Getting into Medical School:
Frequently Asked Questions
What are course requirements for pre-medicine?
Minimal requirements for admission to medical school: 1 year of general chemistry; 1 year of organic chemistry; 1 year of physics; 1 year of biology; 1 year of math including calculus; English composition and literature. All of the required science courses must have laboratories.
Physics: Physics taught at BSC is calculus based. Calculus based physics best teaches the problem-solving, critical thinking skills needed for the MCAT, and thus students are strongly advised to take calculus based physics rather than trigonometry based physics. However, medical schools do not require completion of one-year of calculus based physics for admission; one-year of trigonometry based physics is acceptable.
Biology: The Biology faculty strongly recommends 4 terms of Biology (115,125, 215, 303) even though only two terms are minimally required by medical schools. Beginning with the class of 2012, students will have to take a one term introductory biochemistry course in order to prepare for the MCAT beginning in 2015. However, this biochemistry course does not have to have a laboratory component. Medical schools may recommend additional biology courses such as cell biology, embryology and/or comparative anatomy, but these are not required for admission.
Mathematics: Beginning with the class of 2012 students should plan on taking a course in statistics in preparation for the new MCAT that begins spring of 2015. Our MA 207 course would fulfill this requirement and would serve as one of the terms of mathematics required for admission into medical school.
Medical schools may have specific requirements in addition to those listed above. Students should check the catalogue of schools to which they plan to apply to insure that all admission requirements have been met.
The UAB Medical School catalog states, "GENERAL PREPARATION. The study of medicine requires a high degree of competence in communication skills and thorough preparation in mathematically based physical and biological sciences. In addition, an understanding of general psychology, other social and natural sciences, and the humanities is highly desirable. Applicants should recognize that a well-rounded general education is exceedingly more important as a preparation for the study of medicine and they should not limit themselves to scientific courses. The Committee on Admissions places more importance on the quality of the applicant's undergraduate work than on the subject matter taken. The College courses taken to satisfy all requirements for admission must be acceptable to the department offering that course toward major requirements. Courses, which either duplicate or anticipate courses in the medical curriculum are not recommended. All courses must be taken in a fully accredited institution or be acceptable to an accredited institution for degree credit."
The comments expressed in this paragraph are similar to those in other catalogs.
When should I take these courses?
Required prerequisite science courses should be completed by the end of the junior year in order to be adequately prepared for taking the Medical College Admission Test. The MCAT is given multiple times between April and September of each year. Most students take the MCAT in late spring or early summer and if their performance is not satisfactory repeat the test later in the summer
Is there a special sequence to taking the courses?
Typically students must begin with either Biology or Chemistry as a first term freshman.
Doubling up on science courses is strongly discouraged the first term. Students who perform very well in the fall term may double up in the spring term of the freshman year, although it is not necessary. General chemistry is typically offered in the summer at BSC but required biology and physics courses as well as organic chemistry is not offered as part of BSC’s summer school program. Students should work carefully with an advisor or a science faculty member in planning course schedules.
What should I major in?
Anything you want to! You should major in a subject area you find enjoyable and one in which you do well. Consideration should also be given to career options should medical school not be in your future. Medical schools do NOT favor one major over another.
What are the criteria for entering medical school?
MCAT. The importance of performing well on the test cannot be over estimated. The maximum score possible is 45. The average MCAT score of students accepted to UAB and USA varies from year to year but is normally between 29-30. Other schools differ. The test consists of 3 sections, verbal reasoning, physical sciences, and biological sciences. Each section has a maximum score of 15. In addition, there is an essay component that is given a letter grade of L to R with R being the highest score possible. Emphasis is on reading comprehension, problem solving and critical thinking. (Note: The MCAT changes format and content coverage beginning in 2015. See the pre-health advisor for additional information if you enter BSC in 2012 or later.)
Review for the MCAT is strongly encouraged. This can be done on your own or by using one of the available published manuals or review courses. For example, the KAPLAN Center offers a MCAT review course each spring (cost approximately $2,000). MCAT review manuals are also available in some bookstores. BSC does not offer a MCAT review.
GPA. A strong GPA both overall and in science/mathematics is required. A 4.0 GPA is not required. The average GPA of students admitted to UAB and USA is approximately 3.7. Important: A STRONG MCAT SCORE CAN OVERCOME A SO-SO GPA. A STRONG GPA CANNOT COMPENSATE FOR A SO-SO MCAT.
PRE-HEALTH EXPERIENCE. Medical schools look for candidates who have a realistic view of health care and such a view can come only from personal, pre-health experiences. BSC offers Exploration term internships each January and the opportunity to participate in the mentor program. Both are voluntary but strongly encouraged. Additional experience should be gained from volunteer work, summer jobs, and part-time academic year jobs. Don't wait until your junior year to begin these experiences. Experiences should be in a variety of health care settings.
COMMUNITY SERVICE EXPERIENCES. Do some! BSC offers community service opportunities through the Bunting Center, service learning, and Exploration term experiences. As with pre-health experiences, don't wait until the junior year to begin.
EXTRA-CURRICULAR ACTIVITIES. Medical schools want people with good leadership skills and well-rounded experiences. Active participation in campus organizations is encouraged. Leadership positions are important. However, don't pad your resume with memberships in many organizations in which you have been inactive. Select activities carefully and budget time wisely. The quality of the extra-curricular activities is more important than the quantity.
HEALTH PROFESSIONS ADVISORY COMMITTEE (HPAC) RECOMMENDATION. If the above mentioned activities are strong, the HPAC letter will be positive.
INTERVIEW. If the above mentioned activities are strong, you will be invited for an interview at the medical school. Students who have very strong credentials on paper may still be rejected if they make a poor impression on the interview committee. BSC offers simulated interviews in September and juniors and seniors are encouraged to participate. A hand-out on interviewing tips is available to rising seniors.
Where should I apply?
The association of American Medical Colleges publishes "Medical School Admission Requirements" each year. A copy is available in the office of the secretary for Science and Mathematics, SSC 128. The paperback describes general information about medical schools, curriculum, admission requirements, selection factors, financial aid information, and statistics on the previous year's class. In general, state supported (public) medical schools give preference to in-state students. You should contact medical schools in which you are interested to determine residency requirements. Private medical schools often do not exhibit geographic preferences but entry requirements are usually higher.
What are my options if I don't get in?
Students rejected on their first try often re-apply. Additional work experience in a health care area, taking additional courses, particularly at the graduate level, and retaking the MCAT may strengthen the chances of success on the second try. Post-baccalaureate programs are also available at a number of institutions and success in one of these may improve your chances of being admitted to medical school. (Note: If you seek advice from one of the Directors of Admissions at one of the medical schools, it is imperative that you follow that advice. These individuals typically keep records of such advice and if you fail to follow recommendations given, it will make it more difficult for you to gain admission when you reapply.)
Beginning a graduate school program while planning to re-apply to medical school is discouraged, unless you are sure you will have completed it prior to matriculation at the medical school.
Allied health careers are also available to students whose credentials are not acceptable for medical school or for those who do wish to enter medical school but are interested in patient care. Talk to the pre-health advisor for information on some of the allied health career options. Do not wait until your senior year to identify alternative career options.
Who can help me plan?
- Your faculty advisor can help plan course schedules and identify specific contact persons for answers to more difficult questions.
- The chair of HPAC can provide information on the work of the Committee and timetable for required paperwork. This information is also available in a handout that can be picked up from the office of the secretary of Science and Mathematics, SSC 128.
- Michael Lebeau coordinates the pre-health interviews and the mentor program.
Don't hesitate to seek help. All members of the College community are here to help guide you through your stay at BSC.