medicine is extremely difficult. There is much less room for error than in a first undergrad degree (a bad semester can ruin everything). You will be the odd person out in classes - you'll be the sixth-year student in a first-year class. You will be joining clubs with 17 year-olds. Your friends will find success in their pursuits and you will feel left behind. If you're in a relationship, it will suffer. You will probably enter into even more debt. And the worst part is that during the application process, medical schools can (and will) judge you based on your past mistakes rather than on more recent successes. The application process can be both capricious and arbitrary - even if you get a 4.0 in your second degree, kill the MCAT, and have amazing extracurriculars you may still never get in.

 

Be Honest and Take Time

 

If you are considering a second undergraduate degree, begin by being brutally honest with yourself. You should first consider where you went wrong. If you did not do well in your first undergrad because you had a physical or mental health issue, has it been completely resolved? Do not begin a second undergraduate degree if not. Take time off and get well - or at least take that time and learn ways to succeed despite the challenges you face before trying again.

 

Did you not do well in your first undergrad because you weren't motivated to succeed? If so, are you really motivated now? Someone PM'ed me saying they had just finished their first undergraduate degree and had done very poorly, but within the first week after finals they had suddenly become motivated to succeed. This is highly unlikely. They might suddenly realize they have graduated and now have to face the real world, but this feeling is not the same as being motivated to succeed. Probably within a month of re-entering a university program this person would lose motivation again. Again, my advice is to take time off of school. Take a minimum of two years and try out different jobs, volunteer, travel, make new friends, live in a different city (or country), just do something different. Time has a way of granting increased clarity - maybe with time you will discover your "motivation" for medicine was simply your perception of what others wanted you to do (which appears to be very common). Or maybe you will discover an innate desire to become a physician.

 

Maybe you didn't do well in your first undergrad because the program was too hard. This is a tricky one. There are a number of reasons for a program being too difficult - maybe it's something you don't enjoy, maybe you haven't adopted the right learning styles for the material you're being taught, maybe you work best in teams and your program is brutally individualistic, or maybe (and this is highly unlikely) your program really is just unfairly difficult. Again - be honest with yourself. One of my friends once asked me about doing a second undergrad to get into medicine, saying that they did poorly in life sciences because they hated it. My first question: "If life sciences was too hard because you don't like the material, how are you going to find medical school?" Another one of my friends was considering a second degree in life sciences after doing three years of a business program - she didn't do very well in her business major but said she hated it. On the other hand, she LOVED her life science electives and had nearly straight A+'es in them. A second degree for her was a no-brainer.

 

You may also have done poorly because you feel that you are not smart enough to succeed. This is VERY rare. I only mention it because I have seen one case of someone who was doing everything right but just couldn't crack 80's. This person loved the material, was working extremely hard, had very good study habits, was very motivated, and found good balance and had a great support network. If this is legitimately your situation, I would question whether medical school would be a good option. I'll just leave it at that, but honestly, this situation is very rare and if you think you fit into this category, consider first if you have actually done everything possible to succeed.

 

If you are still set on a second degree, you need to think about the answer to this question: Why do you want to be a doctor and not a worker in an allied health field? Again: you need to be honest. If your first answer is "because I enjoy helping people," I would reply with, "do nurses help people? Do police officers help people?" and so forth. Write out a list of why you want to go into medicine and figure out if that list is exclusive to being a physician. If it turns out you'd be equally (or more) happy being a nurse or an EMT - do that instead. If, after working in that field, you decide you'd like to apply to medicine (or do a second degree) at a later point you still can - and your application now has some very relevant work experience on it.

 

I don't mention all of this above to discourage you. I only mention it because getting into medicine through the second degree route is very difficult. If you are realistic, in a good place health-wise, motivated, had some proven academic success, and are certain that medicine is the right career, then you have a decent chance of success.

 

Most importantly, remember that there is absolutely no rush to get into medicine. We are always pushed to get ahead and succeed. This works great for some people but not for everyone: some of us need more time to find our niche. Life is a marathon, not a sprint - take some time to sort everything out, it will be worth it in the end.

 

The Practical Side

 

For those of you still reading, I'll get into the more practical side of things. Your primary consideration should be where and in which field to do a second degree. Consult the sticky at the top of this page regarding second degree policies at schools. Be VERY CONSCIOUS of what each school looks for in terms of a second degree - for instance, Western has very strict requirements for that degree. Take the time to review everything before selecting courses within a program (if you aren't paying attention you can very easily kill your eligibility at Western). Also, make sure you are going to be eligible at more than one school. Schools can change their admission requirements which can completely ruin you. It happened most recently with UBC's abolition of the 10-year rule which has seriously compromised the chances of some pretty incredible people both on and off this forum.

