How to Pursue the Pre-Med Path in College
This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Shravya Kakulamarri in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.
- It’s a Path, Not a Major
- Taking Prerequisite Coursework
- Taking the MCAT
- Seeking Advice & Gaining Experience
This article describes the general path that aspiring doctors will need to follow during their undergraduate career in preparation for applying to medical school. For more information, read our guide on Navigating the Pre-med Track to Medical School.
It’s a Path, Not a Major
After you graduate from high school and apply to college, you will matriculate and begin fulfilling requirements for whichever degree programs you choose to pursue while also completing pre-medical requirements. A common misconception is that being “pre-med” is a major, but most schools actually do not offer a degree program that is specifically pre-med.
In fact, you are not required to major in any particular discipline in order to apply to medical school; however, the most common majors for pre-med students are in the biological sciences, such as molecular biology, microbiology, and biochemistry. Pre-med students often select majors in the biological sciences because there is considerable overlap between the degree requirements and pre-med requirements.
Always remember that you are at liberty to major in any field you choose and make sure that you strike a balance between necessity – what you need or think you need to study – and genuine intellectual passion – what you enjoy learning about just for the sake of learning. Students who pursue a degree in non-STEM fields such as those in the humanities and social sciences are equally well equipped to complete their pre-med requirements and craft compelling applications for medical school.
Pursuing a non-STEM major can even set you apart from the large pool of more conventional applicants with STEM backgrounds. This is especially the case if you demonstrate a unique depth of experience, skills, and passions that humanize you such that medical school admissions officers recognize the potential you have to be a great doctor that works well with patients and not just a successful student of the sciences.
Taking Prerequisite Coursework
The standard pre-med requirements are as follows:
- Biology – 2 semesters with lab
- Physics – 2 semesters with lab
- General or inorganic chemistry – 2 semesters with lab
- Organic chemistry – 2 semesters with lab
- English – 2 semesters
Many medical schools have additional requirements including:
- Math – 2 semesters of college-level math such as calculus and/or statistics
- Biochemistry – 1 semester
- Statistics – 1 semester
- Psychology or sociology – 1 semester (recommended)
- Writing intensive course – 1 semester (recommended)
Since the required coursework varies between medical schools, you should check the most recent version of the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) or the admissions webpages of each medical school to confirm which courses are required by the specific schools to which you intend to apply. Knowing the required courses that you will need to take will help you plan your course schedule in advance as you prepare to fulfill all of your degree requirements and pre-med requirements.
Some, but not all, medical schools will accept AP credit in lieu of college coursework as fulfilling certain pre-med requirements. Based on the medical schools that you want to apply to, determine whether they will accept any AP credit you have earned, because you might be able to graduate earlier or at least have room in your schedule to take different classes. Regardless, you need to make sure that you understand the material covered in each prerequisite course because you will be tested on similar information in the MCAT.
Taking the MCAT
The MCAT is a standardized test that is 7.5 hours long and consists of 230 questions that test your knowledge of the following:
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems: Biology, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, and biochemistry
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems: Biochemistry, biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior: Psychology, sociology, biology
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills: Reading comprehension
The content areas covered by the MCAT align with the pre-med requirements, however you will need to devote a considerable amount of time to studying specifically for the MCAT in order to be successful. In other words, it is not sufficient preparation to just take the required pre-med classes.
In terms of timing, you should plan to take the MCAT between January and May (at the latest) of the same year when you will submit your medical school applications and start interviewing at medical schools. You may choose to take the MCAT earlier, however your MCAT score will expire for many schools within two or three years of your application date.
Seeking Advice & Gaining Experience
In addition to fulfilling pre-med requirements and taking the MCAT, it is important to avail yourself of all medical related communities, resources, and opportunities at your school and to gain exposure to the medical field more broadly. Here are a few examples:
Meet regularly with your academic advisor or a designated pre-med advisor. Seek the counsel of more senior students who are pre-med or alumni of your undergraduate institution who are currently in medical school.
Shadowing Doctors and Interacting with Patients
Shadow physicians at a local clinic or hospital to gain exposure to the medical field. Gain first-hand experience working directly with patients by becoming an EMT, medical scribe, phlebotomist, or volunteer.
Although not required, many successful medical school applicants will have one or more substantive experiences conducting research. A good place to start when searching for research opportunities is to ask past or current professors if they know of any research projects or labs that you may join.
It’s important to demonstrate that you care about your community and the best way to do this is to give of your time and talent. Choose organizations or projects that you identify with based on your background, interests, and skills, and devote a substantial amount of time volunteering for these organizations or on these projects.