The Prerequisites for Medical School – Kaplan Test Prep

The key to medical school admissions success is careful planning based on correct information. Research the schools in which you are interested. What are their admissions requirements? Keep in close contact with your pre-med advisor. Are you taking the proper classes now? With thorough research and thoughtful questions, you will benefit from the great amount of information that is available to you. By proactively seeking information, you will avoid the aggravation, disappointment, and delays that come upon finding out that you do not meet all of the necessary prerequisites.

What prerequisites do most medical schools require?

Most medical schools agree on the basic elements of pre-medical education. Generally, the minimum course requirements include one year each of biology, general (inorganic) chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, and the related lab work for each. In addition, about two-thirds require an English or writing intensive course and about one quarter require calculus. A small number of schools have no specific course requirements.

During your pre-medical education, you will be required to fulfill these coursework prerequisites. In addition, you should select other courses in the sciences and humanities to supplement this core curriculum, enhancing your education and your application to medical school.

Bear in mind that since the MCAT covers material from the commonly required courses, you will need to include those courses in your program of study whether or not they are medical school prerequisites. Nevertheless, many students are surprised to learn that the list of courses required by medical schools is so small. The best sources for admissions requirements for specific medical schools are the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) and the Osteopathic Medical College Information Booklet.

What classes should I take to go to medical school?

These classes are nearly universal pre-med requirements, including basic science classes that are familiar to most science majors.

  • Biology:

    Almost all of medicine requires a basic understanding of biology, so it is a definite necessity for medical school. Knowing about genetics, cells, and the framework for life are the building blocks of medical science and are crucial for success in the field.

  • Chemistry:

    Chemistry—and especially organic chemistry—provide a strong basis for understanding acid-base imbalances within the body and how different medications work. Chemistry is also the foundation for understanding biochemistry.

  • Physics:

    Physics also introduces key medical concepts, such as laws of pressure and volume, which are incredibly important for cardiology and understanding the forces operating within the body.

  • Mathematics:

    Some schools will require calculus, while others require statistics. Regardless, most schools require at least a semester of math. There’s a surprising amount of basic math and statistics that is important for daily life as a physician or health professional—from determining proper dosage to reading lab results.

Courses Sometimes Required for Medical School

Medical school prerequisites are selected by the particular program, and so there are some classes that are not required at all schools, but are required at most or some. For details regarding specifically which classes are required for each school, check the MSAR website.

  • English:

    Many medical schools want you to have critical thinking and reading/writing skills outside of basic science classes. The way they ensure you have these skills is through requiring an English class or, at the very least, a class with a writing-intensive focus.

  • Biochemistry:


    has gotten a lot more attention since receiving an increased emphasis on the MCAT. Some schools make it a prerequisite, while others simply assume you have the knowledge if you studied for the MCAT.

  • Psychology and Sociology:

    Like biochemistry, psychology and sociology have increased in popularity as medical school prerequisites since their inclusion on the MCAT.

Valuable Pre-Med Courses That Are Not Required for Med School

  • Medical Anthropology/History:

    One of the most fascinating components of medicine is how it has changed and evolved over the centuries. A background in medical history will provide you with an appreciation for the evolution of medical knowledge and how it may change moving forward.

  • Foreign Language:

    Learning a second language is a particularly useful skill for any medical student or physician. Not only can it open up broader career opportunities, but it empowers you to connect with more diverse populations and become a better provider.

How to Choose a Pre-Med Major

While science majors are certainly more common, medical schools stress their interest in well-rounded students with broad-based undergraduate backgrounds. In fact, regardless of your major, your undergraduate transcript is a vital part of the admissions decision.

If you are a science major, one approach is to broaden your education by considering at least some social science and humanities electives. If you are not majoring in a science, your work in both science and non-science courses will be evaluated. However, with fewer courses on which to judge your science ability, your grades in the core science subjects will take on greater importance. So consider taking at least some additional science courses, such as biochemistry, cell biology, or genetics.

Bottom line? Don’t choose a major because you think it will get you accepted to medical school. Choose a major in a subject in which you are really interested. You will do better and have a more enjoyable time throughout college.

Read more about pre-med majors and choosing your medical specialty.

Medical Schools Value Clinical Experience

Of all the activities you could be involved in, the one that is most likely to be considered essential by a medical school admissions committee is direct-patient-care clinical work. According to a recent survey of medical schools, knowledge of health care issues and commitment to health care were among the top five variables considered very important to student selection. The other four were MCAT scores, med school interview ratings, GPA, and letters of recommendation.

Start by calling hospitals or health centers in your community. Ask to speak with a representative from the volunteer services office. These individuals will be able to direct you to the specific departments, offices, or other individuals who work with people in the management of chronic illnesses, the prevention of diseases, or advocacy for victims of abuse and domestic violence. Pick an organization whose focus interests you and go for it. Remember that you may be asked to make a commitment of up to one year, but in return, you will be a real member of the team.

You should consider being active in health care activities as much as possible as a premed student. Gaining clinical experience will help you further validate your interest in medicine and will give you a glimpse into the reality of working as a physician. If nothing else, these experiences will help you articulate in your personal statement and interviews why you want to pursue a career in medicine.

