Pre-Med Requirements: Courses You Need for Medical School

What’s Covered:

 

Dreaming of becoming a physician? It’s a very popular career choice, as well as a highly competitive one. In addition to contending with rigorous course requirements as an undergraduate, to become a physician you must attend medical school and complete a residency, which usually takes at least 11 years in total.

 

While the process to become a physician is arduous, it’s also highly lucrative and rewarding. If you’re just starting on the road to medicine, you might not know exactly where to begin. Keep reading to find out how you can prepare for the challenges that accompany medical school.

 

What Does Pre-Med Mean and How Long Is It? 

 

There’s a lot of confusion surrounding the concept of pre-med, with many people thinking that they can declare it as a major. Pre-med is not a major but a track. You can major in anything you wish, as long as your medical school requirements and your major requirements are completed by graduation.

 

The pre-med track typically lasts four years, as you’ll need a bachelor’s degree to apply to medical school. That being said, some students choose to enroll in accelerated BS/MD combined degree programs that allow them to finish their pre-med courses in three years. CollegeVine has a whole blog section devoted to BS/MD programs for any interested students. For detailed information on navigating the pre-med track, you can also check out this CollegeVine resource.

 

What Are the Pre-Med Course Requirements? 

 

Undergraduate course requirements vary from one medical school to the next, but generally include the following:

 

  • Biology – 2 semesters with lab
  • Physics – 2 semesters with lab
  • General chemistry – 2 semesters with lab
  • Organic chemistry – 2 semesters with lab
  • Biochemistry – 1 semester
  • English – 2 semesters
  • Math – 2 semesters

 

Many schools also require statistics, psychology, and writing.

 

Your undergraduate university will likely have advisors who will help make sure that you complete your pre-med requirements on time. You may also want to review the requirements at various medical schools so that you know what you are up against. For example, the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine M.D. Program requires the following:

 

  • College biology with laboratory, one year (8 semester hours)
  • General college chemistry with laboratory, one year (8 semester hours)
  • Organic chemistry with laboratory, one semester (4 semester hours)
  • Biochemistry, three or four semester hours (Lab is not required.)
  • 24 semester hours in areas of humanities (English, History, Classics, Foreign Language, Philosophy, Arts, etc.), social science (Sociology, Economics, Political Science, Anthropology, etc.), and behavioral science (Psychology, etc.). Must include two writing-intensive courses.
  • Calculus and/or statistics, one year (6-8 semester hours)
  • General college physics with laboratory, one year (8 semester hours)

 

Recommended Pre-Med Courses

 

Many courses are not requirements for applying to medical school but are valuable for pre-med students to take. Students who take these recommended pre-med courses will be more appealing to medical school admissions and will likely have an easier time in medical school (in the long term, these courses also make for more well-rounded physicians). 

 

For example, in addition to the requirements above, Hopkins recommends taking four semester hours in the principles of genetics and at least one semester of statistics or epidemiology. Generally, recommended courses for pre-med students include:

 

  • Genetics
  • Statistics
  • Calculus
  • Ethics
  • Public Health
  • Human Anatomy and Physiology
  • Psychology
  • Sociology

 

 

Like we said earlier, pre-med is not a major. So then, you might be wondering, what majors do pre-med students typically declare? Here is the rundown of popular majors for pre-meds:

 

  • Biological Sciences and Human Biology: More than half of med-school applicants study biological sciences during their undergraduate years. Majoring in biology means that your major requirements and pre-med requirements will overlap significantly. That being said, studying science exclusively can be intense and exhausting. If you major in biology on the pre-med track, you may want to carefully select a unique minor or interesting elective courses to avoid burnout. 

 

  • Physics, Chemistry, and Other Physical Sciences: Just like the natural sciences, the physical science major courses typically overlap with the pre-med requirements. Though the coursework will differ slightly, the risks and benefits of physics and chemistry are about the same as those of biology.

 

  • Psychology, Economics, and Social Sciences: Social science applicants make up about 10% of medical school admissions. The requirements for these majors have some overlap with the pre-med requirements, but students will need to spend most of their elective units completing pre-med courses. 

