When should you take each of the core courses? The answer depends on when you will be taking the MCAT, or other entrance exam, and your ability to handle a rigorous course load. The following cases represent different types of R-MC students and how each might schedule their courses depending on these factors.
If you plan to enter medical school immediately following graduation you will need to take the MCAT during the spring of your junior year. This means that you should complete all the core science courses by the end of your junior year and, thus, it will be necessary to take at least two science courses at times. It also means that you will have to find the time to be involved in appropriate co-curricular and extra-curricular activites (community service, volunteering, leadership positions) and gain a reasonable amount of medically relevant experience (e.g. shadowing a doctor, volunteering at a clinic, etc.).
REALITY CHECK: Some very good high school students turn out to be average college students if they lack personal discipline (they cannot manage their time, they are distracted by the college lifestyle, etc.). You will need to learn your strengths and weaknesses so you can set realistic goals that match your abilities and ambitions.
If your SAT scores are in the 1000/1200 range and your high school GPA is between 3.0 and 3.5, then you will probably do better in your science courses if you spread them out. For many students, this means taking Biology and Math as a freshman, taking Chemistry (and perhaps Physics) as sophomores and finishing up the sequence with Organic Chemistry (and perhaps Physics) during the junior year. Obviously, the student will not have all of the core courses completed in time for the Spring MCAT and he/she may need to wait until the summer (late June or early July). This puts the student at a disadvantage in terms of that particular year¹s applicant pool. Another less-obvious result of this schedule is having to "rethink" your career plans very late in the game (junior year) since Organic Chemistry tends to be a make-or-break course for many students.
REALITY CHECK: Most students in the "average" category should plan to wait at least one year after graduation before applying to or entering medical school. The schedule described in Case 1 is very intense and requires you to be "at the top of your game" right from the beginning of your college career. Many successful graduates (from R-MC and anywhere else) have taken the additional year (or more!) to strengthen their credentials. Remember, if your goal is to get into the HPS of your choice, then it's better to have patience and be a highly prepared applicant.
This student should follow the academic schedule given in Case 2, but should take the MCAT when he or she feels the most prepared for it. It may be a good idea for this person to take a test preparation class (such as Kaplan) after graduation, then take the MCAT during the spring of the following year. During this time, the student can hold a job during or take additional courses during the daytime. One or two years working at a "real" job can really motivate you to study, study, study for the MCAT!
Many students find some of the required courses to be difficult hurdles to conquer on their way to medical school. Therefore, it makes sense for such students to leave themselves room in their academic schedule to re-take a core course if they do not succeed in it the first time. This student has a couple of options, depending on when he or she wants to apply to professional school:
REALITY CHECK: Medical schools may ask you why you did not pass a course on the first try. You should anticipate such questions and be prepared to answer them honestly and thoughtfully.