Pre-Med Advising Notes

Course Requirements

The pre-medical student may select any major and each student should feel free to follow his or her own intellectual and academic interests. As long as the student completes the required courses, s/he may major in any subject, or pursue any academic interest.

Medical, dental, and veterinary schools expect students to have a strong foundation in the natural sciences, i.e., biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics. Most medical, dental, and veterinary schools require the following:

  • Chemistry with lab: 2 years
  • Mathematics: 1 year
  • Physics with lab: 1 year
  • English: 1 year
  • Biology with lab: 1 year
  • Social Sciences: 1 year

Premedical students who plan to attend school right after graduation from college should complete the above science requirements by the end of the junior year and take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) then. Starting with the new MCAT in 2015, you need to take the two social science classes before taking the MCAT. All courses in the above areas should be taken for a grade unless they are taken during the first semester at Swarthmore when all grades are recorded as Credit (CR) or No Credit (NC).

Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) credit granted by Swarthmore may be used to satisfy the mathematics requirement but not the science requirements, because medical schools want students to experience college level laboratories. If the student received AP credit in the sciences, s/he may take upper level courses to satisfy medical school requirements, or relinquish the AP credit and take introductory courses.

The following courses are commonly used to prepare for the MCAT and satisfy minimum medical or dental admissions requirements.  Some veterinary schools require specific animal science courses, such as "Feeds and Feeding," or an additional semester of general chemistry as prerequisites.  Pre-vet students should come to the Health Sciences Office to check the prerequisites for their state university and other schools in which they may be interested.

In 2015, the MCAT format and content will change.  Among other things, it will include a social and behavioral science component, and it is recommended that students take an introductory course in psychology and in sociology or anthropology.

1. Biology

BIOL 001 — Cellular and Molecular Biology — Fall Semester
BIOL 002 — Organismal and Population Biology — Spring Semester

Bio 2 may be taken before Bio 1, but Bio 1 is taught only in the fall and Bio 2 only in the spring. AP credit in biology will not satisfy the medical school requirement.  Students must either take Bio 1 and Bio 2 (and relinquish the AP credit) or take one of the introductory courses (Bio 1 or Bio 2) and an intermediate level biology course with a lab.  In choosing courses, keep in mind that Bio 1 and Bio 2 provide a sound foundation for the MCATs, so be sure that the student has mastery of that material if s/he plans to substitute another biology course.  (To receive AP credit in biology, the student must score a 5 on the AP exam and successfully complete one other Swarthmore biology course with a laboratory.)

Veterinary schools often require genetics and/or microbiology in addition to Bio 1 and 2.

2. Chemistry

CHEM 010 — General Chemistry — Fall Semester
CHEM 010H — Honors General Chemistry — Fall Semester,
CHEM 022 — Organic Chemistry I — Spring Semester
CHEM 032 — Organic Chemistry II — Fall Semester
CHEM 038 — Biological Chemistry — Spring Semester

AP credit cannot be used to satisfy the chemistry requirement for medical school. Students with a 5 on the AP test should take Chem 10HN to satisfy the medical school requirement. Students who plan to take chemistry at some point during their time at Swarthmore must take the Chemistry Readiness Exam during Orientation (except those with a 5 on the AP exam or a 6 or 7 on the IB.) Students with an especially weak high school chemistry preparation will be advised to first complete a math course before taking Chem 10. It should be noted that starting Chem 10 sophomore year makes it difficult to major in chemistry or biochemistry.

Students sometimes take organic chemistry I and II (with lab) at an accredited university during the summer. If they hope to transfer credit to Swarthmore, they should first consult with the chemistry department.

Biochemistry is recommended as the fourth course in chemistry because it helps students prepare for the MCAT and medical school.

Veterinary schools often require a fifth chemistry course with lab. Students may fulfill this by taking an intermediate or advanced course in Swarthmore's chemistry department, or General Chemistry II at Haverford or Bryn Mawr with special permission from Swarthmore's chemistry department. (This option is ONLY available to pre-vet students, with a letter of support from Gigi and a meeting with the chemistry chair.) Alternatively, students may take the full-year course in general chemistry for two credits at either Haverford or Bryn Mawr in lieu of Swarthmore's one-semester general chemistry course (Chem 10). They may also take General Chemistry II at another institution without receiving Swarthmore credit.

3. Physics

Either the two-semester sequence:

PHYS 003 — General Physics I — Fall Semester
PHYS 004 — General Physics II — Spring Semester
PHYS 004L — General Physics II for Life Sciences — Spring Semester

Or the three-semester sequence:

PHYS 005 — Spacetime, Quanta, Cosmology — Fall Semester
PHYS 007 — Introductory Mechanics — Spring Semester
PHYS 008 — Electricity, Magnetism, and Waves — Fall Semester

Both Physics 3 and 4 as well as Physics 7 and 8 require calculus. Medical schools do not require students to enroll in calculus-based physics classes, but that is the only kind that is offered at Swarthmore. Some students, especially those who are majoring in the humanities or social sciences, elect to take a non-calculus-based Physics I and II with laboratory over the summer at one of the many accredited universities and colleges that offer summer school sessions. (Some students also take calculus-based physics courses over the summer.) The Department of Physics may give students credit (with approval) for calculus-based physics courses taken with laboratories at other accredited institutions. They will not give Swarthmore credit for non-calculus-based physics, but receiving Swarthmore credit is not necessary for those courses to meet the premedical requirements.

