The following information provides an overview of academic requirements for students applying to MD programs (allopathic medicine). For information pertaining to additional health professions (such as public health, dentistry, veterinary medicine, nursing, or ostepathic medicine) please feel free to contact us, or refer to the links at right.
2012-2013 Premed Info for Students
This information can also be found in the Premedical Information for Harvard Students: Courses and Resources 2012-2013 (pdf).
Five Medical School Admissions MythsAs a first-year Harvard student, or someone who has recently decided to pursue premedical coursework, you will hear many opinions about what being premed means and what medical school admission committees expect to see in an applicant. Do not believe all that you hear (or that you read on the web). Misconceptions and misinformation can provoke unnecessary anxiety. This section is designed to help dispel some of those premed myths. Read more.
If I want to be a doctor, I need to start preparing during my first year at Harvard, or I’ll be behind schedule.
FACT: There is no need to rush and overload with science courses freshman year. Many students have the mistaken idea that they should get their premedical course requirements “out of the way” during their first two years in college. In fact, over two-thirds of applicants to medical school in recent years have waited until their senior year (and beyond) rather than their junior year to apply to medical school. This allows students four years to fulfill the premedical requirements. Students can also take some or even all of their premedical requirements after they graduate from college. Students considering attending medical school directly after college must complete all premedical course requirements, take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), request recommendation letters, and submit their medical school application forms by the summer after junior year. During senior year, these applicants will need to travel to medical schools for application interviews. Therefore, the application process begins over a year in advance of matriculation to medical school. The decision to become a doctor cannot be made in the classroom. As a first-year student, you can begin to test your interest in medicine by volunteering several hours a week in a health care setting. There are countless opportunities in the community to explore the health care field: for example, interning in a pediatric hospital, working with a hospice program, or helping with an AIDS prevention program.
If I really want to go to medical school, I should concentrate in one of the sciences. Or, I have a better chance of getting into medical school if I don’t concentrate in the sciences; that way I’ll stand out.
FACT: You must demonstrate competency in science and an ability to handle the science-intensive curriculum of medical school. However, medical schools do not require that you major in a science. The area of study that interests you the most and that you wish to explore extensively is the one you can and should choose for your concentration. There is no “premedical program” at Harvard. While it is important to know and fulfill the necessary requirements for admission to medical school, it is neither necessary nor preferable to commit yourself at this time to a tightly focused curriculum directed at pursuing this particular profession. Nonscience concentrators who apply to medical school are as successful as science concentrators if they have comparable grades in their science courses. However, choosing a nonscience concentration just for the sake of “looking different” offers no advantage in the application process. In general, medical schools are more concerned with the quality and scope of your undergraduate work than with your specific area of concentration. Taking advanced courses, choosing an honors concentration, and developing independent research projects are all ways to pursue an academic area of interest in depth.
I just received a C in a science course; I should give up any dream of becoming a physician.
FACT: Your grades are only one factor in the admissions process. While it is true that your science grade point average is important, admissions committees look at a single grade within the context of the whole picture. Do not be disheartened or discouraged from pursuing medicine if your first grades do not meet your expectations. Your first year at Harvard is a time of getting used to a new setting, a new social and extracurricular life, and new ways of learning and studying. Medical school admissions committees understand this and look with favor upon an upward trend in your record of academic performance. That being said, if you have received a C in a science course, it is a good idea to make an appointment with an OCS premedical counselor, your academic advisor, and/or a counselor at the Bureau of Study Counsel to review your course load, your extracurricular activities, and study strategies for the new semester.
Medical school admissions decisions are based only on GPA and MCAT scores.
FACT: You do want to achieve an overall strong performance in the biological and physical sciences. However, no specific grade point average or MCAT score guarantees acceptance into medical school. Students with a grade point average of B+ or better have the best chance of being accepted, but students with some grades below B do get into medical school. (For information on grade point averages and admission to medical school, check the publication Medical School
Admissions Data, which is available in the OCS Reading Room.) Your personal qualities, experiences, and motivation are critical factors in determining whether you are admitted to a medical school. Medical school admissions committees look favorably on students who have tested their interest in medicine through community service, health-related internships, extracurricular activities, or significant research. Each medical school develops its own criteria and priorities for admission, reflecting the goals of the respective school. For some medical schools, potential for service to an underserved community is very important; for other medical schools, a determining factor may be leadership qualities. To assess these qualities, medical school admissions committees will use the statements and essays in your application, letters of evaluation, your coursework (including trends in academic performance and level of course difficulty), and personal interviews.
I must do basic science research in order to be a competitive applicant to medical school.