Seek Guidance From Your Pre-Med Advisor

Your pre-med advisor is instrumental in helping you decide if medical school is right for you and assessing your chances for admission. In addition, they will be particularly helpful in guiding you to the schools whose curricula and student profiles best match your qualifications and interests. Finally, your pre-med advisor will have specific data about medical school requirements, how students from your school fared in the admissions process, and where students with similar academic backgrounds and MCAT scores were accepted.

Letters of Recommendation for Medical School Applications

In many undergraduate institutions, the pre-med advising offices handle letters of recommendation. In some cases, they simply relay the letters to the medical schools. Yet in other cases, the pre-med advisor—or committee—writes a letter to the admissions offices on your behalf. It’s imperative that you get to know your advisor and that they get to know you.

Secondary Application Requirements for Medical School

While the primary application is filled out once and sent to all the schools you select, each school has a unique secondary application. Secondary applications allow medical schools to collect more information than is included in the primary application. They often involve prompts that the school is especially interested in learning about you and candidates will answer them in essay form. Depending on the medical schools you’re applying to, secondary applications may be more or less involved. In some cases, you may not be given the opportunity to complete and submit them, because some medical schools screen primary applications to decide which candidates receive secondary applications. The amount of time medical schools allow to complete secondary applications can vary, but is usually between 2-4 weeks. 

What is the average GPA needed for med school?

In general, medical schools do not post a minimum GPA requirement. To calculate your GPA, the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) takes into consideration your cumulative GPA and your science GPA. Your cumulative GPA takes all of your courses into account, while your science GPA depends on your courses in the Biological sciences, such as Biology and Biochemistry, Chemistry, Physics, and Math (BCPM).

Naturally, although both GPAs are important, admissions committees are particularly interested in the science GPA, as well as the congruence between the two GPAs. Separate from taking the required courses for medical school, allot time for your own interests. Avoid attempting too many difficult courses at one time. Instead of “impressing” the admissions committee, this strategy could lower your overall GPA and have an adverse effect on your medical school applications.

What’s a good MCAT score for medical school?

An acceptable MCAT score largely depends on what medical schools you want to get into and what the rest of your application looks like. The MCAT score is one tool that schools use to evaluate your application and predict your success in their curriculum. It is your opportunity to show schools your potential for success, so you should dedicate a fair amount of time studying for this exam. While there is no formal minimum score required, the average overall MCAT score for admitted applicants is 512, while the average MCAT score for all test takers is around 502. That is a 10-point difference! Research the schools that you are interested in to see their individual averages and accepted score ranges, but don’t aim for the minimum score – it is always better to be above average!

Utilize Your Pre-Med Office as a Resource

Medical school applicants often fail to acknowledge the importance of working with their institution’s pre-med office. Often, admissions officers ask why applicants haven’t used their pre-medical office’s resources. So be very mindful to have the full support of your pre-medical office if such a resource is available to you. If your school does not have a dedicated pre-medical office or advisor, you will want to seek out the advisor that works most closely with pre-meds on your campus – sometimes they are found in the biological sciences department or career center. 

Enhance Your Med School Application With Extracurriculars

Medical school admissions committees select applicants who have demonstrated intelligence, maturity, integrity, and a dedication to the ideal of service to society. One way they assess your nonacademic qualities is to look at how you have lived your life prior to completing your medical school application. To this end, you have an opportunity to submit a description of up to fifteen activities, club memberships, leadership roles, honors, awards, and jobs within the AMCAS Primary Application. Furthermore, many committees will ask you to submit a more comprehensive list of the extracurricular activities you have been involved in. 

While not all admissions committees consider them in the application process, many value the nature and depth of your extracurricular activities as significant factors in your admissibility to medical school.

Is research experience required for medical school applications?

In general, the only time research experience is an absolute must is if you are planning to apply for M.D./Ph.D. programs or are considering an academic or research career. If this is the case, then it is important that you have documented experience that validates your interest and potential in the research field. However, that doesn’t mean that applicants planning a purely clinical career wouldn’t benefit from a research background. As a physician, your job will involve research, either as you seek to determine your patients’ medical conditions or through the process of continuing education, in which you read and study the published findings of research groups.

Can I list my teaching experience on my med school application?

One of the most important roles that a physician plays is that of a teacher as he or she imparts information to patients and teaches them to play a more active role in their own health care. The diversity of teaching experiences of medical school applicants during their undergraduate years is very broad. Such experience might include teaching swimming or a musical instrument to children, or becoming a teaching assistant in a lower division class in which you did exceptionally well. Teaching can encompass just about anything you enjoy doing. All you need to do is share it with others in a structured, organized manner.

How does employment reflect on my medical school application?

Many undergraduate students need to work throughout their college years. Most admissions committees recognize that the time you work necessarily means that you have less time for your studies and other forms of extracurricular activities. These committees understand that maintaining academic performance while holding down a job is hard work. If an applicant has been able to do both well, it is an indication that she will be able to maintain her academic performance upon entering medical school when academic pressures increase.

Should I include volunteer work in my med school application?

Yes! Along with the rest of your application, medical schools are looking for candidates that demonstrate how much they care about their community and the public in general. Volunteer experience will help you stand out by illustrating your genuine motivations to help others. 

Separate from other kinds of experiences listed in your application, your volunteer work does not have to be completed in a specific field or area of practice. Just be sure to seek activities that are aligned with your passions. And be ready to speak on why these experiences are significant to you and how they’ll help as you pursue your career.