Medical School Requirements: The Definitive Guide

Learn what medical school prerequisites to take and what extracurricular activities to pursue to meet your pre med requirements and maximize your admission chances

understanding medical school requirements is crucial as you map out your college courses

understanding medical school requirements is crucial as you map out your college courses

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Introduction

As a premed student, you know that you have to work harder than all of your college peers—except, perhaps, engineering students.

In addition to acing notoriously difficult medical school prerequisites—often dubbed “weeder classes”—you have to pursue multi-year extracurricular activities like research and clinical volunteering.

Beyond that, you have to develop close relationships with professors and mentors to eventually obtain strong letters of recommendation for medical school.

While it’s tough to meet all of these medical school requirements, what’s worse is that schools’ expectations differ. What satisfies one med school is lacking for another. Moreover, some expectations, like research, are not explicitly stated. Even MSAR—the best up-to-date, organized source for individual med schools’ requirements—can only list what a school officially provides. 

It can all be very confusing and overwhelming. Perhaps if you knew the undergraduate requirements for medical school, you would appropriately plan ahead.

This resource was created to demystify everything you need to complete for medical school. If you follow the listed guidelines, you’ll meet every med school’s requirements and be eligible to apply to the widest range of programs.

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Medical school degree requirement

What degree do you need to get into medical school?

Every US medical school requires the completion of a four-year degree from an accredited college or university.

“Four-year” doesn’t mean that you have to be enrolled in school for four years. For instance, you can complete your degree sooner by taking more classes per term to graduate in three or three-and-a-half years. The degree requirement can also be satisfied through a BS/MD program.

In addition, your four-year degree must be obtained prior to matriculating to medical school. In other words, you can apply to medical school before you complete your degree. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to go straight through from undergrad.

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Medical school course requirements

Medical school prerequisites are what vary most from school to school, which is why they’re so confusing. For instance, a certain set of courses might meet Harvard Medical School requirements but not another program’s.

The AAMC website lists the general courses you will need to complete for medical schools, as follows:

  • One year of Biology

  • One year of English

  • Two years of Chemistry, through Organic Chemistry

This list clarifies little, because it’s vague and incomplete. Most medical schools will require more, and more specific, courses.

Given how hard it is to get into medical school, you’re strongly encouraged to aim beyond the aforementioned minimum requirements. In fact, we recommend that you take courses that will satisfy requirements for every med school, so that you’ll have the option to apply anywhere. Completing the following list of courses will help you do just that (Note: Certain science majors have additional course requirements.):

  • Biology: Lecture: two semesters or three quarters | Lab: one term

  • General chemistry: Lecture: one semester or two quarters | Lab: one term

  • Organic chemistry: Lecture: two semesters or two quarters | Lab: one term

  • Biochemistry: Lecture: one term | Lab: not required

  • Physics: Lecture: two semesters or three quarters | Lab: one term

  • Math: Lecture: two semesters or three quarters (must include calculus and statistics)

  • English: Lecture: two semesters or three quarters (must include writing)

If you complete the courses above, you will meet every medical school’s requirements. The one other recommendation is that you take courses in arts, humanities, languages, literature, and social sciences, though there are no specific guidelines to follow.

(Note: As with your degree, you do have to complete your prerequisites for medical school prior to matriculating to medical school. In other words, you can apply to medical school even if you have a few outstanding prerequisite courses to complete.)

(Note: AP credits, even if accepted by your undergraduate institution, may not be used to satisfy certain medical school requirements.)

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Medical school major requirements

Your pre med major does not matter when it comes to medical school admissions.

As long as you complete all the prerequisites for medical school, you can major in Anthropology, Biology, Chemistry, English, History, or Physics. Most colleges and universities do not offer a separate premed major; therefore, it is not expected or required.

Moreover, there is no such thing as a best premed major. All else being equal, an English major with a 3.8 overall GPA and 3.7 science GPA will be just as competitive of an applicant as a Biochemistry major with the same stats. 

