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Is pre-medicine a major?


Pre-medicine is a “track,” which basically means there are certain courses medical schools require you to take in order to apply. So, as long as you take those required courses, you can major and minor in whatever you would like!

What should you major in? See: “Do I have to major in a basic science?” below for more info.


What prerequisite courses do I need to take for medical school?

Most medical schools require the following:

  • one year of biology with lab

  • one year of general chemistry with lab

  • one year of organic chemistry with lab

  • one semester of biochemistry

  • one year of physics with lab

  • one year of English


That being said, some schools vary in certain course requirements in order to apply. We recommend that if you have certain schools in mind, go to their websites for more information regarding their specific prerequisite course requirements.


Can I take these prerequisite courses as pass/fail?

COVID-19 has made this an interesting question. In general, the answer is no.

The purpose of the required prerequisite courses is to show your academic proficiency in applicable science courses. They are rigorous and challenging, and a letter grade is needed to allow medical school admissions committees to easily interpret your proficiency in the subjects. Because a “pass” can be anything from a 65% to a 100%, a “pass” cannot easily be interpreted by medical school admissions committees as to whether you learned the material well or not. In these unprecedented times, perhaps taking one or two pass/fail courses is acceptable but do everything you can to minimize that.


Can I take prerequisite courses over the summer?

Yes! Courses with the same course number will not appear differently on your transcript if taken during the school year vs. over the summer. In fact, taking summer courses is a great way to spread out your classes so your schedule is not overloaded during the school year. 


Do I have to major in a basic science?

No! You do not have to major in a basic science to get into medical school.

The pros of majoring in a basic science: many of the required prerequisite courses, as well as topics covered on the MCAT, will already be included in your major’s curriculum.

Cons: Not everyone loves basic sciences, and these majors can seem daunting or difficult. 

The pros of majoring in something other than a basic science: You will appear well-rounded on your application, and will have a different perspective to bring to the table.

Cons: You will have to work harder to fit required courses into your schedule. And you may not meet as many people or professors who can help you with applying to medical school.


What are the main differences between MD and DO? 

The main difference between MD and DO is the curriculum. Osteopathic (DO) physicians learn an additional skill set that allows them to holistically treat the body with osteopathic manipulative treatment. Both types of physicians can train in the same residencies, work in the same settings, and take most of the same board exams. 


What is the difference between a cumulative GPA and a science GPA? 

A cumulative GPA encompasses all college-level coursework. You can calculate a cumulative GPA by dividing the earned quality points of your coursework by the total number of degree credit hours.

A science (or BCPM) GPA consists of only your science related courses. These courses fall within the categories of biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics.


Are the applications for MD and DO schools different? 

Yes, the applications are slightly different. Both applications require a personal statement, transcript, list of extracurricular activities, and letters of recommendation. Allopathic (MD) applications require you to submit a personal statement with a maximum 5300-character limit. Osteopathic (DO) applications require you to submit a personal statement with a maximum 4500-character limit. Some osteopathic medical schools require a letter of recommendation from a DO physician. Allopathic medical schools use the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS). Osteopathic medical schools use the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS). So, you will have to fill out two separate primary applications if you want to apply to some MD schools and some DO schools.  


My GPA is low/I did not do well in X class/undergrad. What should I do?

  1. First and foremost: what does the rest of your application look like? Do you have a high volume or base in another part of your application? Do you have an exceptional MCAT score, research publications, or high service? Make sure you know what “low” is: a subjective low GPA of 3.4 is different than a subjective low GPA of 2.7. So, before you label a piece of your application as a red flag, review your whole application. Additionally, see if other components make you stand out to specific schools. For example, some schools really value Peace Corps, TFA, or AmeriCorps sponsored events.

  2. Once you have looked at your entire application, do you still need a boost on your GPA? If you think you do, consult mentors, advisors, or schools. Consider taking some additional high-level coursework to help demonstrate and support your capacity for excelling in challenging material. While it is not always recommended to take on additional loans and enroll in a post-baccalaureate (post-bacc) or Special Master’s Program (SMP), it may be what you need to do to make yourself a better applicant.

