Preparation for medical school involves, first and foremost, completion of certain required courses and taking the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). After meeting these basic requirements, students with diverse records and backgrounds apply to medical school and are accepted.
Although there is no "formula" or direct path that leads to acceptance, the most competitive applicants are well prepared in several areas.
You can major in any undergraduate degree area provided you include required pre-medical prerequisites in your course of study and do well in them.
Successful applicants have majored in many non-science subjects such as economics, philosophy, and psychology, as well as the more common science majors such as chemistry, biochemistry and biological sciences.
You should major in what interests you. Most students, however, do major in science because this ensures a great deal of overlap between courses required for their majors and those required for medical school; it makes course planning easier.
Those choosing non-science majors often make their choice for breadth and do very well in the applicant pool. Your major does not matter.
Allopathic or Osteopathic
Allopathic schools confer the Doctor of Medicine, or M.D., on their graduates, and allopathic training is by far the most widely available and recognized type of medical training.
Allopathic institutions in the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada are accredited by the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC). The AAMC schools are moving towards competency-based admissions and have endorsed the Core Competencies for Entering Medical Students. The competencies were designed to support medical schools in identifying and selecting the applicants who are the best fit for their institutional mission and goals.
Teaching methodology varies among schools. However, the "traditional" model consists of two years of basic science followed by clinical rotations. The "systems-based" program is organized around physiologic systems, such as the lungs or kidneys. The "case-based" model teaches through clinical vignettes. There are also schools offering hybrids of these approaches.
For more information on allopathic medical schools, consult the "Medical School Admissions Requirements," published by the AAMC. It is available online.
Osteopathic schools confer the Doctor of Osteopathy, or D.O., on their graduates. Osteopathic institutions are accredited by the American Osteopathic Association (AOA). Osteopathy incorporates additional training in musculoskeletal manipulation and takes a distinct "whole person" approach to consultation, diagnosis and practice.
Osteopathic programs differ from allopathic programs in two key ways.
First, osteopathic medical schools require students to spend more time rotating in primary care areas, rather than medical subspecialties. Second, most osteopathic medical schools do not have an affiliated teaching hospital; therefore, schools usually partner with medical facilities and doctor's offices in their local communities. However, it does preclude early exposure to research, cutting-edge treatments or instruction found in a traditional teaching hospital.
For more information on osteopathic medical schools, consult the "College Information Book." It can be accessed online.
Specific course prerequisites vary for each medical school but the following courses will fulfill all that is generally required. Please see individual catalogs or an advisor for more specific information.
For community college and transfer students, refer to assist.org, an online information system for the articulation of courses between California schools.
|One year of biology with lab||BIO 1/L – Contemporary Biology with lab and
BIO 2/L – Introduction to Molecular Biology with lab
One year of general chemistry w/lab
|CHEM 2 – General Chemistry I (includes lab) and
CHEM 10 – General Chemistry II (includes lab)
|One year of organic chemistry||CHEM 8/L – Principles of Organic Chemistry with lab and
CHEM 100 – Organic Synthesis and Mechanism with
CHEM 100L – Organic Chemistry Lab
|One semester of biochemistry||
BIO 101 – Biochemistry I* or
|One year of calculus||MATH 21 – Calculus I for Physical Sciences and Engineering and
MATH 22 – Calculus II for Physical Sciences and Engineering or
MATH 11 – Calculus I for Biological Sciences and
MATH 12 - Calculus II for Biological Sciences
|One year of physics||PHYS 8 – Principles of Physics I or
PHYS 18 – Principles of Physics I for Biological Sciences and
PHYS 9 – Introductory Physics II or
PHYS 19 – Introductory Physics II for Biological Science
|One year of English||Requirements vary greatly by program. Students are advised to review the specific requirements of the schools and programs to which they intend to apply. Also, students should save course syllabi in the event a course must be reviewed by the accepting medical school.|
All required courses must be taken for a grade, not on a pass/not passed basis. If courses are repeated, both grades go into your AMCAS* GPA (i.e. different than UC Merced policy) but AACOMAS* only includes the higher grades.
These courses are strongly recommended as they will assist in MCAT preparation and strengthen your application.
|Upper-division biological science||BIO 110 – The Cell
BIO 140 – Genetics
BIO 141 – Evolution
BIO 161 – Human Physiology
|Statistics*||BIO 18 – Statistical Analysis of Scientific Data or
MATH 32 – Statistics or
PSY 10 – Analysis of Psychological Data
|Humanities and social sciences*||
PSY 1 - Introduction to Psychology or
Courses with the asterisk (*) are required to complete before taking the MCAT exam. For more information on MCAT, please review the information at the MCAT website. Additional courses in the humanities and social sciences are highly recommended. Some medical schools will require specific courses, like statistics or biochemistry. It is your responsibility to review required courses of the schools you are interested.
