Pre-Med Essentials for Every Year of College: How to Best Prepare

Padya Paramita

Pre-Med Essentials for Every Year of College

You might have taken some high school courses to prepare for a future career in medicine, but now it’s time for the big leagues—the ever-stressful pre-medical student life at college. With so many requirements to check off your list before medical school, you need to map out the next four years right from the start. So, how do you stay on the right track for your future career as a doctor and take appropriate advantage of your pre-med years? Use our blog to guide you through the pre-med essentials necessary during the different years of college to give yourself the best shot in this cutthroat process.

Freshman Year

To start our list of pre-med essentials, you must meet with your pre-med or academic advisor to figure out which courses you’ll need to complete throughout college. Most medical schools require one year of biology with lab, one year of general chemistry with lab, one year of organic chemistry with lab, one year of physics with lab, and one semester of biochemistry. To stay organized during the process, create an academic plan on your computer or planner to remind yourself of what prerequisites you need to take.

Extracurricular-wise, as you look for more unique activities, it can’t hurt to join clubs that are relevant to medicine and STEM, such as Pre-Health Society, Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students (MAPS), Biochemistry Club, etc. early on. You’ll get to meet more pre-med students and talk about your ambitions together. Take the time for other hobbies as well—admissions officers appreciate students who have other passions besides medicine. Participate in activities and projects that distinguish you from other applicants, whether it be marathon running or a capella. You will have 15 slots in the AMCAS activities list to talk about your extracurriculars. Start thinking early about how you will fill those spaces!

And of course, apply for lab or clinical research with a biology, chemistry, or neuroscience professor, or a lab outside your university. Think about why you want to be a doctor. Let these motivations guide the extracurriculars that you pursue—this can also guide your future personal statement. If you can, shadow a doctor–you must get as much patient exposure as possible, and starting early is key.

Sophomore Year

In terms of pre-med essentials, sophomore year is when you should start getting into a groove instead of trying new things. Continue taking pre-med courses and perform well in them! Keep track of your cumulative, major, and science GPAs. Narrow down your extracurriculars to those that excite you most. Start applying for leadership positions within them. Volunteer with a medical-related organization so that you can demonstrate your altruism and empathy.

As you start solidifying your goals, familiarize yourself with the medical school application process timeline and components. If you plan to apply during your junior year of college: Start studying for the MCAT. And finally, find a summer internship that grants you clinical exposure. Medical schools want you to have patient exposure—so this one is important!

Junior Year

This is a crucial time if you’re applying straight after college so you need to make sure you’ve covered all of the pre-med essentials

If you’re applying to attend medical school immediately after senior year: an important point among pre-med essentials is to talk to professors you’re close to about recommendation letters. Think about how you want to divide your letters between professors and supervisors. If applicable, talk to your pre-med advisor about coordinating a committee letter. 

At the same time, reflect on your profile. Think about which areas your application might need improvement - is your GPA low? Do you need more extracurriculars? 

Revisit your course plan and make sure you’re meeting all the requirements for medical school. Continue to conduct research, in a medicine-related track if possible. It also can’t hurt to show initiative. If you feel like the extracurriculars at your college don’t facilitate your interests, start your own club or organization.

And of course, timing is incredibly important. Start thinking about whether you want to take a gap year before medical school: consider your work experience, grades, and whether you’re mentally prepared. You will need to apply in the upcoming June, so make sure you have everything you’d need! If you don’t plan on taking a gap year, register for and take the MCAT! 

Senior Year

If you haven’t applied yet: look through your courses, grades, and extracurriculars and plan out when you intend to apply to medical school. If you’re taking a gap year, start looking for jobs early senior year—use your connections to STEM professors and your internship supervisors. Even in the time you’re taking off, it’s preferred that you spend time doing something that will continue to showcase why you’re a strong fit for the medical field, so don’t underestimate your gap year!

It’s become more and more common to not apply directly out of college. Senior year, in that case, is the time to register for the MCAT and take the test. Start making a list of medical schools you want to apply to. Remember that the process is intensely competitive so it’s good to apply to at least 25-30 MD programs. Keeping in mind when you’re going to apply, begin drafting your personal statement and activities list, and check in with your recommenders to make sure they are on track. If your grades aren’t up to the mark, start researching additional science classes you can take through a postbacc program. If you’re applying the June after graduation, get all your application materials ready! It’s go time!

As you can tell, a lot of your to-do list depends on whether or not you decide to take a gap year before medical school. Alongside remembering the pre-med essentials, use your judgment as well as our Medical School Application Timeline to further plan the year before your application. It’s a very cutthroat process, and starting from your freshman year is definitely a good idea. Best of luck! 

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