Getting into Medical School: The Premed Timeline

Today we’re going to cover the traditional premed timeline for applying to medical school. First, it should be noted that more and more students are opting for nontraditional paths to medical school, taking gap years or more between college and medical school. And that is perfectly legitimate, as well.

Even if you’re a nontraditional student, you may find it helpful to review the traditional premed timeline to medical school below. Many details (like MCAT timing, secondary timing, and so forth) will apply just as much to you.

Freshman and Sophomore Year as a Premed

1. Plan to take all the medical school prerequisite classes.

Remember, each medical school will have slightly different prerequisite classes. If there are certain med schools you are thinking about attending, review their requirements. Here are the basic premed requirements that most medical schools require:

  • Physics (1 year, with labs)
  • General Chemistry (1 year, with labs)
  • Organic Chemistry (1 year, with labs)
  • Biology (1 year, with labs)
  • Biochemistry (1 semester)
  • Statistics or Calculus (1 semester)
  • English (1 semester)
  • Psychology (1 semester)
  • Sociology (1 semester)

2. Meet with a premed advisor.

When you meet with your premed advisor as a freshman or sophomore, it’s not necessarily for advice right at that moment, but more for the introduction. College advisors “advise” many, many students. So you need to stand out and make sure the advisor gets to know you personally.

A word of warning, however: Don’t necessarily believe everything you hear coming from a premed advisor. Learn how to get into medical school for yourself. Use online resources like our MedEd Media podcasts, so you can go in already informed about the general process. Then your premed advisor can help you approach the specific opportunities available through your institution.

If your premed advisor discourages you from applying to medical school based on your past academic performance or some other factor, find a new advisor. It’s not your advisor’s job to tell you that you can’t get into medical school. They will never be as invested as you are in your path to becoming a physician, and they don’t know what you are capable of with the right focus and adjustments to your study habits.

What to Do in Your Summers as a Premed

You don’t absolutely need to cram your summers with premed extracurricular activities. It’s okay to take breaks if you need them, at any point in the premed timeline. However, there are some great things you can add to your application over the summers:

  1. Volunteer in a health care setting. This experience will not only strengthen your medical school application and CV, but it may guide you in selecting a specific medical specialty. It may also give you patient experiences to write about on your personal statement, and you could meet a physician or volunteer supervisor who can write you a strong letter of recommendation.
  2. Shadow physicians. Shadowing is the best way to get a picture of what the life of a physician is really like. Try to get many shadowing experiences as a premed. If you’re able to shadow the same physician on a weekly basis all summer, you’ll get a great picture of what their job is like, and you’ll build a strong relationship to have them write you a letter of recommendation. Single-day shadowing experiences in different specialties can also add to your understanding of medicine.
  3. Get involved with research (clinical or basic science). Again, this will strengthen your med school application and help separate you from other applicants. You might also consider a research career if you find that you love it. If this is the case, you may want to think about a combined MD/PhD program, although physicians without a PhD can do research, too.

What to Do in Your Junior Year as a Premed

Fall Semester

  1. Meet again with your premed advisor. You should be keeping in contact with your advisor periodically, especially after each semester, to ensure they are receiving evaluations from your professors. These evaluations will help the advisor make better recommendations for you.
  2. Start forming a list of professors for your letters of recommendations. This is a very important step. Similar to meeting with your premed advisor early on, you need to introduce yourself to your professors early in the semester. Let them know you are excited to take their classes. Be very open that you are applying to medical school. This may help them to keep track of you during the semester so they can write you a better letter of recommendation.
  3. Register for the MCAT and study/enroll in a prep course. The MCAT can open all the doors to medical school or close them all. Be very prepared for this test. 

[Related episode: Do I Need an MCAT Prep Course? Or Can I Self-Study?]

Spring Semester

    1. Take the MCAT. Usually, I recommend taking the MCAT in March or April for timing reasons. This will leave you with some time after the MCAT to gather the remaining pieces for your application, finishing your personal statement and the descriptions for your extracurriculars.
    2. Decide which type of programs you want to apply to: MD, DO, MD/PhD, MD/MPH, or any of the other combinations there may be. For most students, I recommend applying to both MD and DO schools because it gives you more chances to become a physician.
    3. Create a list of medical schools to apply to. Most students apply to somewhere between 10 and 30 schools. Choose schools based on the location, the class size, the curriculum, and whether it feels like a good fit for you. Don’t focus on stats. Here’s a podcast episode I recorded all about putting together a school list.
    4. Request letters of recommendation from your professors. Hopefully, you followed the advice for the fall semester and introduced yourself to your professors earlier. Don’t show up to their office and request a letter of recommendation without that professor knowing who you are. And don’t rush the professor for the letter. Plan ahead and give them plenty of time. Use Interfolio to store your letters until it’s time to apply.
    5. Meet again with your premed advisor. See if your premed advisor can help you get a  Dean’s letter started and begin gathering the necessary materials for your application.

Applying to Medical School Between Junior and Senior Year

The application services for medical schools open in early May and allow you to submit in early June. The application process is quite expensive, as you’ll be charged primary application fees and secondary application fees. Have some money ready to cover these expenses. Here’s more information about the costs you should expect.

  1. Complete your primary application, and submit early. Submit your primary application to AMCAS (for MD schools), AACOMAS (for DO schools), and/or TMDSAS (for Texas schools) in June if possible. Delaying your application puts you at a major disadvantage because of rolling admissions. Even if the school’s website says their application deadline is in November or December, you need to submit as close to June as possible.
  2. Prewrite and submit your secondary essays. Almost every school you submit a primary application to will automatically send you a secondary application with essay prompts. You should have those secondaries returned within about a two-week window. You can use our Secondary Application Essay Library to prewrite your essays based on prompts from the previous years. Then you’ll be ready to submit them quickly as you get them!

Senior Year as a Premed

Fall Semester

  1. Prepare for the medical school interview. Practice answering common medical school interview questions. Record yourself answering the questions with a tool like our Anytime Mock Interview Platform or invest in 1-on-1 mock interviews with me or someone else who knows what to look for.
  2. Interview at medical schools that offer you an interview. After the interview, send thank you notes to each and every person you interviewed with. A nice touch would also be sending a thank you letter to the secretary in charge of scheduling your interview. These people keep the process moving!
  3. Start researching how you will pay for medical school. There are numerous financial aid options, including the Health Professions Scholarship Program through the Military. Do your research and prepare any required forms.

Spring Semester

  1. Select the school where you will matriculate. Hopefully, you will have a good list of medical schools to choose from.
  2. Call the schools you will not go to, and thank them for their offer and time. Do this as soon as you know you won’t be going there. This will help fellow applicants receive a slot.
  3. Enjoy the rest of college, and celebrate with your classmates at graduation!

Summer After College

  1. Pack and Move. Try to live near the medical school for easy logistics. Living with other medical students can be a great idea since you will all be going through this together. Living alone or with someone else who will keep up a quiet, studious lifestyle can also work well.
  2. Start Medical School! Learn a ton, have fun, and take care of yourself!

Links and Other Resources