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What kinds of co-curricular activities are helpful or appropriate if I am considering medical school or another career in the health professions?

Medical and other health profession schools are looking for evidence that candidates for admission are making an informed choice and that they are altruistically oriented. Hence, any activities that help you to learn about the profession are important. Experience in a clinical setting is required for admission. In addition, you should consider service-oriented activities that interest and inspire you. If you are considering a career in dentistry or veterinary medicine you may be required to have spent a certain number of hours volunteering, interning with or shadowing a practitioner in the field. Be sure to check the requirements for schools in which you are interested for specific guidelines. Sections on our website that may be most helpful include: Health Professions Competencies, Gaining Experience in the Health Professions, Forms & Tip Sheets.

What concentrations are best if I am pre-med or looking into the health professions in general?

Medical schools, as well as other health profession training programs, do not require any particular concentration.  You should choose your concentration based on your academic interests. As you think of your concentration and other courses to take, consider that college offers a unique opportunity to explore different knowledge areas. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of all that Brown’s curriculum has to offer- it will make you a well-rounded individual and a stronger candidate for admission. 

Do I have to get straight A’s or mostly A’s to be a viable candidate?

It is true that you'll need strong grades to be a viable candidate for medical school admission. This does not mean that you must have an A in every single class you take. Students who may have experienced significant challenges in their transition to college or during an impactful personal situation and demonstrate academic improvement can also prepare well for the application process. Talk with us if you have experienced challenges so we can help you assess and plan ahead.  The best source of information about grade point averages needed for admission is Medical School Admission Requirements, the official guide from the Association of American Medical Colleges. Other health professions vary in their competitiveness for admission. Guidebooks for various health professions are available at Health Careers Advising in the Pre-Professional Advising Center in J. W. Wilson 313; most are on the web. Links to health professions schools and application systems are posted on our Resources page. Use them to help gauge your preparedness for admission. The Admission Statistics page on our website provides helpful context. 

What counts in the science GPA?

(BCPM- Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Math)

Each health profession has its own online common application service which has its own method of classifying courses for the science GPA. Usually, application services count courses listed in biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics toward the science GPA. Application services will often include neuroscience courses under biology, but they do not include courses in psychology, cognitive science, geology, or computer science (engineering is usually a separate classification). Mathematics generally includes courses in applied math as well as statistics courses in the social sciences (e.g., sociology and psychology). For more information on which courses count toward the science GPA, consult the instructions provided by the application service(s) you use when applying for admission.

What are the best kinds of recommendations for medical school?

Health professions schools vary in their expectations for letters of recommendation. Brown's Health Careers Advisory Committee requires that applicants from Brown University have two letters of recommendation from faculty members at Brown, at least one of which must be from a professor in biology, neuroscience, chemistry, physics, or mathematics. These should come from faculty members who have taught you and/or supervised you on a project. You are also required to have a third letter from an individual who knows you in an academic, supervisory, or mentoring capacity. This could be another Brown faculty member but it could also come from other individuals on or off campus. You can add a fourth letter from a faculty member, mentor, supervisor, etc. (from Brown or elsewhere) if you feel that this will help to represent the breadth of your knowledge and experiences effectively. In general, letters of recommendation should be substantive evaluations of the particular qualities that you will bring to your chosen profession. Therefore, the best recommendations will come from people who know you well. Recommendations from high-ranking or well-known individuals who do not show substantive knowledge of your qualifications are not as helpful as letters from individuals who are less prominent but who have better knowledge of your abilities and experiences. Applicants have the right to retain right of access to letters of recomendation (FERPA). However, health professions admission committees do not consider non-confidential letters to be as informative as confidential ones.  Sections on our website that may be most helpful include: Applicants, Forms & Tip Sheets. 

Is doing research really critical if I follow the pre-health/pre-med track?

