Guide to Premedical Studies at Swarthmore College

The Health Sciences Office

Swarthmore College's Health Sciences Office offers information and advising to students and alums interested in careers in the health sciences.

Please visit the Health Sciences Office; we are here to help you in whatever way we can, and look forward to getting to know you.

The Health Sciences Office is located in Parrish West 121 and 125.
It is open Monday through Thursday from 8:30–3:30.

Mrs. Jennifer Lenway, Administrative Assistant, is available at these times and can answer many of your questions. You can contact her by e-mail at jlenway1@swarthmore.edu, or at 610-328-8356. Dr. Gigi Simeone is the Health Sciences Advisor. She is available by appointment, at gsimeon1@swarthmore.edu, or at 610-328-8589.

The Health Sciences Office maintains a website at http://www.swarthmore.edu/premed that includes our guides and FAQs, a calendar for applying to medical school, links to health professions organizations and schools, links to summer job opportunities, and other valuable information. We also have reference guides for admissions requirements for different health professions schools available for your use in our office.

If you are considering a career in the health sciences, please contact us and ask to be added to our e-mail list. We will keep you informed by e-mail about speakers and programs of interest, including summer fellowships for research and clinical experiences. Keep an eye out for the programs we sponsor throughout the year; they provide valuable information and networking opportunities.

The Health Sciences Advisory Committee

The Health Sciences Advisory Committee is a committee of faculty members, deans and the Health Sciences Advisor. The primary responsibility of this group is to prepare a committee letter of recommendation for students applying to medical school, which is an important part of their application.

Course Requirements

Swarthmore College does not have a specific premedical major or program, but does offer the prerequisite courses required by medical schools, dental schools and most veterinary schools. These professional schools seek students who have completed courses in physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics and have a background in English as well as in the humanities and social sciences. An ability to solve scientific problems and a broad baccalaureate education are considered essential for the premedical student. As long as you complete the required courses, you 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 before the end of the junior year and take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) then. Starting in 2015, you will 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). The Health Sciences website includes a listing of medical schools with unusual/additional course requirements or recommendations.

Since there are so many required science courses, it is advisable to take one science course with laboratory each semester of the freshman year. Prospective science majors normally take two science courses with laboratories (biology and chemistry or chemistry and physics) and a course in mathematics in their freshman year; however, you should only attempt to take two lab sciences at once if you are a very strong science student, plan to be a science major and have had a very good high school science preparation. College science courses are likely to be very different from what you experienced in high school; it does not make sense to overload on science courses, and then struggle and do poorly.

Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) credit granted by Swarthmore can usually be used to satisfy the mathematics requirement but not the science requirements, because medical schools want students to experience college level laboratories. If you received AP credit in the sciences, you 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 medical schools have additional requirements; these are posted on our pre-medical website. Be advised that these may change. There are some veterinary schools that require specific animal science courses, such as "Feeds and Feeding," as prerequisites. Some of these may be available in summer school, via correspondence courses, or at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. Several veterinary schools also require a fifth chemistry course with lab, which students generally fulfill by taking General Chemistry II at another college or university, if they are not chem or biochem majors. Prevet 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 the students prepare by taking an introductory course in psychology and sociology.

A. 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. You must either take Bio 1 and Bio 2 (and relinquish your 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 you have mastery of that material if you plan to substitute another biology course. (To receive AP credit in biology, you 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.

B. Chemistry

CHEM 010 - General Chemistry - Fall Semester OR
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

There are several advantages to taking General Chemistry in the fall semester of the freshman year. The first four chemistry courses in the curriculum (10/10H, 22,32 and 38) must be taken in sequence so it is good planning to start in the freshman year. Particularly if you decide to study abroad in your sophmore or junior years, if you begin with chemistry in the fall of the freshman year you will have time to finish the chemistry requirement before the end of your junior year when you may want to take the MCAT. Finally, if you are somewhat uncertain as to your "chemistry skills," you can try your hand at college chemistry (which for many of you will be quite different from your experience in high school) without any impact on your GPA. First semester freshman grades are not placed on your transcript except as CR (for credit) or NC (for no credit).

