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What to Look for When Choosing Pre-Med College Programs

By Peterson's Staff updated on Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Some might consider a good doctor to be the one who can discuss philosophy and swap cookie recipes while checking your reflexes and taking a blood sample. A jack-of-all-trades, so to speak. Med schools look to admit well-rounded students, so if you want philosophy to be your undergrad college major and still head off to medical school, that's entirely possible. Generally speaking, med schools have some core requirements that pre-med students must meet, but you can usually major in anything you want. However, it's important to choose your pre-med school carefully and give some thought to both your major and your minor as potential launch pads into the curriculum you'll face in med school.

Your college major doesn't have to be rocket science…

…but it is "science" that you must get under your belt as a pre-med student. Most med schools require a year of college-level biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics as pre-med prerequisites. (Sometimes biochemistry is also required.) With that in mind, you may want to look for schools that have particularly good reputations in the sciences. When you take your MCAT during your junior year of college, science will be one of the primary areas covered on the test.

College majors and the three R's

In addition to science classes, med schools may also require calculus, composition, and English classes. (We all want doctors who can read, write, and add, right?) Since many college majors require such classes as part of their required curriculum, this may not be too hard to add into one of your busy semester schedules. If, for some reason, you aren't required to take these classes, you can easily take them as electives or additional math and language credit courses.

Look for college programs offering golden opportunities

Med schools love to see applicants who have spent quality time in some sort of medically-oriented activity. Schools with active pre-med programs are likely to have programs already in place that will enable you to volunteer in a nearby hospital or even shadow a doctor on his rounds or in the ER. If the school you're considering doesn't have such programs in place, then explore the locale of the schools you want to attend to see if there are facilities nearby that may afford you the opportunity to participate in similar activities on your own.

Some college degree programs may better fit your plans

Many med schools accept a lot of their students from particular schools. If you have certain med schools in mind, look into their acceptance rates and where they get their students from—as well as their admission criteria, in the event that it varies from the norm. If you have no doubts about your desire to go to med school, look into college degree programs offering a B.S./M.D. combined degree and find out everything you need to know about the college academics involved, how to get into the program, and what will be required of you once you are accepted.

Consider all aspects of your college academics as you plan your future path

Ultimately, if you can find a school where you can major in something that interests you or complements a medical career (or both), has a great pre-med program, and provides a clear path to med school, then you've found a great school. Remember to consider some of the other factors involved in choosing a college, such as location, size, and your personal wants or needs, and you should be able to find a college and a pre-med program that works for you.

No matter where you decide to go, be prepared to work hard, both as a pre-med and a med student. Compared to other undergraduates in other college programs, you'll probably have a slightly less robust social life since your spare time will likely be spent in the library studying or wheeling gurneys in the local hospital. (And if it isn't, it should be!) Developing a strong work ethic and a nose for research and study will prepare you very well for a career that will require lifelong learning on your part in order to stay on top of research and trends.

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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