Below we have provided an example order of how you might split up your science classes. This schedule is VERY subjective. Each of these groups can be split between semesters or years (PLEASE don’t take 4+ STEM classes in one semester), but are a general guideline for popular premed classes that may help to take before the MCAT. Many of the classes listed also have alternates that may be helpful to look into: for example, there are 3 biochems offered, or 3 sets of physics, or 3 pchems. Talk to an advisor for more specific questions.
First Semester: CHEM 125/126/130, BIO 171, STATS 250, PSYCH 111
Second Semester: BIO 172, BIO 173, CHEM 210/211
Third Semester: CHEM 215/216, PHYSICS 135/136, BIO 225
Fourth Semester: CHEM 230, PHYSICS 235/236, MCDB 310
Junior/Senior year: Finish Major and Graduation Requirements
Which classes to take and not take together
When you register for classes, it is helpful to look at the syllabus to get an idea of what type of class it is. Some classes may be very focused on exams, some may have a lot of writing, some may be math-heavy, some may be memorization heavy, etc. I always try to take no more than two of each of these types of classes per semester.
For example, bio classes are often memorization heavy, and there are only so many slides you can commit to memory in a semester, so I wouldn’t take something like Physiol and biochem and microbio all together.
Similarly, don’t take your upper-level writing together with all other humanities if you don’t find writing to be your strong suit; taking only one or two writing classes allows you to spend more time on each paper you hand in.
Another thing to consider once you have access to all syllabi for the semester is how well the exams are spaced out. Most of the time, exams are spread out enough to make studying for them manageable. However, it is possible that a combination of classes you choose makes all of your first midterms, second midterms, and third midterms land in the same week, and some people are better at managing such a situation better than others.
Additionally, below are our board’s own experiences with U of M courses in our best and worst semesters. We hope you can learn from our experiences!
My worst semester was the second semester of my freshman year. I was taking BIOLOGY 173, CHEM 210 and 211, HISTORY 105 (Intro to Religion), and SOC 100. I think the reason why this was my worst semester was that I never had exposure to organic chemistry in high school, so studying for Orgo 1 took up a lot of time. Additionally, although I was interested in religion as a topic (and am now minoring in Religion), HISTORY 105 turned out to be slightly different than what I expected, making it harder for me to complete those assignments. Finally, BIOLOGY 173 (like most labs at Michigan) took up a decent amount of time, because we were required to complete pre-labs, 2 papers, 2 presentations, and 2 quizzes. I think this combination of classes – where the subjects were either new or required my full attention – in addition to being a freshman led to me getting a little overwhelmed.
My best semester was actually the following semester, which was the fall of my sophomore year. I took CHEM 215 and 216, PHYSICS 135 and 136, PSYCH 230 (Behavioral Neuroscience), and BIOLOGY 200 (Independent Research). I actually really enjoyed this combination of classes, mostly because of the scientific nature of the subjects. Taking Orgo 2 (which I found to be easier and generally better than Orgo 1) and Physics 1 (which is often perceived to be one of the easier pre-med courses) concurrently definitely worked out well. PSYCH 230 was also fairly science-heavy, but I really enjoyed the focus on the brain, especially since I am a BCN major. Finally, BIOLOGY 200 allowed me to explore research on my own for the first time. This was also the semester when I started joining more student orgs, and when I learned that I work more efficiently when I am busy.
My worst semester was the winter of my sophomore year. I was taking BIO 172(4)/CHEM 210(4)/MATH 215(4)/UROP 280(4). I was also doing about 15 hours of research and 4 hours volunteering per week. I think that semester went so poorly because I never reached out for help when I was having trouble understanding concepts, and I was too stubborn to change my study style that was clearly not working. I’m not naturally good at memorizing, and I was stubborn and did not make an effort to switch to a study method that matched the demands of the course. Also, I was having issues with my mental and physical health that I think added to my inability to focus in class and retain the information I was taught. My ability to succeed in school since the winter of my sophomore year has coincided with improvements in my state of mind and a better social life.
My best semester was the fall of my junior year. I was taking pchem /BIOPHYS 370(3)/MCDB 310(3)/AMCULT 214(3)/EEB 472(3)/EHS 474(3). I was also doing 15 hours of research and 4 hours volunteering per week. Honestly, I think I did well because I went to all of my classes and reached out to professors/GSIs whenever I was having a hard time understanding the course material. This meant going to office hours or scheduling a time to meet my professors for about 3 hours/week, but I think it was worth it. Plus, my relationships with my professors ended up being great, so much so that three of my letters of recommendation will be written by professors I had the fall of my junior year. I also made sure to give myself time to relax and blow off steam. It seems counterintuitive to commit to doing more things during a week on top of school and research obligations, but I found that adding social events into my schedule made me more efficient and happy to do school work.
