Laura Berlinsky-Schine 4 min read Pre-Med

Pre-Med Requirements: Courses You Need for Medical School

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What’s Covered:


Dreaming of becoming a physician? It’s a very popular career choice, as well as a highly competitive one. Not only are you contending with rigorous course requirements as an undergraduate, but you’ll also need to attend medical school and complete a residency, which usually takes at least 11 years in total.


But it’s also a highly lucrative and rewarding path. If you’re just starting out on the road to medicine, where do you begin? Keep reading to find out how you can prepare for medical school as an undergraduate.


What Does Pre-Med Mean? How Long is Pre-Med?


There’s a lot of confusion surrounding the concept of pre-med, with many people believing they can declare it as a major. Pre-med is not actually a major but a track. You can major in anything you’d like, as long as you complete your requirements for medical school along with your major requirements.


Usually, the pre-med track lasts four years, as you’ll need a bachelor’s degree to apply to med school. Some students who are enrolled in accelerated BS/MD combined degree programs may finish the pre-med portion in three years, however. We have a whole section on our blog about BS/MD programs, if you want to learn more.


What Are the Pre-Med Course Requirements?


Undergraduate course requirements vary among medical schools, but generally speaking, they will likely want to see:


  • 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


Other common requirements include statistics, psychology, and writing.


You should review the requirements at multiple medical schools to ensure that you’re successfully meeting them before you graduate. The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine M.D. Program, for example, requires:


  • 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)


Hopkins also recommends taking four semester hours in the principles of genetics and at least one semester of statistics or epidemiology.

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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, along with your transcript, you’ll need to submit:


Your MCAT Score


Some schools have certain 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 often, you’ll need to explore why you want to pursue medicine and the events that have shaped you, as well as describe your passions, experiences, achievements, or other facets of your life and interests.


Letters of Recommendation


Most medical schools require three letters of recommendation, usually with 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. 




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


Med schools also want to know what kind of person you are, so your application will also ask for non-medical related extracurriculars. It’s kind of like the Common App all over again, but the activities section for medical school is much more in-depth, and you’ll have the opportunity to write approximately 500 words each for your three most important extracurriculars.


Finally, 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.


Other Resources for Pre-Meds


For more guidance on preparing for medical school, check out our lists of the best pre-med schools and the most underrated pre-med colleges, as well as general advice for navigating the pre-med track.


What is the best pre-med school for you?


Choosing the right college can change your pre-med path for the better or for the 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 many other factors. 


Using our free school search tool, you can look for colleges based on preferences, majors, finances, your personal chances of acceptance, and more. Our Chancing Engine will also give you free tips on how to improve your profile. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to get started on your pre-med journey.

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
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.