Pre med advice- Traditional route, advice re: preparation

Please post advise for premeds - undergraduate extracurriculars, research MCAT to help each other succeed.

Pre med is an intention and not any particular major. A pre med may major in anything so long as they have fulfilled the required prerequisite classes for medical school. Some medical schools no longer have specific course requirements but have key core competencies that can fulfilled in a variety of ways.

Medical school don’t particularly care about what major an applicant has so long as they have excelled in it and they have excelled in their science/math classes.

Additionally, premed need to fulfill these Core Competencies. The Core Competencies include Interpersonal skills and Intrapersonal skills as well as academic skills.

Pre meds are expected to participate in extracurriculars that demonstrate they understand what being a physician is like. Those ECs include:

  1. Community service with disadvantaged populations.
    Because medicine is service profession and adcomms want to see that a future physician has demonstrated that they have altruism and social/cultural competence when dealing with individuals who come from very different backgrounds than their own. Pre meds are advised to find volunteer opportunities off campus and away from their comfort zone. Work with the dying, the isolated elderly the unhoused (homeless), those with mental or physical disabilities, those who are from impoverished circumstances, those who are newly immigrated and non-English speaking, etc are all highly valued in med school admissions. Service volunteering should not be a one time thing, but an on-going process through out undergrad. Adcomms favor long term continuing service with one activity over multiple short term activities.

  2. Physician shadowing
    This is so future physicians can see what a typical day-in-the-life of a physician looks like. How physicians interact with patients, with fellow healthcare practitioners, with insurance companies, with the business office of their practice. Pre med need to understand what kind of life they are signing up for. The bulk of shadowing experience should be with primary care physicians because most med students will end up pursuing primary care specialties.

  3. Clinical volunteering or employment.
    Pre meds need long term exposure to the day-to-day of dealing with the sick, injured, dying, chronically ill, elderly demented, mentally ill, physically disabled and their families. Many clinical interactions a physicians has will be with people on the very worst days of their lives when people are stressed, angry, lashing out and unhappy. A pre med needs to understand what that is like. Not everyone is cut out for this type of life. It’s better to discover this during undergrad than during residency. It doesn’t particularly matter whether clinical experience is from a volunteer position or through paid employment. (However, paid employment often offers a better close up and more hands on experience dealing with patients. Paid employment jobs include CNA, PT Aide, therapy aide, Patient Care Assistant, ER Tech, surgical tech, medical assistant, EMT, etc.)

  4. Leadership
    Physician are the de facto leader of the healthcare team so adcomms are looking for evidence that applicants have demonstrated leadership experience. Leadership may include activities like holding office in campus clubs, but those are considered “weak” experiences. Being a TA or recitation leader is not consider leadership because these position come with built-in authority and power Stronger leadership experience would be – being military officer, a job trainer or team leader at a company or volunteer organization, officer of a company or charitable organization, elected office holder of a non-campus club or organization, youth leader at a place of worship, etc.

  5. Research experience
    Research experience is often over-valued by pre-meds and their parents. Patient-facing experience and leadership are more valuable activities, but every pre-med should have some exposure to the process of research. The purpose of research is to expose the pre-med to the methodology of research, how to develop a thesis, how to design a test procedure, how to evaluate data and reach conclusions. Physicians need to know how to read a research publication and analyze it for weaknesses, for validity, for flaws in its methodology and for over-reaches/over-generalizations in its conclusions. An exposure to research will assist them to do that because they learn to see the strengths and flaws in how research is conducted. Pre meds are not expected to have any publications as part of their CV when applying for med school. Not even at top ranked schools.

For pre-meds, having a strong GPA and sGPA (GPA for only bio, chem, physics, math classes) is extremely important. At most med schools, the first cut of applicants is made by automated software based on these 2 GPAs. Every med school will have minimum cut off for applicants. (These cutoffs are unique to each school and are never published, but generally are around 3.0-3.5.) Applications with lower GPAs may never get reviewed by a human reader.

For traditional students applying to MD programs and coming directly from undergrad, GPAs of successful applicants are in the 3.5-4.0 range. The median GPA of successful applicants was 3.7+ last year. For traditional applicants coming directly from undergrad and applying to DO programs, GPAs are in the 3.0-3.9 range, with the median being 3.45.

