The Prerequisites of Medical School

The Prerequisites for Medical School

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.


Par for the Course(s)

During your pre-medical education, you will be required to fulfill certain 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.

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

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.

Standard medical school prerequisites

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 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.

Less commonly required courses

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 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 a medical school prerequisite since their inclusion on the revision of the MCAT in 2015.

Non-required courses you should take as a pre-med

  • 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.

Selecting a 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.

Health Care Experience

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 med school interview ratings, GPA, MCAT scores, and letters of recommendation).

You should consider being active in health care activities as much as possible as a premed student. If nothing else, these experiences will help you articulate in your personal statement and interviews why you want to pursue a career in medicine.


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, he or she 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.


In many undergraduate institutions, the pre-med office handles the 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.

Going it Alone

An applicant to medical school often fails to acknowledge the importance of working with an institution’s premed office. Going it alone means that the applicant won’t benefit from networking contacts and relationships the premed office has with a number of admissions offices where the applicant has applied. Often admissions officers ask why an applicant has not used his/her premedical office’s resources. So be very mindful to have the full support of your premedical office if such a resource is available to you.


Enhance Your Application With Your Extracurricular Choices

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 with which you have been involved.

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.

  • 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. 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.

  • Research Experience

    In general, the only time research experience is an absolute must is if you are planning to apply to 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 pure 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.

  • Teaching Experience

    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.

  • Employment

    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.