Professional and graduate schools, and the application services they use, expect you to report all attempted classes as part of your overall GPA calculation. Please refer to the "course work" sections of the instruction manuals -- available below -- for how to accurately compute your Math-Science or Science GPA and overall GPA based on your professional goals.
AMCAS for applicants to Allopathic Medical Schools (MD):
- BCPM GPA: all Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Math courses, including both grades from repeated courses.
- Overall GPA: all undergraduate courses, including both grades from repeated courses.
AACOMAS for applicants to Osteopathic Medical Schools (DO):
- Science GPA: is calculated based on these Course Subject GPA categories: Biochemistry, Biology/Zoology, Inorganic Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Physics, and Other Science; including both grades from any repeated courses
- Non-Science GPA: is calculated based on these Course Subject GPA categories: English, Math, Behavioral Science, and Other Non-Science courses; including both grades from any repeated courses.
- Overall GPA: all undergraduate courses; including both grades from any repeated courses.
- GPA is also broken down by school year.
The Medical College Admissions Test
The MCAT examination includes four sections: biological and biochemical foundations of living systems, chemical and physical foundations of biological systems, psychological, social and biological foundations of behavior, and critical analysis and reasoning skills.
The exam is entirely computer-administered and is offered 20-22 times a year.
You should take the MCAT at least one year before you plan to enter medical school, but earlier is better. At the earliest, this will be in your third (junior) year but many students take it in their fourth year or later. As a general guideline, you should take the MCAT when you are ready rather than at a pre-conceived time. You should have completed all general prerequisites, and you might also want to complete courses in genetics (BIO 140) and physiology (BIO 161) before taking the MCAT.
Although no specific English courses will prepare you for the English half of the MCAT, we recommend that you complete your WRI courses before the MCAT and be sure you have well-developed reading (speedy) and writing skills. Most science majors find the verbal reasoning section the most challenging on the MCAT and it is difficult to develop the skill you will need in a short period of time. Start now by reading a lot outside of science!
Never take the MCAT merely for practice! Most applicants prepare for the MCAT using commercial test preparation materials and practice exams, and we encourage you to take the MCAT when you are scoring at or above the scores you hope to get on the MCAT because scores rarely go up on test day.
You should plan to apply based on when you have competitive scores rather than when you graduate, although you will need to complete your bachelor's degree before matriculation into medical school. Please see an advisor to discuss the timing of this important examination as well as specific course preparation. Complete the online application to register for the MCAT. Check the website for updates: https://students-residents.aamc.org/applying-medical-school/taking-mcat-exam/
There is a wide range of experience possible in this area, but it is very important for a competitive applicant to have extracurricular activities.
Often, students must support themselves and work becomes their primary (but not only) extracurricular activity. Clinical experience (i.e. where you observe physicians treating patients) is expected and is considered critical because medical schools want to be certain that you have knowledge of the field and the job of a physician.
Most applicants have research experience as well. Research or clinical experiences that you initiate or develop are particularly rewarding and are viewed very positively by admission committees.
Community and campus service, participation in organized sports or arts, leadership and well-developed personal interests are all important in the admission process.
Most allopathic medical schools belong to a centralized application service (AMCAS*) that allows you to apply through one initial application online. You can apply to all but one of the osteopathic medical schools through a separate online application service (AACOMAS*).
All medical schools in Texas (M.D. and D.O.) are part of a third application service (TMDSAS*) found on the web.
Applications are submitted approximately 12-15 months before enrolling in medical school.
"Secondaries" (or supplementary applications) are requests by the individual schools for additional information and fees.
Non-AMCAS schools (e.g. foreign medical schools) usually have a single application.
The final stage of the application process is the personal interview. If a school offers you an interview, it is seriously considering you.
Osteopathic Medical Schools in California
- California Health Sciences University College of Osteopathic Medicine
- Touro University – College of Osteopathic Medicine
- Western University of Health Sciences – College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific
- Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)
- Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC)
- American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS)
- American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM)
- American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS)
*AMCAS - American Medical College Application Service (allopathic)
*AACOMAS - American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (osteopathic)
*TMDSAS – Texas Medical and Dental Schools Application Service (allopathic and osteopathic in Texas)