FACT: Basic science research is not a requirement for medical schools, and in fact, many Harvard students continue on to medical school without working in a lab. Successful medical school applicants have usually demonstrated the ability to pursue an area of study in depth. This could be basic science research, clinical research, or, perhaps, a thesis in English literature. The experience of critically reviewing data does not necessarily have to occur in a basic science research lab.
If you are excited about pursuing basic science research at Harvard, there are many wonderful resources available to you, both at the college campus in Cambridge and at the Harvard Medical School campus in Boston. For science concentrators in particular, the experience of working in a research lab can significantly enhance your college experience. Students who are seriously considering a combined MD/PhD or an academic medical career should take advantage of these opportunities to develop research skills.
Courses Required for Admission to Most Medical Schools
It is recommended that you complete these courses before taking the MCAT and before applying to medical school. Read more.
as of July 2012
- General chemistry with lab (one year)
- Biology with lab (one year)
- Organic chemistry with lab (one year)
- General physics with lab (one year)
- English (one year)
- Over 50 medical schools require one or two semesters of mathematics (college math, calculus, and/or statistics).
- About twenty medical schools require a semester of biochemistry; an increasing number will require biochemistry in the future. As of 2015, biochemistry will be a topic on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT).
- Seventeen medical schools require more than one year of biology. These include many of the Texas and California state medical schools.
- A few medical schools have requirements such as psychology or sociology.
Courses That Satisfy Most
Medical School Admissions Requirements
Please note that Harvard College does not make the decision about which courses should meet premedical course requirements. Each medical school sets its own rules regarding courses they will accept. Therefore, if you have any doubt about whether a course can be substituted for the basic premedical requirement, you should check with the admission offices of the medical schools to which you may apply.
as of July 2012
GENERAL OR INORGANIC CHEMISTRY WITH LAB (ONE YEAR):Two of the following courses. Preferably both should contain labs.
- Life Sciences 1a
or Life & Physical Sciences A
- Physical Sciences 1
- Advanced general, inorganic, or physical chemistry. For example, Physical Sciences 10, Physical Sciences 11, Chemistry 40, Chemistry 60, or Chemistry 160.
ORGANIC CHEMISTRY WITH LAB (ONE YEAR):
- Chemistry 17 and 27
- Chemistry 20 and 30
BIOCHEMISTRY (ONE SEMESTER):Biochemistry is currently required by about 20 medical schools. An increasing number of medical schools will require biochemistry in the future and MCAT 2015 will include biochemistry as a topic. Options for students who need to meet a biochemistry requirement include the following:
- MCB 56
- MCB 234
- BIOS-S-10 l(Harvard Summer School)
- Most medical schools who require biochemistry will accept a combination of Chem 17 and Chem 27 as fully meeting both the organic and biochemistry requirements.
- Enroll in a biochemistry course the summer before starting medical school.
BIOLOGY WITH LAB (ONE YEAR):Two of the following courses. Preferably both should contain labs. Most medical schools recommend that these courses cover the cellular and molecular aspects as well as the structure and function of living organisms. Narrowly focused biology courses should not be used to meet the basic premedical requirements.
- Life Sciences 1b
- Life Sciences 2
- Molecular & Cellular Biology 52
- Molecular & Cellular Biology 54
- Organismic & Evolutionary Biology 10
- Human Evolutionary Biology 1420
- Advanced courses
PHYSICS WITH LAB (ONE YEAR):
- Physical Sciences 2 and Physical Sciences 3
- Physics 11a and Physics 11b
- Physics 15a and Physics 15b
- Any two physics courses, one with a lab
ENGLISH (ONE YEAR):One semester of the English requirement is met with Expos. (For those who take two semesters of Expos, there is no need to take additional English courses.) The second semester can be met with English or Literature courses or with many of the Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding courses (such as those that were formerly Lit & Arts courses and taught by a member of the English or Comp Lit departments.) These classes should require students to complete a substantial amount of writing. If it is not evident from a General Education course title that the course is primarily an English or Literature course, med schools may not accept it. Please use your best judgment regarding whether a course fits this description.
MATHEMATICS:One semester of calculus and one semester of statistics:
- Math Ma and Math Mb or
- Math 1a or Math 1b or
- Math 19a or
- Math 18 or
- Math 21a or 21b or
- Applied Math 21a or 21b or
- Any more advanced Math or Applied Math course PLUS
- Any statistics course (e.g. Stats Dept courses or Psychology 1900 or OEB 153 or Math 19b)
Considerations for Planning Your Program of StudyTry to strike a balance between taking courses that are either too advanced or too elementary. If you take advanced courses for which you are not fully prepared, you will not do well. On the other hand, if you take courses for which you are overqualified, medical schools may think that you are looking for an easy A. Read more.