Engaging in research, whether in the sciences or other disciplines, is a wonderful way to enhance your education and to build connections with faculty mentors. This can certainly help your application to medical or other health professions school as most applicants would have some research experience. Foudnational knowledge of reserach methods is also woven into the MCAT exam. However, you should never undertake research unless you have genuine interest in it. Faculty at Brown, as well as members of admission committees, can recognize lack of passion or enthusiasm for a particular activity listed on an application. You will be a stronger applicant if you are truly excited about an activity in which you have participated and if you have engaged in it well. Sections on our website that may be most helpful include: Gaining Experience in the Health Professions, Health Professions Competencies. 

What is the time line for applying, including finishing required courses, taking the MCAT, and submitting applications?

The process of applying to medical school, or to any other health profession training program can take up to one and a half years. Students planning to take one or more years off before beginning their professional training have much flexibility and can develop stronger application credentials. Students who wish to matriculate to a health profession school in the fall immediately after college graduation must have completed all of their required pre-med/pre-health course work and have taken the MCAT, DAT, GRE, etc. in the spring and no later than May of junior year.

Nationally, the majority of successful applicants begin the application process after completing their undergraduate studies in senior year (taking one "gap" or "glide" year). This allows them to present stronger credentials, to work, volunteer, travel or combine any of these.  Some employers require or strongly prefer a 2-year commitment (partciularly in research, teaching, or consulting). Nearly three-quarters of Brown applicants take at least one "gap" year, applying to health professions schools after senior year. The national average age of matriculating applicants to M.D. programs is 24 and is similar in other health professions.

Applicants who take one or two years off are better able to focus on their studies in their senior year of college, which in turn can lead to a higher senior year GPA. These students can then focus their attention on preparing for and taking the MCAT or other standardized tests in senior year or later, engaging in meaningful work or volunteer activities, and amassing strong application credentials that reflect their growth and development over time. An extra year or two can also help you better understand why you want to pursue a career in health and medicine. Your application will reflect this deeper understanding, and will make you more attractive to admission committees which look for applicants who possess the maturity, drive, and a well-rounded record to succeed in their programs and in the profession. Sections that may be most helpful include:  Health Professions Personal Competencies, Admission Statistics, Applicants, Standardized Tests (MCAT, DAT, GRE).

To how many schools do "typical" pre-health/pre-med students and alumni apply?

The average applicant to medical school from Brown University applies to between 15 and 20 schools. The national average is 15.  Applicants to other professions generally apply to about 10 schools. 

Is it okay for a Brown pre-health/pre-med student to take a course satisfactory/no-credit? If so, which ones and how many?

You should NOT take any of the courses required for admission satisfactory/no-credit (with the obvious exception of courses that are only offered Mandatory S/NC). Note that S/NC* courses (with an asterisk) indicate that the S/NC grade option was mandatory. The asterisk does not indicate that you passed the course “with distinction”. Note also that “with distinction” does not appear on the Brown transcript. Courses not required for admission may be taken S/NC but you should be judicious in using this option. Schools find it difficult to evaluate applicants who have taken a large number of S/NC courses, so be careful. Taking one or two elective S/NC courses during your studies at Brown in areas outside of your concentration or major area of study should not be problematic. You should only choose the S/NC option if you believe that it will enhance your educational experience in a given course. It is best not to take S/NC courses in your concentration or area of major academic focus. Never use the S/NC option to make it easier to do well in the rest of your courses for a given semester. The S/NC option is not intended as a time-management tool or grade point average enhancer.  

How much Math is really required for the majority of medical schools?

Health profession schools vary in their mathematics requirements. Over half of all MD programs require up to two semesters and all remaining schools strongly prefer some experience with college mathematics. The majority of medical schools (M.D. and D.O.) with a math requirement will look for between one and two semesters of math. Most of them would expect a semester of calculus and a semester of statistics. No health professions schools require multivariable calculus. A small number require two semesters of calculus but they will allow you to substitute college courses with advanced placement credit or credit from other college-level exams taken in high school. Some California state medical schools do not accept advanced placement credit. If you had AP or other credit for MATH 0090 and/or MATH 0100, you should still take at least one math course at Brown (statistics recommended).  