First year students with a score of 5 on the Advanced Placement Chemistry Examination taken junior year in high school or later, or a score of at least 6 on the International Baccalaureate advanced (higher level) chemistry examination will be invited to enroll in the honors section of General Chemistry (CHEM 010H). In the absence of an AP or IB score, students with extensive high school preparation can place into CHEM 010H by sufficiently good performance on the Chemistry Honors Placement Exam given during Orientation week. Only students with very high performance on the online Chemistry Readiness Exam (given the summer prior to a student's first-year at Swarthmore as described below) will be invited to take the Chemistry Honors Placement Exam. CHEM 010H can be taken as either a first or second year student. Note: Swarthmore does not grant credit for AP scores, just placement in CHEM 010H.

Except for students who place into CHEM 010H by AP or IB credit, all students who plan to take chemistry at some point during their time at Swarthmore must take a Chemistry Readiness Exam on-line during the summer before their first year. The Chemistry Readiness Exam is used to help identify those with a very weak background in high school chemistry who would benefit from extra support and/or postponing enrollment in chemistry until after the completion of their first mathematics course at Swarthmore.

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

Veterinary schools often require a fifth chemistry course with lab. You may fulfill this by taking an intermediate or advanced course in Swarthmore's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, or General Chemistry II at Haverford or Bryn Mawr with special permission from Swarthmore's department. (This option is ONLY available to pre-vet students, with a letter of support from Gigi and a meeting with the chemistry and biochemistry chair.) Alternatively, you 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). You may also take General Chemistry II at another institution without receiving Swarthmore credit. Or you could take Chem 1 (Applying Chemistry to Society) as your fifth course, with special permission from the chair of the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department.

C. Physics

Either the two-semester sequence:

PHYS 003 - General Physics I - Fall Semester
PHYS 004 - General Physics II - Spring Semester OR
PHYS 004L - General Physics II for Life Sciences - Spring Semester of 2013 and 2014

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 and Astronomy at Swarthmore College 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.

Physics 4L, which will emphasize biological, biochemical and medical applications of physics, will be offered in the spring of 2014. It has not been determined when it will be offered thereafter. Physics 3L, a new course which will emphasize life science applications, is tentatively slated to be offered fall of 2015, and could be taken in place of Physics 3.

Please be advised that medical schools will not accept AP credit in place of a physics course and taking Physics 3 and 4 or 7 and 8 at Swarthmore means that you will relinquish any AP credit you have been awarded. 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 you have permission of the instructor. Permission to take Physicis 4L before 3 should be obtained in November or December before Physics 4L starts in order to complete necessary review over break. Both Physics 3 and 4 use integral as well as differential calculus. You must take Math 15 (or have one calculus credit) before or during either Physics 3 or 4. Physics 4 (but not 4L) requires Math 25 or Calc. II credit, before taking the course. If possible given your math history, taking Math 25 before or during these courses is a very good idea. (Alternatively, you may be placed out of the math courses by our math/stat department.)

D. Mathematics and Statistics

MATH 015 - Elementary Single-Variable Calculus - 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 one or two math courses. Some specify calculus; some specify statistics; some want both. If you complete both Math 15 and Stat 11 at Swarthmore, you will have satisfied the mathematics requirement for any medical school.

The math/stat department requires all first year students to be examined before they are allowed to take any math or statistics course. Students wishing to place beyond beginning calculus may take either the AP or higher level IB (standardized) exams, or Swarthmore's calculus placement exam. Even students who do take one of the standardized exams may be required to take the departmental exams as well. Students who wish to take Math 15 must take the math-stat readiness exam, available on moodle. Students who wish to take Statistics must take the math-stat readiness exam, or have some other math-stat placement result.

