Medical School Prerequisites: The Complete Guide for 2023

March 31, 2023


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 01/03/23

Thinking about becoming a doctor? Wondering what prerequisites for medical school you need to take? This guide will walk you through everything you need to know. 

Applying to medical school can be exciting and challenging. You’ll want to ensure you’ve ticked the right boxes during your preparation before applying to schools. Every medical school has a unique set of requirements, and it’s crucial to meet them before submitting your application. 

There are often required classes for medical school you must take to apply. But what are these prerequisites, and which do you need to fulfill? We’ll cover a general list of medical school prerequisites, an ideal timeline to follow, and prerequisites for top medical schools. Let’s get started!

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What Are Prerequisites? 

Prerequisite courses are classes you must complete before you can attend a program. These courses are essential tools for success. Professors will refer to what you’ve learned from these courses throughout your program, so completing them is critical.

Other than helping you gain valuable knowledge, certain prerequisites are mandatory. A program may reject you unless you’ve completed its prerequisite courses. Check the application requirements for your program long before you intend to apply to give yourself time to prepare.

Examples of med school prereqs are biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, and English. These courses help you build the foundational knowledge you need to succeed in medical school. 

Common Med School Prerequisites

Now you’re probably wondering what prerequisites you need for med school. All medical schools require proficiency in science and math. Beyond these courses, some schools have expanded their required courses to include English, psychology, sociology, and biochemistry.

Common Required Courses

Let’s review each standard prerequisite course for medical school.

  • Biology: An understanding of biological concepts is critical for medical school. Medical science has biology at its core. Specific areas of biology highly beneficial to furthering your medical education are genetics, anatomy, and evolution.
  • Chemistry: Almost all med schools require chemistry. Organic chemistry helps you understand how medications work in the human body and is essential to your medical education. You’ll also need to understand biochemistry.
  • Physics: The laws of physics are ever-present in the human body, so an understanding is necessary for a medical degree. For example, cardiology often applies the rules of pressure and volume.
  • Mathematics: From understanding lab results to determining proper doses, a physician often uses basic math daily. Medical schools generally require calculus, statistics, or at least one semester of general math. 
  • English: Most schools request English proficiency or an English language proficiency test. Although not always required, English will be handy throughout your degree and future career. 

Other Prerequisites

Now, let’s cover other prerequisites for medical school.

  • Psychology: Psychology can be beneficial for interacting with patients and their families. As a doctor, you’ll interact with others in many high-tension situations; taking psychology and sociology courses can help you better understand your patients. 
  • Foreign Language: Foreign language classes are rarely required for med school, especially in the U.S. However, learning a foreign language can be incredibly useful. Studying a language broadens the number of patients you can communicate with and the regions in which you can study and practice. 
  • Biochemistry: Biochemistry isn’t always required, but you should consider it as it appears on the MCAT. Being well-versed in biochemistry will prove helpful throughout your degree.

Ideal Timeline for Medical School Prerequisite Courses

Before applying to medical school, you should give yourself at least two years to decide which schools you plan to apply to. Every school has different requirements, so you should give yourself ample time to take prerequisites before applying. 

You should also include other differentiating activities to add to your application in this timeline. You should allot time to get clinical experience, research experience, volunteer, acquire recommendations, take your tests (multiple times if necessary), and take prerequisite courses. 

You can take up to five courses a semester at any typical university. It would probably be best to spread out these courses as they’re intense, and you’ll need time to prepare for other areas of your application.

Prerequisites at Top Medical Schools

To better understand which prerequisites you should take for med school in the U.S., we’ll cover the prerequisites for five of the country’s leading medical schools.

Harvard Medical School

Harvard’s medical school prerequisites are listed on its website as required or encouraged. 

harvard medical school building
Source: The Harvard Crimson 

Since the school is highly competitive, taking all the courses on its list is recommended. Harvard’s prerequisite courses are:

  • Behavioral sciences (recommended)
  • Biology
  • Chemistry/Biochemistry
  • Physics
  • Math
  • Writing

You must take at least one year of each course for each of Harvard’s prereqs. The exception is chemistry, which you must take for two years (or four courses). For more details on how to get into this prestigious school, check out our guide on getting into Harvard.

NYU Grossman 

U.S. News has named Grossman the second-best medical school for research in the U.S. 

NYU Grossman campus
Source: NYU Grossman 

NYU Grossman doesn’t have mandatory prerequisites; however, it does have a list of recommended courses to take before applying. Here are its recommended courses:

  • Inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, and biochemistry with lab
  • Biology with lab
  • Physics with lab
  • Statistics
  • Genetics
  • English

Although Grossman doesn’t require these courses for admission, it strongly recommends them. If you want more information on how to get into NYU Grossman, check out our guide.

