Going to medical school is an admirable goal and preparing for it starts as early as 10th grade! If you’re still in high school and you know you want to become a medical doctor, now is the time to get a head start.
Prepare for college programs by boosting your knowledge
Begin by taking AP courses, especially in the sciences. You'll know early on if you're really cut out for biology and chemistry; and if you do well in such pre-college academics, you might be able to go straight into advanced science courses in a number of college programs.
Seek out opportunities to get work experience in the field by scoring a summer job with your family physician or through volunteer work at a local hospital. Not only will this help you decide if college degree programs related to medicine are for you, but such experience could help you get into medical school.
Scope out the school scene and potential college majors
Start researching medical schools and checking admission requirements while you’re in high school by picking up a copy of "Medical School Admission Requirements" (MSAR), which you can order online from the Association of American Medical Colleges. Consider meeting with a pre-med or admission counselor at a local university to discuss which college majors would help you succeed in a pre-med program and to get a chance to preview the formal interviews that you’ll need to endure for admission to medical school. Dress your best, be confident and articulate, and come prepared with questions. Ask about the ideal academic program, and then plan your high school and undergraduate courses to fulfill those requirements.
Consider college programs as you choose your path
If your heart is set on becoming the next surgeon general, choose a college or university with an excellent pre-med program and a reputable pre-med adviser. Take into account that you might change your mind before you complete your undergraduate degree, so the school you select should suit all of your learning needs. In addition to the pre-med program, consider the size of the classes, the location of the school, the cost, and the overall course offerings. You never know, you may find that you’re better suited to Greek philosophy than triple bypasses.
Don’t limit yourself to the school you think will give you the best chance of attending medical school. There are many variables on your medical school applications that are evaluated, and your undergraduate institution is just one of them.
If you are considering attending a two-year college for the first leg of your college journey, you may want to reconsider—many medical schools do not include community college grades when calculating GPAs. If this is the case, take your prerequisite courses at a four-year institution so your application doesn't lack important credits. Colleges that are willing to accept coursework from a two-year college are likely to weigh those courses less and this may harm your chances for admission to your medical school of choice. This doesn’t mean you can’t get into medical school if you start your college career at a community college. There just may be additional factors for you to consider.
Consider combined college degree programs
Some schools offer combined programs that allow you to obtain your bachelor's degree with the assumption that if you do well, you will be admitted to a medical school program upon graduating. Not all of these programs combine the bachelor's degree and M.D. at the same school; some medical schools have joint programs that begin at another university, and others begin in the undergraduate division of the medical school. A few programs are limited to state residents (City University of New York, University of Illinois at Chicago, and Texas A&M, for example), and though the majority require a full eight years for the completion of the two degrees, a number of schools reduce the full time to six or seven years. The MSAR includes a section on such programs.
Your checklist for planning your college academics
If you believe medical school is in your future, follow these suggestions while you're still in high school:
- Take Advanced Placement courses, especially in the sciences.
- Get work experience in the medical field; e.g., get a summer job with your family physician or volunteer at a local hospital or nursing home.
- Apply to selective colleges and universities if your grades and SAT or ACT scores are good.
- Find out which colleges and universities have combined programs.
- Choose a college that can meet all your requirements for a good education in any college major you may choose, in case you change your mind.
- Speak with a pre-med adviser at the schools you are considering to find out the number of pre-med students enrolled and the program's acceptance rate.
If you take the time to follow these tips about evaluating college programs and prepare yourself for the journey required to become a doctor, you should be well on your way to obtaining a rewarding education in the medical field.