If the Department of Mathematics and Statistics grants you one AP credit for Math 15 (Calculus I) or 1.5 or 2 credits for Math 15 and Math 25, these credits appear on your transcript and may be used to satisfy in part the premedical requirement for mathematics courses at most medical schools. If you are granted calculus credit, you would then take Stat 11 to complete the premedical math requirement. Similarly, if you are granted one credit for the AP Statistics exam, this will satisfy part of the premedical requirement at those medical schools that accept statistics. If you receive one credit for calculus and one credit for statistics, you have met the math requirment for nearly all medical schools. In some very rare cases (notably UCLA and UC-Davis), AP credit cannot be used to fulfill the math requirement. Harvard will accept AP credit for calculus but not statistics.

If the Department of Mathematics and Statistics places you in Math 25 (Calculus II) without giving you credit for Math 15 (Calculus I), then you will need another credit in mathematics (besides a full semester of Math 25) to complete the one year mathematics requirement. Stat 11 (Statistical Methods) is a good choice. (If necessary, Stat 11 can be taken in the senior year after the MCAT exam at the end of the junior year.) However, Stat 1 (Statistical Thinking) will not satisfy the mathematics requirement for medical, dental or veterinary school. For details on every medical school check out “Medical Schools with Math Requirements” in the “Guides” section of our pre-med website.

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. These exams must normally 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, Prof. Phil Everson.

E. 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 you will have fulfilled the requirement for any medical school.

One option is to take a First-Year Seminar (English 8 A-Z/English 9 A-Z ). These are normally offered in both the fall and spring. Only first year students are eligible for these, and enrollment is usually determined by lottery. Once you complete a First-Year Seminar, you can take an intermediate level English literature class as your second English class.

You may also take a mid-level English course without having had a previous English course, but you must previously have taken a W course in any department. Core courses are especially recommended and do not have lotteries. English department Core Courses or Freshman Seminars are both good introductory English courses in preparation for other intermediate level classes.

Juniors and seniors may skip these intro courses and pre-enroll directly for intermediate courses.

Courses such as English 1F and 2A, and the Poetry, Fiction and Journalism Workshops are special writing-intensive courses, and do not require having taken an English Literature First Year Seminar as a prerequisite. They 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.

F. Social Sciences

PSYCH 001 Intro to Psychology - Fall or Spring Semester
SOAN 001A Intro to Anthropology & Sociology - Fall Semester

Beginning in 2015, the MCAT will include a social sciences section, which will test "your knowledge of the ways in which psychological, social, and biological factors influence perceptions and reactions to the world; behavior and behavior change; what people think about themselves and others; the cultural and social differences that influence well-being; and the relationships between social stratification, access to resources, and well-being." The American Association of Medical Colleges recommends that premedical students take courses in introductory psychology and sociology. Currently at Swarthmore, that would mean PSYCH 1 and SOC/ANTH 1A.

Sample Course Schedules

Five suggested sequences of science courses are printed below. All of these schedules enable you to complete the required science courses by the end of the junior year if you need to take the MCAT then. The schedules assume that you do not have AP credit in math or science, and that more than two lab courses in one semester is too heavy a course load. These examples are offered just as possibilities. Other course plans would be equally feasible. Be sure to consult with your faculty advisor to plot out your distribution, major, and premedical requirements in a way that makes sense, is reasonable, and meets your academic goals.

If you plan to wait a year after graduation before attending medical school, the MCAT may be taken in the spring of your senior year and the science courses distributed throughout all four years.

