#32 Top 5 Hardest Classes In College

So far, I am in my junior year of college and I have taken almost all the required courses for a Biology major with a concentration in Biomedical Studies. On top of that I have taken many Honors courses as well as Pre-PA courses (#29 Want To Be a PA? What To Know). Most of these have been difficult but today I will be ranking the 5 hardest courses I have taken thus far.

5. Human Physiology

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This course is usually a combined course with Anatomy at most schools but, Arcadia University separates these classes. This course is a load of fun with some difficult material. All in all, it is one of the easier courses on this list due to its relevance to human life. Many things you learn you will have heard in the past and there is a massive amount of information that you can study from. Its course load is extremely high and it is extremely easy to fall behind. For this reason, it has been listed as the fifth hardest course on my list.

4. Biochemistry

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Biochemistry is an upper-level course that many people avoid. Its prerequisites require that you take General Chemistry I, General Chemistry II, Organic Chemistry, and the General Biology courses. This course is the true bridge between Biology and Chemistry. In this class, you will use Biology concepts such as Glycolysis and Gluconeogenesis and explain them using Organic and General Chemistry. This courses material is difficult in all aspects but, the amount of material is less than other classes on this list.

3. General Chemistry II

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General Chemistry II is often one of the courses you hear many first years complaining about. I am here to say that they are not complaining for no reason (#14 General Chemistry. How To Do Well). If you have taken General Chemistry II you will know the struggle of getting extremely low grades while studying material that is very difficult. The fact is that the equations and concepts taught during this course may be basic to an upper-level Biology or Chemistry major but, to a first-year student, it is like trying to learn a new language. Not only does this class have a difficult curriculum but the curriculum you cover is conceptual. This means you have to be visual and logical as well as knowledgeable about the equations and theories.

2. Comparative Anatomy and Physiology

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Comparative Anatomy and Physiology is not a typical course many people hear about before college. It is sometimes called zoology. This course looks into every development of life from a sponge to a modern human. You begin the semester by learning about sponges and simple forms of life. You will slowly move on to more complex forms of life like arthropods, fish, birds, and eventually humans. What makes this course harder than most courses is that the language between animals is extremely different. Typically for a class, you will begin to see similar words used. However, in this course words will never be the same between species and you will often find yourself trying to keep track of this complex vocabulary. The immense amount of detail and work that is needed for this class is also an immense amount. This is why I have ranked Comparative Anatomy and Physiology second on my list.

1. Organic Chemistry

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Organic Chemistry is notoriously a difficult course no matter where you take it. It is an extremely difficult material to understand is one of the main reasons it is ranked as the hardest course on my list. However, there is an even bigger reason it is ranked as number one. Organic Chemistry is a cumulative class. What I mean by this is that everything you learn from the first to last day builds on top of each other. So, if you do not understand a specific topic or theory, it is not just going to disappear. Everyone learns Organic Chemistry in the same order because without certain knowledge and material you can not solve certain problems. Other classes are not like this. Usually, if you struggle in one area you can do badly on it and move on. Organic Chemistry is not like that and this is why it has earned its spot at the top of my list.

#29 Want to Be a PA? What To Know

Arcadia is known for its high-caliber academic programs, and the Physician’s Assistant program is no exception. The program receives more than 3,000 applications every year for just around 100 spots. 

One of the remarkable things about attending Arcadia as an undergraduate is that you can apply through their direct entry program, which means if you reach all prerequisites set by the department, you will receive an automatic interview. This is easier said than done, but some applicants who don’t attend Arcadia don’t even manage to get an interview. 

Being part of the Physician’s Assistant program has been one of the best and hardest parts of my college experience. Here’s what I would recommend for anyone interested in being a PA:

Be confident. I know it can be hard, but there is a reason you are selecting this path. At some point, you knew deep down that you could succeed. Revert to that confident self, and strive for success.

-Patrick Ensmenger

Meeting the Prerequisites

The required classes for Arcadia’s PA program include five Biology courses. Three of the five must be Microbiology, Physiology, and Anatomy. Biochemistry is highly recommended as well. You’ll also take three Chemistry courses (including Organic Chemistry), a Psychology course, and a Statistics course. You must earn at least a C in these classes. 

So, how do you manage to obtain these specified requirements? First, it is critical to work with your adviser—an experienced professor who has likely dealt with someone on your track before. Their knowledge, experience, and resources provide the best foundation for success. 