 

As for picking a program, send lots of e-mails to departments. Unfortunately, in Ontario it's becoming increasingly difficult to do second degrees (I suspect this may be due to "reach higher" funding being tied to increasing enrolment and second degree students may not count as this). Lots of schools will let you though, so check with programs. Pick one that you're very interested in, and have done well in academically during your first degree. It may be best to pick a program that can also let you review for the MCAT - but this is going to vary for people (if you haven't taken a physics course for instance, try to take one at some point).

 

Generally speaking, it's best to make yourself into a traditional applicant. In addition to performing well academically, you should balance this with extracurriculars - research, clubs, volunteering, etc. A great tip I can offer is to do your best to turn your life and experience into a narrative - if you did poorly during your first degree because you spent too much time playing video games, develop some resources for people who play video games excessively on campus. If, during your time off from university you became a parent, develop resources for other parents on campus or work on programs to empower parents to find change. This makes your application - and your answer to interview questions - much more compelling.

 

Just remember, GPA is king. If you have engineered world peace in your second degree but only have a 3.6 GPA in it, you're going to have a very hard time getting into medical schools in Canada.

 

Also, do start thinking now about the MCAT. Doing well on the MCAT will make your life easier by enabling Queen's and Western as options. You are much more limited if you cannot make cutoffs at these schools. So start practising early (for instance, if you find the verbal section difficult, start reading a lot).

 

Above all, remember that if you are pursuing a second degree you probably have an advantage (however small or obscure) over many first-year students coming in. Make sure to utilize it. As someone with a second undergraduate degree, you not only have to be as good as someone who has only done one degree, you have to be better. Think carefully about ways you can accomplish that. It IS possible to enter medicine from a second degree - but you need to do everything you can to maximize your chances.

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Amazing post Simpy:) A lot of people might only consider the practical side but I like how also put emphasis on emotional impacts, which I think is also extremely important when considering a second degree. I'll forward this to a few people I know.

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I've got a question about 2nd degrees - more of a logistics question. I already graduated with a health sciences degree but I took a lot of anthropology courses as electives. Currently I have 6.0 credits in anthropology which have a combined GPA of 3.9x, I would need 4.0 more credits to get a Honors Anthro degree which is totally doable if I put one more year of undergrad in.

 

When med schools see my 2nd degree in anthro, will they include my 6.0 courses I took previously and the 4.0 I take in the following year as the cgpa for my 2nd undergrad? Or will they include other courses I take as well? For example, when I take the additional 4.0 credits to complete the degree I would take 1.0 credits of electives that year as well. Would those electives be included in the cgpa for the 2nd degree? I guess I'm just confused as to how the transfering of courses works and how the cgpa for the 2nd degree gets calculated by med schools. Any clarification would be amazing!

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I've got a question about 2nd degrees - more of a logistics question. I already graduated with a health sciences degree but I took a lot of anthropology courses as electives. Currently I have 6.0 credits in anthropology which have a combined GPA of 3.9x, I would need 4.0 more credits to get a Honors Anthro degree which is totally doable if I put one more year of undergrad in.

 

When med schools see my 2nd degree in anthro, will they include my 6.0 courses I took previously and the 4.0 I take in the following year as the cgpa for my 2nd undergrad? Or will they include other courses I take as well? For example, when I take the additional 4.0 credits to complete the degree I would take 1.0 credits of electives that year as well. Would those electives be included in the cgpa for the 2nd degree? I guess I'm just confused as to how the transfering of courses works and how the cgpa for the 2nd degree gets calculated by med schools. Any clarification would be amazing!

 

You should e-mail schools for particulars. This goes back to being VERY CAREFUL about choosing second degrees: many programs require a second degree to be a particular length of time or to be an Honours degree (for instance, Western and NOSM require your second degree to be an Honours degree for it to be counted). If you are doing a second degree in one year (which is possible at many schools, to get a second general degree in one year), this will not be counted.

 

Schools will also look at it differently. The best thing is to send e-mails. Your 1.0 elective credit would definitely be counted, the question is just whether they would consider marks from your past year as part of your current degree also.

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I've got a question about 2nd degrees - more of a logistics question. I already graduated with a health sciences degree but I took a lot of anthropology courses as electives. Currently I have 6.0 credits in anthropology which have a combined GPA of 3.9x, I would need 4.0 more credits to get a Honors Anthro degree which is totally doable if I put one more year of undergrad in.

 

When med schools see my 2nd degree in anthro, will they include my 6.0 courses I took previously and the 4.0 I take in the following year as the cgpa for my 2nd undergrad? Or will they include other courses I take as well? For example, when I take the additional 4.0 credits to complete the degree I would take 1.0 credits of electives that year as well. Would those electives be included in the cgpa for the 2nd degree? I guess I'm just confused as to how the transfering of courses works and how the cgpa for the 2nd degree gets calculated by med schools. Any clarification would be amazing!

 

JediMaster- be very careful with this. I have a double major and have been informed by several schools that my two pieces of paper do not actually count as 2 degrees because they were completed concurrently. I think having a discrete degree is the best way to go about it.

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Such a well-written and informative post!!

