Prerequisite Changes – GPA Concerns

We have received a lot of feedback around the idea that because the science prerequisites are no longer required, applicants will not take them and will take easy classes to boost their GPA instead.

It seems that many individuals are worried about others finding ways to “game” the system. We think this is no real change. In fact, some applicants have been trying to find easy ways to meet admissions requirements for many years (if not forever). But the truth is that applying to medical school is hard. It takes a lot of energy and there aren’t easy ways out. We assume that all applicants have taken a mix of easy and difficult classes as a part of their degree.  It would very uncommon for an entire degree program to offer nothing but easy courses, so it is likely that you’ll have to take at least a few hard courses if you want to work towards an undergraduate degree.

We think the concern is mostly centered around organic chemistry and biochemistry, since first-year biology and chemistry don’t seem to be considered difficult courses. Applicants who completely avoid organic chemistry and biochemistry will now have about 12 credits they can fill/have already filled with different courses. 12 credits can certainly make a difference in one’s GPA, but it’s important to consider the fact that many applicants have done well in their organic chemistry and biochemistry courses – often just as well as they would have done taking different courses. In addition, we are still expecting applicants to show competency in organic chemistry and biochemistry, either through the MCAT, coursework, or both.

Finally, because the science prerequisites are no longer required, the selection committee will be taking a closer look at your transcript. They will be looking at your science courses but will also notice if 50% of your coursework is comprised of juggling and basket-weaving courses (or the university-transferable equivalents thereof).

If you’re still not convinced and are particularly concerned about a specific course or courses, we would like to hear from you. Which courses should we look for? Let us know the courses you think are easy/give high grades (at any institution). This is subjective and we are not saying that these courses will be of particular note to the selection committee, so don’t worry if a course you have taken ends up in the comments. You are of course free to disagree in the comments as well. This issue definitely concerns a number of applicants, so please consider this an opportunity to tell us what types of courses you are concerned might replace organic chemistry and biochemistry on the transcripts of new applicants. If there are any classes that you feel are particularly difficult, feel free to leave a comment about that as well.

35 responses to “Prerequisite Changes – GPA Concerns”

  1. John

    I don’t think it’s a fair change… But now that this change has been made I’m really hoping the admissions committee figures out a way to standardize ones course grades against the respective average for the courses to separate those that work hard from those that just took easy courses…

    1. Admissions

      That is an interesting idea, but not all institutions list course averages on their transcripts.

      1. Sappora H

        While this is true, this is 2016. All universities in Canada have the ability to determine the class average for every single course they offer. I think it’s time that all Canadian universities standardize the way they report their grades. Show the percentage, letter grade, and GPA for the student and the class average.

        This isn’t a matter of teaching style or school philosophy; all school can do whatever they wish, but they should really standardize the way they report grades. It’s unbelievable that schools today, in 2016, will not standardize the way they report grades.

      2. Anonymous

        We should also keep in mind that the course average may not necessarily reflect the “difficulty” of the course. For example, if you take a look at the averages for the 4th year CAPS courses at UBC, most of the averages are in the 80’s. However, I would not consider these courses as “easy” courses. In fact, the material that is covered in the course actually goes into greater depth than what the med students learn in first year (for the same topic). One of the possible reasons for the higher average may be because of the pre-requisites for enrolment into these courses: “A cumulative average of 75% over at least 90 credits attempted in the first three years of a student’s program and a minimum mark of 75% in CAPS 301 or PHYL 301. Permission of the course director is also required.”

        1. Sappora

          That’s pretty interesting. I bet your class most likely follows a bell-shaped distribution. A student who is very capable would be at least 1 or 2 standard deviations above the average, even if the average is an 80.

          I would still argue that percentile rank or comparing the performance against the average is more accurate measure when comparing student’s grades where you can’t control for things like course difficulty. (i.e. I got an 88% and the class average was 84% vs. I got a 78 and the class average was 74%). It would also ensure that applicants who take more difficult courses would not be automatically excluded from consideration.

  2. Linda Cho

    As a pre-med student- I believe it is integral to have basic science knowledge in Chemistry, Biology, Biochemistry, Physics and Calculus from first year level all the way up to 3rd or 4th year levels (at the highest academic level) regardless of the undergraduate degree used to pursue Medicine.

    If these basic Science pre-requisites are not met- but the applicant has shown incredible aptitude and intelligence in the MCAT score; Then I believe that MCAT score should take precedence over what courses were studied in their undergraduate degree.

    I do hope that UBC and other top Canadian medical schools will take note from top US medical schools and UK medical schools that require Science pre-requisites.

