Last Updated on August 12, 2023 by Oluwajuwon Alvina
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California Institute Of The Arts
Getting a high GPA
Scoring well on the MCAT
Finding meaningful activities and building a strong resume
Completing the application (including rec letters and essays) and interview, though you should note that these are mostly independent of the undergraduate school you choose
Want to know your chances at the schools you’re applying for? Calculate your admissions chances right now and understand your odds before applying.
Picking a College as a Pre-Med: Factors to Consider
When it comes to med school, your GPA is vital. You should be looking for colleges where you can score well, as a strong GPA is so important for medical school applications that it even supersedes class rank. The reason is that most medical schools use a mathematical formula that takes in the numerical value of GPA to assess students. For example, having a 3.5 GPA and being #18 in your class at one college is often worse than having a 3.9 and ranking #35 in your class at another for the purposes of medical school admission.
While GPA is often more important than rank, you should still aim to be amongst the strongest students on campus. Most college classes are graded on a curve, and being at the top of the curve translates to a high GPA. For example, you’d be much better off with a 3.95 at Bates College than a 3.35 at Princeton. Additionally, you want to avoid schools that have grade deflation (very difficult curves) and instead, look for the schools that have moderate to strong grade inflation (easier curves).
Although your science GPA plays a significant role in med school admissions, the rigor of your major is just as critical. Having a high GPA in an “easy” major won’t cut it; you need a rigorous course load to validate a high GPA
It’s also important to note that you should generally try to avoid your state’s flagship university. These universities have many academically competitive students who didn’t have the extracurricular resume or financial means to attend top-tier universities. So it’s a lot harder to get As in your pre-med classes.
A good MCAT score is also essential to med school admissions. You should look for a college with a curriculum that will prepare you well for the exam. Most colleges will cover the science material on the MCAT through their pre-med classes. However, you should also ensure that your college has good psychology, sociology, and even general education English classes that cover critical reading techniques. Attending a college that reinforces these other MCAT components will yield you a much better score overall.
Extracurricular Activities & Letters of Recommendation
Having a good resume isn’t just about loading it with generically impressive activities and awards. It’s important to have activities that are specifically meaningful and relevant to you as a potential med school student. You want to have plenty of patient care experience, ideally through shadowing or formal internships, though volunteering is okay if you can’t find one of the other options. Biology-specific or medical research is also a critical addition to your resume. And it’s beneficial to work or volunteer in the local community. If possible, try to work with diverse groups of people from varied socioeconomic backgrounds as that can be helpful experience for essay and interview questions.
Being able to fill out your resume with the right activities is another benefit to being at the top of your class. As one of the best students on campus, you will have easier access to better opportunities through professors and other health professions advisors.
When picking a school, you should also think about location. A college next to or in a city that has a robust medical industry, like Pittsburgh, Raleigh-Durham, or Houston, will have far more opportunities. By having access to major hospitals and private companies, you will increase your chances of getting valuable patient care experience and/or research.
Getting good rec letters comes down to, once again, being at the top of your class. Being a big fish in a small pond will help you gain the attention and favor of your professors, employers, and lab directors.
According to the most recent data released by the Association of American of Medical Colleges (AAMC), among the more than 50,000 candidates who submitted scores on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) as part of their medical school application, roughly 60 percent had an undergraduate major that could be classified as focusing on biological sciences.
In total, the AAMC has data tracking 21,622 students who matriculated to medical school. The breakdown of primary undergraduate majors in that group generally had a heavy emphasis on science and math, which tend to align with medical school prerequisite requirements.
The most common majors were:
Biological sciences—11,843 total matriculants.
Specialized health sciences—650.
Math and statistics—168.
It is worth noting that the second largest group of matriculants (3,843) tracked by the AAMC fell into the “other” category.
Top tips for premeds on getting into medical school
Do any majors have an admissions advantage?
The data seems to indicate that is not the case. For instance, 29,443 students with majors in the biological sciences applied to medical schools in 2018–2019.
The matriculation rate for that group was roughly 40 percent, lower than several other primary majors. Among the listed majors, students who studied biological sciences also had an average total MCAT score that fell in the middle of the group of tracked primary undergraduate majors.
