Pre-Med Requirements – 2024 Guide

April 22, 2024

pre-med course requirements

Are you interested in becoming a doctor? Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to pursue an official pre-med major to get into medical school. Med schools accept students coming from a range of disciplines, and with varying academic and extracurricular interests. However, most med students have followed some kind of pre-med track, which involves a certain number of science, math, and other requirements. Continue reading for information on pre-med course requirements, as well as other considerations for successfully applying to medical school.

How long does a pre-med course of study take?

The pre-med track generally takes around 4-years to complete. Often, college students begin this track in freshman or sophomore year by taking introductory-level science classes, followed by increasingly advanced coursework. Students can major in a variety of areas and still complete these course requirements, depending on the setup of the university. For instance, a student might double major in Anthropology and Chemistry, or major in Philosophy with a minor in Physics, and still manage to complete the pre-med track by the end of senior year.

While the pre-med track often takes 4-years, some students also choose to enroll in accelerated BS/MD programs, which allow them to finish their pre-med coursework in 3-years. Other students might not complete their pre-med coursework in undergraduate at all, instead enrolling in an accelerated post-baccalaureate program before applying for med school. In other words, there isn’t one best way to complete pre-med course requirements, rather, you can determine your pre-med track based on your learning style and practical needs.

Pre-med course requirements and recommendations

Medical schools vary as to their coursework prerequisites, but most require that students have completed a certain number of credits in Biology, Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, and Physics by graduation. Many med schools also expect a certain number of semesters in Math, Writing, and/or Behavioral Sciences.

Let’s take Harvard Medical School, the top program in the U.S. News and World Report ranking. In order to attend this top program, students are required to take the following credits.

  • Biology: 1 year with lab experience is required, and these courses must include cellular and molecular aspects.
  • Chemistry/Biochemistry: 2-years (4 semesters) of courses are required, including inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, and biochemistry with lab experience. AP credits that enable students to take a higher-level course can satisfy 1 semester of inorganic chemistry.
  • Physics: 1 year is required with preferred lab experience. At least 1 year of calculus-based physics is encouraged.
  • Writing: 1 year of writing required, preferably through writing-intensive courses. Humanities or social science courses involving substantial expository writing can also satisfy this requirement.

In addition to these requirements, Harvard Medical School applicants are encouraged to take:

  • Behavioral Sciences: Applicants are encouraged to complete coursework related to psychology, sociology, or other behavioral sciences.
  • Math: 1 year of math coursework is encouraged, including 1-semester of calculus and 1 semester of statistics (preferably biostatistics).

Courses that are sometimes recommended for pre-med students include genetics, ethics, public health, human anatomy, and foreign languages, among others. Even if your top choice programs don’t require or recommend these courses, they may help to prepare you for med school and a career as a physician.

Possible college majors for pre-med students

While there is no specific major requirement for pre-med, majoring in certain disciplines can help you to cover the required coursework as part of your bachelor’s degree. Here are some ideas for college majors if you’re thinking of following the pre-med track.

Biology: Probably the greatest percentage of medical students have studied biology in college, which makes sense since requirements for biology majors and for the pre-med track overlap significantly. Majoring in biology involves studying the principles of life processes on molecular, cellular, organismal, and ecological levels.

Chemistry: Another popular major for pre-med students, chemistry involves exploring the chemical basis of matter (physical substance). What are things chemically made of, and how do these chemicals behave? Chemistry majors must take a variety of both inorganic and organic chemistry classes, which prove useful for checking off pre-med requirements.

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Psychology: Psychology majors study the science of human behavior and mental processes, examining the mind, brain, and human and animal social interactions. There are a number of overlaps between the medical and psychological fields. Focuses of the psychology field include social, cognitive, abnormal, developmental, and clinical psychology. In addition, psych majors are often required to take courses such as neurobiology, as well as outside natural science courses, which help with pre-med requirements.

Philosophy: Humanities disciplines (including philosophy, English, religion, arts, and more) are less popular for pre-med students, though they have some advantages. In general, humanities can lead students to become more well-rounded and skilled in critical thinking than students who focus solely on natural sciences. Majoring in philosophy in particular can also help you to understand ethics around medicine. While it could be difficult to check off your pre-med requirements as a philosophy major, these prerequisites can be covered through a double major or minor.

Math: While math is not the most popular major for pre-med students, those who major in math (both calculus-based and statistics) practice logical and creative thinking that can help prepare them for medical school. Math majors also tend to have high MCAT scores.

Other pre-med requirements

As you complete your pre-med course requirements, you should also consider other elements of your medical school application, especially if you plan to go straight from college into med school. To apply for med school, you should first complete a general application, administered by the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS). Then you will complete a second application sent by the individual medical school. For one or both of these applications, you will need to submit the following elements:

MCAT Scores

 Designed to assess problem-solving and critical thinking skills, the MCAT exam is required by almost all U.S. medical schools. Med schools often filter out applicants who don’t meet certain MCAT and GPA requirements, so be sure to study and take regular practice exams beforehand.

Personal Statement

 Topics for medical school personal statements can vary, but usually applicants are asked to explore the reasons for pursuing a career in medicine. This might involve describing an event that has shaped your path, as well as your passions, achievements, and interests.