    All through high school, I have been a Standardized Patient and have had many colorful experiences with preceptors and med students at The University of Calgary med school. As a volunteer clinical research assistant to neurologists – I have heard that students without a science background are not as adequately prepared to make that leap into the Med school environment. They are not as competitive in the pursuit of medical specialties and struggle much more than their peers with a strong science background.

    I believe if there are no longer Science pre-requisites- that there should be strongly recommended science courses at a high academic level in order to be considered for Med school.

  3. Beenu bajwa

    Biol 201 and chem 235 and 233 are important courses and should definitely be looked at.

  4. Wes Richardson

    I think a big concern amongst Pre-Med’s at my University is that many of us have already completed most of the “hard” sciences (Ochem, Biochem etc.). From my point of view what is of concern is if the committee is now going to be viewing, for example, a Human Kinetics class that is considered “difficult” as on par with Ochem. If this is the case, it is frustrating due to the fact that many science students (including myself) could have received a better grade in these other classes. The frustration also lies in the fact that now some of the science majors (1st and 2nd years) are actually intentionally switching majors, in order to boost there GPA. An option that many of us do not have, now that we have completed the classes. While this post does claim that these people will not be able to “play the game” its hard to trust this statement when those around me are achieving better grades by avoiding the former pre-requisites.

  5. Anna

    Any physics, biochemistry, organic chemistry, and maths courses are difficult courses at UVic. Sociology courses are considered quite easy.

  6. Anon

    UVIC: HLTH 251: Healthy Sexuality
    MUS 108/208: African Hand Drumming
    GRS 200: Greek and Roman Mythology
    ME 303A: Studio Guitar I
    BIOL 400: History of Biology
    GERS 487:A Cultural History of Vampires in Literature and Film

  7. Julie

    “Let us know the courses you think are easy/give high grades (at any institution). This is subjective and we are not saying that these courses will be of particular note to the selection committee, so don’t worry if a course you have taken ends up in the comments.”

    This is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever read in a public post that is directly affiliated with a higher level institution.

    What is your intention of asking people’s input for “easy” courses if you know very well that it’s subjective? For a student majoring in History, essay based courses might be a breeze while even the “first-year biology and chemistry” courses can be difficult (vice versa for the science students that this post seems to be directed towards). And we all know that a student’s grade is often dependent on his/her professor or TA instead of the course itself.

    “Finally, because the science prerequisites are no longer required, the selection committee will be taking a closer look at your transcript. They will be looking at your science courses but will also notice if 50% of your coursework is comprised of juggling and basket-weaving courses (or the university-transferable equivalents thereof).”

    Again, whose decision is it to decide which courses are “easy” and which ones are difficult? Isn’t this statement also implying that a course that many people seem to do well in is also a course that has less educational value? Why were these courses offered in the first place then, and for the same amount of tuition?

    There is no doubt that numerous students are placed in a disadvantageous position because of the pre-req changes, but it’s more of the fact that they had less space to choose courses that they are truly passionate about rather than what is now regarded as merely a “GPA concern”. Although I’m not an expert in admissions, I am an undergrad student who can say with confidence that the courses that I did best in were the courses that I am really interested in – regardless of whether they have been previously labelled as either “bird” or “weeder” courses.

    Ultimately, I think it’s great that UBC is trying to take the students’ complaints into account; however, I personally feel strongly against a blog post that simply tries to gather a list of “easy” courses and compare them with the “difficult” ones. I am also by no means against the changes that UBC has made in the admissions process. Change is good, and I applaud UBC for attempting to try new things. But please stop making posts that attempt to appease students who have had to take the pre-req courses that are no longer required. Their opinions should have been surveyed and valued during the decision making process of changing the pre-reqs. Instead, there was barely any opportunity for effective dialogue, and current attempts to adjust the system for concerned students are only making med school hopefuls more distraught.

    1. Anon

      “Again, whose decision is it to decide which courses are “easy” and which ones are difficult? Isn’t this statement also implying that a course that many people seem to do well in is also a course that has less educational value? Why were these courses offered in the first place then, and for the same amount of tuition?”

      Good point. But there needs to be objectivity applied to each institution and its faculties. The only way that I see to do that is to look at GPAs awarded in those courses – do you see any other way? I don’t think their post was meant to hurt or appease anyone. I speculate that they will look at the courses posted here and compare marks awarded in those courses compared with average class GPA and overall GPA. That would be an objective way to look at an “easy” course and run analysis. Anecdotal example: look at the course average for a general biochemistry course (mid 60s) at my home institution compared to a music course like African hand drumming (mid 80s).