The definitive source of information on all required coursework by individual M.D. schools is the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR), an internet-only system. D.O. schools produce the Osteopathic Medical College Information Book (OMCIB) which is a printed book and a free PDF. Other health professions have their own web and printed resources. Be sure you know the requirements for schools in which you are interested. Sections on our website that may be most helpful include: Pre-Med/Pre-Health Professions Courses, AP Scores.

For all health professions, it is your responsibility to be sure that you have met all applicable admission requirements. 

What courses meet Chemistry requirements and provide preparation for standardized tests?

Nearly all health profession training programs, including medical, dental, and vet schools, require 4 semesters of chemistry with lab (2 semesters general/inorganic and 2 semesters of organic). Most health professions schools look at Biochemistry as an excellent substitute for a second semester general chemistry with lab. Knowledge of biochemistry is also necessary for the MCAT beginning in 2015.  

A number of medical schools require a 5-course sequence in chemistry (2 semesters general/inorganic, 2 semesters of organic, and 1 semester of biochemistry).

If I am not a biology concentrator, how many biology courses should I take in order to be a viable candidate and do well on the MCAT, DAT, or other exam? Any suggestions about which courses are the most useful?

In general, two biology courses with lab sections will prepare you adequately for the MCAT, DAT, or other standardized test though taking more than two would strengthen your preparation and credentials.  You should begin with BIOL 0200 unless you have an AP score in biology or other equivalent preparation.  Physiology (BIOL 0800) and Genetics (BIOL 0470) are both excellent courses to take in preparation for a career in the health professions.  Non-science concentrators are encouraged to complete additional course work in Biology or Neuroscience (no lab component necessary). Most Brown pre-health/pre-med students take Introduction to Biochemistry (BIOL 0280) to fulfill chemistry requirements and to prepare for theMCAT. This is a course many health professions schools recommend or require but will not be counted as a biology course. Sections on our website that may be most helpful include: Pre-Med/Pre-Health Professions Courses, Standardized tests (MCAT, DAT, GRE). 

What is the best way to prepare for the MCAT?

Most importantly, you should take the exam only after you have completed the necessary courses successfully and have given yourself ample time to prepare. All of your MCAT scores are visible to every medical school to which you apply and it is important to take the exam only when you are prepared to do your best work. Most students and alumni take the exam in the year prior to their application (which starts every June). About 70% of Brown students and alumni apply to medical school upon or a year after graduation. Your academic preparation should include a biochemistry course, as well as a foundational course in the behavioral and social sciences. After you complete these courses 2-3 months of dedicated study is typically sufficient. Both self-study and preparation courses can be effective though each has pros and cons. A test prep course gives you plentiful review materials and practice exams, as well as a lot of structure. However, the price is high, sometimes exceeding $2,000. Self-study is less expensive and many good review books and practice exams are available at bookstores and through on-line booksellers. Note that this approach requires self-discipline. If you opt for self-study, consider forming a study group. Be sure that your partners are self-motivated, reliable, and dedicated! Consult the official MCAT preparation web-based and print guide books including the Khan Academy tutorials. You can obtain official MCAT practice tests and many tutorial and self-evaluation materials from AAMC's website.  All currently available relevant information and preparation resources are detailed on our website under Standardized Test (MCAT, DAT, GRE)

Is it ever OK to take required health careers courses in the summer at Brown or elsewhere?

In general, many health profession schools, and particularly medical schools, do not view summer courses as favorably as they do courses taken during the fall and spring terms at Brown. However, if you have a compelling academic rationale for taking a summer course (e.g., to enable you to study abroad, or to participate in research or clinical activities) and if you believe you will be a strong applicant overall, you could take a required course during a summer session. You should preferably do so at Brown or at a school with a reputation for academic rigor (no community colleges or courses online).  Furthermore, we do not recommend that you take more than one required class in the summer for the duration of your undergraduate education. It is best not to take any required science courses during the summer, particularly chemistry.