If a student is awarded one or two AP credits in physics, which are equivalent to Physics 3 and 4, s/he may still take either Physics 3 and 4 at Swarthmore or take more advanced physics courses with labs (such as Physics 5, 7 and 8) to satisfy the medical school requirement. (Taking Physics 3 or 7 may involve relinquishing the relevant AP credit; similarly with taking Physics 4 or 8.) Physics 5 is a prerequisite to Physics 7, but it does not satisfy the physics requirement for medical, dental, or veterinary school. Please note that the physics courses should be taken in the proper sequence; Physics 3 before Physics 4 or 4L, or Physics 7 before Physics 8, unless permission is received from the instructor.

4. Mathematics and Statistics

MATH 015 — Calculus I — Fall Semester
MATH 025 — Further Topics in Single-Variable Calc. — Fall or Spring Semester
MATH 026 — Advanced Topics in Single-Variable Calculus — Fall Semester
STAT 011 — Statistical Methods — Fall Semester or Spring Semester

Many medical schools require a year of mathematics and recommend calculus and statistics. Medical schools vary in their math requirements. The most conservative way to meet the requirements at the largest number of medical schools is to have one calculus credit and one statistics credit. If a student completes both Math 15 and Stat 11 at Swarthmore, s/he will have satisfied the mathematics requirement for any medical school.

Most, but not all, medical schools will accept AP credit in place of actual coursework in calculus and statistics. Because Harvard is of great interest to our students, it is worth noting that Harvard will accept AP credit for calculus, but not statistics. Our pre-med Website lists every medical school's math requirements.

Students planning to take Physics 4 (but not 4L) at Swarthmore must take Math 25 during or before the course.

It is also possible to place out of Math 15 or 25 and get equivalent credit by passing the final exams in these courses with a grade of straight C or better. Normally, these exams must be taken at the end of the student's first semester at Swarthmore. Students who wish to take these exams must arrange to do so the first week of the semester with the Math/Stat First-Year Advisor, Professor Cheryl Grood.

5. English

2 English Courses

Any English course listed in the catalog may be used to satisfy this requirement. Occasionally, students may be able to use a literature in translation course for some medical schools, but this is not recommended, because some medical schools are real sticklers about their requirements. Some medical schools will accept an English literature AP credit; others will not. It is best to take two English courses, because then the student will have fulfilled the requirement for any medical school.

Courses such as English 1C, 1F, and 2A, and the Poetry, Fiction, and Journalism Workshop also count towards the premedical English requirement.

The English requirement does not have to be completed before taking the MCAT exam, since there are no specific questions about this area on the exam.

6. Social Sciences

     PSYC 001 – Introduction to Psychology – Fall or Spring semester
     SOAN 001A – Introduction to Anthropology and Sociology – Fall semester

To prepare for the new 2015 version of the MCAT, students are advised to take an introductory course in psychology and sociology or anthropology, as the exam will include a social sciences section.

Common Advising Issues

One very common problem is that students are anxious to get their pre-med requirements "out of the way," so they take too many lab courses at once, and do poorly. Once this occurs, it becomes very difficult for them to attain the strong science foundation and high grade point average that are required to get into medical school. Only strong science students, with good high school preparations, should be encouraged to take more than one lab course per semester in their first year.

Students hoping to attend medical school right after graduation must finish their science courses by the end of their junior year and take the MCAT exam by summer after junior year, and apply that June. However, the average age of students starting medical school is now 24, so students should not necessarily feel that they must rush to start school right away. One very feasible option for students is to spread their requirements over all four years, taking the MCATs and applying at the end of their senior year, to begin medical school 15 months after graduation. This allows students a much-needed break between Swarthmore and medical school, as well as gives students the chance to spread out their lab sciences, study abroad, and take advantage of other opportunities at Swarthmore. It also means that their senior grades will be part of their application, which usually means a higher GPA. The Health Sciences Advising office supports alums in the application process, so students should not worry that they will be losing support or services if they wait to apply, even if it is several years.

Students may also take pre-medical requirements at summer school, as long as they attend an accredited four-year U.S. college or university, the science courses are lab courses typically taken by pre-meds, and they take the majority of their science courses at Swarthmore. Students should first consult with the corresponding Swarthmore department if they hope to transfer the credits to Swarthmore, but it is not necessary for Swarthmore to grant credit for the course to count for medical school. Taking summer courses is another way in which students can complete the requirements in a reasonable way, as well as have time at Swarthmore to pursue a non-science major, study abroad, or pursue other interests. There are also students who complete their premedical requirements after graduation in a post-baccalaureate program or by taking courses at a local university.

Students sometimes worry that there is a GPA cut-off for getting a Health Sciences Advisory Committee letter of recommendation. There is no GPA cut-off. If you have other questions, contact the Health Sciences office.

Contact: Gigi Simeone, Health Sci. Adv., at x8589 or gsimeon1@swarthmore.edu.