How to Succeed as a Harvard Premed

March 26, 2024
7 min read


Reviewed by:

Akhil Katakam

Third-Year Medical Student, Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University

Reviewed: 3/26/24

The Harvard Premed program is designed to equip students with the knowledge, skills, and experiences necessary to excel in medical school and beyond.

Entering medical school, especially at Harvard University, is tough. Harvard Medical School is #1 in Best Medical Schools for Research and #22 for Primary Care, so competition is fierce.

The premed program is key, but knowing what's coming is crucial. This blog gives valuable tips to help you navigate the hurdles ahead. Show your love for medicine, study hard, and understand healthcare's big picture.

Remember, perseverance pays off. The challenges may seem daunting, but with determination and preparation, you can succeed. Embrace the journey, and Harvard's resources will support you every step of the way.

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Requirements for Harvard Premed Students 

Premed students at Harvard need to stay updated with modern medical knowledge and blend different sciences. They have specific course requirements but can explore alternative ways to meet them. 

Harvard premed requirements might change, so students should stay updated. It's not just about completing courses but also about learning well before applying to medical school. Let's take a look at the most common premed requirements and the Harvard courses associated with them.

Subject Requirement Options
Biology One year with lab Life Sciences 1b
Life Sciences 2
Life Sciences 50a*
Life Sciences 50b**
Molecular & Cellular Biology 60
Molecular & Cellular Biology 68
Organismic & Evolutionary Biology 10
Organismic & Evolutionary Biology 58
Stem Cell & Regenerative Biology 50
Human Evolutionary Biology 1420
Engineering Sciences 53
BIOS S-1a (Harvard Summer School)
BIOS S-1b (Harvard Summer School)
General Chemistry One year with lab Life and Physical Sciences A, Life Sciences 1a, or Life Sciences 50a*
Physical Sciences 1, 11, or 10
Engineering Sciences 181 (for Engineering concentrators)
Advanced inorganic or physical chemistry.**
Organic Chemistry One year with lab Chemistry 17 and Chemistry 27
Chemistry 20 and Chemistry 30
CHEM S-20ab (Harvard Summer School)
CHEM S-17 (Harvard Summer School) and Chemistry 27*
Biochemistry One semester Molecular & Cellular Biology 63
Molecular & Cellular Biology 65
BCMP 234 - BIOS S-10 (Harvard Summer School)
Advanced courses like Chemistry 170 or Chemistry 171

Subject Requirement Options
Physics One year with lab Physical Sciences 2 and Physical Sciences 3
Physical Sciences 12a and Physical Sciences 12b (Please note that PS 12a is a prerequisite course for PS 12b)
Physics 15a or Physics 16, and Physics 15b
Applied Physics 50a and Applied Physics 50b
PHYS S-1a and PHYS S-1b (Harvard Summer School)
Math One semester to one year (calculus and/or stats) Math Ma and Math Mb or
Math 1a or Math 1b or
Math 19a or
Math 18 or
Math 21a or 21b or
Applied Math 21a or 21b or
Life Sciences 50b** or
Any more advanced Math or Applied Math course PLUS
Any stats course (e.g., Statistics Department courses or Psychology 1900, Math 19b, Sociology 156, Applied Math 101, or Engineering Sciences 150)
English One year Expos 10 and Expos 20
One semester of Expos
Second semester with English, Literature, Humanities, or some General Education courses

Fulfilling the requirements for Harvard pre-med students involves careful planning and active participation. With Harvard's support and resources, students can confidently navigate their journey toward a rewarding career in medicine.

Strategies for Maintaining a High GPA as a Harvard Premed

To keep your GPA high as a Harvard premed, use support services, take summer classes for balance, plan ahead, and stay flexible with your schedule, considering a gap year if necessary. Let’s take a closer look at each of these tips: 

  • Utilize Available Resources: Harvard offers various support systems, including the Harvard Office of Career Services (OCS), pre-health peer liaisons, and house premedical tutors. Take advantage of these resources to manage your workload effectively.
  • Consider Summer Classes: Balancing your major coursework with premed requirements can be overwhelming. Spread out your commitments by taking summer classes, allowing you more time to focus on both without feeling overwhelmed.
  • Plan Ahead: Develop a comprehensive plan before each academic year begins. If you aim to apply to medical school during your junior year, plan accordingly and adjust your strategy as needed to stay on track.
  • Stay Flexible: While it's essential to remain dedicated to your goal of becoming a doctor, be open to adjusting your schedule if necessary. If the workload becomes overwhelming, consider taking a gap year to gain valuable experience and alleviate academic pressure.

