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Required Pre-med Courses and Degree


All medical schools pretty much require the following pre-med coursework:

General Chemistry with lab: 2 semesters
Organic Chemistry with lab: 2 semesters
General Physics with lab: 2 semesters
General Biology with lab: 2 semesters
English: 2 semesters
Calculus: 1 semester

Note that some medical schools require courses such as Biochemistry or additional Calculus, for example. Other special non-science courses may also be required by some medical schools. A few examples: The University of Nevada in Reno requires one upper-division behavioral science class or something like it (and they are very specific about which ones will cover this requirement) and University of Utah requires a "diversities" class such as Women Studies, Gender Studies, or some sort of minority studies. Harvard requires 2 semesters of Calculus instead of just one.

A Bachelor's Degree

Most medical schools require a completed Bachelor's degree, but not all schools do. Some schools only require completion of the pre-requisite courses, as listed previously, and at least 92 completed credits (you are a senior at that point). Overall, most US MD and DO medical schools require the 4-year degree, but most US Podiatry and Caribbean schools only require the 92 credits.

Having completed a Master's Degree or PhD is advantageous for admissions and may give you an edge by making you stand out from your peers, but is not required by any medical school for admission. These degrees are especially helpful when applying to some of the more prestigious medical schools.

It is important to find out all the details about course pre-requisites and degree requirements for the schools you are interested in. A few schools have some odd requirements and at a few schools you may have to take additional courses in the social sciences, humanities, psychology or in math, for example.

The importance of your undergraduate college or university

Generally speaking, the better your undergrad institution, the better for you and your pursuit of getting into medical school. So, graduating from a top school with your Bachelor's degree will make things easier for you than graduating from some community college or less well known school. This still holds true even if you get a lower GPA at the top school than you would at the community college.

Admission committees look at the school you attended and consider this when they analyze your GPA. So, someone who graduated from Harvard may only have a 3.2 GPA and someone at a community college may have a 3.9 GPA. They may have about equal chances for admission to a certain medical school when looking at their GPA alone since most schools factor in the difference in school difficulty and quality of education obtained. Obviously, this is also just comparing the extremes here. Most schools fall in between these extremes.

Realize that you will see some people in medical school who have only attended community colleges or state schools rather than Ivy League or top undergrad schools. Like everything that is part of your application, the school you attend can help you. Also note that your undergrad school may be more important if you are trying to go to medical school at one of the top schools in the country.

According to some pre-med advisors, your undergraduate institution is of extreme importance, but generally speaking, I think this is somewhat overrated, unless you are trying to get into one of the most prestigious medical schools, as already mentioned.

Nonetheless, the best advice is probably to try to get into the best undergraduate school you can. It will only help you. But realize that it's not going to be the end of the world if you attend a less well known school. The rest of your application may have to be a little stronger in that case, but you should still be able to get into medical school.

Try to choose (if you have a choice) an undergraduate institution which has successfully graduated (more than just a couple) students who were able to gain admission to medical school. Ideally, your school should have a pre-med advisor and committee as well as a strong Pre-med or Biology program. Of course, attending a smaller community college will be a disadvantage because they typically don't have strong programs of this type.

This is more important than how well known the school is. Try to stay away from schools which have no track record or a bad track record of getting pre-med students admitted to medical school. It will make things harder for you, but still not impossible.

Post-Bac (Post-Bachelor) Pre-Med Programs

Post-Bac Pre-Med programs can be useful for two types of individuals in particular:

1. An individual who completed his or her Bachelor's degree, took the MCAT, applied to medical school and did not get in.

These programs can help improve an applicants chances for admission for several reasons:
  a. They improve the student's science background, increasing chances for better MCAT performance.
  b. They show that the student is serious about getting into medical school.
  c. They prepare the student for medical school and are typically more intense than undergrad - showing that the applicant can handle a more rigorous course load just fine. Some of these already teach a number of courses found in medical school itself for that reason - demonstrating that the applicant can handle it.

2. An individuals who has already completed a Bachelor's degree in a non-science field (or it's been a long time since graduating) and would like to prepare for medical school now.

This option should be weighed against just returning to a regular college/university to take the required courses needed for medical school admissions and MCAT preparation. Technically, it's not necessary to go to a post-bac pre-med program per-se.

You could just as well enroll at any college/university for 2 years to take 2 semesters of Physics, 2 semesters of General Biology and 2 semesters of General Chemistry followed by 2 semesters of Organic Chemistry.

On the other hand, some students are successfully admitted to medical school after completing one of these programs when they were previously unable to gain admission several times through the "normal" route. So, these programs seem to be able to make a difference for some applicants.

Some useful courses to have beyond the requirements

As you might expect, taking only 2 semesters each of General Biology, Physics, General Chemistry and Organic Chemistry does not really prepare you all too well for the actual medical school curriculum, but these are really all the science courses required for you to take the MCAT and to gain admission to medical school in most cases. These courses really just give you the very basics in understanding, especially in Biology. Therefore, additional courses in Biology can be very beneficial.

So, to make your medical school life a little easier while in medical school, it is also beneficial, if you still have some room in your undergraduate elective schedule, to take some of the following courses. They will help you be better prepared for medical school. But realize that they are not required.

Highly recommended:

Also recommended:

If you look closely at the course list for the first 2 years of medical school, you'll see all of these topics, so any prior knowledge or experience in any of these will be useful to you and give you a better background. Don't stress out about covering all of these. If you have a choice to add electives to your schedule or you can take some of these courses to fulfill your degree requirements, all the better.

Where to find specific medical school requirements

Some requirements and useful information can be found in our Med School Statistics section.

You should also order the medical school admissions guide for both allopathic (MD) and osteopathic (DO) schools for the most current requirements of each school. You can also check medical school websites directly.

The Osteopathic Medical School Information Book (DO) is available for free. You can browse through the guide online or order a free copy to be sent to you. (Get it!)

The Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) for MD schools is available for $25.00. (Get it!)

Note that these guides will not elaborate on the extra-curricular "requirements" as discussed here, but list cost of tuition, course requirements and the like. The MD school guide also included numerous statistics such as how many people applied in-state and out-of-state, how many of those were interviewed and were admitted, etc. These publications are very useful tools.

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