Be careful to take the right courses during the undergraduate years. Of course this is easier said than done, as it is a rare undergraduate who really knows their future career plans when they arrive in college. From the get-go you need to be focusing on getting good grades. The odd, less than stellar performance won’t wreck your plans for attending graduate school the way it can play havoc with strategies for medical school. Nonetheless it is better not to go there if you can avoid it.
Early hands on research experiences are, nowadays, absolutely necessary. If you begin to develop such an interest, offer to work in a research lab for a few hours a week during the academic year and full time during the post freshman and post sophomore summers as well. At first you will probably just be doing busy work. Don’t fret, you will be able to talk with other lab members and you can begin to find out what research is all about. You may have to volunteer in order to get your foot in the door, but if you are reliable and do a good job, you may be able to negotiate a modest wage for your work. The main goal though is not the income….it is the experience which you definitely need for your graduate school application. As your plans mature and if graduate school is a serious option, then you will need to increase the amount of research exposure at a later stage in your undergraduate career (see below).
What about later in your university career?
Assuming that late in the sophomore year or at the beginning of the junior year you will likely begin to crystallize your plans for a major and for possible career paths. If you are seriously beginning to think about graduate school in the biosciences, then this is the time to focus your plans.
You should try to take as many upper level courses in your major area as it is possible in your junior and senior years. Admissions committees look for a broad repertoire of course exposures. Graduate level courses will be less of a challenge if your background is that much broader. If you are a Biology major, definitely take biochemistry, cell biology, genetics, microbiology, physiology and any other upper level courses that you can fit in your schedule. Do not take these courses just for the sake of taking courses but really delve into the material, and at this point some decent grades won’t come amiss. If you are a chemistry or physics major who is thinking of going for a career in biomedical research, then plan on taking some upper level biology courses in your junior and senior years. Students who have majored in chemistry or physics and have also had Biochemistry are highly sought after these days.
Be careful to take the right courses during the undergraduate years.