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Pre-Med Advising Notes

Course Requirements

The premedical student may select any major. Each student should feel free to follow their own intellectual and academic interests. As long as a student completes the required courses, they 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 Science: 1 year

Premedical students who plan to attend medical 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. Students need to also take the two social science classes before taking the MCAT. 

All courses in the above areas should be taken for a letter 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, they may take upper level courses to satisfy medical school requirements, or relinquish the AP credit and take introductory courses.

For more detail about the premedical requirements, including sample schedules, visit the Swarthmore pre-med website.

Common Advising Issues

Overall, students often feel like they need to complete pre-med requirements as quickly as possible - especially if they aspire to go straight to medical school following their graduation from Swarthmore. 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, but the vast majority of Swarthmore applicants do not go straight through to medical school.  The average age of students starting medical school is now 24, and students should not necessarily feel that they must rush to start school right away.  Related advising issues and questions include: 

  • Adjusting Timing for Applying: One common 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, and they will have interesting post-college work experience to enhance their credentials.  
  • Overloading on Labs: 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.
  • Summer School: Students may 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.
  • Health Science Advising Support: 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 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 Sciences Advisor by phone at 610-328-8589 or by email at