With these tips in mind, you'll be better equipped to maintain that high GPA while chasing your dreams at Harvard.

Identifying Top Academic Resources for Harvard Premed Students

Premed students have access to various academic resources at Harvard, including the Academic Resource Center for coaching on time management and study skills, the Writing Center for assistance with writing assignments and med school application essays, peer tutoring services, and extensive library resources. 

Academic Resource Center (ARC)

  • Personalized coaching sessions on time management, organization, study habits, and reading techniques.
  • Support for self-care strategies and accountability to maintain overall well-being.

Writing Center

  • One-on-one consultations for assistance with writing assignments across all disciplines.
  • Assistance in crafting compelling personal statements and navigating medical school application essays.

Peer Tutoring

  • Additional assistance and clarification on challenging course material.
  • Peer-to-peer support for premed students seeking academic guidance.

Harvard Library

  • Access to extensive resources, including databases and research guides tailored to various concentrations.
  • Live chat support with librarians for academic inquiries.


  • The Harvard College Women’s Center’s Women in STEM Mentorship Program (WiSTEM): Provides tailored mentorship opportunities for women in STEM fields, including premed, fostering a supportive environment for academic and professional growth.
  • The Harvard Society of Black Scientists and Engineers: Offers vital support, networking opportunities, and mentorship for Black students pursuing careers in STEM, including premed, promoting inclusivity and representation in the field.
  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH): Provides premed students with valuable research opportunities and funding support in biomedical research, allowing them to gain hands-on experience and explore their interests in the field.
  • The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC): Offers comprehensive resources, guidance, and information on the medical school application process, empowering premed students with the tools and knowledge needed to navigate their path to medical school.
  • The Harvard Premedical Society: Serves as a central platform for premed students to connect, access mentorship opportunities, and gain insights into the medical school application process, fostering a supportive community and providing invaluable guidance for aspiring medical professionals.

These resources and organizations collectively provide premed students with the support, guidance, and opportunities necessary to excel academically and pursue their aspirations in the medical field.

Selecting the Ideal Major for Harvard Premed Students

When choosing a major as a Premed student at Harvard, remember that science courses are valuable. Though Harvard doesn’t have a preference for students who major in science, applicants must prove that they’re competent in science courses. As a result, having a solid understanding of science is important. 

Opting for a major like biology can simplify your workload since many of the required premed courses overlap with biology major requirements. However, if you're passionate about a humanities or social sciences major, you'll need to balance additional science courses alongside your degree requirements. 

Remember, choose what interests you most. Harvard states:

“Students are urged to strive not for specialized training but for a balanced, liberal education.” 

With proper planning and time management, you can meet your premed requirements while pursuing any major at Harvard. 

Optimal Timing for Taking the MCAT at Harvard

The best time to take the MCAT at Harvard is usually during your junior year, from January to May. During this time, you'll likely have completed most, if not all, of the required premed courses, including general or inorganic chemistry with lab, organic chemistry with lab, general physics with lab, biology with lab, and English. 

Having these courses under your belt before tackling the MCAT is a smart move. It means you'll have a strong foundation in the fundamental sciences and humanities, which are crucial for understanding the exam's content. This solid preparation sets you up to tackle the MCAT with confidence and competence. 

Plus, completing these prerequisite courses before applying to medical school shows admissions committees that you're serious about pursuing a career in medicine and that you have the academic readiness to succeed. 

So, by timing your MCAT preparation during your junior year, after completing most of the required premed courses, you're giving yourself the best chance of success both on the exam and in the medical school admissions process.

Extracurricular Involvement for Harvard Premeds

Harvard recognizes the value of extracurricular involvement for pre-med students, providing a range of opportunities in volunteering, research, and shadowing. These experiences are not only enriching academically but also contribute to personal and professional development.

