If you’re hoping to pursue a career in medicine, and if you’re still in high school, the first step is to start thinking about college. Now is the time to start researching what you can do in high school to prepare for a pre-med track in college.
We’re here to help you understand what exactly it means to choose a pre-med track, and what you can do to maximize your chances of admission to a great school.
What does it mean to be pre-med?
First off, “pre-med” is generally not a college major, but rather a set curriculum (created by the Association of American Medical Colleges, or “AAMC”) that college students must complete to be eligible for the medical school application process. As a pre-med student, you can major in just about anything, provided you fulfill the requirements set by the AAMC, and any additional college-specific requirements. Most pre-med students choose to major in biology, but some also elect for majors in chemistry, physics, engineering or even in the social sciences and the humanities.
There are no good and bad majors, at least as far as medical school admissions officers are concerned, as our H&C Education CEO Pierre explained to U.S. News. According to the AAMC, applicants who majored in biology (the most traditional pre-med choice) seem to fare about the same as other majors when it comes to success on the MCAT and in the med school admissions process.
How do I stand out as a pre-med applicant?
You want to be a doctor. But so do many, many of the brightest kids out there. This is great news for everyone who will ever visit a hospital, but it’s unfortunate for you, because it means serious competition. As an aspiring pre-med student, you are going to have a much more difficult time setting yourself apart from the competition than, say, someone with a fiery passion for geology.
So what can you do? Here are my top three tips.
1. Be a phenomenal student.
This isn’t advice I generally give out, mostly because it’s a bit like your cross-country coach telling you to just run faster, but also because your GPA and test scores usually aren’t everything when it comes to college applications. If you have your sights set on a career in medicine, however, there’s no getting around the fact that colleges are going to want to see near perfection in the most rigorous high school courses offered, and on standardized tests.
As Pierre Huguet, our CEO explained to U.S. News, leadership is the best way for premeds to compensate for a low GPA: "Students should pursue genuine interests and passions that aren't necessarily related to medicine," Huguet wrote in an email. "In the relatively homogeneous med school applicant pool, students should explore activities that will make an impact in the admissions process: founding and running a club or a non-profit, or publishing in a peer-reviewed journal, for instance, is far more impressive than passively following a doctor in the hallways of a hospital."
2. Don’t just focus on biology.
Remember that you don’t have to major in biology in college to be eligible for med school. Remember also that colleges with top pre-med programs get tons of highly qualified applicants with dreams of becoming doctors, and most of them will major in biology.
I can tell you from personal experience that it is sometimes difficult to differentiate between pre-med applicants: they’re all top students, they all take the same SAT Subject Tests, and they all have the same extracurriculars (which I’ll get to in a minute). Do you need to be a bio wiz kid? Yes, but you also want to stand out from the crowd. Cultivate an authentic interest outside of biology that you can relate to medicine, whether it’s sociology, history, sports or even art. Just for fun, Google “video games and medicine.” See what I mean? The possibilities for combining your interests—whatever they are—with medicine are endless.
3. Don’t intern at a hospital.
In order to become a doctor, you will need to attend college, then maybe a post-baccalaureate pre-medical program, then medical school, then do your residency, then get licensed and certified… You’ll probably be in your thirties by the time you’re a real doctor, so you have plenty of time between now and then to learn the ins and outs of hospitals.
It’s like we always say: admissions folks want to see leadership, and it’s very difficult to become a leader by following people in white coats around hospitals—especially in the short term.
This, of course, is not to say that students with hospital internships have never gotten into great pre-med programs. I simply mean that there are better ways to use your time. Founding and running your own impactful club or business is a more convincing demonstration of the kinds of qualities admissions committees are looking for in an applicant.