Tonya Fancher, MD, MPH, is the associate dean for workforce innovation and community engagement at the University of California, Davis School of Medicine (UC Davis). The medical school is one of the 32 members of the AMA Accelerating Change in Medical Education Consortium working together to create the medical schools of the future and transform physician training.
UC Davis’ admissions office, Dr. Fancher said, doesn’t give more weight to one major or another as long as a student has completed the required prerequisites. “We look for mastery in an area that a student is passionate about,” Dr. Fancher said. “That could be in the study of art or history or science, in participation in college athletics or music or dance, or in making an impact in their community.”
That holistic approach to admissions may have benefits. A December 2018 study published in the journal Medical Education, “Pre‐medical majors in the humanities and social sciences: impact on communication skills and specialty choice,” found that medical students with premedical backgrounds in the humanities and social sciences may be more effective at communicating with patients.
Medical school applications up—what that means for premeds
Will certain majors help you have more success?
Some students have found a science-focused major gives them the foundation to succeed on the MCAT and hit the ground running once they enter medical school.
“In my [med] school, most of the premed requirements were easy to satisfy doing a bio major,” said Avi Levy, a first-year medical student at Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine.
“I was considering majoring in economics,” he said. “If I would’ve chosen that, I don’t know that I would have been as prepared for med school. The curriculum is hard enough having a degree in [biology].”
Jose Morfin, MD, a health sciences professor of medicine and nephrology and faculty lead of admissions at UC Davis, echoed those sentiments.
“I would recommend students to find a major that they are interested in and build on their strengths,” said Dr. Morfin. “Although you don’t need to be a science major to be a competitive applicant to medical school, a solid foundation in the sciences is necessary to succeed in the MCAT and medical school curriculum.”
The success that prospective applicants and medical students have will also be related to the knowledge and experiences they bring from outside of the classroom.
“We want students to be smart and adaptable,” Dr. Fancher said. “We also value their diverse backgrounds, which can enrich our learning environment and enhance care for our patients.”
Hopkins students take advantage of world-class resources and unique research opportunities to go beyond traditional medical careers and make a lasting impact on society.
Pre-health students at Hopkins are finding solutions to the world’s most pressing health issues and developing the techniques, procedures, and policies that shape the healthcare industry and impact patient care.
Pre-health at Hopkins encompasses pre-med and other health-related pre-professional tracks: Dentistry, pharmacy, physician’s assistant, optometry public health, veterinary medicine, nursing, and physical/occupational therapy. Pre-health students utilize our Pre-Professional Advising and Life Design Lab to explore the different spheres of healthcare professions, and have access to world-renowned facilities like our School of Public Health and School of Medicine.
Medical tutorials offer undergraduates the opportunity to broaden their concept of medicine through non-credit, non-graded experiences. Interested students are supervised by faculty at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine as they prepare for a career in healthcare.
Female student wears a student-designed Ebola protective suit
Pre-health students can join the Health Sciences Career Academy through our Life Design Lab to explore their interests in basic science, research, pharmaceuticals, public health, and medicine—and network with alumni who work in the health sciences.
Johns Hopkins Hospital
Students who complete committee letter eligibility requirements will receive a letter from the Office of Pre-Professional Advising that presents their background, strengths, and competencies for when they apply to medical school or dental school.
Research awards and resources
Hopkins Office for Undergraduate Research (HOUR) supports undergrads in research endeavors by connecting them to opportunities both inside and outside of Hopkins.
Pre-Professional Advising provides guidance for students on a pre-health track, and has programs like Johns Hopkins Underrepresented in Medicine Program (JUMP).
Pre-Health Advising Guides to help students understand the process of preparing for and applying to medical and dental schools.
Summer Opportunities for research, internships, jobs, and shadowing in health-related fields.
Study Abroad Opportunities, including programs specifically for pre-health students, such as Hopkins Oxford Pre-Medical Science Program in the United Kingdom and Hopkins Neuroscience in Salamanca, Spain.
Best Pre Med Schools US News
What is Pre-Med?
Pre-med, while it sounds like a major, is actually a college track that is made up of specific courses that you agree to take as prerequisite courses for medical school. Students can major in any field they want, but will have to take all of the required pre-med courses so that they stay on the pre-med track.
Most pre-med students choose to major in something related to the medical field, such as Biology or Chemistry. Learn more about some of the best majors for pre-med students.