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Letters of Rec

 Usually three letters of recommendation are required for med school applications. It’s a good idea to get two of these letters from science faculty members and one from a non-science professor, though this may vary depending on the school (be sure to read the application instructions carefully). If your college has a pre-med committee, one of the letters should come from a committee member.


 Medicine-relevant extracurricular activities to list on your application might include clinical research, clinical internship experience, and/or volunteer work. Medical schools also want to see that you’re a well-rounded person, which means that non-medical extracurriculars are also valuable. Don’t be afraid to list your dance group, chess club, intramural sports, or volunteer work with kids. You will likely be asked to write a short essay on each of your three most important extracurriculars.

20 Great Colleges for Pre-med

Here are 20 colleges and universities with excellent pre-med tracks to begin your search (listed in alphabetical order). These private and public colleges are highly ranked and competitive to get into (not to mention steep annual tuition, especially at private schools), so keep in mind that there are many more options. Any undergraduate institution with a strong science program can be great for the pre-med track. For more information, check out this article on top feeders into medical school

1) Amherst College (Amherst, Massachusetts)

  • Public/Private: Private
  • Acceptance Rate: 7%
  • Ranking: #2 in National Liberal Arts Colleges
  • Tuition: $67,280

2) University of California, Berkeley (Berkeley, California)

  • Public/Private: Public
  • Acceptance Rate: 11%
  • Ranking: #15 in National Universities
  • Tuition: $48,465 (out-of-state); $15,891 (in-state)

3) University of California, Irvine (Irvine, California)

  • Public/Private: Public
  • Acceptance Rate: 21%
  • Ranking: #33 in National Universities
  • Tuition: $47,759 (out-of-state); $15,185 (in-state)

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4) University of California, Los Angeles (Los Angeles, California)

  • Public/Private: Public
  • Acceptance Rate: #15 in National Universities
  • Ranking: 9%
  • Tuition: $46,326 (out-of-state); $13,752 (in-state)

5) Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland, Ohio)

  • Public/Private: Private
  • Acceptance Rate: 27%
  • Ranking: #53 in National Universities
  • Tuition: $62,234

6) Cornell University (Ithaca, New York)

  • Public/Private: Private
  • Acceptance Rate: 7%
  • Ranking: #12 in National Universities
  • Tuition: $66,014

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7) Duke University (Durham, North Carolina)

  • Public/Private: Private
  • Acceptance Rate: 6%
  • Ranking: #7 in National Universities
  • Tuition: $66,172

8) Georgetown University (Washington D.C.)

  • Public/Private: Private
  • Acceptance Rate: 12%
  • Ranking: #33 in National Universities
  • Tuition: $65,082

9) Harvard University (Cambridge, Massachusetts)

  • Public/Private: Private
  • Acceptance Rate: 3%
  • Ranking: #3 in National Universities
  • Tuition: $59,076

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10) Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, Maryland)

  • Public/Private: Private
  • Acceptance Rate: 7%
  • Ranking: #9 in National Universities
  • Tuition: $63,340

11) University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (Champaign, Illinois)

  • Public/Private: Public
  • Acceptance Rate: 45%
  • Ranking: #35 in National Universities
  • Tuition: #36,068 (out-of-state); $17,572 (in-state)

12) University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, Michigan)

  • Public/Private: Public
  • Acceptance Rate: 18%
  • Ranking: #21 in National Universities
  • Tuition: $57,273 (out-of-state); $17,786 (in-state)

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13) University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, North Carolina)

  • Public/Private: Public
  • Acceptance Rate: 17%
  • Ranking: #22 in National Universities
  • Tuition: $39,338 (out-of-state); $8,998 (in-state)

14) Northwestern University (Evanston, Illinois)

  • Public/Private: Private
  • Acceptance Rate: 7%
  • Ranking: #9 in National Universities
  • Tuition: $65,997

15) Swarthmore College (Swarthmore, PA)

  • Public/Private: Private
  • Acceptance Rate: 7%
  • Ranking: #4 in National Liberal Arts Colleges
  • Tuition: $62,412

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16) University of Texas, Austin (Austin, Texas)

  • Public/Private: Public
  • Acceptance Rate: 31%
  • Ranking: #32 in National Universities
  • Tuition: $41,070 (out-of-state); $11,698 (in-state)

17) Vanderbilt University (Nashville, Tennessee)

  • Public/Private: Private
  • Acceptance Rate: 7%
  • Ranking: #18 in National Universities
  • Tuition: $63,946

18) University of Virginia (Charlottesville, Virginia)

  • Public/Private: Public
  • Acceptance Rate: 19%
  • Ranking: #24 in National Universities
  • Tuition: $58,950 (out-of-state); $22,323 (in-state)

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19) University of Washington (Seattle, Washington)

  • Public/Private: Public
  • Acceptance Rate: 48%
  • Ranking: #40 in National Universities
  • Tuition: $41,997 (out-of-state); $12,643 (in-state)

20) University of Wisconsin, Madison (Madison, Wisconsin)

  • Public/Private: Public
  • Acceptance Rate: 49%
  • Ranking: #35 in National Universities
  • Tuition: $40,603 (out-of-state); $11,205 (in-state)

Final thoughts – Pre Med Course Requirements 

Hopefully, you’ve found some useful tips on pre-med requirements and planning for medical school applications. For more information on preparing for a career in medicine, we recommend the following articles: