7 Medical School Requirements You Need To Know In 2020

Updated: July 1, 2020

Let this blog serve as your one-stop-shop for everything you need to know about medical school requirements. From required courses and experiences to grades and test scores, we've got you covered. With essential information and expert tips, we'll help you every step of the way so you can tick off all the requirements the admissions process calls for. By the time you've finished reading, you'll feel confident to meet and exceed medical school requirements and be on your way towards acceptance.  

Click the links below to help you navigate to each section you're interested in:

1. Medical school requirements: Education

2. Medical school requirements: Extracurriculars

3. Medical school requirements: Letters of Recommendation

4. Medical school requirements: Secondary Applications

5. Medical school requirements: GPA

6. Medical school requirements: MCAT

7. Medical school requirements: CASPer

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Medical school requirements: Education

Most medical schools in the US require the completion of a bachelor's degree before students are eligible to apply to medical school. So, what should you study? Is there a particular pre-med major that is better than the rest? What are medical schools looking for? For starters, forget what you've heard about one pre-med major being better than another one. It's simply not true, and some students get so carried away with studying a major that they think will look good that they sacrifice other areas they were more interested in, better suited for, and may have even performed better in. To best prepare yourself for medical school, it's important to complete your undergraduate degree in a field of study that you're interested in. Not in a field that you think will impress others or the admissions committee. Another common misconception is that you must complete your undergraduate major in a science specialty, but that is not the case. Even though majors in the biological sciences are the most common major of medical school matriculants, there are so many other majors represented such as humanities, math and statistics and physical sciences. It's important to choose a major that will highlight your strengths and showcase your passion and motivation for pursuing medicine. If you're interested, head over to our medical school acceptance rates by major blog to see how your chances of acceptance vary between majors. Whether you choose a science or non-science major, be sure that you complete the medical school prerequisites.

Although many universities require the completion of biology, chemistry, physics, and math, some schools also require the completion of social sciences courses such as humanities and anthropology. The science courses often require the completion of lab work and some schools even mandate English courses. Those enrolled in science majors likely have many, if not all, required courses included in their curriculum. For those studying non-science majors, it's important to elect to complete these courses as they are probably not included in the curriculum. Another tip I can give you is that not all prerequisites for medical school are created equally, meaning that they vary greatly between medical school. Don't assume that because one medical school requires x, y, and z, that another school will also require that. That other school may actually require a, b and c, in addition to x, y, and z, so never assume. Always check the prerequisites at each medical school you want to apply to so you can make sure you've completed what you need to apply. One of the biggest reasons students take a year off before applying to medical school is because they failed to complete the required coursework in their undergraduate studies. Due to this gap, these students often fall into the non-traditional medical school applicant category. While some students enroll in postbaccalaureate programs to complete these missed courses, it's a timely and costly way to complete what could have been completed during your undergraduate studies.

Medical school requirements: Extracurriculars

Extracurriculars for medical school are one of the best ways to set yourself apart from other candidates. It shows the admissions committee who you are a person, what steps you've taken to become knowledgable about the profession, what motivates you to do what you do, and of course, why you want to be a physician. Keep in mind that everyone applying to medical school wants to be a doctor, it's your responsibility to prove to the admissions committee why you would be a great doctor and how your experiences have solidified your decision to pursue medicine, instead of another field. In addition to writing a diversity essay for medical school, your extracurriculars are also a great way to show the admissions committee what aspects of diversity you can bring to the entering class. Each experience you have has shaped you as a person, helped you grow, and develop new skills and knowledge that you can share with your peers. No two people have had the exact same experiences, and even if they had, each would take something different from it. So in this way, your experiences become unique entities that the admissions committee wants to learn about. They want to hear your own personal story that answers the tell me about yourself medical school prompt and discusses how you first became interested in medicine, how you gained experiences in the field to develop your interest, and how that interest changed from possibility to absolution. If you took a gap year before medical school, highlight what you gained from your premed gap year jobs throughout your application.

Check out our video to determine the best extracurriculars for medical school:


Clinical

While many extracurriculars are important for medical school, clinical experience is one that holds a lot of value to the admissions committee. Clinical experience includes hands-on experiences in a clinical setting and one of the most valuable to add to your application is shadowing a doctor. There is no better way to test drive your career as a physician than by tagging along as a physician completes all their normal daily tasks. You'll understand how each hour of the day is spent as you silently observe a physician interact with patients, complete reports, order tests and even perform surgeries. Once you know how to ask to shadow a doctor and how many hours of shadowing are required for medical school, you'll find the process easy. So, which doctors should you shadow? Well, this totally depends on which area of medicine interests you. If you're interested in family medicine, try reaching out to your own family doctor or the doctors of members of your family, this way, you're gaining experience that is 100% relevant to your interests. If you have a few different interests, don't be afraid to shadow doctors in a variety of different fields. It's perfectly acceptable to sample different areas to help you hone in on your true interests. The same applies if you have absolutely no idea which area of medicine to pursue. Don't worry, the admissions committee does not expect you to know exactly which area of medicine you want to study. What's important is that you want to become a doctor and you can show them that you've taken the necessary steps to get there. Show them that you've put yourself in a physician's shoes, and enjoyed the fast-paced environment, the stress, the long hours, the connection with patients, or whatever other aspects you may observe and experience. Many of us have had dreams of becoming different professions, but sometimes when we try them we realize they're not for us at all. That's why it's so important to gain this shadowing experience, to try it, and hopefully know that it's right for you.