Schedule A
Year Fall Spring
Freshman Year Bio 1
Math 15
Bio 2
Stat 11
Psych 1
Sophomore Year Chem 10
SOAN 1A
Chem 22
(Non-calculus-based Physics I and II at summer school)
Junior Year Chem 32 Chem 38
MCAT
Schedule B
Year Fall Spring
Freshman Year Bio 1
Math 15
Bio 2
Psych 1
Sophomore Year Physics 3a
Chem 10
SOAN 1A
Physics 4L
Chem 22
Junior Year Chem 32
Stat 11
Chem 38
MCAT
Schedule C
Year Fall Spring
Freshman Year Chem 10
Math 15
Psych 1
Chem 22
Math 25
Sophomore Year Chem 32
Bio 1
SOAN 1A
Chem 38
Bio 2
Junior Year Physics 3
Stat 11
Physics 4
MCAT
Schedule D
Year Fall Spring
Freshman Year Bio 1
Chem 10
Math 15
Bio 2
Chem 22
Psych 1
Sophomore Year Chem 32
Physics 3
SOAN 1A
Chem 38
Physics 4L
Junior Year (Possible Study Abroad) Stat 11
MCAT
Schedule E
Year Fall Spring
Freshman Year Math 15
Chem 10
Physics 5b
Math 25
Chem 22
Physics 7
Sophomore Year Chem 32
Physics 8
Chem 38
Psych 1
Junior Year Bio 1
SOAN 1A
Bio 2
Stat 11
MCAT

Notes:

  • a. Physics I and II may also be taken at summer school as in Schedule A.
  • b. Physics 5 is a prerequisite to Physics 7, but does not satisfy the physics requirement for medical, dental or vetinary school.

 

Study Abroad

If you are contemplating a semester abroad in your sophomore or junior year, you should plan carefully for it, and be sure to consult with your faculty advisor. Premedical science requirements may not be taken abroad.

A. Semester Abroad in Junior Year

Schedule D above easily allows you to spend the fall of your junior year abroad. Chemistry and Biochemistry majors should note that Chem 43 and 44 are required for the major and are ordinarily taken during the fall of the junior year. Chemistry and biochemistry majors should consult with the chemistry and biochemistry department early on to map out their coursework if they hope to study abroad. The MCAT can be taken either in the summer after the sophomore year or in the spring of the junior year. Schedule C above also allows you to take the fall semester of the junior year abroad, if physics is taken during the summer between the sophomore and junior years.

B. Semester Abroad in Sophomore Year

Two possible schedules for studying abroad in the spring semester of the sophomore year are listed below. Other plans are just as feasible, especially if you do not plan to attend medical school right after graduation from Swarthmore.

Schedule F
Year Fall Spring
Freshman Year Bio 1
Math 15
Chem 10
Bio 2
Chem 22
Sophomore Year Chem 32
Stat 11
SOAN 1A
Study Abroad
(Physics I and II with lab at summer school)
Junior Year Psych 1 Chem 38
MCAT
Schedule G
Year Fall Spring
Freshman Year Math 15
Chem 10
Bio 2
Chem 22
Psych 1
Sophomore Year Bio 1
Chem 32
Study Abroad
(Physics I and II with lab at summer school)
Junior Year Stat 11
SOAN 1A
Chem 38
MCAT

If you are not planning to attend medical school right after graduation, this gives you the flexibility to complete the premedical requirements in the senior year and take the MCAT in the spring of your senior year, making it easier to fit in study abroad.

Summer School

As indicated above, you may fulfill the premedical requirements by taking some of the courses at summer school. This allows you to avoid doubling up on laboratory courses, and to pursue study abroad and other academic interests during the regular academic year. You should not overuse the summer school option, however, because medical schools want to see evidence that you can handle difficult science courses as part of a regular academic load. A conservative strategy would be to take no more than two of the premedical science courses at summer school, e.g. Physics I and II or Organic Chemistry I and II.

It is important to take courses only at an accredited four-year U.S. college or university, and to check that the courses have a laboratory and are the ones normally taken by their premed students. If the school is on a quarter or trimester system, be sure your coursework grants equivalent credit to what you would earn at Swarthmore. If you want to transfer the credits to Swarthmore, you must get pre-approval from your academic advisor, the registrar, and the corresponding Swarthmore department. However, it is not necessary to get Swarthmore credit for a course to count for medical school applications.

All college-level courses in any subject taken through any U.S. or Canadian college or university must be reported to medical schools, including summer school, so be sure to do your best work and not treat these courses casually.

When is the Best Time to Apply to Medical School?

