How to Prepare for Medical School - The Complete Guide

March 18, 2024
6 min read


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 3/6/24

If you’ve decided to become a physician, you might be wondering how to prepare for medical school in college. Read on to find your answers!

Becoming a doctor requires you to be a life-long learner. Aside from the 11-plus years of education required to join this profession, you’ll be expected to keep up to date with medicine that’s constantly evolving.

While it’s easy to focus on what happens after or during medical school, it’s essential to also consider what happens before when you’re just an undergraduate student with no medical experience. To ensure a smooth journey to your dream medical school, significant preparation during this stage is required. 

This guide will go over how to prepare for medical school while in college and give you the top 12 steps to follow during your undergrad!

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Preparing for Medical School in Freshman, Sophomore & Junior

If you’re overwhelmed by the task of preparing for med school, don’t worry. Here’s an overview of what you can do to prepare during your four years of undergraduate school. 


Here are some tips for preparing during your freshman year of undergrad: 

  • Focus on your grades - start strong! 
  • Plan your schedule according to prerequisites
  • Explore different extracurriculars and interests
  • Begin building strong relationships with professors and mentors 


In your sophomore year, you’ll need to do the following things to prepare for med school: 

  • Begin preparing for the MCAT
  • Commit to a few specific extracurriculars 
  • Look into research or clinical experience opportunities
  • Volunteer at a local hospital or organization 


Junior year is a good time to prepare in these ways: 

  • Take the MCAT 
  • Ask for letters of recommendation from professors and mentors
  • Gain hands-on clinical experience 
  • Decide on medical schools to apply to 
  • Begin preparing med school application materials


In senior year, it’s time to buckle down! Here’s how you can prepare: 

  • Finalize your application materials & work on secondary applications
  • Prepare for med school interviews 
  • Write letters of interest 
  • Wait for admission decisions!

This breakdown will help you prepare for medical college.

When Do You Need to Start Preparing for Medical School? 

How to get into medical school is a question that many prospective students wonder. But you have to remember, getting into medical school is no easy feat. So, you should start preparing for medical school as early as possible to ensure you meet all of your application requirements and can build a strong application. 

Ideally, you should start preparing before you even join your undergraduate institution by choosing the correct major and researching the medical schools you’d like to apply to. 

You should also begin volunteering and joining pre-med societies during your freshman year to gain as much clinical experience as possible and make important connections.

How to Prepare for Medical School in College: Steps to Take

A smiling student

While there’s no way to guarantee acceptance into your dream medical school, there are steps you can take to maximize your chances of admission. Here’s what they entail:

Explore Your Medical School Options Early

While it may seem early to begin looking into medical schools before you’ve had a chance to attend your first undergrad lecture, it’s essential you have a few top choices in mind to ensure you meet all of their admission requirements. 

Make a list of the prerequisites, GPAs, MCAT scores, and other admission requirements to ensure you complete them during your undergrad.

Choose the Right Major and Courses

After figuring out the prerequisites and GPA you’ll need, you should choose a major that you know will allow you to maintain high grades. While most pre-med students choose science majors to prepare well and guarantee they meet all of their science prerequisites, you can choose any major you want!

Ensure you also explore your interests while you can. You won’t have the opportunity to do so in medical school as your courses are largely predetermined and science-focused. 

As difficult as it can be to maintain high grades in your freshman year of your undergrad, do your best to start off strong so that you don’t have to struggle to improve your GPA in the subsequent years. 

Developing good study habits in your first year will help you maintain high grades throughout your undergrad with as little hassle as possible. 

Join Your School’s Pre-Med Society

If you’re a science major, you’ll likely meet several other students with the same career goals as you. If you’re a non-science major, it’s less likely for you to find other pre-med students in your courses. 

Joining your school’s pre-med society can help you find like-minded individuals who have the same goals and questions as you! Your pre-med society will be able to help you find useful experiences to help you stand out as an applicant as well.

You may also find study buddies for your MCAT that can direct you to useful resources you might have overlooked otherwise! 

Improve Your Study Habits

After your freshman year, you should reflect on your study habits and identify areas where you can improve.

Each year, you should reflect on your academic performance and set new goals to ensure you continue to improve as a student throughout your undergrad.

The study habits you develop during your undergrad will help you excel in medical school!

Join Other Extracurriculars

You likely have other passions besides medicine. Whether it’s sports, animal welfare, reading, cooking, math, or dancing, your undergraduate institution will have a club or team for it. 

Join a few extracurriculars during your freshman year, and then pick your favorite one or two during your sophomore year. It’ll be difficult to pursue more than two, as you need to prioritize your education and shouldn’t sacrifice your grades for your extracurriculars. 

Ensure you also seek leadership positions in these teams and clubs to boost your resume further.

Make Connections With Your Professors

Make connections with your professors as early into your undergraduate career as you can! You’ll likely need several letters of recommendation to apply to your medical school, so it’s best to have a few professors to choose from to write these letters.

These professors can also help you gain research or work experience that can help you stand out as an applicant!

To build these connections, ensure you participate in class, ask insightful questions, and visit your professors during their office hours. You’d be surprised by how few students make use of office hours, so your professors are more likely to remember you if you do!