If you do know that you want to be a medical doctor while you’re still in high school, you should look for colleges that will prepare you well for the career ahead of you. But as you sift through potential colleges, keep in mind that your pre-med experience should ultimately set you up for a bigger goal: med school. An ideal college will have a pre-med track that can guarantee success in these four crucial aspects of a medical school application:
Med school is a substantial commitment for not just the student, but also for their family. Many families want to save money on undergrad so they can afford to pay $200,000 for four years of med school. Fortunately, top-tier colleges usually grant great financial aid, generally offering at least some assistance to families with under $200,000 per year in household income. Beyond that, you may want to stay away from flagship state schools because of the competition factor mentioned previously. Instead, you can look for private schools that will offer you a strong merit aid package.
Becoming a doctor is not for everyone. The 10-12 years of commitment to school, residencies, and fellowships is tough for even the most passionate and driven students. If you’re still a little unsure by the time you apply, look for schools that allow you to easily switch majors and programs without having to apply internally. In these cases, you might want to apply to the most competitive school possible; that way, you’ll be at a good school regardless of whether you’re on the pre-med track.
What are your chances at these pre-med schools?
Our free Chancing Calculator uses your GPA, extracurriculars, testing and more to tell you your real chances at Cornell, Emory, and other schools with a pre-med program.
Calculate your chances now — it’s free!
A person sitting cross legged, pointing to the text, with an abstract monitor behind them
These are just a few factors to think about as you build a school list. As you may have noticed, many of these factors are broad and subjective. The “best” pre-med school will vary widely for each individual. However, if you want to look at the absolute best pre-med programs in the country, here are a few:
The Best Pre-Med Schools, Ranked
Note: Seven- or eight-year BS/MD programs, such as Brown’s PLME, are not included. Rankings are based on four key pre-application elements: GPA, MCAT prep, patient care experience, and research experience.
- Harvard College
Location: Cambridge, MA
Acceptance rate: 4.5%
U.S. News Ranking: 2
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1460-1580 SAT, 33-35 ACT
Undergraduate Enrollment: 6,788
Los Angeles Film School
As of 2012, Harvard reported an extremely high med school acceptance rate of 95%. With some of the smartest students in the world, a great location among the numerous Boston medical facilities, and groups such as the Harvard Premedical Society, Harvard offers a plethora of invaluable resources to its pre-med students. The college is also known for its rampant grade inflation, with the median grade being an A-, so that’s good news for your GPA.
Learn more about Harvard and what it takes to get accepted.
- Duke University
Location: Durham, NC
Acceptance rate: 7.8%
U.S. News Ranking: 10
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1500-1560 SAT, 33-35 ACT
Undergraduate Enrollment: 6,682
Duke, while very academically competitive, still boasts a high 85% med school acceptance rate. Students at Duke also have access to a wide variety of resources, from personalized advising to research and internship opportunities provided by Durham and Duke’s prestigious School of Medicine.
Learn more about Duke and what it takes to get accepted.
- University of Pennsylvania
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Acceptance rate: 7.7%
U.S. News Ranking: 6
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1460-1550 SAT, 33-35 ACT
Undergraduate Enrollment: 10,183
UPenn is one of the best pre-med schools in the nation, boasting a 76% med school acceptance rate. UPenn’s core pre-med courses and suggested courses both prepare students well for the MCAT by emphasizing all aspects of the test. UPenn is also in an excellent location for pre-med students, with facilities like the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia nearby.
Learn more about the University of Pennsylvania and what it takes to get accepted.
- Washington University in Saint Louis
Location: St. Louis, MO
Acceptance rate: 14%
U.S. News Ranking: 19
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1480-1550 SAT, 33-35 ACT
Undergraduate Enrollment: 7,751
Pre-med students at WashU not only have access to a four year advising program, but also to MCAT prep classes, mock interviews, writing workshops for med school applications, and two local hospitals. WashU ensures that their pre-med students are on the right path by providing constant hands-on assistance and meaningful research and internships.
Learn more about Washington University in Saint Louis and what it takes to get accepted.
- Rice University
Location: Houston, TX
Acceptance rate: 8.7%
U.S. News Ranking: 17
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1470-1560 SAT, 33-35 ACT
Undergraduate Enrollment: 3,978
The Office of Academic Advising at Rice provides extensive resources to pre-med students, including a database of relevant research and internship opportunities and pre-med advising orientations. Additionally, Rice’s Joint Admission Medical Program helps low-income Texas students afford med school. Houston is also a town with many large hospitals that provide research, shadowing, and volunteering opportunities.
