Visit our Premed Forum for details and discussion of medical school requirements.
There are no set-in-stone requirements for every medical school. Many medical schools will make exceptions or emphasize different courses and topics in their admissions process. However, there is a basic set of courses and examinations that is commonly accepted as basic medical school requirements that will be considered by nearly every school.
With the development of the new MCAT format, first used in 2015, there are additional courses that are recommended. These include psychology and social sciences, which will be tested in sections on the longer MCAT.
Most often, an initial screen of applicants is done by computer to ensure that basic things like courses taken, GPA and MCAT scores meet a desired minimum. After that, it’s all about the person and not the numbers. Consider what makes a strong medical school application, and adjust yours accordingly. The medical school admissions process is a mix of science and art. To get an idea of how competitive your MCAT scores and GPA are, try our Medical School Search tool.
The commonly accepted coursework requirements for medical school include a minimum of 1 year of:
- General biology
- Physics with lab
- General chemistry (inorganic chemistry) with lab
- Organic chemistry with lab
If you are planning to do your premedical coursework after you get your undergraduate degree, you can take these courses at nearly any four-year college.
Medical school admissions are competitive, so you need to have a strong GPA. A GPA above 3.5 is preferable. A GPA below 3.5 can sometimes raise a flag, especially if you attended a school famous for grade-inflation, like Harvard. While things might have changed a little at Harvard, there is still the impression that everyone gets a minimum 3.3, so the GPA cutoff might be more strictly enforced.
Your MCAT scores are important. They say little about you as a person, but they are given substantial weight by medical schools. The sections of the MCAT are similar to the required coursework: physical sciences (physics and inorganic chemistry), biological sciences (biology and organic chemistry), verbal, and psycho-social sciences.
It has been estimated that 70-80% of all medical school applicants have taken an MCAT test prep course.
You need a college degree. BUT, it does not have to be in the sciences. In fact, for some schools a science degree is a negative – Johns Hopkins, for example. You need to show medical schools you are passionate about something: that you’re willing to spend four years, study a topic you love, learn it, and be able to build on it. Selecting a college major should not be about getting into medical school, it should be about study what you love to think about or do.
Research – optional
If you do enjoy science, then research is one way to show you’re serious about it. If you’re going to do a research project as an undergrad, start early. Freshman year is not too early to start. That gives you a year or two to learn the ropes, then a year and a half of serious work before you get to present your work in your medical school interview. Choose a respected faculty member doing research that interests you. Work hard. Read. Understand what you are doing and why you are doing it. You should be able to explain and defend your work to an educated scientist who doesn’t work in your field.
Physician shadowing – optional
I’m personally not a big fan of shadowing a physician. It doesn’t show much commitment, and suggests you’re just interested in getting into medical school. If you’re truly not sure you want to get into medicine, then shadow a physician and find out what it’s like. Don’t expect a “shadowing experience” do carry a lot of weight on your application.
Volunteer service – optional
The impact of volunteer service on your application will depend on the quality of the service, and your commitment to it. Is this a one month, two-times a week thing organized by someone else, or is this a project you’ve involved in for several years and are taking a leadership role in. How does this project affect you, and how have you made a meaningful contribution to the project.
Remember, medical schools are looking for people who are willing to take the time and effort to make a serious contribution. That contribution can be in a volunteer program, an academic pursuit, research, or even sport. You just have to show that you are willing and capable of working hard enough to accomplish an important goal.
How much shadowing, doing research or volunteering is enough?
The time spent in these non-academic endeavors can be substantial. We’ve put together information from a large number of applicants, and you can compare your efforts to the group using the Premed Status Report.
What do you need to know next?
MCAT scores: the good, the bad and the ugly.
Common mistakes made getting medical school recommendations.
Do medical school rankings matter? Only to your mother.
What are the top 10 medical schools?