Engaging in Volunteering Opportunities at Harvard

Harvard connects pre-med students with a range of volunteering opportunities in the greater Boston area. Engaging in volunteering opportunities provides pre-med students with invaluable experiences to explore healthcare settings and gain hands-on involvement. 

When considering clinical volunteering opportunities, students have various paths to explore. They can apply to formal volunteer and internship programs within hospitals or clinics or take the initiative to create their own clinical internships by reaching out directly to practitioners and organizations Here’s a rundown of volunteering opportunities Harvard recommends:

  • Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center & Beth Israel Deaconess Cancer Center: These major urban facilities offer a variety of roles such as clinic and office assistance, palliative care, and more in the Longwood area.
  • Boston Center for Refugee Health & Human Rights: Providing support services for refugees and torture survivors, including patient advocacy and outreach in the Boston South End.
  • Boston Children's Hospital: With locations in the Longwood area and various satellites, opportunities include engaging with patients, clerical work, and more.
  • Boston Health Care for the Homeless: Volunteers assist in outpatient clinics, administrative tasks, and activities coordination in the Boston South End.
  • Boston Medical Center: Various roles are available in inpatient, outpatient, and pediatric settings in the Boston South End.
  • Brigham and Women’s Hospital: Volunteers can explore general roles and participate in the Medical Career Exploration Program in the Longwood area.
  • Cambridge Health Alliance: Offering roles like patient escorts, reception, and elderly assistance across Cambridge, Somerville, and Everett.
  • Dana Farber Cancer Institute: Opportunities for volunteers include various support roles in the Longwood area.
  • Elizabeth Evarts de Rham Hospice Home: Volunteers provide direct patient care opportunities in Cambridge.
  • Faulkner Hospital: Various support roles are available in the West Roxbury neighborhood.
  • Fenway Health: Volunteers operate the LGBT helpline and help coordinate events in the Fenway/Kenmore area.
  • Hebrew SeniorLife Hospice Care: Volunteers provide direct patient care and administrative support at multiple locations around Boston.
  • The Kingsley Clinic Volunteer and Shadowing Program: Offers shadowing opportunities in a primary care practice through telemedicine.
  • Lahey Clinic: Opportunities include visitor support, liaisons, and administration in Burlington, MA.
  • Lawrence Memorial Hospital: Volunteers assist in patient areas, cancer care, and reception in Medford, MA.
  • Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary: Various support roles are available in the West End.
  • Massachusetts General Hospital: Opportunities range from wayfinding to patient support and administration in the West End.
  • McLean Hospital: Volunteers support patient entertainment, research, and administration in Belmont, MA.
  • Melrose-Wakefield Hospital: Various roles are available in Melrose, MA.
  • Milton Hospital: Opportunities include emergency room support and reception in Milton, MA.
  • Mount Auburn Hospital: Volunteers support various hospital functions in Cambridge.
  • New England Baptist Hospital: Volunteers assist in patient access, ambassadorship, and more in the Mission Hill neighborhood.
  • Tufts Medical Center: Opportunities include patient visits, wayfinding, and emergency room support in Downtown Boston.
  • Newton Wellesley Hospital: Volunteers help in various areas and outreach opportunities in Newton, MA.
  • Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services: Volunteers provide patient support in Somerville, MA.
  • South Cove Community Health Center: Volunteers support community health initiatives in Downtown Boston.
  • South Shore Hospital: Opportunities range from cancer center support to clerical tasks in Weymouth, MA.
  • Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital: Volunteers support patient and administrative tasks in Charlestown and Cambridge.
  • Winchester Hospital: Various roles are available in patient assistance and administration in Winchester, MA.

Remember that the tasks you take on are often more significant than the specific location, as they offer exposure to vital aspects of healthcare. Also, be prepared for mandatory orientations, health screenings, and minimum-hour commitments, as many programs have these requirements in place. Finally, if considering clinical experiences abroad, make sure to familiarize yourself with guidelines for providing patient care in those settings.

By actively participating in volunteering initiatives, students not only contribute positively to their communities but also enhance their personal and professional growth on their journey toward medical school and beyond.

Participating in Research Endeavors at Harvard

Harvard provides many chances for pre-med students to do research, like working in labs, getting funding, and joining summer programs. Students can find support and guidance for their research journey, from finding positions to presenting their work. Let’s take a look at these research opportunities at Harvard. 

