Whether it's been your lifetime goal or you've only just recently begun to set your sights on attending medical school, you now have a lot to consider as you approach your undergraduate experience. Choosing a college is no easy task in general, but add to it the considerations medical school hopefuls must take into account and it can become exponentially difficult.
One of the things you'll learn early on in your research is that you likely won't major in "pre-med". While many colleges offer pre-med tracks, very few list pre-med as its own major. In reality, you can major in just about anything — from Chinese to art history — and still get into medical school if you meet the necessary requirements.
But even with that in mind, there are a few things you can keep an eye out for as you peruse potential colleges to ensure you'll be setting yourself up for the most successful path to medical school. You may find it helpful to consider the following three before you truly launch into your college search.
It goes without saying that if you want to be best prepared to meet the academic requirements of medical school, you'll need to attend a college that can adequately prepare you. "A quality undergraduate program should have a good academic reputation and should have a track record of students actually going to medical school after graduation," explains Dr. Olatokunbo Famakinwa, a double-certified internal medicine physician and pediatrician who received her MD from the Yale University School of Medicine and earned a Master of Public Health from Harvard University.
You can review a potential school's academic ranking by conducting a bit of research on your own. Tools like U.S. News & World Report's "Best Colleges" ranking system make it particularly simple to get at-a-glance views of a college's statistics as they compare to other institutions. If you are interested enough to seek out more information on a particular school, you can make a point of asking the admissions representative about the school's reputation as it relates to students later pursuing the medical school path.
One of the most beneficial things you can do as you embark upon your college search is research the pre-requisites required of most medical school applications. Even though you may not be pursuing a specified pre-med track while you earn your bachelor's degree, you'll want to be sure you're taking the courses that will ultimately help you pursue the next phase your dream.
"To apply to medical school, you have to take courses in general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics and biology," Dr. Famakinwa says. "Most schools also require at least one course in mathematics, and many programs strongly recommend that applicants take a biochemistry class as well." You'll want to be sure you can map out a clear plan to get you through your undergraduate experience while checking off all the necessary boxes of your eventual medical school application.
But before you begin stressing too much about this planning phase, you can rest assured that the best pre-med undergraduate options will have committed advisory teams who can help you navigate these new waters. You'll want to attend a college that understands the medical school application process and is equipped to help pre-med hopefuls like you make the most of their undergraduate experience in preparation for it.
Dr. Famakinwa stresses the importance of sitting down with an advisor to review a prospective school's course schedule in detail and to help craft a potential plan to fulfill all necessary medical school pre-requisites. This can help you identify a realistic timeline, which could turn out to be a key factor in your decision of what college to attend.
As you progress through college, a committed advisory team could also help you identify and obtain a summer research position, connect you with a shadowing opportunity at your local hospital, provide expert advice as you study for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), and help you prepare and improve your personal essay for your application to medical school.
"In searching for an undergraduate program, students should look for an environment that will be supportive," Dr. Famakinwa iterates.
In addition to seeking out a college environment that can help guide and support you throughout your pre-med journey, Dr. Famakinwa also urges pre-med hopefuls to look for institutions that offer opportunities to further explore interests in medicine.
Many inherently assume that the closer to Ivy League status they get with their undergraduate experience, the better chance they have of being accepted to medical school. But the truth is, admissions committees value things like GPA and strong scores on the MCAT much more than the acclaim of an undergraduate institution.
They also seek out applicants who have demonstrated an early commitment to a career in medicine. So while it's important to attend a college that can academically prepare you to meet the requirements and match the rigor of medical school, you'll also want to pay attention to the opportunities the school and its surrounding metropolitan area have to offer.
For example, does the school have any on-campus labs in which students can learn in environments that are similar to where they'll practice as professionals or medical students? Are there any relevant research or internship opportunities? Are there facilities in which students can acquire some hands-on experience as volunteers such as an on-campus community health clinic or any affiliated medical centers? Will the school assist you with arranging shadowing opportunities at a local hospital?
You may also want to peruse a potential school's student clubs and organizations. You could find some that are topically relevant, such as a Pre-Med Club or a Biochemistry club. But it can also be in your favor to look for opportunities to establish your leadership capabilities, such as Student Senate, or opportunities that can demonstrate your commitment to community service and altruism, like participating in an Amnesty International group or even volunteering at a local community organization. These are also things that could help you stand out in the eyes of a medical school admissions committee.
As you venture forward in your journey toward the career goals you've set for yourself, it's always smartest to prepare yourself for success as early as possible. That means even as you think about what major you'd like to study and what campus culture you identify with the most, you should also have medical school preparation in mind.
Be sure to consider the three key qualities listed above as you embark upon your college search. From the quality of a school's academic programs to the on- and off-campus exposure to medical experience, do a bit of research to make sure the schools you're considering can provide pre-med hopefuls like you with everything you'll need to successfully transition to medical school after graduation.
If you're interested in learning more about the ways The College of St. Scholastica is committed to partnering with students just like you, visit the Pre-Med Premium Track information page