*HINT: Programs like U-Penn’s post-bacc program have options where you can earn a certain number of free courses per semester if you choose to work for the school by conducting research at the same time as you are taking classes.

  1. This is a TOUGH question and one you should talk about with a mentor to see what all of your options are. When you write your personal statement and go to interviews, academic struggles are something you should be willing to address. Describing how you have overcome them and explaining why they are a strength and not a concern is a tremendous way to demonstrate your growth as a person and a student.


My MCAT score is low. What should I do?

Before you panic, make sure you analyze what “low” actually means. Did you not meet a personal goal? Are you below average? These are not necessarily reasons for concern. Medical school applicants are all high-achieving students. If you read that the school you want to attend has a 510 MCAT average, and you have a 505, DO. NOT. PANIC. Half of the students in that program scored below 510. Obvious, I know, but it’s often easy to lose sight of that when you first start comparing your MCAT score to a school’s average.

If your MCAT is below 505, you may face some difficulty getting into allopathic (MD) programs. If your MCAT is below 500, you may face some difficulty getting into osteopathic (DO) programs.

Ask yourself: Am I willing and able to retake the MCAT? If so, what can I do differently to score better? Do not panic, and aim to take it again 2 weeks later with a new plan. Showing improvement is of paramount importance! Sit down, come up with a plan, and improve the next time. Admissions committees will look favorably upon this! Lastly, you are more than your score. Admissions committees look for students who will be great doctors. They can teach you the academics, but they cannot teach initiative, drive, compassion, and selflessness. 


Should I apply to an MD or an MD/PhD program?

The decision to apply MD or MD/PhD should depend on your desired career path. If you aspire to serve as a physician-scientist where you spend a significant amount of your career devoted to research, and you have previously demonstrated your commitment to serving such a role, then the MD/PhD route may be right for you! The PhD will provide you the opportunity to further develop your research skills, mindset, and understanding of research operating logistics. It is a long path, so it is important that you critically evaluate your interests and career goals before applying. Some institutions allow for internal application to the MD/PhD program should you find that the path is right for you after you have already joined the MD program.

That being said, it is possible to conduct research as an MD. But doing so may require an extra year or two in residency or an extra research fellowship to get you the research training that is required to work at an academic institution.


What are the average GPA and MCAT scores for MD matriculants?

The average GPA for applicants who matriculated to an MD Program in 2019-2020 was 3.73 (science GPA: 3.66, non-science GPA: 3.81).

The average MCAT score for applicants who matriculated in 2019-2020 was 511.5 (CPBS: 127.8, CARS: 127.1, BBLS: 128.1, PSBB: 128.5).


What are the average GPA and MCAT scores for DO matriculants?

The average GPA for applicants who matriculated to a DO Program in 2019-2020 was 3.54 (science GPA: 3.43, non-science GPA: 3.65).

The average MCAT score for applicants who matriculated in 2019-2020 was 503.8 (CPBS: 125.8, CARS: 125.3, BBLS: 126.1, PSBB: 126.5).


Are clinical and research experiences really needed to be a competitive applicant?

Clinical experience (MA, CNA, EMT, etc.) is not technically required. HOWEVER, you should spend time shadowing physicians so you can get a sense of the healthcare environment and the day-to-day life of a physician. Further, shadowing one physician multiple times is a great way to build rapport and to eventually ask them to write a letter of recommendation for your application when the time comes.

While it is nice to have experience working in the healthcare setting, a major part of preparing for the medical school application process is asking the questions: “Why do I want to be a doctor?” and “Do I have a grasp on what ‘being a doctor’ actually means?”. There are a multitude of people who didn’t work as an EMT or CNA before medical school and are currently either medical students or practicing physicians.