The MCAT is 7.5 hour long standardized exam that all med school applicants must take. It covers topics in biology, inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, genetics, physics, statistics/biostatistics, bio-social determinants of human behavior, socio-economic causes of healthcare disparities and outcomes, critical reading skills, data analysis and interpretation. Pre meds should wait until they have completed all of their pre-reqs classes before sitting for the MCAT. This usually means they will take it last spring/early summer of their junior year at the earliest.

Pre meds are advised to be one-and-done w/r/t the MCAT. Adcomms strongly prefer a strong test score from a single sitting. However, students may take the MCAT up to 7 times in a lifetime, with no more than 3 sittings in a single year. Each school follows different guideline in interpreting multiple MCAT scores from an applicant. The general guidance is that they average all scores and use the average as representative of the student’s achievement/abilities. The median MCAT score for successful MD applicants is 514 (88th percentile). The median MCAT score for successful DO applicants is 506 (66th percentile).

The last key component of a med school application are Letter of Evaluation. LOEs follow a specific format and each applicant must supply a minimum of three: two from professors who have taught the student in BCPM classes and one from a professor who has taught the student in a non-science, non-math class. A few MD schools (and all DO schools) will require a LOE from a healthcare clinician for whom the applicants has worked or volunteered with. If the applicant is applying to research intensive medical schools, a LOE from every research lab supervisor is typically expected as well.

One other factoid–the median age for starting med school is 25. Most accepted applicants (65%) take 1-3 gap years post college graduation to strengthen their ECs and earn some $$ to help defray the cost of med school applications and med school tuition. Direct from undergrad applicants and gap year applicants are considered in a single pools and compared against each other so the quality and depth of ECs matter a lot.

If you have other specific questions–please post them and we will try our best to answer them.


Thats very thorough! Thank you very much!
The clinical experience part is a Bit difficult to understand. To be a CNA…you need certification …how do you find time to get certified and that itself makes you loose so much precious time. What other options you mentioned like " patient care assistant" -----how to? any certification needed and I feel , students cannot work full-time …may be on weekends only, then how can this work …I was reading most jobs of any kind are usually during the week days.

Also summer before freshman year should count for volunteering- should we start some volunteering/shadowing this summer?
And what is the role of hospice volunteering and child life? as clinical experience- are these considered good?

Summer before undergrad will NOT count as experiences for med school applicants. HS experiences only should be included if (and only if) the same activity at the same site has been carried on during undergrad. Applicants are only allowed 10 slots on their application to fit in everything they have done/achieved during college, including awards, publications, honors, hobbies, offices held, etc. so most applicants will need to be selective about what ECs they include. The farther an experience is from the date of application the more irrelevant it becomes to adcomms. Applying to med school is all about, “What have you done lately?”

Shadowing and clinical volunteering should not be viewed as necessary checkboxes to be marked off. They are opportunities for emotional and personal growth, and they allow a pre med to become more self-reflective about why they want to pursue medicine as a career.

Hospice volunteering is a good experience for pre-meds since many students have never experienced the death of anyone they know well and never watched someone fade away day by day with the loss of dignity and autonomy that that dying brings. Child’s life can also be a good volunteer experience since it exposes an individual to the inherent unfairness of life and the suffering of children.

Be aware, however, depending upon the exact role/service a volunteer provides, these activities may not be considered actually “clinical” or “clinical enough” by some adcomms.

Most paid clinical job will require some sort of certification/state licensing. This has to do with liability and insurance issues. CNA, MA, EMT, PCT training typically involve a 1 semester long class that meets once or twice a week. Some certification classes are 6 weeks long, but hold classes 5x/week. Check your local community college. Nearly every CC offers the coursework needed for healthcare certificates. Since each state has its own specific requirements for licensing, your child should do their certificate coursework in the state where they plan to work.

There are clinical jobs that do not require any state licensing or certification. These are lower skill and lower paying jobs. Typically they have “aide” in the job title: physical therapy aide, nursing aide, therapy aide, feeding aide, ambulator (assists stroke, head injury or post surgical patients to walk), patient transporter (move patients around the hospital in a wheelchair or rolling bed).

