Frequently Asked Questions for Students
Course Selection & Requirements
- What are medical schools looking for?
- What are the course requirements?
- Can I use AP credits to fulfill premed requirements?
- Can I take another reading and writing course in place of English?
- Do I have to major in science?
- Can I take courses pass/fail?
- Can I take required pre med courses in the summer?
- I would really like to study abroad but am worried it will interfere with my preparation for medical school.
- Can I take my pre med requirements abroad?
- What kind of extracurricular experiences should I seek?
- Is it important for me to volunteer in a clinically-related setting?
- Is lab research important for admission to medical school?
Applying to Medical School
- Should I be thinking about letters of recommendation for medical school?
- What kinds of grades will I need to be accepted?
- Do medical schools make allowances for Haverford College’s rigor?
- What can I do if my dream is to become a doctor, but my grades are not strong enough?
- Is it okay to take time off between college and medical school?
Course Selection & Requirements
What are medical schools looking for?
Medical schools look for candidates who have demonstrated both general academic strength and especial aptitude in the sciences, through their mastery of a challenging curriculum, excellent grades, and strong MCAT scores. A student has the greatest chance of success getting into medical school with a GPA of 3.5 or higher and an MCAT score of 30 or higher. In addition, medical schools also look for individuals with strong interpersonal skills, a demonstrated dedication to serving others, and a clear and mature understanding of medicine as a career.
What are the course requirements?
Math requirements range from none to a full year of calculus, depending on the school. Other core requirements are: two semesters of biology; four of chemistry; two of physics; and two of English or humanities. For more information see the Course Requirements & Curriculum Summary page.
Can I use AP credits to fulfill premed requirements?
AP credits may NOT be used to fulfill science requirements, but they can be used to fulfill some, or all of the Math requirements, depending on the school. See the Course Requirements & Curriculum Summary page for more information. If you use an AP credit to place out of an introductory science course, then you must replace it with an upper level course in that department. For instance, if you take Chemistry 105, in most cases you will still want to take one more chemistry course beyond your year of Organic Chemistry, such as Chem/Bio 300a (Superlab).
Can I take another reading and writing course in place of English?
Some medical schools accept any humanities or writing intensive course in place of an English course. Others, however, are very restrictive about requiring courses only from an English department. If you have an interest in a particular medical school, you should check its webpage, ask the pre health advisor, or check the list of school-specific English Requirements.
Do I have to major in science?
Major in what interests you the most. Medical schools are looking for individuals who are intellectually curious, not for people who are trying to follow a formula that they think will lead to success. That being said, no matter your major you must do well in your pre-medical course work. If you are not a science major, we strongly recommend that you take additional upper-level science classes in order to demonstrate your proficiency in science and to solidify your preparation for a medical school curriculum.
Can I take required pre med courses in the summer?
Yes, as long as it is at an accredited four-year U.S. college or university, and it is a lab course normally taken by that school’s pre-med students. If you want to transfer the credit to Haverford College, check first with the department in question (Chemistry, Physics, Biology). You do not need to transfer credit to have it count for medical school application purposes, however. Since medical schools admissions like to see that you can handle the sciences along with the rest of your course work, it is best not to use this option too often.
Explain the MCAT.
The MCAT is the standardized test required by all medical and osteopathic schools. (It can also be used by public health schools in many cases.) It is a full-day exam, offered on-line at test centers from January through September. It contains sections on verbal reasoning, biological sciences, physical sciences and a writing sample. See the MCAT Test-taking Guide for more information.
Can I take a lighter course load while I am studying for the MCAT?
If possible, it is best to take a full load of courses each semester. Medical schools want to be sure that you can handle a tough curriculum. There are occasional situations allowing for exceptions to this rule, including family problems, health issues, or burnout. Come talk to Michele if there is a problem.
I would really like to study abroad but am worried it will interfere with my preparation for medical school.
Don’t miss the opportunity to experience another culture and way of looking at the world if that appeals to you. Later on you may not have the chance to pursue such experiences. Furthermore, medical schools appreciate applicants who are culturally sensitive. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that if you go abroad it may be easier for you to apply to medical school in your senior year or later, rather than to rush to complete all requirements and activities by the end of your junior year. Remember that the average age of med school matriculants is 24. For more information on study abroad, see the International Academic Programs' Pre-med page.