  • Harvard-affiliated Labs: These labs offer undergraduates hands-on research experience and mentorship across various fields.
  • Research Opportunities and Funding: Explore avenues for funding your projects, including grants and fellowships available through Harvard.
  • Open Research Positions & Projects: Harvard undergraduates have access to a wide range of research positions and projects, allowing them to dive into areas of interest.
  • Harvard Wintersession & Winter Recess: Special programs during breaks offer intensive research experiences and workshops to further students' academic pursuits.
  • Summer Programs Away: Students can spend summers immersing themselves in research at other institutions, broadening their research horizons. 
  • Underrepresented Minority Fellowships: Harvard actively supports underrepresented minority students in engaging with research through specialized fellowship programs.
  • Post-Bac Job Listings & Resources: Post-baccalaureate students can find job listings and support for continued research involvement, aiding in their transition into the research field.
  • Transportation for Researchers: Harvard provides transportation options for researchers to access various research facilities conveniently.
  • Undergraduate Research Opportunities (HUROS) Fair: This fair serves as a platform for students to connect with research mentors and explore potential projects.
  • Undergraduate Research Spotlight: Harvard showcases outstanding student research achievements, recognizing the contributions of undergraduates to the research community.
  • Resume Template & Proposal Tips: Students receive guidance on preparing resumes and research proposals to effectively communicate their skills and ideas.
  • Conference Presentation Grants: Financial support is available for students to present their research findings at conferences, enhancing their academic visibility.
  • Research Advising: Students can seek guidance from research advisors to navigate the research landscape effectively and make informed decisions about their academic and professional pursuits.

Pre-med students seeking information on research opportunities and funding can turn to the Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships (URAF). 

If you're keen on exploring research in the life sciences specifically, check out the resources offered by Life Sciences Research. You can also find additional guidance in the Student Handbook for Undergraduates in Life Sciences Research.

Gaining Valuable Experience through Shadowing at Harvard

Harvard offers shadowing opportunities for pre-med students to gain valuable experience in clinical settings. These opportunities are designed to provide students with firsthand exposure to the medical field and help them explore various specialties. 

Shadowing experiences allow students to observe healthcare professionals in action, learn about patient care, and gain insight into the day-to-day responsibilities of different medical roles.

Students can access shadowing opportunities through a variety of channels, including connections with healthcare professionals in their hometowns, leveraging existing contacts such as professors or researchers who work with physicians, and resources provided by Harvard itself. 

The Harvard Alumni Association and platforms like Firsthand Advisors offer avenues for students to connect with alumni who can provide shadowing opportunities and mentorship.

Additionally, student groups like the Harvard Premedical Society and programs such as the Harvard BIOME program and the Harvard Athlete Medical Mentoring Program (AMMP) offer structured shadowing experiences tailored to pre-med students' needs and interests. 

These programs often provide guidance and support to students as they navigate the shadowing process and seek opportunities to observe physicians and other healthcare professionals in action.

Overall, Harvard recognizes the importance of shadowing experiences in the pre-medical journey and strives to provide students with the resources and support they need to explore their interests, gain exposure to different medical specialties, and make informed decisions about their future in healthcare.

Expert Guidance for Medical School Admissions at Harvard

Expert guidance for medical school admissions at Harvard emphasizes several key points to increase your chances of acceptance:

Academic Excellence

Harvard Medical School is interested in candidates with exceptional academic records.They're looking for near-perfect GPAs and MCAT scores, with accepted students boasting an average GPA of 3.94 and an MCAT score of 520. If your grades are not competitive, consider retaking courses or enrolling in post-baccalaureate programs to improve your academic standing.


Prepare extensively for the MCAT, aiming for scores between 129 and 130 in each section. Devote ample time to studying, particularly for the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) section, where scoring around 128 is essential. 

Practice with MCAT CARS resources and take practice tests to ensure readiness. Retake the MCAT if necessary, as scores are only accepted within the last three years.

Applicant Essays

Harvard values your essays. Make sure they stand out. Get help from medical school advisors to craft compelling essays that show why you're a great fit for medicine. Don't miss application deadlines. They're important.

