All medical schools have a set of different standards and expectations about what they want when it comes to admissions cutoffs and minimum requirements. Medical schools even have minimum requirements for GPAs and MCAT scores.
These scores can single-handedly determine your acceptance to these institutions. Even once students meet their MCAT and GPA requirements, other factors like research and clinical experiences can come into play. This is why it is so important to think about the classes required for med school while in your undergrad years.
Truthfully, it’s not easy to get a handle on what’s required to enter medical school. What are medical school prerequisite courses? What classes do you need for med school? In this blog, you’ll find everything you need to know about medical school requirements for courses, including tips for choosing the best undergrad courses.
Many schools have different course requirements, and keeping up with them can be difficult if you’re planning to apply to several med schools.
The good news? Medical school requirements for courses at different institutions are listed on the Association of American Medical Colleges website. Medical schools often focus on chemistry, physics, biology, and mathematics. However, medical school requirements vary.
The most important requirement to meet when applying to medical school is strong academic performance. Prioritizing your studies is important, and you will need to find a balance between your extracurriculars and your studies.
Some medical schools set minimum requirements and standards for both GPA and MCAT scores. This means that to gain acceptance to these specific institutions, you must prioritize your academics.
However, an impressive GPA and MCAT scores don’t guarantee you admission. These factors help improve your odds, but many other factors come into play.
These factors include volunteer work, research, letters of recommendation, your performance at interviews, and life experiences. Many schools want to see that you have had real-life experiences that will benefit your practice.
The purpose of medical school course requirements is to ensure that you have a firm grasp of topics that will be presented to you when you are in med school. So, what courses do medical schools require?
It is important for you to aim above the needed requirements to get accepted. We recommend you take these courses to satisfy general requirements at most med schools:
A good first step is to research the schools you would like to apply to and determine their minimum requirements before enrolling in courses. Once you’re in your undergrad, a great tip is to also keep in close contact with your school's pre-med advisor. They will be able to point you in the right direction and ensure you’re taking the right courses.
Meeting medical school course requirements is important because they will provide you with critical thinking and stress management skills and provide a solid base for medical knowledge. Taking med school prerequisites also helps you with:
Med school prerequisite courses will teach you how to think for yourself. You will often be required to display various skills such as self-assessment and the ability to analyze information deeply.
Your overall performance in these courses will show medical school admissions that you possess these skills. Your critical thinking skills will also be enhanced through Physics and Chemistry courses.
Admissions committees want to see that you’re able to balance your emotions while taking the undergraduate classes required for medical school. Doing well in your prerequisites shows that you can juggle multiple things at once and manage your stress effectively.
The MCAT isn’t required by all schools, but most do require the exam to be accepted. MCAT scores have a big impact on acceptance rates, and you must study as a pre-med student to pass it.
The MCAT tests on chemistry, physics, statistics, biology, English, and some social science aspects. Your prerequisites can greatly help you prepare for this test, as certain classes cover the topics you’ll encounter in the MCAT exam.
Before entering med school, you must have a solid knowledge base in several subjects. Your prerequisites will aid you in accomplishing this.
Most schools do agree on basic elements for pre-medical education. Here are some universal pre-med requirements:
Organic chemistry provides a basis for understanding imbalances within the body. Studying chemistry is also the building block to understanding biochemistry.
Chemistry is important for medical students to learn because many contributions to health care have been made possible by the study of it. The development of new drugs involves chemical analysis of compounds, which is what you’ll be learning about in your chemistry classes.
Chemistry also studies and deals with the composition, properties, and structures of substances. By studying the transformations certain chemicals undergo, students can learn about the energy released or absorbed during these processes.
A basic understanding of biology is a necessity for medical school.
Learning about genetics and the framework for life is integral to achieving success in your desired field. Biology examines the function, structure, growth, evolution, origin, and distribution of living things. Biology also examines how species come into existence and how they exist with one another in natural environments.
Most schools require a semester of math, but what math classes do you need for medical school? Make sure you also have a deep understanding of statistics and basic math. As an aspiring health professional, math is important to understand in order to solve complex problems.
It is important for future physicians to study math because almost every medical school requires you to take physics and organic chemistry. Both require a fair bit of calculus-based knowledge. Taking calculus is also good for building your problem-solving skills and will strengthen your overall comprehension of physics and chemistry.
Studying physics introduces medical concepts such as laws surrounding volume and pressure. You must have a grasp of physics to understand how the body operates. Physics encompasses the study of the universe from small particles to the entirety of the universe. These courses will teach you how to understand how the universe behaves.
Minimum course requirements include at least a year of each of these courses plus additional related lab work. English courses are also less commonly required, but many medical schools want you to have decent writing skills. Therefore, consider taking an English or writing course to enhance these skills.
Biochemistry courses are also important to take because they will help you out on the MCAT. If you want to be as prepared as possible, you should enroll in these courses in your undergrad: Organic Chemistry, Chemistry, Psychology, Genetics, Calculus, Physics, Biology, and English.
As mentioned before, it’s important for you to go above and beyond these requirements. Since getting into medical school is difficult, you will want to make sure that you’re over-prepared.
It is ideal if you complete these prerequisite courses for medical school while in college. If you don’t complete these courses during college, you will have to take them through a post-bac program. This route is much more time-consuming and will also cost a lot more.
Extracurriculars and elective courses are important to get involved with and are a great way to show that you’re different from other candidates. Showing the admissions committee that you’re a whole and complete person, on top of what you have already achieved, will be impressive.
By volunteering, you are demonstrating that you can help others while juggling your priorities. Taking courses that can also provide you with additional skills that benefit your medical school can greatly impact your resume and skill set.
