Frequently Asked Questions for Premedical Students
(For detailed explanations, see Guide to Premedical Studies at Swarthmore College.)
Medical schools are interested in applicants with excellent academic abilities (as shown in grades and MCAT scores), strong interpersonal skills, clear motivation for medicine, and demonstrated compassion and concern for others.
The courses Swarthmore students typically take to meet the premed requirements are: Bio 1 and 2; Chem 10, Chem 22, 32 and 38; Physics 3 and 4; Math 15 and Stat 11, and any two English courses. Some medical schools have particular or advanced math or science course requirements. These are listed on the website. The MCAT exam is expected to change in content and format in 2015, and will include a social and behavioral science component. Psychology 1 and an introductory course in sociology or anthropology are recommended to prepare for the test.
You can use AP credit to fulfill all or part of the math requirement at nearly every medical school. If you use AP credit to place out of an introductory science course, then you must replace it with an upper level course with laboratory in that department.
While some medical schools may accept literature in translation or other reading and writing courses, it is best to simply take two English courses, as some schools are sticklers about that. Any two courses in our English department are fine.
No, major in whatever interests you. That is fine with medical schools, as long as you do well in the required premed science courses.
Yes, but do not take any of the premed prerequisites pass/fail, unless you are taking them during the first semester of your freshman year. Medical schools want to see that you have challenged yourself academically, so don't overuse the pass/fail option.
Yes, as long as it is at an accredited four-year U.S. college or university, and it is a course with lab normally taken by that school's premed students. If you hope to transfer credit to Swarthmore, consult first with the corresponding Swarthmore department, but you do not need to transfer credit for it to count for medical school application purposes. You should not overuse the summer school option, but it is fine to take one two-course sequence, like physics I and II or organic chemistry I and II in summer school.
Yes, it's a wonderful experience that shouldn't be missed, if it interests you. Medical schools like to see that students have had broad, interesting college experiences, and studying abroad demonstrates that you can get along in a culture different from your own.
No, do not take any of the required premed courses abroad.
You should pursue anything that interests you. Medical schools are interested in students who have been active contributors on campus, and who have a range of interests. You should choose a few things to do meaningfully and well, rather than dabble in a long list of activities. Community service is an important way to demonstrate your concern and compassion for others.
Yes, it is critically important that you involve yourself meaningfully in a medical setting, to show medical schools that you have observed medical practice first-hand. Students do this through volunteer work in hospitals and clinics, summer jobs, internships, formal premed summer programs, or shadowing physicians at work, either during the school year or during school vacations.
Many premed students volunteer at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia or the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia or at Taylor and Crozer Hospitals nearby.
No, unless you think you may be interested in pursuing an MD-PhD. However, if you think you would enjoy it, research is a valuable experience that some medical schools view as a plus.
The MCAT is the standardized test required by all medical schools. It is a five hour, computer-based exam, given 25 times a year, that has sections on verbal reasoning, biological sciences, physical sciences and behavioral sciences. You may take the MCAT when you have completed the chemistry, biology and physics premed requirements.
When you apply to medical school, you will need to have about five letters of recommendation from faculty and others who know your work, such as supervisors and coaches. These letters are submitted to the Health Sciences Advisory Committee, which uses them to produce a committee letter of recommendation on your behalf.
Is there a GPA cut-off for getting a Health Sciences committee letter of recommendation?
No, there is no GPA cut-off for getting a Health Sciences Advisory Committee letter of recommendation.
You should apply to medical school in June of the year BEFORE you intend to matriculate in medical school. In other words, you would apply in June 2012 to begin school in August 2013. You should take the MCATs, at the latest, in April before you apply. You will begin compiling information for the Health Sciences Office in January before the June that you apply.
Currently, with a strong B+ (3.5) average, both overall and in the sciences, you can apply to medical school with reasonable confidence in being accepted, assuming you have good MCATs and impressive non-academic experiences. The very top schools are generally only interested in applicants with A- (3.7) averages and above. However, there are many individual factors that come into play in the admissions process, so students should consult with Gigi about their individual situations.
Yes, many medical schools are aware of Swarthmore, and the excellence of its students and its academic program. They are often willing to consider our applicants with grades that are slightly lower than those of their typical admitted students.
Many applicants take a few years after graduation to strengthen their academic records. They may choose to take additional science courses at a local university, or to enroll in a formal postbaccalaureate program for students interested in medical school who need to improve their credentials. If you find that you are doing poorly in your science courses at Swarthmore, it may be a wise strategy to put your premed plans on hold, concentrate on subjects you like and do well in, and then do the sciences after Swarthmore if you are still interested in going to medical school. Be sure to consult with Gigi about your individual situation.
Yes, an overwhelming majority of our applicants are now opting to take at least a year between Swarthmore and medical school, to allow them to take a breather between two intense academic experiences, spread out the premed requirements, acquire some work experience, or strengthen their applications. Medical schools often like older applicants because of the maturity and life experience they bring to their applications.
Whenever you have a question or concern, contact Jennifer Lenway, the Health Sciences Administrative Assistant, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 610-328-8356 to set up an appointment.