The second thing I have learned is to set priorities. In college, you are often on your own for the first time. You have to do laundry, cook, and take care of yourself in general. It can be easy to fall off track and slack in your studies. Knowing when to say no to your friends—and sometimes even extracurriculars—is challenging, but has made me very successful in achieving my academic goals. 

The final piece of advice I’ll give is to be confident. I know it can be hard, but there is a reason you are selecting this path. At some point, you knew deep down that you could succeed. Revert to that confident self, and strive for success.

Patient Hours

Arcadia requires 200 minimum direct patient care hours. This doesn’t mean shadowing or volunteering, but hands-on clinical work taking care of patients’ medical needs. The way I achieved these hours was by earning an EMT license. I was able to use that EMT license throughout the summers while being home and working at a camp. I learned and experienced so many things, including how to properly approach a child when they are in distress. 

There are plenty of ways you can achieve your hours. Some of my friends have even ended up becoming home health aides. I recommend not procrastinating or passing up any opportunities. Time is limited with such a busy course load. 

It is also an excellent opportunity to volunteer! I volunteer at Temple University Hospital, where I assist in stocking medical supplies in the emergency room. Oftentimes I shadow doctors and PAs while completing my shift, and I’ve gotten many helpful tips (like what to include in my graduate applications).

GRE Exam

The GRE is required to get into any Physician’s Assistant graduate program. It consists of seven sections: two analytical response essays, where you respond to an open-ended question or statement; two verbal reasoning sections that include vocabulary and reading comprehension; two math sections, where your quantitative reasoning is put to the test; and a sample section that does not count to your grade.

Doing well on this exam is extremely difficult, as you are “competing” against test takers interested in pursuing master’s or doctoral degrees in multiple disciplines. Scoring in the top 50th percentile is usually considered good. Completing this test before graduate school and during your undergraduate years can sometimes be a pain. I took the exam during the summer, where I studied in between being a camp EMT and a waiter. I would highly recommend taking the GRE as soon as possible, because it is very similar to the SAT and ACT. Having this knowledge still fresh in your head will give you a significant advantage.

Deciding to become a Physician Assistant can be an extremely intimidating objective, but Arcadia provides you the resources, professors, and program to succeed in being accepted to graduate school. Set your goals high and stay confident in yourself, always.

#25 Preparing To Apply To Graduate School

Preparing to apply to graduate school is a whole thing in itself. You need to take exams, fill out applications, attend interviews, and do many other things. It is the beginning of my junior year of undergraduate school and at the end of my spring semester I will be filling out my applications for graduate school. The amount of time and effort I have put in to be where I am currently at is immense and I still feel as if I am not on track to be accepted to graduate programs. Throughout this blog post I will be sharing what I have completed so far, what I am aiming to complete, and the challenges of achieving my goals.

What I Have Done Thus Far

Getting Hours

I began doing things for graduate school before I was even in my first semester of college. Months before my first semester, I was taking an EMT course to get my license in New York State. I knew that getting this license would allow me to gain direct patient care hours while attending college, one of the most important and hardest things to do for your Physician Assistant application. Being prepared and knowing what you have to complete for graduate school is the most important thing to do as an undergraduate student. It is important because the rigor of your classes is hard enough, imagine having to complete shadowing positions, volunteer hours, direct patient care hours, and GREs in a short window of time. Luckily, my parents knew this challenge and made me start my journey early.

As I said the first thing I did in preparation for graduate school was get my EMT license. This put me ahead of probably 90% of people my age, if not more! Having a medical license to practice in a state is a huge aid in gaining direct patient care hours. The reason for this is because graduate programs for PA do not accept anything else but direct patient care hours. So, if you shadowed a doctor for 2 years it may be helpful but, it will not be the minimum requirement of most schools. Direct patient care hours are defined as having “Experiences in which you are directly responsible for a patient’s care. For example, prescribing medication, performing procedures, directing a course of treatment, designing a treatment regimen, actively working on patients as a nurse, paramedic, EMT, CNA, phlebotomist, physical therapist, dental hygienist, etc.” This shows that people that are typically older and have full-time medical jobs typically have an advantage in this, very important, category.