Shadowing experience isn't the only type of clinical experience you can partake in, any other volunteer or employment opportunities that place you in a clinical setting is excellent. Admissions committees want to see that you have real-life experience in the field of medicine which can be completed in a variety of facilities such as clinics, hospitals, and medical offices. Having a variety of different experiences is highly valuable, just be sure that you devote time to each experience, and don't just try to stack up multiple experiences in an effort to impress the admissions committees. Always participate in valuable clinical experiences that align with your own interests and passions.

Research

Nearly every student applying to medical school has clinical experience to add to their application, but not all of them have research experience. That's right, another area for you to potentially stand out! Some schools are heavily focussed on research, requiring students to possess this experience to be considered for admission. Normally, schools that are research-based have this incorporated in their mission statement and core values. To be considered competitive at these institutions, you need to demonstrate your desire and motivation for research. There are so many different ways to gain research experience, you could work as a lab assistant or technician in a clinical setting, research facility or even in the field. Now, don't simply apply to research-focused medical schools if you have no desire or interest in research. As always, tailor your experiences to your interests and apply to medical schools that are in line with your short and long term goals.

If you want to apply to joint MD-PhD programs, you absolutely need to add research experience to your box of requirements. These programs are specifically designed for students with a passion for medicine, but also a strong passion for research. Graduates from these programs will be trained as physician-scientists, ready to tackle the mechanisms behind disease, conduct independent or joint research, and strive towards making discoveries in the field of medicine. In reviewing your research experience, the admissions committees will be looking at your level of participation, your reasoning as to the importance of the research, and what lessons you learned from the experience. Try to gain hands-on experience conducting research by testing hypotheses, analyzing results and contributing to reports or scientific papers. Keep in mind that if you apply to MD PhD vs MD programs, you'll have to complete an essay that is solely designed to learn about your extensive research experiences, so be sure you can demonstrate your commitment to research through a variety of meaningful experiences. Regardless of whether or not you apply to joint MD-PhD programs, meaningful research is a valuable experience to include in your applications. Be sure you understand the ins and outs of any research you participate in. Regardless of your level of contribution, if you're invited to an interview, the interviewers will expect you to have a strong grasp on the research, its significance, and major findings.

Volunteer

What is one of the many important qualities a physician should possess? The selfless dedication for helping others which is why service orientation is one of the core competencies demonstrated by successful medical school students. Patients put a lot of trust and faith into doctors, and it's a physician's responsibility to provide the best quality of care while respecting patient autonomy. A physician's day to day life requires putting their patients first, working long hours and skipping breaks, all to best meet patient's needs. Therefore, when proving to the admissions committee that you're suitable for a lifelong career as a medical doctor, you must be able to demonstrate your commitment to serving others and this is where your volunteer experience becomes relevant.

Unlike the aforementioned experiences, volunteer experience does not have to be completed in a specific field or setting. Rather, you can participate in any type of volunteer experience, as long as you can discuss why it's significant, how it has or will help you in your pursuit of medicine, and what you took from the experience. Don't think for a second that medical schools are going to take a gamble on applicants that can't demonstrate that they really do care about their community and the public in general. Community service helps the admissions committees determine those that genuinely want to help others from those that are simply interested in the external rewards that come with being a doctor. Try to look for volunteer activities that are well aligned with what you're passionate about. For example, if you're passionate about changing the lives of communities that don't have proper access to medical care, seek out experiences that place you in that setting, where you can make a difference. If you want to improve the lives of the aging population, look for experiences in retirement and respite centers. Be sure that your experiences are true to what you're trying to accomplish. Think about what you stand for and where you want to make a difference and go from there.

Medical school requirements: Letters of Recommendation

Anyone can say “I'm great at my job, I'm the top employee” but what would that individual's supervisor say about them? Would they echo those claims or have something entirely different to say? Speaking with that individual's supervisor is the only way to know for sure and this same principle applies to students applying to medical school. Letters of recommendation give the admissions committee insight into whether or not you're as good or committed as you say you are. Generally, medical schools require three medical school reference letters to accompany your application, however, this varies between school so be sure you're aware of the number of letters your school requires, who they must be from, and whether or not there is a maximum amount you can submit.

Your lab supervisor that overlooks your daily projects or the physician that accompanies you in the back of an ambulance has first-hand knowledge as to who you are as a person, how you function in your designated role, and if you will be suitable as a medical doctor. Are you constantly trying to better yourself? Are you curious about the unknown? Do you follow instructions to a T? Do you panic in stressful situations? Do you take feedback willingly? The individuals behind letters of recommendation have the answers to all of these questions, and because members of the admissions committees can't follow you around on your experiences, they take the word of these individuals highly.

