If you’re planning to become a doctor, preparation starts even before medical school.
As you work toward your bachelor’s degree during your first four years of college, you’ll be a pre-med student who needs to fulfill certain requirements.
In this complete guide to pre-med, we’ll outline the steps you need to take to get into medical school and have a successful career in medicine.
What is pre-med?
“Pre-med” is not a specific major. It’s the course of study you take to increase your chances of getting into medical school.
Pre-med courses and requirements also help you prepare for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).
As a pre-med student, you’ll take certain courses, sit for the MCAT, and complete other activities to increase your competitiveness for medical school.
What are the best majors for pre-med students?
You will need a bachelor’s degree to get accepted to medical school.
However, most students are surprised to learn that the undergraduate major is not an important consideration in admission to medical school.
- Many pre-med students choose to major in Biology because it closely aligns with medical school prerequisites.
- Still, students are admitted to medical school after majoring in Physics, Chemistry, Engineering, and even English or the humanities.
Of course, it’s often recommended that pre-med students choose science or math-related majors that will best prepare them for medical school and the MCAT.
What are the requirements to apply to medical school?
Whatever major you decide on, you’ll generally need to meet the following prerequisites:
- Two semesters of general biology with labs
- 2-4 semesters of chemistry, including both organic and inorganic chemistry with labs
- Two semesters of physics with labs
- Two semesters of English
- Two semesters of mathematics, usually statistics and calculus
Keep in mind that these requirements can vary.
Check with each medical school you’re interested in applying to, ensuring that you’re on track to meet their prerequisites.
Other helpful courses include:
- Human Anatomy and Physiology
- A foreign language
- Medical history and/or Anthropology
Another requirement for medical school is the MCAT. The MCAT is a 7.5-hour test with four sections:
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
Each section is scored from 118-132 points.
- Test-takers earn an overall score ranging from 472-578. The median score for each section is a 125, while the average overall score is a 500.
Any score over 500 is enough for admittance to many medical schools. However, experts recommend aiming for a 508-509 or higher.
If possible, you’ll want to avoid taking the MCAT more than once. Not only is the test tremendously long, but it also costs $305-$355.
- Prepare for the MCAT by studying with your peers, investing in a tutor or test prep book, or completing an MCAT Prep program.
- You can also talk to professors or students already enrolled in medical school for advice.
MCAT scores are delivered to the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS).
Unless you apply to a school that doesn’t use the AMCAS, you won’t need to send your test scores separately.
You will need to submit applications to medical school and, if your application passes through to the later rounds, you’ll be expected to answer several essay questions and complete interviews.
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Are there other steps I can take to improve my chances of acceptance?
Absolutely! Medical schools are also interested in your commitment to the medical profession and in your extracurricular involvement.
Consider volunteering in hospitals, shadowing doctors, or working on undergraduate research in the sciences.
- You can also join clubs or societies for pre-med students and find other relevant activities and organizations on campus.
- Not only will you boost the competitiveness of your application, but you’ll also prepare yourself for your future career in medicine.
In addition, it’s important to earn the highest grades possible in all courses, not just medical school prerequisites.
Admission to medical school is highly competitive, so you’ll need a strong GPA to earn a coveted spot in a strong program.
How do medical school applications work?
Medical school applications are submitted in June prior to your first year of medical school.
Most medical schools use the AMCAS (mentioned above), which is similar to the Common Application.
- You fill out the application just once and can use it to apply to multiple medical schools.
Applicants must submit transcripts, MCAT scores, a resume, and an essay/personal statement. It costs $160 to apply to one school through the AMCAS, and each additional school costs $39.
So, how many medical schools should you apply to?
- Keep in mind that medical school admissions are extremely competitive. To increase your chances of success, experts recommend applying to at least 15 schools.
- Yes, that can get expensive, but consider it a worthwhile investment in your career and future.
The schools you apply to will reject your application or invite you to a second round in July or August.
- If you’re invited to the second round, you’ll have to complete a secondary application.
- Unlike the first-round applications, these applications are different for each school.
- You may need to answer a series of essay questions and/or pay an additional application fee.
Once again, your application will either be rejected, or you will be invited to an additional round.
- This third and final round consists of an interview. If the interview goes well, you’ll be offered a spot at the medical school.
During the interview, be sure to reveal your passion and commitment to the medical field.
Practice ahead of time with family, friends, or peers who have already experienced med school interviews.
Do your best to appear confident. Remember that the interviewer is on your side; he or she wants to like you and see that you’re a great fit for their school.
What are the requirements to graduate from medical school?
To graduate from medical school, students must pass their courses and the medical licensing exam.
They are also required to complete rotations and a residency.
