Becoming a Competitive Applicant: Academics

As you enter Wake Forest, you will be assigned a lower division academic advisor who will see you through to the spring semester of your second year. Since you will not select a major until the end of the second year, your lower division advisor will most likely be in a field unrelated to the one in which you eventually major. If you are interested in a career in medicine, dentistry or veterinary medicine, you should attend one of the health professions introductory sessions that will be held during the first few weeks of classes. Regardless of the health profession field that you are interested in, if you find yourself struggling academically or have concerns about course selection, please check in with the appropriate Health Professions Advisor.

As you begin your first year, you may find that the level of coursework is surprisingly more challenging than in high school. There will be a lot of distractions that may pull you away from your studies. Stay focused academically. Programs in medicine, dentistry, physician assistant, physical therapy and others are very competitive. Don’t dig a hole that causes you to have to work twice as hard later to be competitive for admission.  At the same time, remember that being competitive means much more than just a good grade point average. Most programs are looking for well-rounded individuals who have a variety of interests and who have demonstrated a concern for the welfare of others.

First year students, don’t worry about your choice of major. Take the courses that will keep you on track for admission to a program in your chosen field, and then use the wide variety of divisional courses offered to explore various areas of study. As you near the end of your second year, you may be surprised by what you choose as your major. Majoring in a science may not offer an advantage. For almost all of the health professions, including medicine, what is important is that you complete the prerequisite courses. Major in what you enjoy the most! You will most likely do better academically. 

AP or IB Credit

Most medical school programs will accept AP or IB credits for prerequisite courses, but some do not. Most PA programs do not accept AP credit for prerequisite courses. For those schools that accept AP credit, it must appear on your Wake Forest transcript.  Some schools will allow additional advanced coursework in that discipline to substitute for courses for which AP credit has been awarded. So should you retake courses for which you have received credit? Think about what schools to which you might apply. Always check the policy of your home state school(s). Wake Forest School of Medicine accepts AP credits.  

Online Courses

Some programs accept online courses. Most programs do not accept online courses in the sciences, particularly if they have a laboratory component. Some schools will accept blended courses, where lectures are online but the lab is done in person. Unless you have graduated and are unable to take a course any other way, it is best not to take any science courses online. If the only way that you can take a course is to take it online, be sure to check with the programs to which you plan to apply before doing so. If the programs you are interested in do accept online courses, these courses have the advantage of offering considerable flexibility that allows you to take a course while working. Many (but not all) allow you to work at your own pace. Important things to take into consideration: Is the program accredited? What is the academic reputation of the institution offering the course? Is the instructor qualified?

Summer Courses

Most of your science courses should be taken at Wake Forest, so that schools know that you have had a rigorous experience in these courses. If you do choose to take one or two courses elsewhere, make sure that it is at an accredited four-year university or college. Unless you are a science major, it is not necessary that the courses transfer into Wake Forest. You will need to submit an additional transcript for with your professional school application for courses taken elsewhere. 

Courses taken in the summer for transfer must be pre-approved by the department before the course is taken. The Registrar’s Office keeps a list of courses that are already pre-approved. 

Repeating Courses

The best thing to do is to never get into a situation where you have to repeat a course! Most programs will not accept grades lower than a “C”.  So if you get a C- or lower in a class, you will need to repeat it. But if you are struggling in a course, don’t attempt to earn a C- or lower rather than a C just so you can repeat the course. Even though Wake Forest allows you to repeat courses and remove the first attempt from your Wake Forest GPA, the first grade is still on your transcript. Also, when you calculate your GPA for your application to a health professions program, you will need to include all of the courses you have taken, even if you have repeated some of them. Repeated courses don’t just go away. Your course grade will be an average of both attempts.


If you are struggling in a course, take advantage of the resources that Wake Forest offers. Seek out advice from your course instructor or TA. Peer tutoring is available free of charge through the Learning Assistance Center. The LAC can also help with time management issues or study skills. If you need assistance in writing, visit the Writing Center. The Chemistry and Biology Centers, operated through the departments of Chemistry and Biology respectively, allows students to drop in and work with instructors and/or peers. The Math Department offers a similar service. Finally, don’t forget that you have an academic advisor who may not be able to help you with your biology exam, but can give you sage academic advice on whether or not you should drop a course. If you find that you are really struggling academically and need assistance to stay on track, please see a counselor in the Office of Academic Advising.

Just say no

There are so many things to do in college, many of which are unrelated to academics, that it is easy to become over-committed. While a variety of experiences makes for a well-rounded individual, spreading yourself too thin often means that you have many things on your resume, but have not excelled in any of them. Preparing for a career in a health profession does not preclude having a normal college experience. But always remember your goal, and make wise decisions on how to spend your time.