Med-School Requirements + Med-School Entry Straight from High School?

Question: Can you tell me what is the minimum requirements for med school? Also, is it possible to enter med school right after high school and, if yes, what are the requirements?

In the United States, students cannot enter medical school directly from high school. However, there are a number of "direct entry" opportunities that allow high school students to apply to a combined undergraduate/medical school program. I'll talk about these down below.

In most cases, as a "pre-med" undergraduate, you will be free to study a broad list of subjects. Very few colleges have actual "pre-med" majors, and they are not at all necessary. Medical school admissions requirements include undergraduate classes from a range of departments, and you can choose to major in one of these areas or in something completely unrelated (more on that in a minute).

These are the classes you should expect to take as a pre-medical student:

A year (two semesters) of general chemistry (with labs)

A year of organic chemistry

A year of biology (with labs)

A year of physics (with labs)

A year of English

A year of calculus (sometimes statistics or other advanced can be substituted)

Social science classes (e.g, psychology, sociology) are also smart choices for pre-med students.

Although many pre-med students are interested in the sciences and also find it convenient to major in one (so that they can fulfill their major requirements and their pre-med requirements at the same time), you will probably have room in your schedule to major in whatever you want ... even a seemingly unrelated field like theater, foreign language, history, studio art, etc. In fact, many med school admission officials like to see applicants who will bring some atypical interests or skills to campus, not just strength and experience in science.

Your overall GPA--and your grades in your pre-med classes in particular-- will play a starring role in the med school admission process. You will also have to take the MCAT ... a standardized test that is sort of the med-school equivalent of the SAT. :-( These results can play a big part in med-school admission decisions, too.

In addition to your college classes, you would also be wise to pursue medical-related internships and/or research projects, either during the school year or in the summer. (These can often be undertaken in conjunction with faculty members at your college. Even as early as freshman year, you can start asking around to see if any professors are seeking student research assistants.)

So, if you're interested in a medical career, you are wise to plan ahead and start taking pre-med classes as soon as you get to college. Your college will also probably have at least one faculty member on the staff who is designated as the "pre-health-professions advisor" (or something similar). You should contact him or her right at the start of your college career and seek specific advice as you map out the years ahead.

As noted above, you might also want to consider combined Bachelors/M.D. programs, which seem to be offered by an ever-growing list of universities. Sometimes these programs require the usual eight years of study (four of undergraduate + four med school). Others, however, are "accelerated" and may only demand seven--or, occasionally even six--years in the classroom.

Students who are admitted to such programs right from high school do not have to apply to medical school, assuming that they continue in the program and enroll in the affiliated medical college. In some cases, the students are still required to take the MCAT; in most cases, they are not.

But it's imperative to realize that these programs are extremely selective, even when the host institute itself is not. Each year, I know of high school seniors who are admitted to Ivy League universities (Yale, Penn, Dartmouth, Columbia, etc.) but who are turned down by combined M.D. programs at schools that are ordinarily less competitive than the Ivies (Boston University, George Washington U., University of Rochester, etc.) Admission committees are looking for students with extremely high grades and test scores (especially in math and several sciences), whose recommendations point to their maturity, focus and integrity, and who, above all, have demonstrated (through volunteer work, research undertakings, etc.) that they are fully committed to a career in medicine.

You might want to check out this earlier "Ask the Dean" column on this topic:

You will find lists of participating colleges on these sites:

(No list is complete, which is why I've included a couple.)

Any student who isn't 100 percent sure about a future as a physician should opt for a more traditional route through undergraduate college, electing the pre-med classes but also being open to other alluring possibilities along the way.

Good luck to you, whatever you decide.