For example, taking a second language course, such as French, could help you out in medical school. Having an interest in second language courses is great for a physician because you will be accessible to a larger demographic. Also, by choosing courses you are naturally interested in, you’ll be more likely to secure better grades.
Other courses you can take to help you in med school include:
But keep in mind that you need to focus most of your energy on your universal, core prerequisite requirements:
Medical school prerequisites are selected by the program you choose, so there are classes that all schools don’t require. To find what classes you need for med school, look at the MSAR website.
Science majors are more common in the medical world. However, medical schools are interested in well-rounded students. So, if you are a science major, it will be a good idea to take some electives in the humanities. If you aren’t majoring in science, you will need to take core science subjects.
The science classes you take will be weighted with more importance since there will be less to base off of. For example, if you're choosing to major in English and not a science-based program such as biochemistry, your science courses will be weighted with more importance.
When choosing your undergraduate coursework, we recommend following these tips:
There will be a variety of pre-med majors in the applicant pool. Therefore, take courses that you are interested in. You will naturally excel in these courses because you will be more engaged.
Admissions officials see majors like business and performing arts all the time, and nothing is really off the table — as long as you do well. Make sure you’re putting more energy into your biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics courses, though. These courses will take up a significant amount of your time.
It is also important that you choose your electives wisely. For example, if you have a stacked course load, you wouldn’t want to choose another course that would add to the stress. Instead, choose something lighter to ensure your GPA remains high.
You will need to gain medical experience, and this experience is extremely valuable to admissions. Hospitals and clinics have volunteer positions that you can apply to that will assist you on your learning journey.
Take electives where you can be placed in labs to learn hands-on techniques and watch experts. Admissions committees want you to have research experience. It is important that you get some of this experience in your undergrad years.
Having research experience can deepen your understanding and knowledge of what you learn in school. Understanding how hypotheses are formed and challenged is an important skill to have and will enhance your medical school experience.
Research also puts you in an environment that encourages you to understand links between inconsistencies and ideas. Your ability to conduct research is something you must work on and build up over time.
Before you sign up for any classes, consider the realities of taking the classes required for med school and when you should complete them. For example, U.S. News & World Report recommends avoiding two “heavy science” courses with labs in your freshman year, as it’s often overwhelming for new students.
Some schools may encourage you to take specific courses during your freshman year, but keep a level head and think about the timing of your courses. To do this, create a chart that lists the courses required to get into medical school across all four years and the summer of your undergraduate degree.
Creating a chart listing the classes you need to take for med school will help you stay organized and plan when you want to complete specific classes. The latter point, in particular, is useful as you can structure your schedule so you won’t have to do several challenging classes at once.
While this point seems obvious, it’s an extremely important one, as the undergraduate classes required for medical school vary between programs. One program, for example, may ask you to complete one semester of calculus, while another may request two. So, double-check what courses are required to get into medical school and rinse and repeat the process for each program you want to attend.
If you’re unsure about which classes to take, what subject to major in, or how you should structure your schedule, your pre-med advisor can help. Your pre-med advisor can help you:
Pre-med advisors can also help sequence your courses so you don’t take the hardest ones simultaneously. Speaking to your advisor about the undergraduate classes required for medical school is extremely useful if you want to maintain a competitive GPA and stay on top of your schedule.
Pre-med advisors are usually easy to contact and happy to meet you and answer your questions. For example, Stanford University’s students can book a one-on-one appointment with their pre-med advisor or attend weekly drop-in hours to discuss their queries.
Medical schools want to see students complete hands-on healthcare experience. Not only does it show them you are interested in the medical field, but it also demonstrates you have a reasonable expectation of what a medical career entails.
If you don’t have any healthcare experience, med schools may not view you as a serious candidate. So, aim to acquire at least 50 hours of clinical healthcare experience as soon as you can. Healthcare experience can include:
While healthcare experience and extracurriculars are essential prereqs for med school, academics are more important. Dr. Clay Dorenkamp, an orthopedic surgery resident at McLaren Greater Lansing Hospital, notes that, “No amount of community service or shadowing or research is going to pay off if you have a super-low GPA or you perform poorly on the MCAT.”
Below, we have listed several commonly asked questions and answers to help you understand more about the prerequisite courses for medical school.
Always spread out the difficulty of your courses. You don’t want to have a semester of just electives or mandatory courses. Finding the perfect balance is required to obtain good grades.
They are needed because admissions committees need to know you have a proper knowledge base before acceptance. The medical school curriculum is rigorous, and you must be well-rounded to excel.
The answer is no, and medical schools don’t care which major you choose. Students can major in non-science disciplines. Medical schools are looking for candidates who are diverse and well-rounded. Take the major that interests you the most.
The average accepted GPA varies from institution to institution. Schools also pay attention to grade trends. You must maintain a steady GPA throughout college.
The higher you score on the MCAT, the better. While these scores vary, admissions experts often suggest that you should try to get an MCAT score of 509 or above. This score places you in the 80th percentile of MCAT scores.
Many med school applicants ask, “Do medical schools require physics?” and the answer is usually yes. However, several schools in the United States don’t require physics, so ensure you research what classes you need to complete for med school.
The classes needed for medical school vary between programs, so do your research and find your preferred institution’s specific requirements.
Follow your passion and choose courses that you’re most likely to succeed in. We understand that all the requirements you need to get into medical school can be daunting. The most important thing to remember is to keep your GPA as high as possible. Your main focus should be on your academics — everything else should come after.
The courses you should take throughout your undergrad are: Organic Chemistry, Chemistry, Psychology, Genetics, Calculus, Physics, Biology, and English. These are the courses that medical school admissions are looking to see if you’ve completed.
Focusing on these courses and getting good grades will boost your chance of getting into the medical school of your choice.