Do not overload with too many courses too early. College-level science courses can be unexpectedly time-consuming and demanding. For first-year students, start slowly and move into a more demanding schedule after a year, when you know exactly how much you can do. Two science courses (including math) each semester during your first year is probably enough.
Schedule of Courses:
Chemistry, Biology, and Physics Placement:
Please contact the placement advisors in the appropriate department.
For almost all medical schools, Advanced Placement (AP) tests in biology, chemistry, and physics do not fulfill the premedical requirement in these areas. Most medical schools require that biology, chemistry, and physics be taken in college. Please see the section on “Math Requirement” for discussion of Advanced Placement in math.
Biomedical Engineering Concentrators:
Biomedical Engineering concentrators may want to substitute ES 53 for one semester of biology and ES 181 for one semester of chemistry. Almost all medical schools will accept these courses as meeting premedical course requirements.
Required premedical courses should never be taken pass/fail. It is perfectly acceptable, however, to take a few other courses pass/fail.
Premedical courses should not be taken during study abroad. Most medical schools will not accept premedical requirements taken at a foreign institution. However, students are encouraged to enroll in other courses abroad and to pursue international research and internship
Preparation for the MCAT:
The Medical College Admissions Test (MCA) currently (July 2012) assesses the applicant’s understanding of basic concepts in biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and non-calculus based physics. Beginning in 2015, the MCAT will most likely also include concepts in biochemistry, statistics, psychology, and sociology. Plans for MCAT 2015 have not been finalized; updates will be posted at www.aamc.org/mcat2015. We will also keep Harvard students and alumni informed about relevant changes as they occur.
If you will be taking the MCAT before 2015, you should read the MCAT Student Manual which describes in detail the content of the physical science and biological science sections of the current MCAT. If you will be taking the MCAT 2015, you can check the Preview Guide for the MCAT 2015.
Because the MCAT administered in 2015 will likely include new sections on psychology and sociology, you may want to take an introductory psychology course such as SLS20. Please revisit this site for updates on additional course recommendations for MCAT 2015.
As Harvard courses are not designed specifically to prepare students for the MCAT, there may be some topics which are included on the MCAT but not covered in your courses at Harvard. Depending on your background, you may find it necessary to learn certain concepts on your own or through a review class. The American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) is also developing a new open access resource, iCollaborative that will help students prepare for medical school.
Harvard Summer School courses count for credit toward your degree and toward your medical school requirements. However, you can also take a premedical requirement elsewhere during the summer, as long as it is at an academically competitive four-year U.S. college. (You do not need to get Harvard credit for a course to use it for medical school admissions.) Do not take more than the equivalent of one year of your premedical course requirements during the summer as it may appear that you are avoiding Harvard science courses. Additionally, it is important that you do not split sequential courses between institutions. Please note that the summer organic course is similar to the Chem 20/30 sequence and will not cover the biochemistry content of Chem 27.
Using Advanced Courses to Fulfill Chemistry Course Requirements:
The strict requirement for medical school is one year of general chemistry, including at least one semester of lab. If you plan to take only higher level general or inorganic or physical chemistry courses with lab, most medical schools will accept these courses in lieu of general chemistry. If you enter directly into organic chemistry, due to AP scores and placement tests, please be aware that most medical schools will not accept the AP to meet general chemistry requirements. Therefore, you may want to take an advanced inorganic chemistry course for one semester of the inorganic requirement. There may be some medical schools that still want to see two semesters of chemistry on your transcript before allowing you to matriculate at their medical school. In this case, you may be accepted to the medical school with only one semester of general chemistry, but must complete one more semester of chemistry (possibly with lab) before you enroll.
Science General Education Courses:
Science General Education courses should not be used to satisfy the science premedical requirements. However, if the content of the General Education course is primarily biology, chemistry, math, or physics, this course will count towards your science GPA as calculated for your medical school application.
Many Harvard students do not complete or even begin taking premedical courses while enrolled as undergraduates. Post-baccalaureate programs allow college graduates to take one or all of the required premedical courses. Harvard students who choose to complete their requirements after graduation can still take advantage of Harvard premedical advising and resources.
Sample Course Sequences for
that Meet Most Medical School Requirements
as of July 2012
If you are planning on concentrating in a science, most premedical requirements will be included in your course of study. However, you can also choose any nonscience concentration and still have time to complete these required courses. We have created sample schedules to illustrate how you can assemble the needed courses for medical school—no matter what your concentration may be. This page will soon be updated to reflect changes in medical school requirements. There are many possible course sequences and your individual circumstances will determine your plan of study. Students considering concentrating in the life sciences should consult with the Head Tutor or the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the concentrations you are considering.