Medical school prerequisites can seem confusing or unnecessary at times, but they exist for a reason.
This guide will cover what classes are needed for medical school, and why you need to take them seriously.
Table of Contents
Medical School Prerequisites
Prerequisites are a central part of your journey towards becoming a medical professional. Not only do they prepare you for the rigors ahead, but they give you the solid foundation you need to succeed in your training. More importantly, they’re one of the most basic entry barriers for medical school.
Medical schools have several prerequisite requirements to apply, and fulfilling them during your undergraduate education is essential. Specific requirements can vary from school to school. However, most will require a broad base of introductory courses that cover topics you’ll need to know in medical school.
Here are some of the most common medical school prerequisites you’ll encounter.
Nearly all medical schools require applicants to study biology at some point. Biology is the study of living organisms. While comparatively fundamental to what you’ll learn in medical school, these courses will cover the basics and prepare you for more complex studies ahead.
Generally, medical schools require that you take a year of biology courses. That might include two semesters of general introductory courses along with their accompanying labs. However, medical schools like to see more specialized biology studies as well.
For example, courses covering molecular biology, microbiology, genetics, and more are always appreciated.
Chemistry courses are a must for any potential medical student. Medical schools usually require at least two years of study. Some of the more competitive institutions require three years. That’s approximately two to six dedicated chemistry classes.
During the first year of undergraduate studies, most medical schools like to see introductory courses such as General Chemistry and Organic Chemistry. As always, lab requirements also come into play. Additional course requirements often include Inorganic Chemistry, Biochemistry, and more.
Chemistry-based med school prerequisites offer plenty of variety. Beyond the introductory courses, the preferred course breakdown and sub-fields can offer a mix of learning opportunities.
Generally, medical schools only require one year of college-level mathematics. Math skills are critical to your endeavors, but they’re a lower priority than science.
The main goal of math classes is to prepare you for data interpretation and testing probability. For this reason, basic math courses aren’t going to cut it. Most medical schools require Calculus, Statistics, or both.
Some have a standalone requirement for Statistics, freeing students up to take other math-based courses.
Physics courses introduce critical medical concepts. Topics like the laws of pressure and volume play an important role in understanding the forces operating within the body.
As a result, medical school prerequisites usually include at least one year of physics with accompanying lab classes. General Physics and Principles of Physics are the go-to for most students. However, some schools require more complex courses that implement calculus into the mix.
Social Sciences & Humanities
Finally, we have humanities and social sciences. These required classes for medical school provide essential skills beyond the standard medical knowledge. It takes a lot more than just medical proficiency to become a successful physician.
Social sciences cover topics like linguistics, economics, social relationships, and more. They can teach you the complexities of the human condition while also proving your proficiency in English writing. The same goes for humanities, which focuses on the value of different cultures and experiences.
Most medical schools require at least one year of writing-intensive social sciences and humanities courses. The exact classes you should take will depend on the school. These prerequisites tend to have the most flexibility.
Some schools have basic requirements like Sociology or Psychology. Others will have a strict track that includes English, History, and Foreign Languages.
The Importance Of Taking Some “Recommended” Or “Suggested” Courses
When you start looking into medical school prerequisite requirements, you’ll notice that many institutions also provide a list of recommended courses. What’s the difference between the two?
Ultimately, the required courses are the ones to focus on most. To put it simply, those are the main qualifiers that admissions committees will look at first. If you don’t fulfill all of those requirements, you don’t move further into the process. It’s as simple as that.
Think of them as the barrier of entry. Without meeting the requirements, you might as well prepare for the rejection. There are rare exceptions to the rule, but those requirements are there for a reason.
So, what about the recommended classes? There’s a little more wiggle room here. However, it’s a good idea to take those courses whenever possible.
If a medical school goes through the trouble to recommend additional courses, the admissions board clearly thinks those classes hold value to potential students. They might not outright reject your application if you don’t take those recommended classes. But, it’s safe to assume that they will view your application more favorably if you do. It shows that you put in the work and are serious about matriculation.