Therefore, you should prioritize majoring in an area of interest, one that you feel you could do very well in. Going back to the previous example, it would be preferable to have a 3.8 overall GPA and 3.7 science GPA as an English major rather than have a 3.6 overall GPA and 3.6 science GPA as a Physics major. 

This might not seem fair, since certain majors are generally tougher than others. That’s where the MCAT, a standardized test, comes in.

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Medical school MCAT requirement

Unless you’re enrolled in a BS/MD program or other early assurance program, you will have to take the MCAT. Actually, even some BS/MD and early assurance programs require you to achieve a certain minimum MCAT score to remain eligible.

At the vast majority of medical schools, you will be required to submit an MCAT score from within the last three years. If you last took the MCAT over three years ago, you will probably have to retake it.

(Suggested reading: Should I Retake the MCAT?)

Of course, you should aim to do as well as possible on the MCAT. If you’re looking to get into an MD program, your score target should at minimum a 508. This is an incredibly conservative target, as many medical schools post a higher average MCAT score among matriculants. Moreover, the average MCAT score among matriculants during the 2018-2019 application cycle was 511.2.

(Suggested reading: What MCAT Score Do You Need to Get Into Medical School?)

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Medical school GPA requirement

Most medical schools will not post a minimum GPA requirement.

In addition, most medical schools will automatically send you their secondary application once your primary application is verified, regardless of your GPA and MCAT score.

Despite the routine mentioning of “holistic admissions” and no minimum GPA requirements, medical schools have high, yet variable grade expectations. The average matriculant total GPA during the 2018-2019 cycle was 3.72.

Students routinely ask whether their GPA is “too low” or “good enough” to get into medical school, and whether medical schools employ a cutoff when evaluating applications. Some do, and some don’t, but what’s most important is that you do as well as possible and apply to a balance school list based on your stats.

(Suggested reading: Average GPA and MCAT Score for Every Medical School)

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Medical school extracurricular activity requirements

Approaching your premed years the right way typically results in you being busy with studying, and especially with extracurricular activities.

Competitive medical school applicants all have good to great grades and MCAT scores, which means that stats are not a useful differentiating factor. Therefore, med school admissions committee members (adcoms) evaluate how you’ve spent your time outside the classroom.

And while many medical schools state how they want to see the obtainment or demonstration of certain competencies and skills, they almost never provide any details about what specifically to pursue, or how much. 

While we’ve covered specific recommendations in detail in a separate guide—How to Choose the Right Extracurricular Activities for Medical School—adcoms expect you to have obtained the following:

  • Shadowing experience 

  • Clinical experience (i.e., patient exposure)

  • Community service or volunteer experience

  • Research experience

(Note: Many medical school websites do not explicitly mention requiring research experience. However, most competitive med school applicants, especially at top schools, have completed at least one year of research, preferably in the same lab. Moreover, while publications are not required and many successful applicants do not have publications, they strengthen your research experience.) 

However, it’s not simply the obtainment of a certain number of hours that medical schools are looking for, but rather the demonstration of the following:

  • Commitment to medicine

  • Knowledge of health care delivery

  • Leadership

  • Interest in serving diverse populations

  • Passion for science

  • Communication and interpersonal skills

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Medical school letter of recommendation requirements

Like coursework and extracurricular activities, medical school letter of recommendation requirements can be quite confusing because they differ across schools.

There are so many layers to understanding med school recommendation letters, in fact, that we published a separate resource on the subject: Medical School Letters of Recommendation: The Definitive Guide

Some professors or other letter writers may also ask you to write your own letter that they will review, modify, and submit on your behalf. If you’re asked to do this, read: How to Write Your Own Letter of Recommendation for Medical School

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Medical school application requirements

After years of completing required courses and pursuing meaningful extracurricular activities, you’ll have to complete your medical school applications. These applications, which require months of work, are organized in the following phases:

After interviews, you’ll face the toughest part: waiting. During this time, you’ll want to consider sending update letters—a letter of interest or letter of intent—to let medical schools what you’re up to during the application cycle, and also that you continue to be interested in their program.

(Suggested reading: How to Write a Great Medical School Letter of Intent or Letter of Interest)