Pre-med: Everything you need to know about the path to medical school
Candidates who plan to attend medical school often register as pre-med students at undergraduate level. Discover everything there is to know about declaring yourself pre-med here.
What is pre-med?
Pre-med is not a major, but a declaration. It indicates a student intends to attend medical school after college. It informs professors and advisors of this plan, allowing them to recommend the right courses during the student’s university career.
Medical schools expect students to meet certain prerequisites before they apply. Pre-med students usually need to complete the following requirements:
- one year of biology with lab
- one year of general chemistry with lab
- one year of organic chemistry with lab
- at least one semester of biochemistry
- one year of physics with lab
- a math requirement (some schools require calculus, some statistics, some both)
- one year of English
Tips for applying to medical school
understand the requirements of your target programs, and consider declaring a pre-med track
choose a major that suits your interests and compliments pre-med requirements
frequently speak to an advisor during your undergraduate career
Use as many MCAT practice tests as possible, aim to study for at least 200 hours
The best majors for pre-med
Students on the pre-med track need to declare an official major. Graduate programs seek students with different backgrounds to relate to a broad spectrum of patients, therefore it is possible to choose any major. That said, based on medical school requirements, it may be best to choose a STEM major, preferably in the sciences.
Common pre-med majors include:
- Biology – The most common choice of major for pre-med students. The courses required for this degree are almost always relevant for medical school.
- Chemistry – Pre-med students require a deep knowledge of chemistry, so this is another solid choice.
- Physics - For students who want to go into the technical side of medicine – neuroscience, medical imaging – physics can be especially useful.
- Mathematics - There is a lot of foundational math in medicine. For example, calculating dosage and maintaining good patient protocols becomes easier with a strong math skills.
- Business - If you are interested in careers in healthcare administration or management, this can be an excellent major to support your future medical career.
Pre-med students can major in any subject, but it can be highly beneficial to choose a science major.
Pre-med and the MCAT exam
The MCAT – Medical College Admission Test – is the standard exam that medical schools consider when determining whether to admit a candidate. Students take the MCAT in their final year of school, or the summer before, so usually begin practicing during junior year at the latest.
Most students on the pre-med track are enrolled in classes that prepare them for the MCAT. Medical schools set their own minimum scores, so check the range required for the programs you are applying for.
How to make sure you are meeting pre-med requirements
A pre-med or pre-health advisor can help guide you to the right course selection. These advisors are usually associated with your major. If you are still unsure where to look, ask a careers counselor or a professor, and they can direct you to the appropriate person.
Keep in mind that most relationships between advisor and student involve more than a single consultation. Plan to speak with them several times a year to make sure you are still on track and to adjust as necessary.
Many programs require students to meet their advisor a certain number of times by specific dates. To help with this, work with an advisor throughout your time at college. They can help you to take the right courses, and then match those to the Doctorate of Medicine (M.D.) or other programs that you are interested in.
Speak to your pre-med advisor or careers counselor at college to ensure you are meeting pre-med requirements.
Can you go to medical school if you are not a pre-med student?
Yes, you can get into medical school without pursuing a pre-med track. Typically, medical schools do not care whether you registered pre-med, they only need their list of requirements to be satisfied.
Students who have not taken the appropriate courses at undergraduate level need to make these courses up before applying to medical school. The typical route is to apply to college again with postbaccalaureate status.
What are pre-med post baccalaureate programs?
They are programs for students who have not fulfilled the medical school requirements and need to return to college to meet these standards.
Post baccalaureate programs usually last for 1-2 years. As you are not working towards a full degree this time around, studies finish when you have completed all the prerequisite courses. Some colleges have medical postbaccalaureate programs that make this easy, so inquire at schools in your area before choosing where to make up these requirements.
A pre-med track is not only for students who want to become a doctor. It prepares candidates to apply to medical school and all the healthcare careers that follow.
Students who want to practice medicine of any kind – from surgery to optometry, pediatrics to geriatrics – need to complete a range of science, math, and liberal arts courses in college. A pre-med track can help to assure they achieve this.
Would-be veterinarians may choose a pre-med track, because careers in veterinary medicine rely on many of the same scientific principles as human medicine. Vets need good communication and management skills, which a pre-med major also prepares students for. The same reasoning applies for students who want to become a dentist.
Alternative careers for pre-med students
Some students don’t plan to practice medicine, but are interested in other areas of healthcare. They enroll in pre-med courses to become medical assistants, healthcare managers, community health specialists, non-profit leaders, forensic scientists, morticians, and even science teachers.
Additional FAQs about pre-med
Is pre-med a major?
No. Pre-med indicates a candidate is on the medical track. It signals a student’s intentions, ensuring advisors can help them to make the right course choices to apply for medical school.
Is pre-med hard?
Pre-med can be challenging as the required courses often constitute additional workload. It is important to perform well academically and pass the MCAT to be accepted into medical school.
When do students need to declare their pre-med majors?
Ideally, students make their decision early enough to plan their undergraduate career around it. Most colleges require students to declare a major by the end of sophomore year.
How long is pre-med?
Typically, the pre-med track lasts 4 years, the same duration as your major.
Is pre-med or nursing harder?
There are some similarities between pre-med and a Bachelors of Science in Nursing (BSN). Both contain courses in chemistry, math, biology, and English. Which is harder is subjective.
Is psychology a pre-med major?
Yes, pre-meds can study psychology as a major. This is an excellent option for candidates considering a career as a psychiatrist. Even for those not planning to enter the mental health field, psychology can be a good choice because doctors need to understand their patients.