Do you need to be a premed major to apply to medical school?

The short answer is: No, you don’t need to be a premed major to get into medical school… But a premed major increases your odds of admission.  The fact is that many universities don’t have premed majors. In those cases students usually major in biology or chemistry.  Social science and humanities majors can earn admission to medical school.  For example, I’ve seen psychology majors at my university get accepted to medical school. While some applicants are successful in gaining admission to medical school without a science degree, make no mistake, it is challenging. All successful applicants, regardless of major, have at least one thing in common: Lots of science courses.

What do medical schools look for in applicants?
Med school admissions committees look for applicants who have the potential successfully complete the program.

Applicants must demonstrate the capacity to do the academic work entailed in earning a medical degree. That means that you must show that you have the capacity to handle all of the math and science required to get through med school. Your undergraduate coursework is the only indicator of your preparation and your potential for academic success.

All medical schools require, at minimum, the following courses:

One year of biology
One year of physics 
One year of English
Two years of chemistry (organic and inorganic chemistry)

Many other courses are recommended. For example, math, although not listed as an essential by the Association of American Medical Colleges, is an important indicator of your ability to reason and think like a scientist. 

Make room in your schedule for science classes.
The more science, the better. Students who choose majors outside the sciences will likely use all of their electives on science or may find themselves delaying graduation in order to complete the science requirements. Therefore a premed or science major is not necessary to apply to medical school, but it makes it easier to complete the science courses required by all medical schools. 

GPA always matters.
It’s not just a matter of taking the required science classes. You must earn high grades in these classes.  Your overall grade point average (GPA) must be no lower than 3.5 on the US 4.0 scale. Non-science and science GPAs are calculated separately but you should earn at least a 3.5 in each.


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How much does it cost for medical school in USA?

The median four-year cost of medical school (including expenses and books) was $278,455 for private schools, and $207,866 for public schools in 2013 according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Medical School Tuition Frequently Asked Questions

What’s happening with tuition?

The cost of medical education has risen substantially over the past two decades. In 1981, the average tuition and fees at public and private US medical schools were $2761 and $8962, respectively. In 2002, the average tuition and fees at public and private US medical schools were $14,577 and $30,960, representing increases of 528% and 345%, respectively.(1) Below is a graph illustrating these increases over the past decade.

Where does the tuition money go?

For public schools, the percentage of medical school revenue that is derived from tuition and fees is about 3% on average; for private medical schools, the percentage is about 5-8%. However, there is a wide range in the percentage of total revenue that comes from student payments, anywhere from 1% to 44%.(2) For about 50% of the US medical schools, the entire tuition revenue is directly retained, while about 12% of schools retain only a portion of the tuition revenue. About 38% of schools have tuition income go towards their health science center, the central university administration, the state, or a combination of these areas.(3)

How much of my tuition money actually goes towards funding my medical education?

There have been several studies conducted over the last 3 decades investigating the annual costs of educating a medical student, both in terms of instructional costs and educational resources costs. These studies have found that instructional costs range anywhere from about $48,000 to $51,000 per student per year, and educational resources costs from about $80,000 to $105,000 per student per year (adjusted for 2002 constant dollars).(4) Instructional costs are primarily comprised of professor salaries and costs that relate directly to the teaching program, while total educational resources include all activities of teaching, research, scholarship, patient care, and maintenance of facilities.(5) Therefore, tuition does NOT cover all costs to fund your medical education. This inherently means that medical schools must derive funds from other sources.

What sources do medical schools derive their revenue from?