University Of Southern California
Learn more about Rice University and what it takes to get accepted.
- Stanford University
Location: Stanford, CA
Acceptance rate: 4.4%
U.S. News Ranking: 6
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1420-1570 SAT, 32-35 ACT
Undergraduate Enrollment: 7,087
Stanford offers a variety of extracurricular and research options to their undergraduate students. Their Stanford Immersion in Medicine Series (SIMS) Program gives sophomores, juniors, and seniors the opportunity to shadow doctors at Stanford Hospital, Palo Alto VA Hospital, and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital.
Learn more about Stanford University and what it takes to get accepted.
- Northwestern University
Location: Evanston, IL
Acceptance rate: 9.1%
U.S. News Ranking: 9
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1450-1540 SAT, 33-35 ACT
Undergraduate Enrollment: 8,231
Northwestern pre-med students have access to a wealth of resources through the school’s Health Professions Advising. Resources range from MCAT advice/training to GPA calculators to local shadowing opportunities. Northwestern makes sure its pre-med students are well-informed and prepared for med school.
Learn more about Northwestern University and what it takes to get accepted.
- Brown University
Location: Providence, RI
Acceptance rate: 7.1%
U.S. News Ranking: 14
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1420-1550 SAT, 32-35 ACT
Undergraduate Enrollment: 7,043
As of 2018, Brown students had an 85% med school acceptance rate. Brown’s Health Careers Advising offers plenty of resources to get experience in the medical field, such as clinical experience and volunteer opportunities. Students at Brown also have the opportunity to get hands-on experience as an EMT working with Brown EMS. Brown is a great option for students wanting to pursue a non-STEM major while completing medical school science course prerequisites—the school has an open curriculum, meaning there are no general education requirements, and students can take whatever courses they want, as long as they complete their major requirements.
Learn more about Brown University and what it takes to get accepted.
- Amherst College
Location: Amherst, MA
Acceptance rate: 11.3%
U.S. News Ranking: 2 in National Liberal Arts Colleges
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1420-1530 SAT, 31-34 ACT
Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,855
Amherst has an open curriculum as well, so it’s another college especially well-suited for pre-med students wanting to major in a non-STEM subject. Beyond that, Amherst is a strong choice as a liberal arts college. Due to its smaller enrollment and emphasis on undergraduate education, students will be able to get to know their professors, leading to stronger mentorship and standout letters of recommendation. You will also have access to pre-med advisors who are invested in your success.
The Pre-Health Professions Committee is also very involved in the medical school admissions process, helping coordinate mock interviews, providing insider information (interview account, data on past applicants, etc.), and advising you throughout the process. The medical school acceptance rate is 75-80%, though this rate increases to over 90% when you include re-applicants.
Learn more about Amherst College and what it takes to get accepted.
- Case Western Reserve University
Location: Cleveland, OH
Acceptance rate: 29%
U.S. News Ranking: 40
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1370-1490 SAT, 30-34 ACT
Undergraduate Enrollment: 5,262
Case Western is a prime example of a college with an excellent location, as it is located right next to the world-famous Cleveland Clinic and other hospitals, such as the University Hospitals and Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center. Students will have a wide array of research and volunteering opportunities available to them. CWRU students can also gain clinical experience through the campus’ EMS team, or by working in the local nursing homes, hospice care facilities, or patient recovery houses.
Learn more about Case Western Reserve University and what it takes to get accepted.
There are many more schools that are great for pre-med students. See the complete list of best colleges for pre-med.
Do You Have a Balanced College List?
The schools on this list are highly-selective and will be considered “reaches” for most sctudents. It’s important to have a balanced college list to maximize your chances of getting into a good fit school. A student should apply to 8-12 schools, with 25% being safety schools, 40% target schools, and 35% reach schools.
Your chances of acceptance are what make a school a safety, target, or reach. We’ve made it easy to figure out which schools fall into these categories with our free Admissions Chances Calculator. This tool will let you know your odds of acceptance, and give you tips on improving your profile.
You can also search for schools based on preferences like location, major, cost, and more. Give it a try to get a jumpstart on your college strategy.