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How can I prepare for medical school while in college?

Jul 11, 2018

If you want to pursue a career in medicine, it’s important to start preparing early. To that end, It’s a good idea to have a general sense of what to expect in college if you intend to pursue a pre-medical track. In order to eventually secure admission to medical school, there are multiple steps you’ll want to take when you’re a college student.  Here we walk through an overview of what you should aim to accomplish as an undergraduate in order to be competitive and well-prepared for a career in medicine.

1. Consider your course load.

In order to apply to medical school, you’ll need to complete:

1 year of biology with a lab component, 1 year of general chemistry with a lab, 1 year of organic chemistry with a lab, 1 year of physics with a lab, 1 year of English and 1 semester of biochemistry

More specifically, it’s often necessary to take these classes during your first couple of years of study. You will be tested on these topics when you take the MCAT, an entrance exam for medical schools that evaluates how prepared you are for advanced coursework in medicine. In addition to the above, you might want to tack on a semester each of psychology and sociology, topics that can be studied independently but will appear on the test in some form.

Of course, it’s imperative to do as well as possible in each of these courses. Medical schools will consider what is called your “science GPA,” which is exactly what it sounds like–a grade point average consisting only of grades earned in science-related courses. The closer to a 4.0 this number is, the better, but realistically, you’ll need to have around a 3.9 to have a shot at the top schools.

2. Get involved in research

You should start contacting professors early on in your freshman year in order to get leads on undergraduate involvement in scientific research. It’s critical to demonstrate this experience on your application to medical schools, so cast a wide net by reaching out to plenty of labs. If you need assistance with this, set up an appointment with an academic dean or advisor.

3. Volunteer

Medical schools want to feel assured that prospective students are aware of the demands of the field and have some up-close experience with real patients and physicians. In order to demonstrate this, be sure to spend time (beginning in your first year of college!) volunteering at a local hospital. The specifics of your duties as a volunteer are less important than the overall perspective you’ll gain from being in a clinical setting.

4. Take the MCAT

Before you can apply to medical school, you need to take the MCAT, a standardized test that measures your knowledge and abilities in four core sections: Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems; Chemical and Physical Foundations of Living Systems; Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior; and Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills. The test takes 7.5 hours to complete.

You can bypass a lot (but not all) of these steps by applying to BS/MD programs. These specialized programs allow you to be conditionally admitted to medical school as a senior in high school, before you’ve even begun your undergraduate studies. If you’d like to learn more about this option, first check out our blog post here, and then go to our Command Med webpage.