      Personally, I like this post because there is an acknowledgment that people are “gaming” the process. Sometimes people need help in identifying the trends, especially because there is no precedent set yet.

  8. KP

    As SFU actually does have a FNST course on weaving, you might want to reconsider your language choice…

    1. Admissions

      We were alluding to the “underwater basketweaving” cliché (which perhaps could use some unpacking itself) and did not intend to disparage traditional Indiginous technologies or courses that use these technologies as an entry point into the study of Indiginous culture, philosophy, history, etc. However, it is important to be attentive to language, so thank you for the reminder and for bringing the course to our attention.

  9. Thom

    Does this mean that the AQ will be reflective of the difficulty level of courses counting towards your GPA?
    If not, how do you plan to assess that at the pre-interview stage where the AQ makes up 50% of your chances for an interview, and ultimately opens the door to acceptance?

    1. Admissions

      No, this does not change how the pre-interview AQ score is calculated – the committee review is after the interviews. Along with the philosophical considerations, from a logistical standpoint there are too many applicants to look at every class every applicant has taken and assess its difficulty (as mentioned in previous comment, not all institutions list class averages, so it’s not as easy as devising a formula based on class rank/class average or similar).

  10. DP

    While it is not to say basic foundational knowledge from those courses isn’t important, it would be difficult to argue why a capable medical student would need to have such high-level knowledge in chemistry, physics, calculus. Wouldn’t it be more logical to learn anatomy, physiology, pharmacology knowledge in your undergrad. Pharmacology is even offered without any pre-reqs in schools such as U of T, so no doubt it is similar to chemistry, but it can be offered to challenge students only on pharmaceutical concepts. Some of the medical students themselves argue that what they learned in physiology and anatomy has been far more helpful to them in medical school than physics or chemistry. And how about courses that develop interpersonal communication skills, empathetic and critical thinking, all of which are very integral to a capable doctor’s practice? Also some schools are changing the way MCATs are looked at, such as McMaster and Calgary only looking at CARS, etc… There’s arguably a lot more things that a pre-med can do to have a successful transition into med then Chemistry, Calculus, Physics..

  11. Lin Robinson

    I would just like to add a few things to the conversation. I am 28 years old and I returned to uni after a 10 year arts career to pursue medicine. My course selection was based on the previously required prerequisites at UBC. Having been out of an academic setting for well over a decade, my aptitude for Biology, Chemistry, Biochem, and O CHEM is significantly lesser than that of my fellow students who have an extensive background in Science. It has been a very steep learning curve. I am applying to UBC with a degree in theatre and my sciences are my degree electives. Even though UBC has gotten rid of them as stringent requirements, I have continued to take them despite the negative impact they have had on my gpa because I believe that perserverence in the face of difficulty is a benchmark quality for a physician to acquire; these courses are vital and the information is so valuable. That said, I think that we all have different backgrounds and different experiences and the more of us that are able to apply the better. We need knowledge of these subjects for the MCAT and subsequently through our careers as physicians so regardless of whether or not they are mandatory, knowledge of them is important. I believe UBC will thoroughly review each person’s file and that they will choose the best people for this profession. Stay true to yourselves everybody. If you took them, great! If you didn’t, you had better ask Mr. Khan for help. We all have to find our own way to accomplish our goals and I can guarantee that all of you have something to contribute to the world of medicine. Good on you UBC. And good on all of us for chasing this dream. Keep studying and enjoy the process!

    1. W

      I am so proud of your perseverance. Don’t give up.

    2. Arooj

      I wholeheartedly agree with you! It’s what I keep telling myself and my friends – you simply have to persevere to the best of your abilities, no matter what everyone else around you is doing. Taking challenging courses might impact your GPA, and it might lower your chances of admission based on the pre-interview AQ score, but it is going to be so beneficial for you to have completed that course and learned all it had to offer. Organic chemistry, biochemistry, physiology, and even physics – they all have something crucial to offer in the field of medicine, healthcare, and beyond. Keep your head up, and do your best with what you have. Forget everyone else.

  12. ProIntellectualDiversity

    Dear UBC MD Admissions Committee –

    I wish to address the Science Majors who are disappointed with the pre-requisite changes. I think they are hardly aware of how hurtful and baseless some of the comments here on soft vs hard sciences.

    I finished my undergraduate degree in Philosophy from a school known to have a tough program in it, and eventually did graduate studies in the medical social sciences and I’m now preparing to take the MCAT and apply to medical schools. I’ve been studying side-by-side with science majors in study groups and review classes, and in fact I’m teaching them CARS – and they’re not necessarily the most special breed of learners just because they completed the pre-med pre-req curriculum.

