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Atlantis students working on notes at a table (Athens, Greece, 2016).

Shadowing, Applying to Med/PA School, Medical Careers

Understanding Pre-Med Course Requirements: A Student’s Perspective

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About Luke

Luke Orr is a recent graduate of University of Oregon. As an undergraduate, he majored in human physiology and earned minors in business administration, sports business, and chemistry. During the summer between his sophomore and junior year, he participated in the Atlantis Summer 2017 shadowing program in Toruń, Poland. He is currently applying to medical school with an interest in orthopedics and sports medicine.

Common questions from pre-med students in Atlantis frequently revolve around course requirements for medical school. What do these requirements look like? Are there any specific classes that are needed for admittance to medical school? It can be overwhelming to go through several different resources to find information on this, so I have provided what I have learned below in my own research and experience as a pre-med in hopes that it can help to clarify this important question. 

The Basics of Pre-Med Courses

When considering the number of students applying to medical school and the variety of courses that exist at different universities, it would be near impossible to require specific classes that are needed for admittance. Many schools might not offer that particular class, therefore reducing both students and medical schools available. Instead, course requirements are often by general subject areas rather than specific course names. A typical requirement might look like this:

  • One year of biology
  • One year of general chemistry
  • One year of organic chemistry
  • One year of physics
  • A math requirement (calculus and/or statistics)
  • One year of English

Many schools require the accompanying labs to be taken with biology, chemistry, and physics. Biochemistry and social/behavioral science (psychology, sociology) are other areas that are regularly required, although one semester may be sufficient for that school. It is also common for schools to list subject areas that are not required but “highly recommended” for success in their curriculum. Listed coursework may include anatomy, physiology, microbiology, molecular biology, genetics, public health, humanities, and social sciences. 

Exceptions to the Above List

Despite the significant similarities in course requirements for medical schools, there can unfortunately be some exceptions to the basic guidance introduced above. One notable difference is the University of Arizona School of Medicine, which states the following requirements:

  • One year of physiology
  • One year of biochemistry
  • One semester of social and behavioral sciences (e.g. psychology, sociology, public health)
  • One semester of statistics (biostatistics recommended)
  • Upper-division of any two from different disciplines of the following: molecular biology, cell biology, histology, microbiology, pharmacology, pathology, or immunobiology OR can use one semester of any genetics course if taken two semesters of biochemistry 
  • One year of English (or other intensive writing course)

As seen here these requirements differ with one whole year of biochemistry, as opposed to one semester, as well as the upper division disciplines. 

Tips for Pre-Med Course Requirements

Due to the fact that there tend to be some differences even in the general course requirements between medical schools (requirement of labs, one semester vs. one year) and that a few schools exist with major distinctions, it is always important to check the course requirements for any schools that are under consideration. This can easily be done by going to the website of that medical school, as information about course requirements can be found under tabs such as “admissions” or “admission requirements”.

Contacting the admissions department can also be extremely valuable in determining if previous courses completed satisfy those that are required for admittance. Credit can oftentimes be earned with courses that might not seem to satisfy those required at first. n my personal experience, I was able to meet University of Arizona’s requirement of a full year of biochemistry with one of the general biology courses I had taken. I was also able to use a human physiology class titled “Muscle Metabolism” as a “molecular biology” upper-division discipline. Although the general biology course technically wasn’t biochemistry and Muscle Metabolism technically wasn’t molecular biology, there was enough overlap in content for me to receive credit for those requirements. In this way, a simple phone call or email with a class syllabus can save you the time and money of taking a class that is not needed!

If there are any other general questions, the Atlantis blog can be a great resource to gain direction. It is not uncommon for alumni to have encountered the same challenges as you, and they may be able to offer some helpful insight for your next steps. 

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Two Atlantis alumni admitted to Top 5 MD programs wrote our widely read medical school admissions guidebook guidebook — download yours.

Our Alumni Enter Great Medical Schools

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John Daines

  • Atlantis '17
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Zoey Petitt

  • Atlantis '17
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Yong-hun Kim

  • Atlantis '17
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Megan Branson

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Sarah Emerick

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Snow Nwankwo

  • Atlantis '19
  • Catholic U. of America '21
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Tiffany Hu

  • Atlantis '16
  • U. of Maryland '17
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Lauren Cox

  • Atlantis '18
  • Louisiana Tech '20
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Kayla Riegler

  • Atlantis '18
  • U. of Kentucky '20
  • U. of Kentucky MD '24

About Atlantis

Atlantis is the leader in pre-health shadowing and clinical experience, offering short-term programs (1-10 weeks) over academic breaks for U.S. pre-health undergraduates. Medical schools want 3 things: (1)healthcare exposure, (2)GPA/MCAT, and (3)certain competencies. Atlantis gives you a great version of (1), frees you to focus on (2), and cultivates/shows (3) to medical school admissions committees.

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Cover of the Medical School Admissions Guide.
Two Atlantis alumni admitted to Top 5 MD programs wrote our widely read medical school admissions guidebook — download yours.