Extracurricular Activities and Experiences

Get involved in extracurriculars, community service, research, and healthcare experiences. Show you're a leader, care about others, and have the maturity and empathy Harvard is looking for. Your activities should demonstrate your dedication to making a positive impact on the world around you.

HST and MD/PhD Programs

If you're applying to the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST) or the MD/PhD program, make sure your essays are a perfect fit. 

Highlight your quantitative and analytic skills, research interests, and career goals that align with what these programs are all about. Show them you're ready to dive deep into cutting-edge research and make a real impact in the field.

Recommendation Letters

Make sure to get solid recommendation letters that really speak to your academic skills, character, and suitability for med school. Pick recommenders who know you inside out and can give a deep dive into why you're a great fit for a career in medicine.

Interview Preparation

If you’re selected for an interview, get ready to talk about why you want to be a doctor, what you've done so far, and where you're headed. Practice answering typical interview questions and be ready to brag about your grades, activities, and how much you care about helping people. They want to see your passion and dedication, so make sure it shines through.

By focusing on academic excellence, crafting compelling essays, showcasing relevant experiences, and preparing thoroughly for interviews, you can enhance your candidacy for admission to Harvard Medical School. Additionally, seeking guidance from experienced advisors and mentors can provide valuable insights and support throughout the application process.

Navigating the Medical School Admission Process for Harvard Premeds

The Harvard Medical School admission process offers two tracks: Pathways and HST, as well as the MD-PhD combined degree, focusing on academic excellence and research. Let’s get into it. 

MD Track Options

  • Choose between two tracks: Pathways and HST (Health Sciences and Technology).
  • Pathways focuses on active learning, early clinical exposure, and personalized projects. It admits 135 students annually.
  • HST, a collaboration with MIT, emphasizes interdisciplinary research and admits 30 students per year.
  • Students can also pursue the MD-PhD combined degree for careers in research and medicine.

Application Process

  • Apply via AMCAS by October, typically
  • Eligible applicants receive the HMS Supplemental Application link.
  • A $100 application fee is required, waived for those with an AMCAS fee waiver.

Submission Timeline

  • Submit early for timely evaluations.
  • Letters of evaluation should be received by AMCAS by October, typically

Interview Process

  • Interview notifications sent by mid-January.
  • All interviews for the 2023-2024 cycle have been conducted virtually. 
  • Detailed information provided regarding interview dates and logistics.

Notifications and Decisions

  • Offers of acceptance made from the interview pool.
  • Final decisions sent to all applicants by the third week of March.
  • Decisions are made solely by the Committee on Admissions.

In summary, the HMS admission process is competitive and values academic excellence and research experience. Applicants should understand the tracks, submit complete applications early, and prepare thoroughly for interviews.

Exploring Harvard Premed Acceptance Rates and Admissions Statistics

The Harvard Premed acceptance rate is less than 2.16%, making it one of the most competitive Ivy League medical schools globally. There are slightly higher rates for in-state applicants at 3.43% compared to out-of-state at 2.1% and international at 1.63%. 

The average accepted GPA is 3.94, while the average accepted MCAT score is 520. Out of 6,986 applications received, 789 candidates were granted interviews. The incoming class comprises 164 students, with 135 enrolled in the Pathways track, 29 in HST, and 15 in the MD-PhD program. 

Financial aid is provided to 71% of students, with an average annual scholarship of $59,915 and a range from $2,439 to $102,425. The average MCAT scores by section are BBFL 130.24, CARS 129.08, CPBS 130.41, PSBB 130.86, totaling 520.59. 

Additionally, 24% of students come from backgrounds underrepresented in medicine, with ages ranging from 21 to 29. The student body is comprised of 56% female, 42% male, and 2% with a different identity. The average GPA of admitted students is 3.9, representing 64 different colleges, 36 states, and 6 countries, with 58% majoring in science.

Final Thoughts

To sum up, succeeding as a Harvard premed boils down to staying informed, motivated, and making the most of the experience. By staying on top of requirements, relying on the resources at your disposal, and diving into activities outside the classroom, you'll be well-prepared for the journey ahead. So, keep pushing forward and chasing those medical school dreams!

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