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Isobel Cameron

Medical School Prerequisites: The Complete Guide for 2022

December 15, 2021
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IntroductionWhat are Prerequisites? About Med School PrerequisitesIdeal Timeline for Medical School Prerequisite CoursesPrerequisites at Top Medical SchoolsMedical School Prerequisite FAQsConclusion

Applying to medical school is an exciting and challenging process. You’ll want to make sure you’ve ticked the right boxes during your preparation before you start applying to schools. Every medical school has a unique set of requirements, and it’s crucial to check them out well before turning in your application. 

A typical requirement for medical school is a list of prerequisite courses. You should ensure you’ve completed all the necessary prerequisite courses. 

At this point, some questions may arise. What are those prerequisite courses? How many should I take? When should I get started?

Here, we’ll cover a general list of medical school prerequisites, an ideal timeline, prerequisites for top medical schools, FAQs, and more. 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 later success in your program. Professors will refer to what you’ve learned from your prerequisites throughout your program, so it’s critical to complete each recommended course.

Other than containing valuable information to help you through your program, certain prerequisites are mandatory. This means  the program will reject you unless you have completed its prerequisite courses. You should check the application requirements for your program long before you intend to apply to give yourself time to prepare.

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About Med School Prerequisites

All medical schools require high levels of understanding in science and math. More specifically, schools require completed biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics courses. These are always necessary for medical school, but some schools have expanded their required courses to include English, psychology, sociology, and biochemistry.

Common Required Courses

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

Biology: A basic understanding of biology is always required 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 medical schools also require chemistry. Organic chemistry will help you understand how medications work in the human body and is essential to your medical education. You’ll also need to take chemistry to understand biochemistry. 

Physics: The laws of physics are ever-present in the human body, so a basic understanding is necessary for a medical degree. For example, the rules of pressure and volume are often applied in cardiology.

Mathematics: From understanding lab results to determining proper doses, a physician often uses basic math in their daily life. Calculus, statistics, or at least one semester of general math is typically required for medical school. 

English: Most U.S. schools request an English class or an English language proficiency test. Although not always required, English will come in handy throughout your degree and future career.

Other Medical School Prerequisites

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

Psychology: Psychology can be beneficial for interacting with patients and their families. As a doctor, you will have to interact with others in many high-tension situations, but psychology and sociology will also help you better understand your patients. Most schools do not require psychology, but it’s a great course to take either way.

Foreign Language: Foreign language classes are rarely required for medical school, especially not in the U.S. However, learning a foreign language could be incredibly useful later. Whichever language you choose to study will broaden the number of patients you can communicate with and potentially the regions in which you can study and practice. 

Biochemistry: Biochemistry is not 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 on which schools you plan on applying to. Every school has different requirements, so you should give yourself ample time to take each prerequisite before applying. 

In this timeline, you should also include other things you want to add to your application. Of course, you should have enough time to get clinical experience, research experience, volunteer, acquire letters of recommendation, take your tests (multiple times if necessary), and take your prerequisite courses. 

In any typical university, you can take up to five courses a semester. For most medical schools, you could probably take your prerequisites all in one semester. That being said, it would probably be best to spread out these courses as they are intense and you’ll need time to prepare for other areas of your application.

Prerequisites at Top Medical Schools

To better understand which prerequisites are typically required in the U.S, we’ll cover the prerequisites for five of the country’s leading medical schools.

Harvard 

Harvard’s medical school prerequisites are listed on their website as required or encouraged. It is a highly competitive school, taking all the courses on their list is recommended. Harvard’s prerequisite courses are:

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

NYU Grossman 

NYU Grossman does not have mandatory prerequisites; however, it does have a list of recommended courses to take before applying. U.S. News has named Grossman the No. 2 medical school for research in the U.S. Here is its recommended courses:

Although Grossman does not 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.

Duke University

Duke University School of Medicine has a detailed list of their prerequisites and the courses you can choose between on its website. Duke University School of Medicine’s recommended and required courses are as follows:

Each subject has a different number of courses and amount of time required, and Duke has recommendations on how to take the courses together. For more information on how to get into Duke medical school, check out our guide to Getting into Duke medical school.

Columbia University

Columbia University’s Vagelos medical school has several minimum prerequisites. For further information on which courses are acceptable, it provides a detailed course option list online. Its prerequisite courses are:

Columbia also requires CPR and first-aid certification alongside other standard application materials. As Columbia’s list of prerequisites is longer than usual, we recommend planning at least three years of your undergraduate education around its course requirements if you plan to apply.

Stanford

Stanford Medicine does not have specific course requirements to ensure its application requirements are inclusionary. However, it does recommend coursework that endorses knowledge in these areas:

Stanford’s recommended areas of study correlate with the AAMC’s 15 Core Competencies, which fall into the categories of: 

For more information on how to get into this medical school, check out our guide to getting into Stanford medical school.

Medical School Prerequisite FAQs

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

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.

Can you apply to medical school without all the prereqs?

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. We do not recommend applying to medical school without taking them.

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.

How many prerequisites do I need for medical school?

Every medical school has a different amount of required courses. 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.

Can you take the MCAT without taking prerequisites?

You can take the MCAT without prerequisites; however, it is not recommended. Prerequisite courses provide opportunities to take notes, ask questions, and study alongside peers for what will be on your test. If you plan on taking the MCAT without prereqs, you should seek a tutor’s guidance.

Do medical school prerequisites expire?

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


Conclusion

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 into your degree. You may also want to add biochemistry, anatomy, psychology, and statistics to your course load to be safe.

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