The Differences Between Studying in a Professional Program vs. a Bachelor’s

As it is June, many professional degree programs (Law, Medicine, Pharmacy, Dentistry, Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy etc.) have now released offers of admission for their incoming class. As an incoming 2nd year medical student at UBC, one of the most common questions I get from students who were recently accepted or plan on applying to medical school is: “How is studying in medical school different than undergrad?”

While I have the perspective of a medical student, I believe many of the differences and tips I share are transferrable to most professional programs. Even if you are not yet in a professional, applying some of these tips to your undergraduate studies may help you find academic success.

1) Spaced repetition – There is a proven principle in education that we often don’t remember the majority of difficult material on first glance. It isn’t until we see things frequently enough that they are ingrained in our memory. Notice how you “just know” your phone number without thinking? (Maybe you even remember your old phone number as a child despite not seeing it for years). Learning by spaced repetition stipulates that we develop long term memory the best when we revisit material multiple times. This is particularly relevant in professional programs where there are a lot of facts you just have to “know” (ie. drug names, names of legal bills).

2) Outside materials – Many already do this in their Bachelor’s program but consulting outside sources (ie. textbooks) can be a huge resource for difficult topics! Lecturers are often limited by time constraints during class and often can’t give the “full story” before topics. Textbooks can often offer longer explanations for difficult topics and these narratives may allow you to better understand the topic compared to the sometimes disjointed bullet points on a powerpoint slide!

3) Making connections – Especially in professional programs, I believe you will find that many topics you learn about will be connected in some way. Learning all your different courses in “silos” or failing to make connections between topics can be disservice to yourself. I’ve found this hinders your ability to remember material as easily and apply your knowledge to new problems. Remembering a logical set of information is much easier than a random list of words!

4) Review! Before and after – Your lecture material shouldn’t be like a movie, in the sense that you shouldn’t be in constant suspense of what happens next. I’ve found briefly pre-reading material and getting a general roadmap of what a particular topic is about can help me contextualize the more specific details as you go through them in lecture. Even after lecture, I like reviewing material the day or two after to think about what was the point of this lecture and why is it important to know this for whatever profession you are training towards.

I hope you find these tips helpful! Whether you are in a professional program, starting in the fall, or just want to become a more effective learner – I believe there is always value in reflecting on how we can learn more efficiently!

Have any questions about these tips or have suggestions for others? Feel free to reach out via the NSN’s NYL program.

Photo Credit: Jeshoots

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