Advice for the First-Year Pre-Medical Student at St. Olaf College

Prof. Kevin Crisp (Chair, Health Professions Committee)

Susan Wold (Assistant Director, Career Development and Coaching: Pre-Health)

As an aspiring allopathic or osteopathic physician, you probably know that your four years here at St. Olaf will offer many opportunities for your growth and development into someone who is academically and emotionally ready for medical school and a career in medicine. However, it’s easy to get caught up in the simple yet often daunting question:        “What do I need to do to get into medical school?”

You need:

  • a strong overall academic performance (average GPA of successful applicants is 3.7);
  • a strong science/math academic performance (~3.6);
  • upper division science course work beyond the basic prerequisites for the MCAT;
  • a competitive MCAT score (~510-515) without glaring discrepancies between subsections;
  • 200-400 hours of experience in a US medical setting (e.g., scribing, shadowing, EMT, CNA);
    • a significant portion of these hours should be working hands-on with patients (not childcare, “greeting”, candy-striping, etc.)
    • a significant portion of these hours should be spent observing physicians as they work with patients
  • ~100 hours of research/scholarship (e.g., laboratory research, interdisciplinary practicum, a major independent study paper, other significant artistic or scholarly work);
  • significant hours of meaningful volunteer service over several recent years, in each of the following areas (they can overlap):
    • working with the underserved in a US setting
    • making a difference in the community in which you live (your hometown and/or the Northfield area)
    • participating in non-medically related volunteer opportunities
  • to be a well-rounded, balanced individual with interests and talents (e.g., the arts, music, athletics) beyond getting accepted into medical school!

Can you get this all done in JUST THREE YEARS???  You don’t have to.  Most students who are successfully admitted into the University of Minnesota medical school take 1-2 development years (sometimes referred to as ‘gap’ years) between college and medical school in order to finish growing into the best candidate they can be before applying to medical school.  If you can achieve all of the above by late Spring of your Junior Year, terrific!  Otherwise, you’re in excellent company, as the average age of a first year medical student is 24.

As a first-year undergrad, the most immediate of the above points is taking the required courses that will keep you on track to take the MCAT (or DAT, for pre-dentistry students), so we will focus on that in this handout.  As you adjust to college life, talk to your academic advisor, professors and us about your individual path to becoming a physician.

** IMPORTANT ** Bring this sheet of paper to your meeting with your academic advisor as you plan your courses.  Only your academic advisor has the authority to approve your course schedule. We can’t do that!

What courses are required for admission to medical school?  Each medical school differs somewhat in their exact list of courses required for admission, but it’s convenient that St. Olaf’s general education curriculum provides you with most of the non-science prerequisites on these lists! HOWEVER, where all medical schools are the SAME is in their requirement of an MCAT score.  So, the question actually becomes… ”What courses are required for successful completion of the MCAT?”

Chemistry general: CHEM 125 and 126*, or CHEM 121, 123, and 126, or CH/BI 125 and 126*

organic:  CHEM 247 (lab CHEM 253) and 248 (lab CHEM 254)

Biology BIO 150 and 227 (or CH/BI 227), BIO 233 (genetics)  and physiology (BIO 243 or BIO 247)

CHEM 379 (biochemistry; lab is not necessary but recommended)

Physics PHY 124 and 125

Psychology PSYCH 125 and maybe 241 (developmental psychology)

Sociology any course on domestic social issues

Math STAT 110, 212, 214 or 263; note that at least one semester of calculus (MATH 120 or equivalent, or

   higher) is a prerequisite for CHEM 126 and CH/BI 126

How will I fit these premedical courses in with my major and GE requirements? Because many of the premedical courses overlap with general education requirements and/or major requirements (SED, IST, HBS, AQR), it’s less difficult than you might think. However, it’s a good idea to talk with your academic advisor about your premedical courses in the context of your prospective major(s) and any potential study abroad plans.

So, what should I register for during my first year? In Fall, most first year science (including premedical) students are taking a first year course (either a REL or a WRI or a “conversations” course), a language course, and a math course. We highly recommend that the fourth course be a chemistry course (either CHEM 121 or CHEM 125 or CH/BI 125 depending on your chemistry placement results).  This is also a good starting point for pre-dentistry, pre-veterinary medicine, pre-physician assistant, pre-podiatry, etc.  If you are in the Great Con  sequence, you cannot take CHEM 121 (as it requires CHEM 123 in the Interim), or the CH/BI 125 course (as it requires CH/BI 126 in the Interim).  



year one calculus; general chemistry or Ch/Bi (all year); maybe Bio 150 in the Spring;

a social science requirement

year two organic chemistry (all year); two biology courses (such as Bio 150, Bio 227 or Bio 233); a social science requirement; statistics

year three physics (all year); biochemistry (one semester, lab is not required); a course in physiology (human or animal)


“The med school I’m most interested in doesn’t require two semesters of organic, so I don’t need it.” All medical schools require the MCAT, which presumes two semesters of organic chemistry.
“I can’t go abroad because I’m premed.” Going abroad is a great way to develop cultural competency, which is prized by medical schools.
“I have to do lab research because I’m premed.” You should participate in scholarship, but it doesn’t have to be in a lab.  Research in linguistics, math, art history, math, etc. are all valid research experiences.
“I want to major in spanish, but to be competitive I have to double-major in chemistry or biology.” A double major will not help you get into med school.  It will often change increase the fraction of low level courses on your transcript, so you look like you’ve taken fewer challenging, advanced courses.3
“Being a college athlete will help me get into med school.” A four-year commitment to competitive sports or music is helpful IF you’ve managed your time well and maintained a high GPA.


Important reminders:

  1. Average GPA and MCAT scores are often predictive of acceptance to medical school.  However, special consideration is given to students who are disabled, under-represented, socio-economically disadvantaged, or underrepresented, and to the challenges such students may have faced on the road to applying to medical school.  Conversely, most medical schools do not accept international applicants and most public medical schools do not accept out-of-state candidates, no matter how high their MCAT or GPA numbers are.
  2. The application process to medical school is typically 6-12 months.  Students who plan to matriculate into medical school 3 months after graduating from college will begin the application process during the Spring of their Junior Year.
  3. You may pick any major that interests you, so long as you can complete the requirements at the top of the page.  You do NOT need to major in a science.  If you pick something unusual and are excited and passionate about it, this will make you interesting during your interview!

To download and print, click on this link: Medicine