Another critical thing to think about is the overall competitiveness of the medical school application pool. There are potentially thousands of other students vying for a spot in the upcoming class. It’s safe to say that many of them are looking to curate a competitive application as well.
There’s a good chance that a vast majority of applicants plan to take at least some of those recommended classes. You don’t want to be one of the rare few that don’t, so it pays to check off as many of the recommended boxes as possible.
All that said, you shouldn’t let the “extra” classes interfere with other aspects of your undergraduate academic work. Ultimately, medical schools want unique and well-rounded applicants. Personal and educational exploration is always a good thing.
Students who excelled in extracurriculars like music or art show just as much promise as those who took all the science courses they could. It’s about striking a balance between academic prowess and extracurricular success.
Taking some of those recommended classes is important, but they should impact your other coursework.
Why You Need To Take These Required Courses For Medical School
For many students, many of the medical school prerequisites often seem like a tedious task they have to complete. Some think of it as the bare minimum to even get considered. While that holds some truth, prerequisite requirements are far more critical than most realize.
The requirements aren’t just random requests. They play an important role in the foundation you’ll rely on in medical school.
Here are some of the reasons why medical schools want you to take these required classes.
An Academic Foundation
The most apparent reason why prerequisites exist is that they provide you with valuable knowledge. Becoming a doctor is about transforming the way you think. Your training turns you into a reliable expert in the field who can solve problems and find solutions to dire health issues.
That journey starts long before you even step foot into medical school.
The medical school prerequisites prepare you for all of the complex topics you’ll explore later in your education. There’s simply not enough time to cover the basics in medical school. So, your prerequisites handle the load.
You need a basic understanding of several core topics to succeed in medical school. For example, mathematics and physics are a must for understanding internal medicine, radiation oncology, and more. Meanwhile, biology and chemistry lay the groundwork for courses in anatomy, physiology, and pharmacology.
All of those skills are a must. Use your undergraduate education as a time to prepare for what lies ahead. If you don’t understand those core topics, it’s impossible to succeed in medical school.
The required courses are a great way to gauge your natural skills and address known deficiencies. You might realize that topics like calculus or chemistry are more challenging for you than biology. Knowing that now will make it easier for you to overcome hurdles before things get even more intense!
Solid MCAT Preparation
Another thing to think about before you start applying to schools is the MCAT. The MCAT is a challenging standardized test that’s specifically designed to gauge your knowledge of core topics. It’s one of the most essential parts of your application and can make or break your prospects.
There are tons of ways to prepare for the MCAT. Intensive courses will help you get familiar with the test structure and prepare you for the subjects the test covers.
All that said, prep courses are not supposed to teach you that material. They’re designed as refreshers that go over the things you’ve already learned.
That means one of the best ways to make your MCAT preparation easier is to take those med school prerequisites.
The MCAT isn’t entirely science-focused. It doesn’t rely on a regurgitation of facts, either.
The test is all about critical thinking skills (there’s even an entire section on it called CARS). As a result, even the classes many deem as unnecessary are crucial to your success.
Medical school prerequisites ensure that you’re well-prepared for one of the most significant tests in your life. Even if your preferred medical school doesn’t require specific classes, it may benefit you to take them anyway because of the impact on MCAT preparation.
Handling The Rigors Of Medical School
There’s no denying that medical school is tough (even getting into medical school is hard). Medicine is one of the most challenging professions in the world. Medical schools aren’t just looking for the brightest minds possible. They’re also looking for students who have a proven track record of success despite any hurdles and struggles.
Completing prerequisite courses for medical school requires you to dive head-first into the world of academia. You’ll spend a lot of time doing projects, writing essays, and preparing for tests. Getting through the requirements successfully shows that you can handle the stress.
Time and stress management is crucial to your success in medical school. If you think undergraduate school is tough, wait until you’re jumping from administrative work to clinical studies. It can be a challenge that stresses even the most dedicated students.
