Academic preparation

Before applying, medical schools expect that applicants develop certain competencies. Students develop some of these competencies through undergraduate coursework, while they develop others through experiences outside the classroom. Medical schools review your application, looking for indicators that you have developed these competencies. They will expect you to have completed certain coursework, maintain a certain GPA, and achieve a sufficient score on the MCAT in order to gain admission.

Choosing a major #

For premed students, your major doesn't matter nearly as much as the competencies you build. While you need to complete certain science courses, you don't have to major in a science field.

Medical school admissions officials usually say that they do not have a preference for one particular major over another. In fact, most of them say they do not even prefer science majors over non-science majors. Medical schools seek to admit students from all majors who have developed strong abilities in the sciences, as well as other skills.

Regardless of your major, medical schools will expect you to complete a rigorous set of coursework in the natural sciences. Being a strong student in the sciences isn't enough though. You will need strong analytical and critical reasoning skills. Good physicians must be able to relate to their patients on a personal level. Communication skills are important for physicians too.

For these reasons, there is no one major that is considered the best for medical school applicants. You could become a strong applicant by majoring in a non-science field, as long as you excel in your science coursework and demonstrate that you are fully prepared for the demands of medical school. You could also become a strong applicant by majoring in a science field while taking advanced-level coursework in the humanities and social sciences to develop your communication and critical reasoning skills. There is no one path to medical school.

Why are good communication skills important for physicians? Just stop and imagine the thousands of interactions that take place every day between doctors and patients, in which patients describe their symptoms and doctors must listen skillfully and ask the right questions. The process of diagnosing and treating patients is highly dependent on language use. To become a good physician you will need to build strong communication skills. Coursework in the humanities and social sciences can deepen your abilities to communicate with patients in a variety of ways.

Premedical coursework #

Before applying, medical schools will expect you to attain certain competencies through undergraduate coursework. Most medical schools require that students complete at least one year of college coursework (including both lecture and lab components) in biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics to meet their admission requirements. 

Medical schools have expectations that students who are building the necessary competencies should be able to excel in their premedical science coursework, generally earning A's in most premedical science courses, with occasional B's.

Research the requirements of the schools where you plan to apply. You can consult the individual medical school websites for information on admission requirements.  A guide from the Association of American Medical Colleges, Medical School Admissions Requirements provides information on admission requirements for allopathic medical schools.  The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine publishes an Osteopathic Medical College Information Book that provides information on admissions requirements for osteopathic medical schools.

Academic record and GPA #

Your undergraduate GPA is one of the primary ways medical schools will evaluate your application for admission. What is a competitive GPA for admission to medical school? In 2018, the average cumulative GPA for students from IU Bloomington admitted to allopathic medical schools was 3.78.  For osteopathic medical schools, the average cumulative GPA of students admitted in 2017 nationally was 3.53.

Medical schools pay attention to grade trends and ranges also.  A student who had a difficult first semester as a freshman but went on to earn A’s in rigorous science courses in future semesters could still be viewed favorably.

The vast majority of IU Bloomington students accepted to allopathic schools have a cumulative GPA between 3.6 and 4.0.  A good benchmark for admission to allopathic schools is to maintain a GPA of 3.6 or higher. For osteopathic schools a helpful benchmark is 3.4 or above to have a good chance for admission.

Keep in mind that no matter how many impressive volunteering experiences you have listed on your application, your transcript must present convincing evidence of your academic readiness for medical school.

Calculation of GPA #

The medical schools do not just look at your GPA as shown on your IU transcript. Applicants apply to medical schools through centralized application services: AMCAS (for allopathic programs) and AACOMAS (for osteopathic programs). Each application service will have its own method for re-calculating your GPA.  This allows the schools to more easily compare applicants, regardless of the grading system used at the student's college or university.

AMCAS and AACOMAS will use all grades in calculating GPA's, no matter how many times you take the same course.

When you apply to medical school you will type information onto the application from the transcripts of all colleges and universities you have attended, including the title of each course, number of credit hours, and the grade earned for each course.  Each course will be classified according to the subject matter of the course. This information will be used to calculate an overall cumulative GPA for you, as well as a science GPA, and other types of GPAs.
 

Calculation of science GPA #

AMCAS calculates a special "BCPM" GPA based on coursework classified as biology, chemistry, physics, or math courses. AMCAS provides a chart in the application instructions that explains how coursework in different subject areas is classified, since courses are not always classified the way one would expect according to the department at IU that offers a given course.

AACOMAS calculates a science GPA based on all coursework in biology/zoology, biochemistry, inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, other science, and physics (math coursework is not included in the AACOMAS science GPA). AACOMAS provides a chart in the application instructions that explains how coursework in different subject areas is classified.

What is a competitive science GPA? For fall 2018, the average science GPA for IU Bloomington students admitted to allopathic medical schools was 3.73. The average science GPA nationally for students admitted to osteopathic medical schools in 2017 was 3.43.

Course retakes #

When you apply to medical school your GPA will be recalculated by the centralized application service (AMCAS for allopathic programs and AACOMAS for osteopathic programs). These centralized applications do not replace grades when you repeat a course. If you retake a course, both the original and the new grade will count toward your GPA for your medical school application.

Many medical school officials advise that students should not retake courses, but rather proceed to higher level coursework where they can show improvement. Before you re-take a course to try to earn a higher grade, you should speak with an advisor and carefully consider all the ramifications of your decision.

Building a strong transcript #

Building a strong transcript requires careful planning, excellent time management skills, and dedication.  Make use of resources such as instructor office hours and tutoring. Tracking your study time and devoting about 25-30 hours per week to preparation outside of class times can enhance your success!

Parallel planning #

What is parallel planning? It's a smart strategy to ensure your success. There are many possible paths to your goal of a healthcare career! Some premed students convince themselves that the only way to achieve their dreams is by becoming a doctor – but the truth is that you could potentially be successful in a wide number of fields.  A parallel plan is a plan you create that you can pursue right alongside your first choice of a career. Premed science courses can be challenging, and parallel planning allows you to efficiently change paths at some point if you discover you do not like or no longer want to pursue your primary career path.

How could you create a parallel plan? Explore your interests, goals, and values. Meet with a career advisor. Think about other goals you would like to achieve alongside being a doctor – for instance, would you like to encourage healthy lifestyles, improve global health, or develop new treatments through research? Your answers to these questions may help indicate additional career paths through which you could find meaning.