My worst semester was the fall semester of my junior year. That semester I took Chem 230, Bio 222 (neuroscience major core class), Soc 302 (essentially the introductory sociology class for Pre-Meds), and MCDB 300 (3 credits of research for the lab I work in). I know this may not seem like a heavy course load, but I was also studying for the MCAT. So in addition to 3 hours of volunteering at the hospital, 4 hours of volunteering at Ozone House, 12 hours of research, my Chem 130 course leader and facilitator job, and numerous other extracurriculars, I was trying to study for what was the hardest exam I was going to take in my life thus far. Reflecting on this time, I realize that I committed myself to too many activities while trying to study for the MCAT. If I had to go back and change anything, I would change the time I took the MCAT. Knowing myself and my standardized test-taking abilities, I should have studied for the MCAT while I wasn’t taking any classes, particularly the summer after my sophomore or junior year. Additionally, my anxiety and ADHD ramped up during this stressful time, so I think that negatively affected my MCAT studying experience.
My best semester was actually the winter semester of my junior year. I took my MCAT in the middle of January, which, naturally wasn’t a particularly fun or positive experience. However, after that was over, it was smooth sailing for the rest of the semester. I continued with the previous extracurriculars and activities I was doing in the fall semester of junior year. Additionally, I wasn’t taking any “Pre-Med” classes. I took Psych 335 and Psych 336 which are neuroscience electives for my major. Additionally, I took Soc 495, which is an upper-level elective focusing on global and local health disparities. I really enjoyed this class as it challenged me to think in a way that was quite different than the way I was challenged in my STEM classes. I also took Jazz 450, which is a meditation class on North Campus. I can say that this class really taught me how to channel my anxiety into a productive, mindful practice, and taught me useful skills to manage my anxiety during my MCAT test day. Additionally, I had no Friday classes for the first time. Every Friday, I would take a mental health day and I believe that this taught me to learn how to reset and ground myself so I could have a productive weekend and following week.
My worst semester was the fall semester of my junior year. During this, I was taking biochemistry (biochemistry department version), re-taking CHEM 210, and taking Genetics. Off the top of my head, I can’t even remember what else I was taking, because those classes were massively neglected. My thought process for taking this many science classes at once was that Orgo 1 would not be very intense, as I had already taken it once, even though I hadn’t received a satisfactory enough grade in the class. I had also taken Orgo 2 during the term preceding the fall, and I had done much better than I did in Orgo 1 initially. This was the first mistake — Orgo 1 was still nearly as difficult as it was the first time that I took it, only this time I had to juggle biochem and genetics on top of it. You can probably guess how those two classes went. HORRIBLE. It’s probably possible for some genius student to juggle all these classes, but it was not possible for me at all. I ended up retaking both biochemistry and genetics. Not fun.
My best semester was the fall semester of my senior year. By that time, I was finished with the majority of the pre-medical requirements and focusing on finishing both of my majors. I was taking an African history class (AAS 246: Africa to 1850), a new enforced class for the Neuroscience major (BIO 222: Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience), a Neuroscience major elective (MCDB 421: Topic in Neurobiology – Sensory Circuits and Disease), a microbiology class (MICRBIOL 405: Microbiology and Infectious Diseases), and an experimentally-focused small group lecture that counted as a lab credit for both my Psychology and Neuroscience majors (PSYCH 402: Experimental Designs & Methods in Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience). This semester was extremely enjoyable to me because every class was advanced-level material in topics that I was interested in. I was thoroughly challenged but not overwhelmed. I actually didn’t know how well I did overall until I finished the semester, but I still was content with the course load during the term.
My worst semester so far was the fall semester of my sophomore year, but I think this semester (winter my junior year) will end up being my worst semester after it is finished. For both of these semesters, I decided to take two hard science courses at the same time. For my fall semester, I was taking PSYCH 240/BIO 225/MCDB 310/SOC 302. Not only was biochem and Animal Phys super hard, but all of my classes that semester were classes that you needed to memorize all of the material to do well. I would recommend taking some classes that require memorization with ones that require problem-solving and not all of one type. This semester I am taking genetics with orgo 3, which again are two very hard science courses. In addition to taking classes both semesters, I was and currently, am doing research and various volunteer activities. From my experience with both of these semesters, I advise you to not take more than one hard science course at one time unless you absolutely have to or taking harder science courses with easier classes to help balance out the workload. For example, I would recommend not take biochem and pchem together.
My best semester was the winter semester of my sophomore year. At the time, I was taking physics, a chem class, behavioral neuroscience, and a humanities course. In my opinion, the classes balanced out; I was taking two easier classes and two harder classes. Also, I was doing research, volunteering at the hospital during the week, and volunteering with hospice on the weekend, so I was not hectically busy. I think this ended up being my best semester because everything was balanced with my workload from classes and my extracurriculars.