Most Swarthmore students do not enter medical school directly after the completion of their college degree. They may wait one or two years, or more. The national average age of medical school matriculants is twenty-four, with some students waiting until their thirties to apply.

There are many advantages to delaying medical school. Many students really appreciate having a breather between two very rigorous and intensive academic experiences. Others want to take some time to explore various career options, to really satisfy themselves that medicine is right for them. Students who take some time before applying to medical school often acquire additional employment and academic experiences that make them stronger candidates, such as graduate programs or postbaccalaureate courses, Peace Corps volunteering, or laboratory research. Finally, taking some time between Swarthmore and medical school, even just one year, allows students to spread out the premedical requirements, so that they can be done at a reasonable pace with the likelihood of better grades. Don't sabotage yourself by rushing to get your premed requirements "out of the way" quickly, and then not earn the grades that you will need to get accepted.

If you decide to take a year between Swarthmore and medical school, the requirements for medical school may be completed during the senior year and the MCAT taken in the spring of the senior year or during the summer right after. For example, biology can be taken in the freshman year, chemistry in the sophomore and junior years and physics in the senior year. This allows a student majoring in the humanities to take only one lab course per semester. After taking the MCAT in the spring of your senior year, you would apply that summer to medical school and matriculate one year after graduation from Swarthmore College.

Another option is to complete the premedical requirements after graduation, at a college or university near your job or in a postbaccalaureate premedical program. This is a very common strategy for students who decide later on that they want to attend medical school, who spend their time at Swarthmore pursuing other interests, or who need to have a stronger record in the sciences to be a successful applicant.

If you wish to begin medical school the year you graduate from Swarthmore, you would take the MCAT in the spring or early summer of your junior year (or the summer after your sophomore year) and apply in June between your junior and senior years.

What are Medical Schools Looking For?

Medical schools are looking for candidates who have a strong academic background and intellectual potential, as evidenced by excellent grades and MCAT scores; qualities of leadership, character, and compassion; knowledge of and motivation for the field of medicine; and a broad range of interests and talents. You can meet these requirements by being a dedicated and effective student, by becoming substantively involved in leadership and extracurricular activities on campus, and by volunteering or working in health care related settings.

Medical schools want to be sure that the people they admit can cope with rigorous academic demands. With so many applicants, schools can choose among thousands of excellent students. This means there are people who are compassionate and dedicated, who would succeed in medical school, but will not get a chance because there are so many applicants with top grades and scores.

There are many more people interested in medical school than there are places available. In 2012, there were 45,260 applicants for 20,478 spaces, an acceptance rate of 45%. (In 2012, Swarthmore's acceptance rate for the 2 graduating seniors was 100% and the 43 alumni/ae applicants was 73% for an overall acceptance rate of 74%.)

It should be noted that it is currently extremely difficult for students who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents to be accepted at a U.S. medical school. Most schools will not even consider their applications. International students are not eligible for any of the federal financial aid on which so many medical students rely, and if accepted must often escrow tuition payments in advance. Nevertheless, some Swarthmore international students have been accepted to U.S. medical schools. Please make an appointment to see Gigi to discuss your situation.

There are two academic factors that are important for gaining admission to medical school. They are your grade point average (GPA) and your MCAT score.

A. Grade Point Averages

There are two GPAs that are important in applying to medical school. The first is your Swarthmore-only GPA, which includes only those courses that were taken on the Swarthmore campus. The Health Sciences Advisory Committee uses that average to see how you performed academically in comparison to your classmates.

The second GPA is your AMCAS average. AMCAS is the application service that you must use to apply to nearly all the U.S. allopathic (M.D.) medical schools. AMCAS computes your GPA using all college-level courses you've taken through any U.S. or Canadian college or university, including summer school courses, exchange and cross-registration programs, most study abroad programs, and college courses that you took in high school. This is the GPA medical schools use to compare you to other applicants from various colleges and universities. AMCAS will compute your overall average and your average in all courses taken in biology, chemistry, physics and math; both are important to medical schools. Veterinary, dental and osteopathic (D.O.) medical schools have very similar centralized applications, which operate in the same way.

