Is Premed a Major?

by Stephanie Thurrott

If you’re preparing for a career as a doctor, you’ve probably heard the term “premed.” But what exactly does that mean when it comes to your education? Is premed a major? Discover the meaning behind this common term and how it can prepare you for medical school and beyond.

Is Premed a Major?

Many people think premed—which stands for premedical—is a major. But that’s not the case. The word “premed” refers to an advising path to medical school. On the premed track, you’ll learn about the admission process for medical school and get help to enhance your application.

What Do Premed Students Major In?

Every medical school has its own requirements for prerequisite classes. As long as you complete the prerequisites for the schools where you’re applying, you can major in whatever area you like.

The Association of American Medical Colleges shares course requirements for schools throughout the United States and Canada. Generally speaking, you’ll need to complete at least:

  • Two years of chemistry, including general, organic, and biochemistry with labs
  • One year of biology with labs
  • One year of physics with labs
  • One year of math, including calculus and statistics
  • One year of English
  • One class in genetics
  • One class in psychology
  • One class in sociology

Because of the heavy emphasis on science classes, many premed students major in biology, chemistry, or biochemistry. However, you can choose whichever major best suits your interests. For example, at Azusa Pacific University, some students pursue honors and major in the humanities while completing their prerequisite courses at the same time.

But does your major impact whether you get accepted to medical school? According to admissions data for thousands of medical school applicants, students who majored in biological sciences weren’t accepted at higher rates than students with other majors.

A Note on AP and Community College Classes

Most medical schools don’t count AP credits toward prerequisites. If you plan to attend medical school, you’ll likely need to take any AP courses again as an undergraduate, even if your college gives you credit for them.

Medical schools’ policies on accepting community college courses also vary. Some schools may prefer you take prerequisite classes at a four-year college or university rather than at a community college.

How Important Are Your Grades?

While your major doesn’t matter as long as you complete the necessary prerequisite classes, grades are important. Your grade point average (GPA) is one of the top factors admissions representatives look at when considering your application. A strong GPA shows you’re prepared to handle the rigorous coursework medical schools require.

Aim for a GPA of 3.5 or higher for the best chance of getting accepted into a top-tier medical school. Your GPA in your science classes is especially important since schools often look at that number separately.

Most medical schools will publish the average GPA for accepted students on their websites, so see how you stack up. If your GPA isn’t as strong as you’d like, keep in mind that many of the students admitted have GPAs below the average. Plus, other factors can help boost your odds of getting in (more on that later).

What about Standardized Testing?

As a premed student, you’ll need to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Your scores on this standardized test demonstrate your scientific knowledge and problem-solving and critical thinking skills. Along with your GPA, your MCAT score is one of the most important factors admissions representatives consider when evaluating applicants.

Most students take the test the same year they apply for medical school (usually the year before they plan to attend). Make sure you’ve completed your prerequisite courses first since they’ll help prepare you for the MCAT.

You can take the test more than once. Consider taking it early in case you want to retest to improve your scores.

How Can You Gain Experience in the Field?

Experience in medical and clinical settings shows admission counselors you understand the medical profession and what your career in the field might be like. Many applicants include hundreds of hours of hands-on experience in their medical school applications.

For example, you might shadow a doctor, volunteer in a clinic, work as an emergency medical technician (EMT) or certified nursing assistant (CNA), or enter data for a medical facility. Most medical schools look for a minimum of 50 hours of experience.

You can also volunteer in an underserved community, which will give you valuable insight into healthcare access and inequity.

Research Requirements

Not all medical schools require you to have research experience, but the top medical schools generally do. This experience can make your application stand out, especially at research-intensive schools.

When It’s Time to Apply

Most medical schools in the US use the American Medical College Application Service to process medical school applications. This application asks for your background information, coursework, work and activities, letters of evaluation, the schools you want to apply to, an essay, and standardized test information.

Apply early. Many schools make admission decisions on a rolling basis, and you have a better chance of getting accepted if you submit your application sooner. Want to learn more about pursuing a career in medicine? Explore APU’s premedical track to get a sense of what your path to medical school might look like.