 

Question for OP: Did you hold a job during your second degree? If yes, how did you balance work and school?

 

I'm guessing lots of people doing second degrees may have to work at least part-time to pay the bills.

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Thanks for the replies guys - I have emailed the faculty of social science here at UWO and will wait to see what they say about even allowing me to get the 2nd degree in the fashion I was suggesting.

 

Truth be told though, I don't think I am going to take the 2nd degree route. I'll probably take up St. George's on their acceptance if UWO doesn't pull through for me this year. Cheers

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What would be considered too low for a grad degree to be useful? For example, I have a 3.2, but is it safe to say that with anything above 3.6 (or 3.7?), a grad degree might be useful?

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^,I'm wondering this as well, what is the GPA that is going to allow you to be competitive with Masters?

 

If someone has 2 best year GPA of 3.78 for western, and queens will a masters help or is doing a second degree and getting 3.9 or higher going to help more?

 

I feel like GPA is recognized everywhere like OOP schools, states anywhere really but not all schools look at masters with kind light(except u of t).

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^,I'm wondering this as well, what is the GPA that is going to allow you to be competitive with Masters?

 

If someone has 2 best year GPA of 3.78 for western, and queens will a masters help or is doing a second degree and getting 3.9 or higher going to help more?

 

I feel like GPA is recognized everywhere like OOP schools, states anywhere really but not all schools look at masters with kind light(except u of t).

 

If your two best years are 3.78, doing a grad degree is likely to help you, provided that you publish and present at conferences.

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Other important things to add:

 

Be realistic: There are many excellent hard-working candidates who get rejected each year preinterview and most of them worked harder than you, so why do you think you have a chance.

 

Maybe you don't have to capacities to get good grades: If you have worked and done everything but still can't get good grades, or if you are motivated to study but still can't, then maybe you're simply not smart enough to get into med school, or lack the abilities. It could also be a hidden health issue, like ADHD (my case during cegep). But don't immediately jump to conclusions, go see a professional, start by your advisor. If you have serious doubts that it could be a hidden mental disability, then go see a psychologist or a physician, it could definitively help you.

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I really enjoyed this post. I am going through the same process right now and thought I might add a few things.

 

I applied to U of O for my second undergraduate degree and couldn't get into their science programs because my 68% in Mech Eng at RMC did not meet their minimum gpa requirements. To be eligible for their science programs, applicants coming out of high school must have at least 75%. Although I had 90's in high school, my BEng grades were more recent and used with no consideration for the differences between university and high school.

 

The only program that accepted me was Sociology. This turned out to be a good thing (maybe, I'm not in yet) because it:

 

a) offered enough night classes that I could take a full course load while keeping my day job as an engineer;

B) was fascinating and significantly broadened my world view; and

c) proabably made it easier to get the grades I needed - most schools don't seem to care what your undergraduate degree was as long as you have the prereqs.

 

Some lessons learned:

 

- Admissions committees don't always apply their criteria intelligently (no surprise here).

 

- Pick a second degree that truly interests you. It should be easier to do well and may provide you with a good plan B if med school doesn't pan out.

 

- If you are debating a second undergrad or a post-grad, consider in your final decision that a growing number of schools will not look at post-graduate grades.

 

- Some universities will not look at activities, awards or accomplishments that happened outside of your full-time undergraduate studies. I did many cool things in the Navy bewteen 2003 and 2009, which won't count in the admissions process. If you plan to abolish poverty or cure cancer as a means of padding your sketch, make sure you do it as a full-time undergraduate ;)

 

- When I was finishing my first degree back in 2003, I was miserable and promised myself that I would never go back to school. I went back in the fall of 2009 and looked forward to every class. I won't be returning this fall because I'm having a daughter and can't manage a full time job and course load while being a responsible parent. This shouldn't sink my chances for a 2013 admission but I will sincerely miss going back to class. That was a long-winded way of saying the convictions you hold today may not be the ones you hold tomorrow.

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First degree

Mcat - 2009- 7,11,6O

 

FIrst degree - Psychology (McGill University)

1 year 2.1

2nd year 2.5

3rd year 2.6

4th year 3.5

 

Second degree - General Studies (Athabasca U)

 

1st year - 3.7

 

I would like to apply this cycle. Should I continue with the degree or should I enroll in a 1 year masters at Guelph university.

 

Is MiNDS one year? I think they are still open for applications.

 

I am also applying for AMCAS Howard and Meharry U

 

Any advice is greatly appreciated.

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Oldman, thanks very much for adding your information, it's really useful! I agree with you wholeheartedly.

 

Studentmed, I would highly recommend doing a complete honours second undergrad degree. You can probably do this in two years. Make sure you meet Western's requirements.

 

I would do that because with your GPA and MCAT score you will have a very difficult time gaining acceptance in Canada or the United States. You will also need to rewrite your MCAT most likely, aim for above 10 in all sections and a Q in writing.

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