Premedical Guide for New Incoming Students
This section provides information on planning for admission to medical school, beginning with your first semester in college. When you meet with an academic advisor during New Student Orientation, make sure to mention your plan to follow a premed preparatory program; you’ll be subscribed to the HPPLC mailing list and receive invitations to participate in premed events, including the Premed Orientation Meeting in the fall. Consult University Division resources for more information on planning for summer orientation.
Description of the Profession
Physicians and surgeons serve a fundamental role in our society and have an effect upon all our lives. They diagnose illnesses and prescribe and administer treatment for people suffering from injury or disease. Physicians examine patients, obtain medical histories, and order, perform, and interpret diagnostic tests. They counsel patients on diet, hygiene, and preventive healthcare.
What Should You Consider about this Profession?
If you’re thinking about becoming a physician, you’ll need strong skills in math and science and the ability to complete a rigorous set of courses before starting medical school, as well as the stamina to complete an extremely rigorous medical education program. You will need to be able to synthesize a great deal of complex information. As a physician many people will depend on you for care. You will need to develop good communication skills, and a capacity to provide comfort and support to people who are vulnerable and facing illness.
Choosing Your Degree and Major
Many incoming premed students want to know what the best major is for students who plan to attend medical school. There is no “best major” for medical school. IUB does not offer a “premed major,” and medical schools aren’t necessarily looking to admit students who have completed a program called a “premed major.” Instead, they admit a variety of students who have built strong intellectual skills through a variety of undergraduate majors, whether in the sciences or nonsciences. You can select any major IUB offers and combine it with the courses required for admission to medical school. You can select either a science or non-science major. (For more advice concerning the decision on a major click here).
Keep in mind that there doesn’t need to be an obvious connection between your major and medicine. Medical schools do not select students on the basis of the majors they have pursued. Instead they look at an applicant’s skills and abilities as reflected in the application.
So, what do medical schools want in an applicant? Medical schools look for students with a very strong foundation in the sciences but also other types of abilities: good analytical, problem-solving, and communication skills. You have to have strong abilities in the sciences, but you don’t have to major in a science field. Good physicians need good problem-solving and communication skills. Medical schools are also seeking students who have developed an understanding of human behavior and respect for cultural diversity.
Building the necessary skills for medical school requires developing a strong foundation in the sciences. Your premed science coursework will help you do this. You’ll also need to build excellent communication and analytical skills. Coursework in the humanities and social sciences will help you in these areas.
Consult University Division resources on exploring majors at IU.
Bachelor of Arts Versus Bachelor of Science
Many students wonder whether a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science degree is more attractive to med schools, when the reality is that these schools don’t have a preference, although there are differences in these degrees. Generally with a B.S. you’ll complete more coursework up to a more advanced level in your major field, whereas with a B.A., you’ll be required to complete fewer courses in your major, leaving more room for a variety of coursework in other fields. A Bachelor of Arts degree could provide advantages in giving your education greater breadth, something medical schools find appealing in the background of applicants. On the other hand, if you’re interested in pursuing a career in medical research or having a greater depth in the life sciences, you might want to consider a Bachelor of Science degree.
Medical School Admissions Requirements
While you can select any major or degree, you must complete some very rigorous courses in the sciences to be admitted to medical school. Most medical schools currently require that students complete at least one year of college coursework (including both lecture and lab components) in biology, general/inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics to meet their admission requirements (for more specific information on medical school admission requirements, please consult this page on the HPPLC website). These core courses in the sciences will provide important preparation for the MCAT exam. In addition, some schools have added requirements for courses in biochemistry, psychology, and sociology, and courses in these areas will be important for developing the competencies you will need for the MCAT exam. Many medical schools also require one or two semesters of English.
If you would like to go straight to medical school right after graduation you should plan to complete the necessary premed coursework by the spring of your junior year so you will be prepared to take the MCAT and apply early in the summer between your junior and senior year. A new, revised version of the MCAT exam was introduced in 2015. Like the older version, the revised exam covers content in general/inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, and biology. The new exam also includes additional content in biochemistry, cellular/molecular biology, behavioral sciences (psychology and sociology), and statistical reasoning. You should complete coursework in these areas prior to the MCAT.
Your Course Load
A normal course load for most preprofessional students is 14-16 total credit hours. That means you’ll probably be enrolling in from four to six classes. During New Student Orientation, an academic advisor will help you double-check your options, choose appropriate courses, and plan an appropriate course load in which you’ll be able to be successful. To earn strong grades and succeed in being admitted, most premed students need to devote about 30 hours per week outside of class to studying and class preparation.
Planning Your Fall Course Options
For your fall semester, you should begin with completing at least one premed science course, but you’ll also need to complete other coursework for your particular undergraduate degree and major. Consult the University Division website on how to plan your fall course schedule for any of the majors you are considering.
As a premed student, you have many chemistry courses to complete, so if you are prepared you should enroll in chemistry during your first semester in college, or the second semester at the latest. As a first step toward completing chemistry requirements, you should complete CHEM-C 117 Principles of Chemistry and Biochemistry I (lecture) and CHEM-C 127 (lab). However, some students will need to complete a preparatory course before they are ready for CHEM-C 117/127. In order to determine your placement into chemistry, you should take the Chemistry Placement Exam.
If for some reason you don’t enroll in chemistry your first semester, we recommend you enroll in a biology premed course, such as BIOL-L 112, if you have the appropriate chemistry background already. If you’re an extremely strong student in the sciences you could consider enrolling in both chemistry and biology coursework for your first semester. However, be aware that many students are surprised by how challenging and time-consuming introductory biology and chemistry courses can be. Before enrolling in more than one science course for the fall, be sure to discuss your science background with an academic advisor.
During your first semester at IUB, you will also need to enroll in other courses besides your premed coursework, including courses for the major(s) you are considering and courses that fulfill General Education requirements at IUB. You should speak with an advisor at New Student Orientation regarding enrolling in the appropriate math course for you, based on placement testing. Arts and Humanities (A&H) and Social and Historical (S&H) courses are important in helping you build the communication and analytical skills that medical schools desire in applicants. You may wish to consider a psychology course or sociology course to help with preparation for the MCAT and meet medical school admissions requirements. For psychology, options would include PSY-P 101, 102 or 155. For sociology, you could consider enrolling in SOC-S 100, or the section of SOC-S 101 Social Problems and Policies with the topic Medicine in America. World Languages and Cultures courses can deepen your understanding of the ideas and values of different cultures and help you develop skills and competencies important for working with a diverse patient population. You may wish to consider completing English coursework as many medical schools require one or two semesters of English.
Other Activities for Premed Students During the First Year of College
For the first year of college, other activities you may consider include gaining clinical experience through shadowing physicians and volunteering in a medical environment, as well as other community service activities. You should also attend HPPLC events.
However, you should be aware most premed students find their first semester taking college-level science coursework surprisingly challenging, so don’t feel the urge to overload yourself with extracurricular activities. You may wish to set up job shadowing with physicians during your breaks from school so you can explore further your interest in medicine and confirm whether it’s the path you want to pursue for your career. Your main focus during the academic year should be on excelling in your studies. To succeed in being admitted to medical school, premed students need to consistently study about thirty hours per week.
Many premed students find the science coursework challenging, so if you know you want to pursue a career in healthcare, but decide you are unsure about the career of a physician, there are many other fulfilling health professions you could pursue. Consult the HPPLC website for more information on preparing for medical school and services for premed students.
We encourage you to read the HPPLC publication, Preparing for Medical School: A Guide for Freshmen and Sophomores, for additional helpful advice!