Pre-Medicine Frequently Asked Questions

1. What major is best for going to medical school?

Students should choose the major that is most interesting to them, as medical schools do not care what your major is.  If you choose something you truly love, you will enjoy your college experience, get better grades and be trained in a field you enjoy. Regardless of your major, you will need to take the necessary prerequisite courses, so majors outside of the sciences may require extra time to complete.

2. What is the difference between an MD and a DO?

There are two types of medical doctors that can practice as licensed physicians in the US today; the allopathic physician and the osteopathic physician.  Allopathic medicine is by far the most common type of physician and these individuals have a Medical Doctor degree, or M.D.  Approximately 93% of physicians practicing in the US today have an MD.  The second type of physician is the osteopathic physician who holds a Degree of Osteopathy, or D.O.  These individuals make up about 7% of US physicians, and approximately 65% of DO’s are in primary care.  For more information on osteopathic medicine, look at the website for the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine or the American Osteopathic Association .

3. How do I actually apply to a medical school?

For most of the MD schools in the US, you will fill out a common application through the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS).  Medical schools in Texas use the Texas Medical and Dental School Application Service (TMDSAS).  If you are applying to an osteopathic medical school you will use the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS).   Check out each individual application service for specific instructions.

4. When should I apply to medical school?

Most application services will allow you to start filling out the application in May with the earliest submit date of June 1. They typically remain active until September or October; however, medical schools always recommend early applications.  We recommend that you apply in June or by the end of July at the latest.  If you plan to attend medical school immediately following graduation, you will need to apply in June or July following your JUNIOR year.  If you plan on taking a year off between your undergraduate education and medical school, you will need to apply in June or July following your SENIOR year.  For more information on the basic timeline, click here.

5. How many letters of recommendation/evaluation do I need?

The number of letters varies from one school to another.  Many will accept up to ten letters, but it is NOT recommended that you submit this many.  Most prehealth advisors suggest submitting 3-5 letters.  Remember that additional letters are more work for the admissions committee, and in most cases do not provide any information that was not in the first 3-5 letters.

6. From whom should I request letters of recommendation/evalaution?

It is important to read the specific requirements for each medical school.  Many will require 3 letters of recommendation, two of which must be from science faculty.  However, each school has its own specific requirements for letters.  The key when choosing who to ask is to find someone who knows you very well and yet is not a close personal friend or member of the family.  Many students attempt to get a letter from someone in a “powerful position” or with “name recognition”, but if the individual does not know you well, the letter is useless.  Focus on developing relationships with faculty early in your undergraduate education so that you will have individuals who can attest to your qualifications.

7. How do I ask for letters of recommendation?

The best approach when asking for a letter is to ask early and be specific about what you need and the deadlines involved.  Understand that many individuals are quite busy and will need time to get a letter together.  It is a good idea to meet with the individual in person to request the letter when possible.  It can also be helpful to bring a resume and your personal statement to the meeting so that the letter writer has more information about you for the letter.  For faculty members who typically only interact with you in class and office hours, it can be quite useful for them to know what activities you have been involved in outside the classroom.  Additionally, your personal statement (which you will use when you apply) provides them with more information about why you have chosen this career.

8. How do I submit letters of recommendation?

There are slightly different processes for submission depending on if you are using AMCAS, AACOMAS or TMDSAS.  Please check out their individual websites for letter submission instructions.

AMCAS letters

AACOMAS letters

TMDSAS letters

9. What courses do I need to take before applying to medical school?

Most medical schools have the same basic set of required courses.  Click here for more information.

10. I got a C in Organic Chemistry, should I retake it?

The answer to this question is yes and no.  Yes, you should retake if you did not understand the information presented.  Organic chemistry is on the MCAT and you will need to be able to successfully answer the questions on the topic.  However, the answer is “no” if you are only retaking it to improve your GPA.  If you retake the course, the C will not disappear from your GPA for medical school (on AMCAS) but will instead be averaged with the new grade.  So, if you retake and get an A, the average grade will be a B.  This is not a significant improvement to your GPA in most cases and therefore is rarely worth the time and effort.  The same considerations should be taken into account if you are considering retaking any of your undergraduate courses. 

11. What is a BCPM GPA?

The application services will ask for your overall GPA and what is often referred to as the BCPM GPA.  This is your GPA in your Biology, Chemistry, Math and Physics classes. When considering which classes to include in calculating your BCPM, you will obviously include any classes with biology, chemistry or math prefixes.  However, other courses are sometimes included, based on content.  If you had a neurobiology of behavior course taught by the psychology department but the content was based heavily on nerves and the brain, it can be included.   Be aware that AMCAS will look over the courses and may reclassify those that do not seem to fit.

12. When should I take the MCAT?

You must take the MCAT and receive your score before medical schools will look closely at your application.  For this reason, we recommend that you take your MCAT before, or around the same time, that you apply to medical school.  For many students, this means that you will take the MCAT during the spring of your junior year (or senior year if you are taking a year off).  The MCAT is offered many times throughout the year, so you can be flexible in your timing.  The most important consideration is to wait until you are ready before you attempt the MCAT.  The score you receive will always be visible to the medical schools, so you want to be sure you get the best score you can. For more information on timing of events in the application process, click here.

13. Should I retake the MCAT? If so, when?

If you have taken the MCAT and earned a score that is lower than you would like, you may want to retake the exam.  Most prehealth advisors do not recommend that you retake it immediately, or even within a few months of your first attempt.  This is because your score is unlikely to change unless you fix the problems you had the first time.  Most students need at least 6 months to prepare for the MCAT and correct any issues that arose from the first attempt.  Remember that it is not recommended that you take the MCAT more than three times, so only take it when you are truly ready and feel that you can improve your score.

14. Do medical schools accept AP/IB credit?

Each medical school varies in whether or not they accept AP credit and if so, which courses they will accept.  Be sure to check the individual schools for their policies.  Many schools will accept AP/IB credit for courses that are not prerequisites for their programs.  Some will accept AP/IB credit for the prerequisites as long as you take upper level courses in the same area.  For example, they will accept AP/IB for BIO 110 but then you must take higher level biology classes to meet the prerequisites instead.

15. What are the characteristics of students who are accepted to medical school?

The characteristics of successful students can be found here.

16. Are Caribbean Schools a good option for me?

Caribbean or other offshore schools have some advantages and disadvantages and it is important that you be aware of both before you consider attending one of these.  It is also important to recognize that the different schools have a great deal of variation in their reputations and their success in getting students licenses to practice medicine in the US.  The common advantage of the offshore schools is that they will accept students with lower GPA and MCAT scores, as compared to US medical schools.  The primary disadvantage is that it can be difficult to students from these schools to obtain residencies in certain medical specialties.  The reputation of your medical school is considered by residency programs  when reviewing applicants, and typically the offshore schools are not ranked as highly as the US schools.  However, there are always exceptions, and this disadvantage does not apply to residencies in less competitive fields such as family medicine. There are some good online forums from students who have attended these schools and can provide personal experiences.  These schools can be a good option for students who are not successful in gaining admission at US medical schools and some excellent physicians have been trained by these programs.  It is critical that you do your own research on these programs, determine which are accredited, and which might work for you. 

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