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Medical School Requirements

Requirements for medical school and the MCAT

Most medical schools have the following common requirements for admission. Applicants need to have completed all of the courses before application, with rare exception. Many science majors will find that the science requirements are fulfilled as they complete their major course requirements, though the purpose of these requirements is to encourage students to consider any major. Indeed, medical schools highly value majors from the humanities and social sciences.  A Medical School Preparation Primer has been developed to help students think through their course selections.

The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) was overhauled for spring 2015, detailed at the MCAT 2015 web site. As of spring 2015, the general requirements for medical school and the MCAT are as follows, though some individual medical schools vary from these requirements.

  • Chemistry - 4 semesters (Atoms and Molecules (General Chemistry I), Organic Chemistry I & II, Equilibrium and Reactivity (General Chemistry II)).
  • Biology - 2 semesters (Introduction to Cellular and Molecular Biology (Biol 161), Introduction to the Functional Biology of Multicellular Organisms (Biol 162)).
  • Biochemistry - 1 semester (taken in either the chemistry or biology departments)
  • Physics - 2 semesters (Introduction to Physics I & II.  The lab is included with each course.)
  • Calculus- 1 semester (e.g. Calculus I)
  • Statistics - 1 semester (taken in either the student's major - e.g. psychology, sociology, economics, biology, mathematics etc. or MATH 220 Statistics)
  • English - 2 semesters (any English department course and an additional AP or literature course taught in English is usually acceptable)
  • Psychology - 1 semester (Introduction to Psychology)
  • Sociology - 1 semester (The Sociological Perspective)

In addition, the MCAT now includes a "Critical Analysis and Reasoning" section which requires students to understand and apply information in reading passages from a variety of disciplines, including ethics, philosophy, and social sciences, but does not assume specific knowledge of these disciplines. Students may consider taking a course in ethics to fulfill their philosophy requirement.

A note about knowledge competencies:  The AAMC describes new MCAT2015 as testing "competencies" rather than specific course content.  In response, some medical schools are changing their admissions requirements to a "knowledge competency" approach rather than specific course requirements.  However, medical schools expect these competencies will normally be met by taking traditional courses.  This competency approach does leave open the possibility of an applicant meeting competencies outside of normal courses.  For example, a biological psychology class might meet the psychology competency (rather than a traditional introductory psychology course).  Or, an applicant might acquire the competency in biochemistry by working in a professional laboratory.  However, in these cases, the applicant will have to document she or he met the competency in concrete ways - for example, by submitting a syllabus or detailed letter.

General advice

When planning courses, students should also examine requirements for individual medical schools; a growing number of medical schools require biochemistry and statistics before 2015, for example. In addition, we have developed the Medical School Preparation Primer to aid your thinking through course selections for basic sciences over four years at Holy Cross. The Biology Department also has a useful page of advice for students seeking admission to medical school, including a list of additional courses which may be helpful.  The American Association of Medical Colleges provides a wealth of information for aspiring physicians.

Early admissions for second year students: There are some opportunities for students to apply to medical school in the second year of college.  Students may consider the FlexMed program at Icahn Medical School at Mount Sinai and early admission programs at University at Buffalo (SUNY) School of Medicine and SUNY-Upstate Medical University. Applying to medical school is a very difficult decision for a second-year student to make, so any student considering this option should meet with the Associate Health Professions Advisor (or the Health Professions Advisor) to discuss these programs.

A note for international students:  Unfortunately, it is almost impossible for a non-permanent U.S. resident to gain entry into a U.S. medical school.  The AAMC reports that there were about 48,000 applicants to allopathic medical school in 2013 and 20,055 matriculated (42%).  Only 130 of the 20,055 who matriculated (0.6%) had a legal residency outside the U.S.  Overall, only about 10% of international applicants gained acceptance to a U.S. medical school.

These barriers are the product of three basic facts.  First, international students are ineligible for federal financial aid and so those requiring aid must rely on a medical school's internal resources, and very few schools can afford this.  The few medical schools that accept international students usually require students place in escrow 1-4 years of tuition and fees before starting medical school.  In addition, since medical training involves working in clinics (often in the first month of medical school), work visas may be required, and they are difficult to obtain.  Finally, with so many U.S. applicants and so few medical school and residency spots, foreign residents are at a serious disadvantage.