 

  • Philosophy and the Humanities: Humanities majors are less popular for pre-med students because they leave all pre-med requirements to be completed with electives. This will take planning on your part and will require clear communication with your advisors. That being said, humanities graduates who pursue medicine may be more personable and well-rounded than students who exclusively focus on the sciences. Philosophy is a popular major for pre-med students in the humanities.

 

  • Math, Statistics, and Related Majors: While math majors are not actually a popular major for pre-med students, they have the highest MCAT scores and GPAs of all applicants and thus, typically have favorable positioning in medical school admissions.

 

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What Are the Other Med School Requirements? 

 

When you’re applying to medical school, you’ll complete a primary application, usually administered by the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS). After submitting the primary application, the school will send you a secondary application (or reject you, in some cases). For one or both of these applications, in addition to your transcript, you’ll need to submit: 

 

Your MCAT Score 

 

Some schools have a minimum MCAT score and GPA requirements and will filter out applicants who don’t meet them.

 

Personal Statements

 

Usually, you’ll need to respond to prompts on both the primary and secondary applications. The topics vary, but typically you’ll be asked to explore the reasons you want to pursue medicine, the events that have shaped you, and your passions, experiences, achievements, and interests.

 

Letters of Recommendation

 

Most medical schools require three letters of recommendation, usually two letters from science faculty members and one from a non-science discipline, although this varies from school to school. If your undergraduate college has a formal pre-med committee, a committee letter is usually required to present an overview and evaluation of your undergraduate performance and candidacy. 

 

Extracurriculars

 

Most medical schools will want to see relevant extracurricular activities, including research, clinical experience, and volunteering and community service. You can gain exposure to the profession by shadowing physicians, working as a scribe, or contributing to the medical community by assisting practicing professionals with research.

 

Medical schools also want to know what kind of person you are, so your application will also ask for non-medical extracurriculars. It’s kind of like the Common App all over again, though the activities section for medical school is more extensive, and you’ll be asked to write approximately 500 words about each of your three most important extracurriculars.

 

Keep in mind that individual medical schools may have additional requirements or recommendations. Most schools also conduct interviews, extending invitations to a small percentage of candidates after reviewing their applications.

 

Important Resources for Pre-Meds

 

What Is the Best Pre-Med School For You?

 

Choosing the right college can change your pre-med path for better or worse. It’s not only important to look for schools with strong pre-med advising; you also want to be sure that your college is a good fit in other ways, including size, location, extracurriculars, and other factors. 

 

Using our free school search tool, you can search for colleges based on preferences like majors, finances, your personal chances of acceptance, and more.

 

It’s important to remember that outstanding pre-med programs come in all shapes and sizes. There are great pre-med programs at technical schools and ‘party’ schools, large schools and small schools, and research universities and liberal arts schools. Consider all of the relevant factors when picking the right pre-med program for you.

 

Best Schools for Pre-Meds

 

Here are CollegeVine’s picks for overall best schools for pre-meds:

 

School

Location

Acceptance Rate

Harvard College

Cambridge, MA

4.5%

Duke University

Durham, NC

7.8%

University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, PA

7.7%

Washington University in St. Louis

St. Louis, MO

14%

Rice University

Houston, TX

8.7%

Stanford University

Stanford, CA

4.4%

Northwestern University

Evanston, IL

9.1%

Brown University

Providence, RI

7.1%

Amherst College

Amherst, MA

11.3%

Case Western Reserve University

Cleveland, OH

29%

See the full list of best pre-med schools for more rankings.

 

While each of these colleges has a different average acceptance rate, they are all very competitive and are ‘reach’ schools for everyone. You may also want to look into CollegeVine’s lists for the Best Non-Ivy League Schools for Pre-Med and the Most Underrated Pre-Med Colleges.

 

It is great to be interested in selective schools, but it is also important to remember to create a balanced college list. If possible, a student should apply to 8-10 schools, with about 25% being safety schools, 40% target schools, and 35% reach schools. These categories—safety, target, and reach—are determined by your chances of acceptance at the schools you are applying to.

 

Because your personal chances of acceptance at these schools may differ from the average acceptance rate, we’ve made it easy to figure out which schools fall into which categories with our free Admissions Chances Calculator. By taking into account your grades, test scores, and extracurriculars, we’ll estimate your odds of acceptance at different schools and give you tips on improving your profile.

 

 

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Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York and works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She dreams of having a dog.

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