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Premedical Study--A Guide for First Semester Freshmen (and beyond)

The content presented on this page may also be found on the University Division website with other information for new IUB students at

Here you’ll find information to prepare you for 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.

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.

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 Admission 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, IU School of Medicine has added requirements for courses in biochemistry, psychology, and sociology.  Courses in these areas will be important for developing the competencies you will need for the MCAT exam and medical school.

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 will be offered in 2015.  Like the current exam, the revised exam will cover content in general/inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, and biology.  The revised exam will also include 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.  In the future we advise you to consult the resources of The Health Professions and Prelaw Center for periodic updates on potential changes in the MCAT exam to consider while planning your coursework for subsequent semesters.

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, so you should make sure to consult the other sections of this 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 science coursework. You should speak with an advisor at New Student Orientation regarding enrolling in the appropriate math course for you, based on placement testing. Other courses for your first semester may include English, foreign language, and courses for the major you are considering. You might also consider courses that meet the “Breadth of Inquiry” requirements for your undergraduate degree. In particular, Arts and Humanities (A&H) and Social and Historical (S&H) courses are important in helping you build the communication and analytical skills medical schools desire in applicants. 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 a psychology course (options would include PSY-P 101, 102 or 155) or the sociology course SOC-S 100, as these will also cover concepts tested on the revised MCAT exam as of 2015. 

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. In your individual academic advising session 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.

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.

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.