Along with countless other prospective students of various health sciences 1, I have been working on bridging the gap between my current degrees (in math and computer science) and my future medical education (as a physician assistant). In Boston area, the options for taking à la carte classes I have found:
Continuing education branches of major universities.
These are major area universities and colleges offering part-time à la carte (not towards a degree) classes. They are well-known and their classes are typically accepted in fulfillment of health science prerequisites.
Northeastern CPS offers year-round classes covering many typical health science prerequisites. Classes largely take place on Northeastern’s campus, although some also offer an online learning option. Classes at Northeastern CPS typically take place in the evenings, and labs typically take place on weekday evenings. Northeastern CPS seems to have a younger faculty than Harvard Extension, and classes seem to be smaller. Lab classes at Northeastern typically allow printed lab reports.
Northeastern’s campus has good WiFi, and is accessible by public transit on the Orange line. There is parking available for part-time and evening students (for a fee). Northeastern provides an email address and an (optional) ID to part-time students.
Northeastern CPS classes typically run in the ballpark of $3600-$4500 for a two-semester science sequence.
Northeastern runs on a quarter system, whereas most other schools run on a semester system; this can be helpful or a hindrance. In short, I recommend against Northeastern for one-semester prerequisites; for details, see my in-depth notes on Northeastern.
Harvard University Extension School Harvard Extension offers fall-to-spring classes. Classes are mostly on campus, with some online learning. Labs at Harvard Extension are typically better-run than at Northeastern, and class websites are easier to use (for accessing lecture notes and homework as well as submitting homework) — however, some lab classes at Harvard require hand-written carbon-copied lab reports.
Harvard’s campus has some notable WiFi dead zones, and lecture halls typically do not have easily accessible power outlets. The campus is on the Red line; street parking is scarce. Harvard does not issue email addresses or IDs to part-time students.
Harvard Extension classes typically run in the ballpark of $1000 for a single semester or $2000-$2500 for a two-semester sequence.
BU Met offers year-round classes. I have no attended any classes there, so I lack any further knowledge of their classes and campus.
BU Met classes typically run in the ballpark of $1500 for a single semester or $3000 for a two-semester sequence during spring and fall. During the summer, their classes run in the ballpark of $2500 for a half-summer semester equivalent and $5000 for the whole-summer two-semester equivalent.
Community colleges and state colleges
These are minor area schools, offering part-time à la carte classes. They are not well-known and not necessarily acceptable in fulfillment of health science prerequisites. Check with your future schools before taking a class at a community college; my understanding is that more competitive schools (especially medical schools) usually do not.
Community colleges are typically considerably cheaper than major universities, so if you are financially constrained, it’s well-worth finding out which of their classes your future schools might accept.
There are numerous distance learning options, some even covering lab classes. Whether they will be accepted by a given health science program is highly variable; before taking an online class, call your future schools and check.
You should expect that online non-lab classes might be acceptable, but you should expect that online lab classes will not be accepted. 2
- In fall and spring, Harvard is the most cost-effective option — with better labs and better websites — but you will have to deal with Cambridge parking, shortage of outlets, and potentially spotty WiFi.
- In summer, Northeastern is more affordable than BU, but both are considerably more expensive than Harvard during the school year.
- Online learning, community colleges, and state colleges are not reliably accepted by health science programs. Do your research.
- Is there a widely accepted term that encompasses various medical academic paths — nurses, physician assistants, nutritionists, physicians, veterinarians…?↩
- Whereas some of them involve performing actual experiments in your home, some involve performing simulated experiments on a computer. While I believe those are educational, I think they are no substitute for in-person labwork.↩