If you do not specifically work in a healthcare setting before medical school, how are you going to demonstrate you understand what the medical field, and specifically what being a doctor, is like? Shadowing physicians and volunteering in a healthcare setting are great ways to gain perspective. Reading memoirs and columns written by physicians also provide spectacular insight. It is important to ask yourself now and during the application process if being a physician is what you really want to do and how you will articulate your reasons why in your application and interviews.

Research is not technically required either. However, participating in research will add to your application and it will give you an easy talking point in interviews. It is important your research is in something you are passionate about and find interesting, or else it will feel boring, you won’t be productive, and you will feel like you are wasting your time. Also, it is important to remember that research doesn’t have to be in a science field. It can be in sociology or public health or literally any other area. Participating in research, and especially presenting posters or getting your name on publications, shows admissions committees you are goal-oriented, have a passion outside of schoolwork, work well with a team, and can think analytically. But again: if the idea of participating in research makes you want to run in the opposite direction, do not force yourself to do it! There are plenty of other avenues you can pursue to add to your application – but more importantly, to add to your unique life experiences as a person.


How much does it generally cost to apply to medical school?

Sitting for the MCAT examination costs $320. This price does not include test prep materials. As for applying to medical school, AMCAS (the MD application service) charges $170 for the primary application, which includes sending this application to one school. Each additional school costs $40. For example, if you were to apply to 30 schools, your primary application cost would total $1,330. Subsequent secondary applications cost, on average, $100. So, if you were to submit secondary applications to 20 out of the 30 schools in the example above, your running total would now be $3,330. AACOMAS (the DO application service) charges $196 for the primary application plus the first program you apply to. Each additional school costs $46. The AAMC and the AACOM offer a Fee Assistance Program (FAP) for low-income students, so make sure to check this out (link below)! Additional costs to factor in are for interviews (travel, lodging, etc.) because the medical schools do not pay for that. Those costs will be paid by you.


Now, the “applying to 30 schools” scenario presented above is not the norm – an arbitrary number was chosen. We would advise against applying to that many schools, and here is why: Firstly, the cost really starts adding up. Secondly, most schools have a secondary application these days. And while the secondary application prompts have some overlap, they are mostly different between schools. So, it can be a lot of writing to complete secondary applications if you apply to a lot of schools. Thirdly, consider if you were to get an interview at every single school you applied to – would you have the cash and the time to afford all those plane tickets?

We suggest you start thoroughly researching schools a few months before you plan to submit your primary application. Know your numbers (GPA, MCAT score) and your extracurriculars, and decide how many schools you actually want to apply to. Consider if your attributes are similar to the previous year’s entering class. Consider if you want to stay in-state, go out-of-state, be in a certain city or region, go to a public school or private school, apply MD or DO or both. Also, remember public schools tend to prefer to accept in-state applicants. There are a lot of points you have to consider when creating a list of schools to apply to; but they are important points, nonetheless. And knowing your answer to each question will help you narrow in on where you will submit your primary application.


What is the general timeline for applying to medical school? 

Our Matching Committee Director, Mikaela Sullivan, wrote an awesome blog post on this topic. Check it out:


What do medical schools consider when evaluating applications?

Medical school admissions committees receive tens of thousands of applications each cycle, so there is some quantitative aspect involved in the initial screening. If the admissions committee thinks your GPA/MCAT would be competitive for admission and the rest of your application makes them say, “Wow! I need to meet him/her in person!”, then you will likely receive an interview. Remember, admissions committees want students who will contribute diversity of thought and experience to their incoming class. Will you bring a unique perspective? Have you shown a commitment to medicine? Do you understand what it means to be a physician compared to other healthcare professions? These are all questions you should try to address in your application and interview so evaluators can get a sense of who you are and what you bring to the table.


Helpful Links:


Fee Assistance Program


Register for the MCAT



Miscellaneous Resources:


Lizzy M Score

MSAR (For Allopathic Programs)

Choose DO Explorer (Osteopathic MSAR equivalent)

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