What kind of extracurricular experiences should I seek?
Again, there is no formula for getting into medical school. It is most important that you commit to a few things that genuinely attract you – activities that suit your personality, interests and intellectual or avocational proclivities. Engage in them consistently and meaningfully, rather than dabbling in lots of different activities without contributing much. Pre medical students have been active in sports, on student and college committees, as tutors and student advisors, and especially in community service.
Is it important for me to volunteer in a clinically-related setting?
This is an increasingly important factor for medical school admissions members who look for applicants with realistic notions of what medical training and a career in medicine involve. (This is not quite as important for M.D./Ph.D. applicants who should focus their efforts on gaining extensive research experience.) Volunteer work in a clinic or hospital, shadowing a physician, working with hospice, as an EMT, or in a nursing home, can help an applicant gain a mature understanding of the practice of medicine and what it is like to work with patients. See Volunteering / Clinical Experience for more information on volunteer opportunities.
Is lab research important for admission to medical school?
It is not essential, unless you are applying to M.D./Ph.D. programs. (In order to be considered seriously for those programs, you will need two years of research experience.) However, if you are interested in a particular research project, by all means take advantage of an opportunity to engage in it. It certainly will be a plus on an application.
Applying to Medical School
Should I be thinking about letters of recommendation for medical school?
When you apply to medical school, you will need to have 5-6 letters of recommendation from faculty, supervisors, coaches, etc. These letters will be submitted to the Pre-Health Office and incorporated into your Pre-Medical School Committee Letter Packet. As you go through your undergraduate career, take advantage of opportunities to get to know Haverford’s accessible faculty (i.e., go to office hours and study sessions), and when you are applying to medical school, contact the individuals who know you best for recommendation letters. For more information, see the Guide for Applicants.
What kinds of grades will I need to be accepted?
As you can see from the Predicted Probability of Medical School Admission graph below, admission to medical school depends on a variety of factors beyond numbers. However, you can also see from the graph that your chances of admission are 50% or higher mostly if your GPA is 3.5 or above, and your MCAT is 30 or above. The most competitive schools accept students with GPAs in the 3.8 plus range, with MCATs in the mid-30s or above. There are some few exceptions to this, and you should discuss your own situation with Michele.
Do medical schools make allowances for Haverford College’s rigor?
Many medical schools are cognizant of Haverford’s excellent academics, talented students, and intellectual rigor. They frequently consider our applicants with grades that are slightly lower than those of their typically admitted students, however, it is important to keep in mind that medical school admissions is a competitive business! Your performance in science and non-science classes is a key factor in admissions success.
What can I do if my dream is to become a doctor, but my grades are not strong enough?
It is important that you assess your strengths realistically. If you love the idea of serving others but in all honesty have not enjoyed your science classes, then you may be shortchanging yourself by persisting on a pre-medical track and not engaging your true talents. There are certainly many ways to make a contribution to society besides being a physician.
On the other hand, if you started out with an inconsistent record in the sciences during your first and second years, but improved gradually and by junior and senior years came to enjoy your science classes and to do well in them, then an effective strategy may be to take a couple of years off to strengthen your academic record before applying to medical school. You may choose to take additional science courses at a local university, or to enroll in a formal post-baccalaureate program for pre medical students.
Keep in mind that if you find that you are consistently doing poorly in your science courses at Haverford, it may be wise to put your pre-med plans on hold and concentrate on subjects that you like and shine in. The last thing you want to do is dig yourself into a hole so deep that you will have great difficulty climbing out, i.e. you don’t want to bring your GPA down so low that your limit your opportunities to pursue other types of graduate study or careers! Get through Haverford, and then, if a couple years down the road you find that you are still interested in medicine, take your prerequisites for medical school somewhere else. Be sure to talk with Michele Taylor about this.
Is it okay to take time off between college and medical school?
It is not only okay, but often advisable. Medical schools appreciate applicants with maturity and life experience, who have demonstrated their vocational aptitude for medicine. The average age for admission to medical school is 24.