Medical schools have several sources that contribute to their overall revenue stream. For example, below is a table and chart illustrating the breakdown of medical school revenues in 2001-2002.(6)

Revenue Source 2001-2002 Percentage (All Schools)
Practice Plans 36.0
Hospitals/Medical School Programs 12.5
Federal Appropriations 0.3
State and Local Government Appropriations 7.1
Parent University Support 0.6
Tuition and Fees 3.3
Endowment 2.1
Gifts 2.4
Miscellaneous Sources 4.1
Total Grants and Contracts 31.7
Total Revenues 100.0

Allopathic medical schools generally derive a very small percentage (10% or less) of their total revenue from tuition. However, osteopathic medical schools depend more on tuition (15% to almost 50% of their revenue).(6) This is because osteopathic medical schools generally do not receive as much grant money (research funding), government funding, or hospital revenue as allopathic institutions. Due to changes in our health care system, the economy, and other external factors, practice plans and hospital revenue account for increasing portions of total revenue, while grants (research funding) are decreasing. For example, below is a graph illustrating changes in three areas of revenue over the past three years. These changes have a significant impact on the three-legged stool of academic health centers: teaching, research, and clinical practice.

While some of these percent changes may seem small, the overall effects of these changes account for millions of dollars of revenue being derived from alternative sources such as endowments, government appropriations, or gifts. Recent downturns in state economies have forced statewide budget cuts, thereby affecting state appropriations for graduate and medical education. Therefore, tuition becomes an important source of funds for medical schools to compensate for reductions in other revenue streams. However, it is interesting to note that overall medical school revenues have been increasing over the past decade. This means that although tuition and fees may account for around 3% of revenues on average from year to year, the overall increases in revenues indicate that tuition is increasing at a much higher rate since the 3% is part of a larger overall revenue stream.(4) Furthermore, expenditure levels do not clearly indicate where these additional revenues are going; for example, instructional costs have gone from about $47,000 per student per year in 1974 to $51,000 (7) per student per year in 1997 (8) (adjusted to constant 2002 dollars).

Who determines the tuition rates?

Surprisingly, most medical schools do not have the authority for setting the tuition levels. For example, in the year 2000, only 33% of US medical schools had their tuition levels set by the medical school or health science central administration. For about 47% of schools, the tuition was determined by the Board of Trustees of the parent university. And, in about 20% of schools, the state legislature or other state authority had the final say in tuition levels.(3)

What can I do? – AMSA’s Student Action Guide

There are a few key things you can do at your home institution to advocate for changes in the current tuition trends. You might not be sure of where to begin, but AMSA’s step-by-step guide will take you through the process.

Gather information
Know the terminology
Organize for change
Know your targets
Know what can be done
Start a campaign
Let us know what you are doing

Check out our student action guide to help you through this process!


Association of American Medical Colleges, Washington, DC. Medical School Admission Requirements. various years.
Liaison Committee on Medical Education Annual Medical School Financial Questionnaire 1997-1998. The questionnaire was sent to all 125 LCME-accredited medical schools and had a 100% response rate.
Liaison Committee on Medical Education Annual Medical School Questionnaire-Part II 1999-2000. The questionnaire was sent to the deans of all 125 LCME-accredited medical schools and had a 100% response rate.
American Medical Association, Medical Education Group, Chicago , IL . Report on the Council on Medical Education – CME Report 2-I-00/Medical School Financing, Tuition, and Student Debt.
Jones RF, Korn D. On the cost of educating a medical student. Academic Medicine 1997;72:200-210.
Liaison Committee on Medical Education Annual Medical School Financial Questionnaire 2001-2002. The questionnaire was sent to all 125 LCME-accredited medical schools and had a 100% response rate.
Undergraduate medical education elements, objectives, and costs. A report by the AAMC Committee on the Financing of Medical Education. J. Med. Educ. 1974;49:101-128.
Franzini L, Low MD, Proll MA. Using a cost-construction model to assess the cost of educating undergraduate medical students at the University of Texas-Houston Medical School. Academic Medicine 1997;72:228-237.