Grade point averages are determined by assigning a 4.00 to an A, a 3.67 to an A-, a 3.33 to a B+, a 3.00 to a B, etc. In 2012, the national average GPA for matriculating medical school students was a 3.68 and the Swarthmore average GPA for accepted students was 3.52. The competitive premedical student should therefore have an average between an A- and B+ when applying to medical school. Please note: There is no GPA cut-off for obtaining a Health Sciences Advisory Committee letter of recommendation.

Admission to veterinary school requires a GPA of about a B+. At the moment, a B+ average is an acceptable GPA for a top dental school. You should seriously consider dentistry if your grade point average is B or below and you want a career in the health professions.

1. Your Swarthmore Grades

At Swarthmore a strong B+ (3.5) average or above is a solid basis for applying to medical school. Below a 3.5, your chances of admission depend a great deal on trends in the academic record, consistency of cumulative average, strength of science course grades, state of residence, and personal factors. B+'s or better in science courses are, of course, to be desired as science grades (biology, chemistry, physics, and math) are reviewed carefully. Because the number of applications to individual medical schools is so great, most medical schools must play the numbers game, at least initially. For example, in 2012 George Washington University School of Medicine had 14,509 applicants for its first year class of 177, which meant that 1.2% of the students who applied actually matriculated at this medical school. Many medical schools simply look at GPAs and MCAT scores (see below) and on the basis of those two factors decide which students to eliminate first.

Swarthmore has a rigorous grading situation and medical schools are aware of this. With your committee letter of recommendation we include a description of both the distinguished faculty and accomplished students at Swarthmore. In other words, most medical schools know that anyone with a strong B+ average from here has done a good job in a very competitive situation. Many medical schools rate undergraduate colleges on selectivity and competitiveness, and Swarthmore has a top rating in these categories.

This certainly does not mean that by the end of your freshman year you need a 3.5 average. If you can obtain a B average in your freshman year, you are off to a wonderful start. The freshman year is the hardest. A student's GPA usually increases during the junior and senior years, because by then the student is more accustomed to college-level work and he or she is taking courses in his or her chosen major, instead of required or introductory courses. The GPA should steadily increase.

Students often believe that a C in Organic Chemistry, for example, will preclude them from getting into medical school. It will not hinder them if they have A's in other science courses. If you get a C in Organic I, your best strategy is not to repeat the course, but to get a B+ or better in Organic II to show that you can do the work. If you retake a course, the first grade remains on the transcript and medical schools average the two grades.

If you receive a NC in a course, Swarthmore College does not count that course in the required GPA of 2.0 for graduation (because it is not recorded as a credit). It does remain on your transcript, however, and must be included as a zero when calculating your GPA for allopathic medical schools if it was received after your first semester at Swarthmore.

2. The Pass/Fail Option

During the first semester, all grades at Swarthmore are recorded as either CR (Credit) or NC (No Credit). Whether they are good or bad, your grades during the first semester of your freshman year are not uncovered for medical schools - i.e. they are reported as either CR or NC on your transcript. We cannot uncover these grades in order to raise your GPA. When the Health Sciences Advisory Committee computes your Swarthmore-only GPA, it does not include first semester grades.

After the first semester of your freshman year, you may select up to four more courses for CR/NC by informing the Registrar's Office within the first two weeks of the term in which the course is taken. Do not select any of the required courses for medical, dental or veterinary school (science, math or English) for this designation. While it is fine to take premed requirements CR/NC during your first semester of your freshman year, these courses must have grades if taken after the first semester of the freshman year.

B. Medical College Admission Test

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a computer-based test currently given 25 times each year. All of the required science courses (biology, chemistry and physics) should be completed before taking the exam. Test-takers receive their scores within 30 days of the examination. Applicants should plan to take the test in the spring or summer of their application year at the latest. Scores are typically good for two to three years, depending on the school.