For this reason, it's very important to choose wisely when selecting where your letters of recommendation will come from. If you're unsure what an individual may say about you in a letter to medical schools, this is not the right individual to ask. Similarly, don't ask a professor to be your referee simply because you scored highly in their class. You want to form strong relationships with your mentors and supervisors and it's important to develop these connections early on in your time spent with them. Focus on putting in the effort to form these connections right away and tell your mentors about your plan to apply to medical school from the start. This will give your bond a chance to develop and grow stronger over time into a lasting, supportive relationship that results in fantastic recommendation letters. Lastly, don't wait until the last minute to ask your referees for a letter, it's best to give them at least a month's notice to fit crafting an excellent letter into their busy schedule.

Wondering how to receive outstanding letters of recommendation? Check out our video below:


Medical school requirements: Secondary Applications

Secondary applications may or may not be required depending on the medical schools you apply to, and you may not always be given the opportunity to complete them. Some medical schools send out secondaries to every student that applies to their school, while others use primary applications as a way to screen which applicants should receive secondaries. So, what are secondary applications? They are applications that are sent to students to collect more information from them, usually information that was not already provided in the primary application. They often contain a handful of questions, known as prompts, that students must answer in essay form, and return to the admissions committees. For example, UCSD secondary applications contain two mandatory prompts whereas UCLA secondary applications have 10 different prompts that require answering. The amount of time you'll have to complete your secondary essays will vary between schools, but 2-4 weeks is fairly standard. As most students apply to 15-16 medical schools, it's easy to become overwhelmed with an influx of secondaries to fill out, all at the same time, without much time to complete one, let alone a collection of them. It's therefore important to plan in advance and begin completing your medical school secondary essays ahead of time. Refer to our blog for medical school secondary essay examples to see the most common type of prompts so you can work on answering them confidently and effectively.

Medical school requirements: GPA

There is no denying that your GPA is one of the more important aspects used to determine whether or not you'll be invited to an interview, and in turn, offered acceptance. While it is possible to get into medical school with a low GPA, it's a much more difficult path, requiring extremely strong performance in all other areas. Unfortunately, no matter how excellent the rest of your application is, if you don't meet medical school GPA requirements, your application won't receive further consideration. AMCAS calculates two different GPA's, your cumulative GPA, which is your overall GPA taking into account all courses you've taken, and your Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Math (BCPM) GPA, also known as your science GPA. While both GPAs are important, admissions committees are especially interested in your science GPA, and whether or not there is consistency between the two. For example, if your overall GPA is 3.8 but your science GPA is a 3.2, it will act as a red flag to the admissions committee, telling them that you may not be able to handle the difficulty of medical school science and math courses. It's therefore important to focus intently on achieving the highest GPA possible. In addition to taking courses that meet the requirements for medical school, be sure to follow your passions and interests. Sometimes students attempt difficult courses that they are not good at and are not required, to try and impress the admissions committee. This tactic however often backfires because if you're not good at a course, you'll likely score poorer in it which will bring down your entire GPA. Your GPA is an important tool you possess to help you when you're wondering how many medical schools should I apply to, but also in determining which medical schools to target. Be sure to visit our medical school chance predictor and medical school acceptance rates blog to see how your stats compare to accepted individuals and where you have the best chances of getting accepted.

Medical school requirements: MCAT

While there are some medical schools that don't require the MCAT, many schools do. The MCAT is one of the hardest tests you'll complete in your lifetime, requiring seven and a half hours of focus and mental resilience. Nearly 1 in for 4 students have to re-take the MCAT, likely to try and improve their score to make them a more competitive applicant. Along with your GPA, the MCAT is an essential factor in determining your chances of acceptance. In order to score well, you'll have to put in some serious review and preparation time, do not underestimate the difficulty of this test. Ensure you take a MCAT CARS practice test to help you prepare. It's important to know when to start studying for the MCAT so you can create a study plan that's best suited for you. Be sure to review our blog to find out what is a good MCAT score, and keep in mind that the mean MCAT score of last year's matriculants was 511.5. The MCAT is offered at a variety of different times at different testing locations, but registration fills up quickly so ensure you're aware of available MCAT test dates well in advance of when you plan to take it.

Medical school requirements: CASPer

There is a long list of medical schools that require CASPer and it continues to grow in popularity in medical school admissions. While its creators claim its ability to assess candidate's soft skills, many studies have shown that it may not and that situational judgment tests cause bias. Still, it's being used as a way to assess candidates and determine who should and shouldn't be invited to an in-person interview. Because CASPer accounts for such a large portion of your pre-interview score, it's important for you to know how to prepare for CASPer effectively and perform well in order to be invited to continue in the admissions process. Check out CASPer sample questions and answers to get ready. The CASPer test can be completed anywhere and doesn't require you to travel to a testing center, but be sure to review CASPer test dates in advance so you can register for your preferred date and time.

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