You should also gain as much volunteer experience as you can early into your undergraduate career. Since volunteer experience is easier to get than work experience, you should spend your freshman and sophomore years volunteering at local clinics, hospitals, or shelters or venturing abroad for medical volunteer brigades.

Ensure you participate in volunteer activities that allow you to gain clinical experience working directly with physicians and patients. 

A passion for caring for people, especially underserved communities, is an essential trait for physicians to have. There’s no better way to demonstrate this passion than to dedicate your time to helping others for free!

Ensure you continue volunteering at one or two organizations throughout your undergrad. This way, you can truly make a meaningful impact.

Gain Research Experience

Once you get into your junior and senior years, you should have some volunteer experience and connections with your professors. These connections can help you land a research position with one of your professors or another professor at your school.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to several professors to ask to join their research efforts! Ensure you do some of your own research beforehand to prove you actually have an interest in their work and aren’t just looking to fill up your resume.

Shadow a Physician

During your final years of your undergrad, you should try to shadow a physician to learn exactly what they do on a daily basis and understand how heavy their workload is.

Shadowing a physician will strengthen your application by letting the admissions committee know that you understand the rigors of this profession and are still motivated to pursue it! 

Make use of the networks you have and reach out to your academic advisors to find shadowing opportunities. You can even contact your own or local doctors to see if they’d let you shadow them. 

Make your list of potential candidates and send them an email. Specify why you want to shadow each physician in particular. Do not simply copy and paste the same email to each physician; do your research to impress them and prove you’re genuinely interested in their practice. 

Prepare for and Write the MCAT

One of the most important parts of how to prepare for medical school while in college is preparing for your MCAT

The majority of students choose to write their MCAT during the summer of their sophomore or junior year because it’s when they have the least commitments and the most time to dedicate to their studies. 

Reach out to past test-takers or your academic advisors to figure out which resources will be the most helpful during your MCAT prep. Create a comprehensive study schedule that you can follow throughout the summer to ensure you learn the best test strategies and can put them into practice.  

You should also give yourself enough time to retake the MCAT if necessary, as many students do not reach their target score on their first try.

Use the Resources at Your Disposal

Your undergraduate institution will have several resources that are solely committed to your success. If you feel you can’t maintain the grades you need, there are academic counselors who can help you choose better courses or point you in the right direction of tutors or academic resources that can help. 

You will also likely have pre-medical advisors at your undergraduate institution who can help you with your medical school applications. If you’re stuck on your personal statement and aren’t sure where to begin, your pre-medical advisors can help you come up with a unique statement that can help you stand out.

These advisors can also help you find work, volunteer, research, or shadowing experience to strengthen your application. 

Lastly, the process of completing your undergrad while trying to bulk up your medical school resume can feel overwhelming and stressful. If you find you need someone to talk to or a mentor to help you cope with this stress, undergraduate institutions often offer free support services for you to lean on.

Make use of these services to work smarter and not harder!

Maintain Your Personal Interests and a Social Life

It might be difficult to make time for hobbies and social life when you feel like you have to spend all of your time strengthening your medical school application. It’s very easy to burn out when you only focus on medicine and don’t allow yourself to explore other interests.

Realistically, your undergraduate career is the best time in your medical journey to meet new people, embark on exciting new opportunities, and travel. You should try to make the most of your free time as an undergraduate student so you’re refreshed and energized for the four extensive years you’ll spend in medical school.

Spend a few hours a week participating in a hobby or extracurricular that is completely non-medical. It’ll help you de-stress and can make your undergraduate experience much more enjoyable!


We’ve covered the basic steps you should take as a pre-medical student, but if you have any remaining questions on how to prepare for medical school, read on to find your answers. 

1. Is a 3.5 GPA Good in College for Medical School?

Depending on your top medical school choices, a 3.5 can be a good GPA. There are several lower-ranking schools that would accept this GPA. However, if you’re interested in gaining acceptance into a top-ranked medical school, you’ll need a much higher GPA. 

2. Which Undergraduate Degree is Best for Medical School?

While there is no perfect undergraduate degree for medical school, the majority of pre-med students are science majors because medical schools require several science prerequisites. Choosing a science major can also help you prepare for the MCAT and medical school.

3. When Should I Start Preparing for My MCAT?

To ensure you give yourself enough time to practice and retake the test if necessary, you should write the MCAT in the summer of your sophomore or junior year. You should begin preparing for it before the summer to figure out the best resources to use.

4. Do I Need to Shadow a Physician to Apply to Medical School?

No, it’s typically not an admission requirement for aspiring medical students to shadow a physician. However, having this on your med school application can differentiate you from other candidates and prove your dedication to the medical field, making you a more attractive applicant.

5. How Did Hospital Volunteering Prepare You For Medical School? 

Hospital volunteering allows you to gain important skills and knowledge that will help you in medical school. It also looks great on your application because it demonstrates that you have a passion for helping others in need. 

6. Does a More Challenging Undergrad Better Prepare You for Medical School? 

A more challenging undergrad can prepare you well for the demanding life of a med student. However, you should choose your school and major based on where you think you will excel. 

Final Thoughts

The process of applying to medical school is lengthy. To ensure you meet all of your requirements and can build a stellar, unique, and impressive medical school application, you should start early and make use of the resources available to you!

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