Once a student decides to pursue medical school, what comes next? The general requirements are always the same, but the timeline may vary.
When getting ready for medical school, applicants need:
Let's look at these essential requirements in more detail.
A biology or chemistry major isn't necessarily required to enter medical school. As research advances and healthcare changes, students may benefit from degrees in engineering, mathematics or business. Students should check prerequisite requirements for their top-choice medical schools when selecting undergraduate classes and majors.
The Princeton Review lists basic courses medical schools require, including biology, organic chemistry, English and physics. Taking these courses in the early years of undergrad leaves time for more electives or other opportunities in later years. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) offers a coursework tracker to help students follow their progress, and many undergraduate colleges offer pre-health advising to help aspiring medical students develop plans.
Most medical schools look for students with some healthcare experience, paid or volunteer. Many local hospitals or health centers offer opportunities for pre-med students to assist or shadow physicians or simply keep patients company, and many colleges have plenty of research laboratories in need of assistants. Exploring a few different healthcare areas will help pre-med students narrow down career choices.
In addition to gaining first-hand medical experience, students can join campus groups and take leadership roles, such as chairing committees or planning events, to build leadership skills important for medical careers as well as medical school applications.
Letters of recommendation
Students may seek letters of recommendation from professors, club and society advisors and many other school leadership roles. Securing letters from leaders in a few different roles provides a range of perspectives for well-rounded applications. When requesting letters, students may provide stories or statements to help the writing process.
The AAMC suggests making letter requests long before application due dates to give leaders plenty of time. Students should also send thank-you notes to everyone who took the time to write a letter.
To allow plenty of time to space out studying, students should begin preparing for the Medical College Admission Test® (MCAT®) as soon as they decide to go to medical school. The AAMC has a variety of test-prep resources, including study tools and practice resources created by professional test developers.
Students need to complete the MCAT by the spring of junior year to submit applications during the summer.
Researching medical schools early makes the application process more manageable, allowing students to focus on a few top schools and research admission requirements. The pre-health advising services offered by most colleges can help with this process. Students can attend health career fairs to learn about different schools without traveling.
To attend medical school the semester after undergrad, students apply the summer before senior year and complete interviews and financial aid forms in the fall.
Non-traditional medical paths
It’s never too late to pursue medicine, even for students who don’t realize they want to attend medical school until later in college. These students may follow the same steps for applying to medical school on different timelines.
Some students may need to spend an extra year in undergrad to complete prerequisites or a post-baccalaureate program. Students can make the most of gap years by participating in healthcare-related activities, studying to boost MCAT scores or even working to save money for school.
Following these steps should help aspiring medical students relieve some of the stress of getting ready to apply for medical school.
By Patricia Chaney