Medical school prerequisites are like a crash course in what lies ahead. It helps you learn how to manage your time and stress efficiently. You’ll learn how to get all of your work done while still making time to enjoy family, friends, and leisurely activities.
A Display Of Critical Thinking
Ever wonder why some medical school class requirements aren’t related to medicine at all? Some students feel like they can quickly fly through those non-science courses without any issues. However, the truth is that every required course holds value.
Even non-science classes are a crucial part of your education. The importance lies in how they prepare you for critical thinking.
You can’t expect to get through medical school on memorization alone. Being a doctor is about solving problems and continuing your education long after you graduate. These courses prepare you for those endeavors.
In the prerequisite courses, you’ll display critical thinking skills while learning how to self-evaluate and self-learn. Those are all essential skills for a physician. Not only that, but you’ll need to know how to think critically to succeed during the MCAT.
Finally, let’s talk about flexibility. Not all of the classes needed for medical school are going to be the same across the board. However, some of the core classes will fulfill requirements between different institutions.
Completing as many prerequisites as possible keeps your options open. Instead of focusing on what a single school wants, it’s far better to focus on the collective. Go above the bare minimum and try your hand at many different classes.
Doing so ensures that you qualify for several schools. It provides you with greater flexibility during the application cycle and makes your application as competitive as possible.
How Important Are Your Prerequisite Grades?
Medical schools accept a wide range of students from many different backgrounds. As a result, the admissions process is more holistic than applicants realize. There are many pieces to the puzzle, as several factors contribute to the overall decision.
So how do your prerequisite grades fall into the mix?
To put it simply, your grades are very important!
Medical schools take a look at your overall GPA. But with so many different types of students up for consideration, the final GPA isn’t always a good indicator of a student’s potential (in fact, it’s possible to get into medical school with a low GPA). For example, science-based courses tend to be more challenging than art-based ones.
To better gauge what a student has to offer, medical schools will look into those prerequisite grades. Your final grade in each course holds a lot of weight in your application and your overall GPA.
As a result, working hard to get the best grades possible is going to make your life easier in the long run. Medical schools are already competitive enough. The last thing you want to do is apply with substandard marks on some of the most critical classes you need to qualify.
A letter grade can mean the difference between getting accepted and getting rejected.
As mentioned earlier, your performance in prerequisite courses paints a bigger picture about who you are and how you perform. For this reason, you need to take them seriously and do all that you can to manage your time and stress.
The Right Approach
Start early and even consider working with a pre-med advisor to create a track that works for you. Have some of your preferred schools in mind and check up on what’s required. It’s always a good idea to compare and contrast requirements among several of your choice schools.
There’s a good chance that you’ll apply for several institutions, so don’t focus entirely on your top choice. Remember, prerequisites keep your option open and provide flexibility.
With that information in hand, you and your advisor can determine a course of action for your undergraduate studies. Create a manageable pace for you and ensure that you have plenty of wiggle room to address challenges that come. You don’t have to have everything set in stone. A bit of flexibility ensures that you’re properly managing your time and stress.
Generally, advisors recommend that you finish medical school prerequisite courses early on. Ideally, it would be best if you had them done by the end of your second year. The reason for this timeline is simple: It gives you more flexibility to craft the perfect application.
Focusing on the required courses early gives you plenty of opportunities to address weak points. Say, for example, that you struggle with chemistry courses. Figuring that out in the first two years lets you dedicate more time to get the grades you need during your undergraduate years.
Not only that, but it gives you the chance to dedicate your final years to other classes. Your third and fourth year of undergraduate studies is the perfect time to complete unfinished med school prerequisites, try out recommended courses, and dedicate time to preferred extracurriculars.
Your prerequisite grades are critical. Don’t leave those classes to the last minute! Plan your courses, get them done early, give yourself ample time to get the best GPA that you can.
Medical school prerequisites are more than just another task for you to knock off on your path to med school. They’re a foundation and learning opportunity that will prepare you for the challenges that lie ahead.
Take them seriously and you’ll have plenty of options when it comes time for you to apply!