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College Programs and the Pre-Med Curriculum: Get Your Science On

By Peterson's Staff updated on Monday, January 28, 2013

You might be surprised to know that you can be a "pre-med" student without actually being enrolled in a pre-med program. You can also major in just about anything as long as you take enough courses to build a strong background in the biological sciences.

Whether your college major is music and take a lot of science electives, or get your degree in biology, the courses you take serve not only as prerequisites for medical school, but help build the foundation you need to get through your first year. However, the reality is that to be competitive when it comes time to apply, you should pursue one of the college degree programs in the natural sciences.

Science major or not, plan on taking at least a year's worth of coursework in the following, with lab work included in each of the science subjects:

  • biology or zoology
  • inorganic and organic chemistry (two years)
  • physics
  • English
  • Calculus or other advanced math course

 

It's not necessarily required (although it is built into many college majors), but you should toss in at least one statistics class for good measure as well. Ultimately, your science coursework will comprise your science GPA, and medical schools will carefully consider this when they make their decisions.

College programs should help smooth the edges

Med schools look for well-rounded students, so taking courses in the humanities and social sciences works to your advantage, as does participation in leadership and extracurricular activities, volunteering in a hospital or other clinical setting, and getting as much clinical background as possible. Some schools offer a specific pre-med track, and many of those related experiences are built into their programs so your credentials for applying to med school are as strong as possible.

Most med schools have very specific requirements of what courses you need to take (science and non-science alike) and of what you need to accomplish to be considered for admission. If you know where you want to apply, you should be familiar with what you need to do early on so you can get on the right track and stay there. However, if you're not sure of where you want to apply or of specific requirements, then give every aspect of your undergraduate preparation your full attention: grades, scores, activities, volunteering, shadowing, clinical exposure, etc... The reality is that, as a pre-med student, your college academics and undergraduate experience are all about your push to medical school.

Apart from doing great in all your courses and building an impressive student resume, you'll also need to focus on preparing for your MCAT. When crunch time arrives, your GPA and MCAT scores get looked at first and, combined with your personal statement, letters of recommendation, and resume, will determine if you get an interview. If you get an interview, it will be up to you to demonstrate your personality and character and convince the medical school they should admit you.

Performance in your college major

Knowing how high your GPA should be and what your scores on the MCAT need to look like isn't something you should wait to find out until you are standing on the med-school's doorstep. Your GPA and your test scores will be a telling insight into your dedication to your undergraduate coursework and preparation. You should be striving to achieve high numbers from the get-go, rather than scrambling to get them up at the last minute. Again, know what YOUR med school is looking for and strive for that—or better.

Depending on where you look, you may find several different references to how the "average" pre-med student measured up at application time. However, the Association of American Medical Colleges keeps the most up-to-date information about that important aspect of college academics.

Life does go on, despite your college major

Succeeding in college programs that help you get into medical school obviously takes a lot of work and dedication, but getting in is not impossible. You will need to stay focused on your goals and learn to say "no" to the Friday nights out a bit more often than your English lit roommate and his friend studying basket weaving, but it doesn't mean you have to give up having fun altogether. Know your limits, and keep your nose to the grindstone as much as possible. However, take a breather now and then, too. You may earn stellar grades by studying twelve hours a day, but you'll also make few friends, get a sore back from hunching over your books, and wonder why you no one except your professors seems to know your name. You can get into medical school and have a life on your way there.

About the Author

Peterson's has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, and the expert staff members here are all ready to leverage their considerable knowledge and experience to help you succeed on your educational journey. We have the information, the know-how, and the tools -- now all we need is you!

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