My worst semester was the fall of junior year. My classes weren’t too challenging (except pchem) but I really struggled a lot because I took on too many non-school commitments at over 40 hours a week, plus had a full-time course load: ASIANLAN 115(4)/CHEM 230(3)/WS 432(3)/COMPLIT 100(3)/INDEP RESEARCH(2). I also finished the MCAT in September of that semester, so I was a little bit burnt out from all the studying and stress from waiting for my scores.
My best semester was probably the fall of sophomore year because I took really challenging but interesting courses but did well in them because I enjoyed them so much and was highly motivated. I took PHYSIOL 201(4)/CHEM 215(3)/PSYCH 280(4)/ANTHRCUL 325(4) while working about 12 hours a week, research for about 6 hours a week, a couple of extracurriculars, and participating in a dance team about 8 hours a week.
My worst semester was fall of sophomore year. I was taking CHEM 215/BIO 222/CHEM 216/HISTORY 282. I was also doing research 8 hours a week, volunteering 2 hours a week, and working 4 hours a week. Still, the workload was not too heavy. I struggled because my test dates overlapped or fell very close to each other several times, which made it hard to study for my classes.
My best semester was my first semester at college. At the time, I was taking PHYSICS 135/ SPANISH 232/BIO 173/ ENG 125 along with 8 hours of research and 3 hours of volunteering a week. Overall, my workload was not too heavy and I had a lot of energy because it was my first semester, so I was able to do well in my classes. PHYSICS 135 ( before it was changed!) and BIO 173, were also good options to ease my way into the rigorous science curriculum here.
One of my worst semesters was the second semester of freshman year when I was taking Stats 250, Chem 215/216, Psych 280 with an honors conversion, and Women’s Studies 220 for my minor. Not only were my stats and chem exams frequently in the same week (my finals were on the same day and that did not work out well), but it was also a really heavy workload for someone that still wasn’t fully adjusted to the rigor of college. While it didn’t turn out to be the best semester for me, I did learn from it and it never happened again.
My best semester was last semester where I took Biochem Lab (Chem 252), Biochem (MCDB 310), a women’s studies class for my minor, and an anthro class as a GPA booster. To be fair, I only had a credit load of 12 credits this semester which not only helped a lot with time management but also really allowed me to focus on Biochem and do the best that I could in a class that I knew was demanding and really memorization heavy. I did have many extracurriculars going on as well (It was my first semester being an RA, I was doing 15 hours of research a week, and I was volunteering, in addition to my campus orgs), so it actually worked out in the end for me and wasn’t too heavy of a workload.
My worst semester was definitely second semester freshman year. I was taking BIO 120 (first-year seminar about diseases), BIO 173 (intro to bio lab), intensive Latin (8 credits), and was still enrolled in the UROP program. Bio120 was a pretty straightforward class, just had to keep up with the readings to do well. Bio 173 was fairly easy too, but it did require a lot of outside work as there were papers and exams to study for. The main reason I suffered so much that semester was due to intensive Latin. As a pre-med student, I wanted to get out of my LSA language requirement as fast as possible so that I could start taking more science classes. After meeting with an advisor, I was told that one of my options was to take an intensive language course, which merges semesters 3+4 of a standard language course. The class met for roughly 10 hours a week, and there were only 2 other students in the class, so if one of us slacked on homework/readings, it was impossible to hide. I have still yet to put in more time and effort into one class than I did with intensive Latin. While I was incredibly miserable at the time, the payoff was great as I never had to worry about my language requirement after freshman year. For anyone trying to get out of their requirements as fast as possible, this is one option (I believe there are intensive language courses for most of the popular languages offered at Michigan), just be mindful of the other classes you’re taking along with it as you will need to devote the majority of your studying to this class.
My best semester was the winter of sophomore year, when I was taking CHEM 215/216, PHYSICS 235/236, ANTHRCUL 370 (a linguistics class counting as an R+E requirement), and working in my research lab. I loved orgo 1, and orgo 2 proved to be just more of the same, building on most of the concepts taught in the first class. Physics 1 at the time was pretty easy too, but I’ve heard that recently the class has been changed to be much more difficult. ANTHRCUL 370 was also pretty easy, even though it was a 300 level class there wasn’t a lot of prior knowledge required for the class, and the exam questions were taken straight from the lecture and discussion sessions. Even the 10 page paper at the end of it wasn’t too bad since we got to choose our own topics and worked closely with our GSI to help form the best paper possible. None of my classes were too demanding this semester, so I was also able to put more hours into my research lab, which eventually paid off with a summer job offer.
Overall, the way you plan out your schedule can play a pivotal role in how your semester goes. If you have a question on taking two classes together or how to plan your own schedule, feel free to post a question on this website or come to one of our office hours or workshops. Good luck scheduling!