Medical scribing is another job that doesn’t require any particular certification or licensing. Once a student is hired, the employer will provide any training needed. However, be aware that scribing is only minimally clinical since the student won’t be doing any interaction with patients, they will only be observing.

Hospitals and other clinical sites do hire part-time workers. Students can request to work only nights, only weekends or just days when they don’t have classes.


thank you again. Very helpful!
so may be the summer before freshman can be used to get CNA /EMT patient care assistant certification. …
Also, is biomedical engineering as major ok for pre med route…I know we can do any major, but will that make less Time for studying for MCAT and other prerequisites…in other words will it make it harder to do the same work/study

I always tell students transitioning to college to take some time off the enjoy their last summer without responsibilities and worries of being on the pre-med treadmill.

Your child certainly can use the time before starting undergrad to get their healthcare certification, but please check your state’s regulations. Healthcare certificates all have expiration dates after which they are no longer valid. Even those who are actually working in a healthcare job must periodically take refresher classes to keep their certification current.

BME is a fine pre med major in that encompasses most of the required pre med classes and offer better employment opportunities should a student decide not to pursue med school or not get accepted to med school. However, engineering majors tend to have lower GPA than other majors. Adcomms do not give any GPA slack for having a tough major. (Speaking as the mother of a physics major and a math major who both applied to med school…) Engineers are expected to have the same high GPA as any <insert “easy” major of your choice> major applying to med school.


I agree… light summer is better as this is a grind. Might I ask, if ok, your kids made it to med school? and what clinical experience went well for them,…if you can share …


Your replies make it sound like the expectation is that the student will start medical school immediately the fall after undergrad graduation. As @WayOutWestMom noted, the average age for starting medical school is not 22. A large %age of students do not immediately start medical school. They take that extra time to boost relevant ECs, and prepare for the MCAT…and do the applications for medical school. Do not underestimate the amount of time needed to prepare for the MCAT and the time needed to complete the 20 or more medical school applications most applicants do.

WRT those certifications. Many of the certifications can be done during the summer. As noted, check with your community colleges to see when and what they offer. If you live where there are volunteer ambulance services, give them a call. Ours offers EMT training courses with the caveat that they want you to agree to volunteer at least some for them.

If a student takes 1-3 years after graduating from undergrad, there is time to get certified and employed in any of the fields @WayOutWestMom noted. And since the student won’t be attending school, they can work full time or close to it. The Peace Corps is starting up operations in some countries. This is another option for that work…but it’s a 26 month commitment. Worth considering, as it fulfills a lot of spots…leadership (most PCVs need to be self starters and driven to complete their assignments), work with underprivileged populations (most PCVs are working in these situations).

As noted, many of the above jobs here can be part time…and in fact places like EMS love part time workers because they are paid hourly or per diem and no benefits are required to be given.

Re: preparation for the MCAT…I know students do this while they are undergrads, but frankly, I’m not sure how. Time needs to be dedicated to this on a scheduled basis…and it takes more than a couple of weeks.

Med school applications are costly and time consuming. The initial application is one thing…but also there are secondary applications that just about every medical school sends to each applicant. And those secondaries are not all the same…and take time…and have a very short turnaround window. Again…most applicants apply to 20 or more medical schools. So…remember the time…and the cost…for those.

Students should be able to have significant shadowing experiences during school breaks, summers, and some during the academic year at college if there is the opportunity nearby.


Thank you. We know that there can be gap years…but we just came off BS/MD and now the thought of taking forever …is scary…but we do understand that’s how it works.

If your student is in a guaranteed BS/MD direct admit program, they won’t have time off unless they request a gap year. I believe.

I will be honest. I’m not a huge fan of the BS/MD route because I’m just not convinced that any 17 year old really understands what it takes to be a doctor when making these applications. I also strongly feel that college is a time to learn about fields other than the one you absolutely think you love…because you just might change your mind.

Sample of one. One of my kids has an undergrad degree in engineering…but never will be an engineer. Loved the coursework, hated the notion of working in that field. Picked up a second major that much more suited interests and eventual probable career. Point being…college students sometimes changes their minds…and they should be allowed to do so.