The MCAT examination includes a multiple choice Verbal Reasoning test, a multiple choice Physical Sciences test based on physics and general chemistry, and a multiple choice Biological Sciences test based on biology and organic chemistry. The Verbal Reasoning, Physical Sciences and Biological Sciences tests are graded on a 15 point scale from 1 (low) to 15 (high). The MCAT exam is expected to change in content and format in 2015, to include a section on social and behavioral sciences.

The national average MCAT score for students matriculating in the 2012 entering class was 31.2 out of a possible 45. Swarthmore applicants who were accepted had an average total score of 31.4. Students who score below 30 should consider retaking the examination.

C. Important Extracurricular and Job Experiences

Swarthmore College offers a wonderful array of activities and student organizations. You are encouraged to participate in extracurricular activities, because of the opportunity to learn to work and communicate with others. Medical schools feel it is far better for students to be deeply involved in two or three activities in which they invest considerable time and energy than to dabble in a large number of activities.

1. Extracurricular Activities

Premedical students often choose to get involved in athletics, musical groups, community service, social or political action groups, resident assistantships, student government, or religious organizations. If you commit yourself to two or three activities and emerge as a leader, you indicate to medical school admissions committees that you can manage your time efficiently, are involved but not overloaded, have learned valuable interpersonal skills, and are committed to making a contribution to your college community.

2. Health Care Related Experiences

Medical schools are looking for individuals with a strong sense of personal responsibility, honesty, emotional maturity, compassion and sensitivity to the feelings of others. If you volunteer either during the school year or the summer in health care related facilities, it shows you are motivated and committed to helping people. It also demonstrates to medical school admissions committees that you have seen firsthand what a medical setting is like, and are making an informed decision to choose medicine as a career. Students have volunteered at Philadelphia hospitals, hospices, abortion clinics, AIDS programs and our local ambulance service.

Career Services administers a winter break Extern Week, and can sometimes arrange externships with alumni/ae doctors. Be on the look out for announcements of the program, and contact Jennifer Barrington, Assistant Director, for more information. Through the Career Services website, you can access a list of Swarthmore alums who are working in health related fields; students have had a great deal of success contacting them for externships and other career help. Many students have also "shadowed" physicians through contacts they have at home.

Veterinary schools require preveterinary students to have spent significant time working with a veterinarian.

3. Research

Research experiences are valuable in many ways. They introduce you to new information, important laboratory techniques, experimental design, the analysis of data, critical thinking, working with a research team and, perhaps, preparation for publication. Sometimes research projects or independent studies can be done with a Swarthmore professor as part of the academic program in a science major and appear on the college transcript. If you are interested in applying to an MD-PhD program, you will need to have had a significant amount of research experience. If you are more interested in pursuing an MD and doing clinical work, it is a plus to have had research experience, but not a necessity.

Some excellent research experiences can be obtained at a university or national laboratory offering an undergraduate summer research program. Last year, for example, the National Institutes of Health, the Mayo Clinic, the University of Massachusetts Medical School, the University of Pennsylvania and Baylor College of Medicine were some of the organizations that offered research experiences with stipends to qualified undergraduates. These summer fellowships are competitive and winning one can benefit you both from the laboratory experience and the additional information which usually helps in studying for the MCAT. Directors of admission at medical, dental or veterinary schools look with favor on students who have been awarded these summer fellowships. The Health Sciences Office provides information on our website and via e-mail about many summer research opportunities, especially for those who have completed their sophomore or junior years.

Programs to Increase Diversity in the Medical Profession

There are a number of racial and ethnic populations that are underrepresented in the medical profession relative to their numbers in the general population. These include four historically underrepresented groups - Blacks, Mexican-Americans, Native Americans and Latinos. These designated groups are sometimes expanded to include a broader range of ethnicities and a greater focus on regional and local demographics so as to improve the cultural competencies of graduating physicians and improve access to care for underserved populations. These students and students from rural or disadvantaged areas are often accepted into medical school with GPAs below 3.3 or 28-30 MCAT scores.

