Thinking Ahead to Medical School
Getting into medical school is not easy, but making the right choices can help you reach your goal. It’s important to start out with a good foundation.
That means taking physics and calculus in high school, both to have credibility as a prospective science major in the admissions process, and to be prepared for the science courses you’ll be taking in college. Medical schools require students to have college courses in biology, inorganic chemistry, and organic chemistry, physics and calculus. These courses are tougher if you haven’t had any exposure to the subjects in high school. Since medical schools will be looking at your science GPA in addition to your overall college GPA, it’s important to do well in these classes.
The good news is that you can major in any subject. An art history major who has excellent grades in science classes will be in a stronger position applying to medical school than a biology major with lower grades.
The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is also a major factor in admissions decisions. I know it’s not fun to realize that the SAT isn’t the end of standardized tests.
Beyond grades and test scores, medical schools are looking at a student’s seriousness of purpose. Volunteering or working at a hospital or other health care setting will help you be sure that you really do want to become a doctor and demonstrate your commitment to medicine. Being able to deal with people from different cultures is a plus, so students who know a second language and have studied abroad may have an advantage.
Many aspiring physicians think they need to go to the most prestigious undergraduate school in order to have a chance at a good medical school. This isn’t the only path, and sometimes it’s not the best path. A student who is strong in science, has a lot of self-confidence and is assertive about pursuing research opportunities will probably be successful in an intensely competitive environment. But for the student who doesn’t immediately grasp complex physics problems or is shy about asking for help, attending college with many driven and accomplished pre-med students could be the end of the dream of medical school.
Several UC campuses are known for their strong science programs, and many pre-med students think those schools would provide the best preparation for applying to medical school. But professors in large science classes are not always very accessible, and the best research positions may go to graduate students. Even though the UC offers prestige at low tuition, it’s no bargain if the school doesn’t provide what you need to be successful.
In a nurturing academic environment, students can form relationships with faculty who will help them master the material required to do well on the MCAT, hire them to work on research projects and write recommendation letters for medical school.
There are many colleges that are not well-known but have a good track record of sending graduates on to medical school. And by targeting schools that are either lower in cost or where students are likely to get merit aid, families should not have to pay much more than they would for a UC education. Since most students take out loans to attend medical school, it’s nice to start without the burden of debt from your undergraduate education.