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What to Expect During Undergrad as a Pre-Med Student

A set of feminine hands with red nail polish type on a laptop. On the desk next to the computer is a blue stethoscope.

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

The road to becoming a doctor is long and difficult but worth it if you’re passionate about what you’re doing.

Many pre-med students aren’t sure what to expect and enter their freshman year unsure of what the next four years until med school will bring.

Every med school has its own set of entry requirements, so it’s important even as a freshman to look into graduate schools to make sure you’ll meet the individual prerequisites.

However, many of these schools have the same general principles, so I’ve written this four-year guide to be a pre-med student.

Standard Prerequisites

While every med school is different, most of them want you to have met certain course standards, passed the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test), and gained some experience in the medical field.

This may seem like a lot, and it’s certainly challenging, but it’s all important in making sure you want to continue in this field.

Most med schools want you to have a basis in medical science, with credits in both basic and advanced biology, anatomy, chemistry, physics, and social sciences (especially psychology and sociology).

You should have lab experience with these subjects as well. It’s also important to have communication and writing skills as those are a major part of day-to-day life as a healthcare worker.

The MCAT is perhaps the most important exam a pre-med student faces. The MCAT is a 528-question test that applies your knowledge of medical science and problem solving to determine your clinical skills.

Some med schools don’t require MCAT scores, but nearly all of the top ones (i.e. Stanford and Johns Hopkins) do and have very competitive score requirements (Stanford’s average is a 519 MCAT score and a 3.89 GPA).

Lastly, getting experience in the medical field before med school isn’t often required but highly recommended. It shows both initiative and work ethic to admissions teams and gives you a chance to volunteer or work in your field to make sure that’s what you want to pursue.

This experience can include shadowing a doctor, becoming a CNA (certified nursing assistant), or even doing clerical work in hospital administration.

5 Ways To Get Pre-Med Experience

Freshman Year: Beginning your studies

In your first few months as a pre-med student, you’ll likely be hit with the stark change between high school and college. Take this time to focus on adapting to college, but be sure to listen to your professors’ advice!

My professors told me it’s never too early to start preparing for med school, and they’re right. By the end of your first semester, it’s smart to start researching med schools you’re interested in.

Also, talk to your college counselor about making sure you’re meeting your prerequisites!

If you haven’t already by your second semester, you may want to find a job or volunteer opportunities that you can put on a resume and med school applications. It’s good to get experience in the field early, especially if the job is related to medicine.

Sophomore Year: Continuing your studies

For your second year of college, you’ll definitely want to keep med school in mind as the MCAT is typically taken in your junior year and takes months to prepare for.

It can be helpful to take extra courses in your sophomore year that will lighten your workload as a junior and senior because that gives you extra time in the future to work and study, but be sure to keep your mental health in mind. Too much work becomes counterproductive if you’re too stressed to get any of it done!

Junior Year: The MCAT and Preparing for Med School

Junior year can easily be your most important year of undergraduate college. The MCAT is typically taken in the second semester of this year, so you’ll want to start studying as soon as you can.

In the spring, you’ll also want to consider submitting your AMCAS, the American Medical College Application Service, which is essentially the common app for med school.

You can retake the MCAT up to twice a year, but keep in mind the more times you have to retake it the worse it can look on applications (depending on the med school’s admission procedures).

Senior Year: Applying to Med School

With the MCAT finally behind you, you can focus on applying to the specific med schools you want to attend. Keep in mind, throughout all four years of your pre-med major, you should continue working and/or volunteering in medical fields to keep gaining experience and credibility.

You can apply for med schools as early as the spring before senior year (second semester of junior year), and the earlier you submit your applications, the sooner you can hear back and make your decisions.

In your senior year, you’ll undergo med school interviews, and by the following spring, you should hear back to make your final decision.

Whether you decide to go through with med school or use your impressive biology degree to follow another path, you’ve already completed a very difficult but valuable part of your journey through life.

Med School and Beyond

Med school will be more challenging than being a pre-med student, but it’ll be worth it if you’re passionate and dedicated to becoming a doctor. Towards the end of med school, you’ll have to start thinking about specialties and residencies, but as a pre-med student, don’t start worrying about it yet!

While it’s important as a pre-med student to keep your future in mind, remember to take things one day at a time. Your mental health and physical well-being are important, and most universities have resources on campus to help you through the difficulties of college and planning for your future.

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