During the last decades, medical schools were challenged to develop enrichment programs to encourage more members of underrepresented groups to seek a career in medicine and the biomedical sciences. Some medical schools responded by developing summer academic study programs specifically for underrepresented minority students. Other medical schools decided to offer summer research programs such as the Travelers Summer Research Fellowship Program at Cornell University, where students pursue a research problem under faculty supervision, and also attend classroom lectures, talks by minority physicians and hospital rounds. Several medical schools offer pre-entry programs to underrepresented minority and disadvantaged students who have been accepted to medical school. For example, Ohio State University offers a six week summer program which includes instruction in anatomy, biochemistry, neuroanatomy and physiology.

The AAMC and many medical schools offer regional one day conferences or workshops aimed at educating college students about health care issues and opportunities in medicine. Many medical institutions have developed postbaccalaureate programs to help underrepresented minority or disadvantaged students prepare for the MCAT and provide an opportunity for students to demonstrate their ability in the sciences. Postbaccalaureate programs like these are available at Southern Illinois University and the University of Connecticut. Creighton University and others offer a one-year postbaccalaureate program with guaranteed admission to their medical school after successful completion of the program. Other postbaccalaureate programs at other medical schools and some undergraduate institutions, such as Bryn Mawr College on the east coast and Mills College on the west coast, welcome disadvantaged or underrepresented minority students.

Academic Dishonesty or Irresponsible Behavior

A high standard of personal conduct is required and failure to maintain such a standard at Swarthmore may be reported to the professional school. The Health Sciences Advisory Committee is responsible for recommending students to medical, dental or veterinary school. Each year the Dean's Office reviews the list of candidates for medical, dental and veterinary schools and reports to the Health Sciences Advisory Committee any cases of disciplinary action taken against the student by the College, including formal warnings and probation. You will also be required to list any disciplinary actions on your medical school applications. Medical schools also do criminal background checks on all incoming students, you are required to report all misdemeanors and felonies, including citations for underage possession of alcohol. Do not even consider any form of academic dishonesty or social misconduct. The competition for medical school admission is so great that students who do not have high standards of character, integrity, and behavior are typically eliminated as applicants.

Letters of Recommendation

During your junior or senior year you will be soliciting recommendations from instructors whom you have had as early as your freshman year. Without being offensive or obsequious, get to know some of them while you are taking their courses and let them get to know you. As the course comes to a close, inform them that you may be seeking a letter of recommendation from them as a junior or senior, so that they can note something about you while your presence as a student is still fresh in their minds.

Time Management

One of the most important factors in doing well in college is time management. Some professors will tell you that they expect you to spend 15 - 20 hours per week on their course. Others will just expect it. Make sure that you organize your time effectively, study efficiently, and keep up with your work. Attend every class session. Go to clinics and review sessions even if you feel you don't need it. Use your weekends wisely. You will need those hours to catch up on your studies, hang out with your friends, or even get ahead on your academic work. The libraries and computing centers are open on weekends for a good reason. Use them!

Academic Support

Nearly every premedical student has struggled in a course from time to time. The best strategy when that occurs is to utilize the academic services that Swarthmore College offers, such as tutors, biology and chemistry clinics, Writing Associates, Student Academic Mentors, and study skills workshops. Take advantage of faculty office hours, or time before and after class, and ask your professor to explain something you don't understand.

An important skill for being a doctor is knowing when and how to ask for help. Don't let a small problem grow bigger because you hope it will go away on its own.

Career Exploration

Many students choose medicine as a career goal because it is a career with which they are most familiar. However, there are many other professions that combine scientific knowledge with the rewards of helping people individually. These include dentistry, physical therapy, genetic counseling, public health, nursing, physician assistants, optometry, podiatry, clinical psychology, and many others. Others interested in health care issues may be interested in health policy, health care administration, epidemiology, medical writing, and health communications. Students are encouraged to investigate these options so that they pursue a career that is a good match for their interests, abilities, and preferred lifestyle.