During the first two years of medical school, you will learn foundational skills and knowledge in a classroom setting.
- While these classes will be similar to your undergraduate experience, expect increased rigor and a greater time commitment.
At the end of your first two years, you’ll take the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE-1).
You must pass this eight-hour exam to continue your medical education.
- The test is limited to 280 questions total. It’s divided into one-hour blocks, and you will be required to answer no more than 40 questions per block.
In the third year of medical school, med students complete rotations.
You will gain hands-on experience working under a supervisor in a variety of medical settings.
These rotations give you the opportunity to choose what medical specialty you enjoy and excel in the most.
- During your fourth year, you will take the second portion of your licensing exam (USMLE-2) and complete elective courses related to the specialty you’ve selected.
After the fourth year, students complete a residency, which lasts for 3-5 years, depending on your specialty. A residency is a supervised internship at a teaching hospital.
- Students and program directors get a chance to rank their preferences.
- The National Resident Matching Program uses a computerized algorithm to compare preferences and match residents with programs.
On “Match Day,” medical students learn what residency they’ve been matched with. Residences receive a salary averaging $48,000.
During the first year, residents take the final portion of the licensing exam.
This portion tests the ability to provide medical care in an unsupervised setting and is known as the most difficult of the three tests.
After successfully completing the residency and passing the licensing exam, you’re eligible to become a practicing doctor.
Learn more about this process in our guide “How to Become a Doctor.”
Another route to medical school is to enroll in a BS/MD program. With BS/MD programs, applicants are simultaneously admitted to a university and to that university’s medical school.
This means that you’ll already be accepted to medical school while a senior in high school.
- If you enroll in a BS/MD program, you will still need to complete medical school prerequisites (e.g. biology and chemistry courses), but you don’t have to go through the complex process of applying to medical school.
You also don’t need to take the MCAT. And because you’re already accepted to medical school, you’ll be able to fully enjoy your undergraduate experience without the stress of a typical pre-med student.
If you’re certain that you want to attend medical school, these programs are an excellent option to consider.
Once in the program, you may change your mind and choose to apply to other medical schools.
However, you would then lose your guaranteed spot in the college’s medical school and would need to take the MCAT and complete the standard application process.
Advice From Pre-Med Experts
Over time, we’ll populate this guide with advice from professors, doctors, and medical professors.
We want you to learn from the pros!
Mike Davis, assistant professor of biology and pre-medicine advisor at Sweet Briar College:
While introductory and advanced courses in biology and chemistry are needed for any student intending to enter professions in medical or veterinary fields, there are other important classes that may not be as evident at first glance.
The first is Evolution. Complicated interactions between tissues, organs and organ systems have evolved over several million years. Understanding the relationships between these systems, and how organisms continue to change, can provide great insight into the treatment of patients. The second course is Statistics.
New discoveries in these fields can only be trusted and verified when proper statistical analysis is applied in the correct manner. If students do not understand how data is generated and analyzed, they cannot evaluate new information appropriately.
Finally, all pre-med or pre-vet students should take a course in Sociology. They will be interacting with people — or animals — who are often in dire and traumatic situations, and they’ll need to understand the things that shape human interactions in order to be able to communicate with patients and their loved ones effectively and with compassion.
Dr. Velimir Petkov, a doctor for 12 years and Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science graduate:
Some of the most important classes to take are cellular and molecular biology, general and advanced physics, general and organic chemistry, and physiology. Make sure that labs are offered as a part of each course. Biochemistry can also be particularly helpful and should definitely be on your list.
Additional courses that might be worth taking include developmental biology and medicinal chemistry.
Recap: Pre-Med Requirements, Majors, Courses, Classes
As a medical school hopeful, you’ll be considered a “pre-med” student during your four years of undergraduate school.
You’re not limited to any particular major or majors, but it can be helpful to choose a science-related major that closely overlaps with the knowledge you’ll need in medical school.
- You will need to complete prerequisites, such as chemistry and biology courses, and earn satisfactory scores on the MCAT.
- You should also gain relevant volunteer and extracurricular experience to strengthen your application.
- When applying to medical school, apply to at least 15 schools to increase your chances of success. Acceptance to medical school requires that you successfully complete three rounds, including an interview.
Alternatively, you can take a non-traditional route by enrolling in a BS/MD program.
When you are accepted to a BS/MD program, you are simultaneously accepted to a university and to that university’s medical school.
These programs are competitive and have limited spots.
During medical school, you’ll take your licensing exams, complete rotations, and ultimately spend 3-5 years in a medical residency program.
With your exams and residency successfully completed, you’ll officially be known as “doctor!” The path to earning that distinction starts now.