Columbia Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons 

Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons provides a detailed course requirement list

picture of a columbia medical school building
Source: Columbia Magazine

Columbia’s recommended and required courses are as follows:

  • English or other writing-intensive courses 
  • Biology 
  • Physics 
  • Chemistry 
  • Biochemistry 

Each of Columbia’s prereqs for med school requires one to four semesters. Although biochemistry isn’t required, it’s recommended. For more information on getting into Columbia, check out our comprehensive guide

Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine 

Johns Hopkins School of Medicine is ranked as the third-best medical school in the U.S., tied with Columbia. 

Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine campus
Source: Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

The school requires students to take many prerequisites before applying. Required courses include the following: 

  • Biology 
  • General chemistry, organic chemistry, and biochemistry 
  • Humanities, social, and behavioral sciences (assorted courses) 
  • Calculus/Statistics 
  • Physics 

Besides the humanities requirement, you must spend between three and eight semester hours per course. 

You must take a minimum of 24 semester hours in courses that satisfy the humanities, social and behavioral sciences requirement, including “English, History, Classics, Foreign Language, Philosophy, Arts, etc), social science (Sociology, Economics, Political Science, Anthropology, etc.)  and behavioral science (Psychology, etc.).” 

Want to learn more about the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine? Our complete guide contains all the information you need to know. 

University of California – San Francisco 

UCSF is another top medical school for research, tied with Columbia and Johns Hopkins. 

UCSF Campus
Source: UCSF School of Medicine

The base course requirements to apply to UCSF School of Medicine include: 

  • Biology, with lab 
  • Chemistry (including one semester of organic chemistry with lab) 
  • Biochemistry 
  • Physics 

Applicants must take biology and chemistry for at least one year, one biochemistry course, and one semester of physics. 

However, UCSF states that although the school doesn’t require more than one year of biology and physics, the most successful applicants take at least one upper level biology course and one year of organic chemistry. For more on UCSF’s application requirements, read our complete school guide

Medical School Prerequisite FAQs

Here are answers to the frequently asked questions about prerequisite courses for medical school. 

1. What Are the Prerequisites for Medical School?

Every medical school has different prerequisite requirements. Generally speaking, most schools require biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, and English.

2. Are There Medical Schools Without Prerequisites?

Many medical schools do not have prerequisite course requirements, so you can apply to med school without them. However, prereqs will prepare you for your future courses. You can take a pre-med program to build the foundational knowledge you’ll need. 

Some medical schools without prerequisites include:

All of these programs require a bachelor’s degree. Although they do not have specific prerequisite courses, they still highly recommend a strong background in science. 

3. Can You Retake Med School Prerequisite Courses?

If you’ve done poorly on a prerequisite, you can always retake it. Before doing so, you should research your school’s stance on retaking prereqs. Depending on the school, retaking courses can potentially damage your applicant profile.

4. How Many Prerequisites Do I Need for Medical School?

Generally speaking, you should plan to complete at least one year of biology, chemistry, and physics, all with labs. It would be best if you also planned for a minimum of one year of English and math.

5. Can You Take the MCAT Without Taking Prerequisites?

There are no required courses for the MCAT. However, taking the MCAT without prerequisites is not recommended. Prerequisite courses provide opportunities to take notes, ask questions, and study with peers. If you plan on taking the MCAT without prereqs, seek guidance from a tutor.

6. What Courses Should I Take Before the MCAT?

It’s good to take all the prerequisites for the program you’re considering. You should build your knowledge by taking biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, and English courses. 

7. Do Medical School Prerequisites Expire?

Most medical schools do not have a specific expiry date for prerequisites. If you wonder if your prerequisites will be acceptable, speak with an academic advisor or admissions consultant. 

8. How Long do Prerequisites Take to Complete? 

Most medical school prerequisites require one year of study, though some require two or more. It’s a good idea to spread them throughout your undergraduate study to ensure you’re fully prepared for medical school. 

Final Thoughts 

Many medical schools do not require prerequisites, but they are always recommended. Prerequisite courses are valuable tools to help build your knowledge before medical school. They’ll make your tests less stressful and your journey through medical school more manageable. 

Some schools have a long list of mandatory prerequisites, so you should research the prerequisites of each school you are interested in at least two years before you begin applying. Remember, while you could cram every prerequisite into one year, it will be stressful, and you may want to give yourself more time.

Generally speaking, every medical school will want you to grasp biology, chemistry, physics, math, and English before entering your degree. To be safe, you may also want to add biochemistry, anatomy, psychology, and statistics to your course load.

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