    They struggle with CARS in particular because it’s outside their comfort zone and they have no idea what will come their way. I admire pre-meds who have completed all the pre-reqs traditionally required, but please don’t disparage non-science majors — most of us probably got very high GPA’s because we chose to study what we were passionate about, not because they’re easy. As I study the basic sciences required for the MCAT, I can actually see how it’s a lot easier than studying other subjects since a) there’s so much resources out there and b) curricula and expectations across universities are almost uniform, that it doesn’t really encourage and challenge students to arrive at creative, original thinking.

    I am worried if students who hold the view that certain kinds of sciences are far more superior (and harder) than others get into medical schools, they will also create a toxic environment for those who are there with a variety of backgrounds. Intellectual diversity strengthens a medical school cohort, and I wouldn’t want to be in a medical school with 100% Biology majors, that would just be dull and uninspiring. If that’s what I wanted, then I would just become a biologist and get a PhD in Biology, and even in Biology programs, there’s intellectual diversity.

    To the UBC Admissions Committee, maybe you can also write a much more thorough explanation behind this shift. Better yet, clarify and tell us exactly what kind of intellectual diversity in medicine that you’re trying to build. I suggest you read the book “Questioning the Premedical Paradigm Enhancing Diversity in the Medical Profession a Century after the Flexner Report” by Donald Barr, MD, PhD — can you let us know how the insights from this book apply to the changes you’re implementing next year? I think it will elucidate some of the points that are discussed in these threads:

    The description of the book:

    [edited for length]

    THANK YOU VERY MUCH and I hope that there would be much more PRODUCTIVE conversations about UBC’s views on premedical and medical education.

  13. John

    Here is a list of easy classes at UBC:
    Most EPSE courses (e.g. 312, 316, 320, 406, 449)
    Most ADHE courses (e.g. 329, 330)
    Most SPPH (formerly called IHHS) courses (e.g. 200, 300, 302, 400, 411)
    Some CNPS courses (e.g. 433, 363)
    most first-year EOSC courses (e.g. 112, 114, 116, 118) and EOSC 270
    GERM 100, SWED 100, and a few other introductory language courses
    LING 100, 101
    PCTH 325
    AFST 250

  14. Elaine

    I just have a question about easy courses. If I take a language course out of my own interest in my fourth year that starts with 2xx will that look like an “easy course” on my transcript? Thanks!

    1. Admissions

      We’re really more concerned about a pattern than any one individual course – if most of your other fourth-year courses seem appropriate for a student at your level and you have room in your degree to take a personal interest course, that’s not a problem. On the other hand, if almost all of your fourth-year courses are 200-level, we would probably wonder why and would find it helpful to have an explanation on the application.

  15. Sappora H

    Why stop at listing courses that are difficult? We should also list difficult institutions. As a U of T alumni I thought U of T was hard. I graduated above average in the life sciences. Most classes had an average ranging from a 2.3-2.7 (C to B-, mid 60s to low 70s).

  16. Étienne Rhéaume

    Even if the people who took the science courses didn’t have lower GPAs than those who have been avoiding them all this time, and there was a perfect way for the admissions office to account for the difficulty of taken courses, there is one major downside that will affect everybody from this year on: the number of applicants, especially out of province. That number is guaranteed to skyrocket this year.

  17. Patti Doyle-Bedwell

    Basket weaving? Is that offered somewhere? My family made and sold baskets for a living back in the day.. Not easy. So maybe you could change your example from “basket weaving” to “Listening to classical music.”


    1. Admissions

      Please see comment from KP above.

  18. Adam

    Quick Question! I am a science (microbi) major. I have my ochem, biochem, 3rd/4th year microbi courses. So I’m assuming that this would indicate that I’m not trying to “get out of system” because I believe that science is an integral part of medicine and that it’s important to have a good foundation in these courses. In addition to these science courses, would it be acceptable to take “easy online gpa boosters” to up our chances for admissions? I know that you guys have talked about “looking for trends in courses”, but if I have taken ochem, biochem, upper-level science courses, would it be okay for me to fill up the rest of my credits with easy online gpa boosters? Thanks so much!

    1. Admissions

      Please see our reply on the Easy Courses post.

  19. Joe

    Hi UBC,

    With these upcoming changes to the prerequisites, will our MCAT scores now be considered in our pre-interview AQ or will it still be a post-interview criteria?


    1. Admissions

      Pre-interview is not changing – the MCAT will not be looked at pre-interview, beyond checking exams to make sure they meet our date and minimum score requirements.