Yes, both my children were accepted into med school. In fact, both are accepted into multiple med schools. One had a top 10 acceptance and turned it down to attend her state med school. (Cost difference was over $350K and she liked the idea of being able to choose her specialty without the specter of any debt hanging over her head. She in her first choice of specialty, finishing residency at a top program and is on track for a career in academic medicine. Her sister also graduated our low cost state med school and then did her residency in her first choice specialty at an Ivy. She decided against an academic career.)

As far clinical experiences: one was a AEMT who did Mountain Search and Rescue. She also volunteered in the Emergency Department at a local hospital. her sister’s interest & activities were far different.
My other daughter was a neuro-rehab therapy aide. She was a Amgen Scholar who did research in neuro-oncology therapies and their efficacies. (This involved, among other things, interviewing patients about the side effects of their therapies.) She also worked for 2 years as a clinical research program manager in neuro-psychiatry at a top 10 med school after undergrad.

Personal note–one chose a specialty suggested by her college ECs; one did not.


Agree… BSMD are usually parental aspirations (not all of them though)…and most kids tend to go along and make it big…
As schools , at least not our high school provided kids with any idea about BS/MD route or any guidance at all…

Thank you for sharing. Its great to know both your kids made it…what a relief it must be …We look forward to your continuing advise …

They did it all on their own.

And if they hadn’t made into med school, both had Plan B career options. Every pre-med needs to have a strong Plan B career option because nothing in life is certain.

The physics major would have gone into Medical Physics (she’d already been accepted into the grad program when her med school acceptance came) and would have had a career in managing radiation oncology treatment facilities.

The math major would have gone into a MPH program in biostatistics and hoped to work at the NIH designing clinical trial protocols or doing analysis of clinical trial results.

In the end, both would have had satisfying and comfortably well paying careers in their alternate career pathways. Probably with much less stress, less burnout and better work-life balance than they currently experience as practicing physicians. So I am very proud of their accomplishments, but ambivalent about their choice of medicine as career.


Wow! that’s great. Physicians do have a tougher but I think satisfying lives…

How is public health as a major? I heard that not many who major in public health make into med school…I wonder why…does not make sense though…
But I think, one could major in biology/biochem and if cannot make med school…MPH (masters public health) can be done after any biological major I guess.

To work in the field of public health, one needs at least a masters degree…an MPH. Many people getting MPH degrees have undergrad degrees in something else. The masters and doctoral folks we know who are working in this field had undergrad degrees in things like Spanish, political science, health sciences, history, English. They then got masters and/or doctorates in Public Health.

As noted above someplace. Really you can have any undergrad major…it doesn’t matter at all…as long as you complete the required courses for medical school applicants. Frankly…I would let the student choose their undergrad major….something they enjoy and like.

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The way you list your experiences on aamc say that they need to be from college but the way you write about them varies. Let us say your kid is a dancer or a specific sports player and you are adding it as extra curricular - it doesn’t matter that it says only college because the experience can start at age 3 or whatever.

It is similar for volunteering, shadowing or research. If you publish a paper based on your high school research, it still counts and people do know it was work from high school. You need to look for continuity to count your summer before college or else forget it.

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There are not that many schools that offer public health as an undergrad major. Nearly every job in public health requires a MPH.

FYI–specialized health sciences is a category of majors that may or may not include public health majors. Specialized health sciences are fields like nutrition, dietetics, athletic training, nursing, CLS/med tech, kinesiology, dental hygiene, pre-OT, pre-SLP, etc.

The speculation is that the reason why these majors do worse in med school admission is that most of them are pre-professional majors for other healthcare careers and med schools are reluctant to poach health care providers from other badly need service areas. It could also be that the median MCAT scores and GPAs for specialize health majors are lower than those from other major categories so that these applicants are on the whole less competitive to start with.

I personally know of two public health majors who were accepted to med school and have done just fine for themselves.

P.S. Texaspg is correction about publications. Publications are like herpes—they never go away. Any publication not matter where in an individual’s academic career it occurs is always included on a CV.

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is there a way to get statistics -what percentage of premeds in a given university go to med school?