As of right now, I have worked as an EMT for 2 years at a summer camp. This summer camp has allowed me to gain nearly 500 direct patient care hours. From this job, I have gained experience, stories, and possible people to write recommendations. The 500 hours I have gained are what I considered to be a pretty average difficulty. Getting the number of hours is one thing, but proving to the graduate school that the hours you obtained were useful to learning and experience is another thing. I would consider people that were licensed nurses and Physical Therapist to be the hardest hours and most impressive. To obtain these hours you must first gain a license that takes years and then the work you do is very interactive. Below that, I would consider a job such as mine to be ranked. The license I have isn’t easy to get and takes months to obtain but, the knowledge you gain is not in the same echelon of Nurses and PTs. The easiest hours and lowest-ranked are professions such as medical scribe. I am not saying being a medical scribe is a bad thing or that the job is easy. But, the experience you gain from being a medical scribe is often lacking the instructiveness of all others I have ranked above it. For this reason, some schools don’t even take medical scribe hours.

Taking The GRE

Taking the GRE is extremely annoying, and yes I mean annoying. As you begin to study for the GRE you might notice that the material being asked on the test has nothing to do with what you have learned from your prerequisite courses. Unlike the MCATs, the GRE focuses on 3 main categories: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. The verbal section tests your grammar and vocabulary skills by asking fill-in-the-blank questions and questions on long-drawn-out passages. The quantitative section will take you back to High School Geometry and ask you to compare different algebraic sequences and shapes. Finally, the analytical writing section is open-ended and provides a one-sentence question or statement that you have to respond to.

If I have one recommendation for taking the GRE, it is to take it as soon as possible when entering your undergraduate. The GRE is basically the SAT and ACT on steroids and if you can build off what you know already, you will be put way ahead of everyone else. Although, I will have to remind you of who is taking this test. When receiving scores for the GRE you might be discouraged when you see that you fell into the 40th-50th percentile. Just because you fall into this category doesn’t mean you are stupid and should not pursue graduate school. Just remember that the people taking the GRE are only people interested in receiving higher education past a bachelor’s degree. The people you are taking the test “against” are extremely smart and to be above the 80th percentile you must be very intelligent.

Prerequisite Courses/ GPA

To even be considered for a Physicians Assistant program it is vital to have a high GPA and have all of your prerequisite classes complete. If you do not have your classes complete your application will not even be evaluated by the college and be thrown away. These classes are not just some hoops that you have to jump through to be accepted. They are required because you need to know previous knowledge for the material to be taught in your master’s program. So, having these courses done before handing in your application, with a high GPA, will only aid in your ranking of applicants.

For me, I have taken almost all of my prerequisite courses which include:

  • General Biology I
  • General Biology II
  • General Chemistry I
  • General Chemistry II
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Genetics
  • Comparative Anatomy
  • Human Physiology
  • Biochemistry
  • Elementary Statistics
  • Introduction to Psychology

These classes are the basics of what you will need when applying to graduate school for PA. I have not taken Microbiology or Human Anatomy yet. I plan on taking these during my next semester at Arcadia University. The other thing you should be aware of is that all prerequisite courses need to have a grade greater than a C. If you do not have a grade greater than a C the course does not count and you will have to retake it.

There are many other things that I have completed such as volunteering and making connections but, this information has been talked about in previous blogs or I am planning on talking about them in future blogs.

What I Still Want To Do

There are many things I still want and need to do before applying to Physician Assistant graduate school. I have already mentioned that I need to take Microbiology and Human Anatomy, however, I still want to take medical terminology. This class is not required by most schools but, I feel as if having it can only help me during the application process and help me during graduate school. For this reason, I am planning on taking it either over the summer or during a future semester during my senior year.

I have done a lot of volunteering while at school. I have volunteered at Temple University Hospital in the Emergency room as well as at the customer service desk and Covid-19 clinic. One thing I have not had the opportunity to do is shadow a doctor or Physician Assistant. My plan for this is to do it during the winter break between my current semester and next semester. This will allow me to have the shadowing hours complete before my application as well as not cramming it during school.

Finally, the last thing I am looking to complete is the CASPer examination. Very specific schools require this examination and I feel that a personality and decision-making exam would be in my favor.

Challenges You Will Run Into

Throughout your journey of preparing to apply to graduate school, you will run into numerous roadblocks. The one that I believe to be the biggest is time management. When getting into your undergraduate years you think that you have 3-4 years to complete all of your tasks. Those 3-4 years seem extremely long! THEY ARE NOT! The application for graduate school will sneak up on you faster than you can ever imagine. Pushing things off like shadowing, taking the GRE, and getting direction patient care hours will result in frustration and maybe even taking a gap year to complete everything. So, don’t wait and get it done!

Branching off of getting everything done, another recommendation I have is to not pass up on opportunities. If you have an opportunity to shadow or do something that will aid in your application ranking, do it! These opportunities are extremely rare and with such limited time, it is vital to use all of your resources.