  20. Vicki


    I’m coming quite late into this discussion, but I appreciate that UBC med wants to hear feedback about this rule. Sorry if this post might be a bit long. I personally have concerns about gpa, but they centre around the way decisions are made at the pre-interview stage. Especially with younger applicants in their 3rd or 4th year, it’s difficult them to achieve very high NAQ (non academic quotient) scores when competing with older applicants who have simply had more “years under their belt” to dedicate to, and show multi year commitment to extracurricular activities. More relevant to this conversation is the fact that, with taking “easier” courses, there is definitely more time to commit to extracurricular activities. With this said, many of these students with a strong selection of EC’s but have less overall hours spent on them, would often get lower NAQ scores, but get interviews in the past due to their higher AQ scores. The AQ scores would usually push a younger applicant taking more time consuming courses, over the cutoff by a point or two.

    The issue now however, is that the way of evaluating pre-interview admissions has not changed, and everything that’s said in the original post about how the selection committee will take closer looks at transcripts etc. is presumably in the post-interview stage. This is a huge issue for some applicants that might have an overall strong application, decent marks, what would have been a good interview if given the chance, and fantastic MCAT scores. Consideration of the types of courses taken, and the MCAT (to assess competence in the sciences) should be held at the pre-interview stage, to ensure that these applicants who have taken more challenging courses, are afforded an opportunity for interview. I know it can be said that people who have not taken any of the old prerequisites courses would be weeded out in the post interview process, but this does not compensate for the damage done to people who did take these courses in the pre-interview. I don’t so much have an issue with the removal of prerequisites as I do with the lack of change of how the selection process works.

    The difference between now and before is that at the very least, there was a subset of relevant science courses that every applicant needed to take and could be compared to on an equal footing. In this way, it made much more sense to just hand out an AQ based on pure gpa numbers (although there could also be an argument that no matter what, AQ should give consideration to course selection even before prerequisites were dropped). But now, the grounds for comparison are less equal than ever, given the complete removal of these prerequisites. It’s good that UBC considers course selection at the post interview stage, but truth be told, an applicant needs to qualify for an interview first. To be truthful, I think it’s a good thing that UBC has removed the prerequisites, because there needs to be some degree of flexibility afforded to applicants who are maybe missing one or two prereqs but have an otherwise very strong application. But not all courses are of equal difficulty, and despite the value of having a diverse class, I still do believe that a medical education requires that a student is able to perform well in the sciences, and demonstrates the ability to understand/learn material of the sciences. Just because someone else performs very well in another discipline area, easy courses or not, doesn’t mean would succeed in the sciences, not everyone is good at everything. For those saying MCAT scores will demonstrate ability to excel in the sciences, this is not exactly true. The MCAT does not test the same abilities taught in science prerequisite classes, and although it does test for other important qualities and foundational scientific knowledge, the process of actually going through a science based course (and doing well in it), I think, prepares (and shows the future potential of success in the medical field) students in a crucial way. I’m not saying non science courses are intrinsically easier, but this change has delivered a big blow to people who are passionate about science, good at science, and so choose to take rigorous courses in the field they love. These people may miss the interview cutoffs by 1 or 2 points because those with higher averages, who have not had to take the same rigorous courses made it so that a higher gpa was needed to attain the same AQ score.

    To address the idea about some courses being easier than others, there is honestly no acceptable and official way for an admissions committee to assess this. It’s all based on the reputation of a course. What I can say is that there definitely EXISTS easier courses, easier versions of “harder” courses, and although *almost* everyone “plays the game”, why is it that when a person truly doesn’t play the game, takes rigorous, challenging courses, and performs well (but maybe not as well as a “gpa booster” course), UBC doesn’t value this. Certainly it can’t be difficult to implement holistic assessment of AQ in the preinterview phase (in fact, holistic assessment at every phase), and give those truly passionate about life sciences, who are willing to challenge themselves, and show integrity by refusing to take courses they find uninteresting just to get better grades, a fair chance. Aren’t these qualities very desirable, and also just as desirable as having diversity of academic backgrounds, in an entering class of future doctors?

  21. Lindsey

    Can anyone at UBC explain the substantial increase in gpa requirements of interviewed applicants this year?

    Average ACCEPTED applicant last year: 88%
    Average INTERVIEWED applicant this year: 89.3%

    Perhaps because of removal of prerequisites??

    1. Admissions

      Apologies for the late reply! According to the stats published on our website, the overall or adjusted GPA for interviewed applicants this year is 88.30% (not sure where you are finding 89.3%, sorry). When compared to the overall or adjusted GPA of applicants interviewed last year, the increase is in line with recent trends. The increase is a bit higher this year than last year but is not the highest it has been in recent years.