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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 medical 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. 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). 

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.  Be sure to discuss this with your academic advisor so you choose the path that's best for you.

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.  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 or via on-line courses. 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.  Vet schools often require more than two biology courses.

In 2015, the MCAT format and content is changed. Among other things, it now includes 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

Pre-med students are required to take two bio courses with a lab component. You are encouraged to take both introductory biology courses because they provide a sound foundation for the MCATs.  BIOL 002 may be taken before BIOL 001 as they are not sequential. Alternatively,  you may take either of the introductory courses and an intermediate level biology course provided you satisfy all prerequisites for the intermediate course. The biology department encourages and welcomes you to take more than the required number of biology courses.  

AP/IB credit in biology will not satisfy the medical school requirement.  However, if you have AP 5 or IB 6 or 7, you may be excused form BIOL 001 or BIOL 002 with completion of another Swarthmore biology course (with lab). In choosing courses, keep in mind that BIOL 001 and BIOL 002 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.

Veterinary schools often require genetics and/or microbiology in addition to Bio 1 and 2.  Note that microbiology has Chem 22 as a pre-requisite.

B. Chemistry

  • CHEM 010 - Foundation of Chemical Principles - Fall Semester OR
  • CHEM 011 - Integrated Foundation of Chemical Principles - Fall Semester
  • CHEM 022 - Organic Chemistry I - Spring Semester
  • CHEM 032 - Organic Chemistry II - Fall Semester
  • CHEM 038 - Biological Chemistry - Spring Semester

Course Sequence Recommendations: There are several advantages to taking CHEM 010/011 in the fall semester of the freshman year. The first four chemistry courses in the curriculum (010/011, 022, 032 and 038) 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 sophomore 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).

CHEM 010 is the normal point of entry for the chemistry and biochemistry curriculum and has both a lecture portion  (MWF 50 minute classes) and lab one afternoon per week. Those who have had intensive chemistry experience in high school (AP or IB chemistry or the equivalent) should take the Chemistry 011 Placement Exam. CHEM 011 combines hands-on laboratory work  with discussion based coverage of current topics in chemistry and meets for one 50 min class and one lab afternoon per week. To be eligible for CHEM 011 students must take the Chemistry Placement Exam accessed through the Student Affairs Division Orientation forms. This exam is open to anyone interested in taking CHEM 011, and we recommend any student who scored a 5 on the Advanced Placement Chemistry Examination or a score of at least a 6 on the International Baccalaureate advanced  chemistry examination to take the placement exam. CHEM 011 has limited enrollment and is usually taken as first year student, but is open to any class year who received placement via the Chemistry 011 Placement  Exam.   (Note: Swarthmore does not grant credit for AP (or IB) scores in Chemistry. 

Biochemistry is recommended as the fourth course as it covers material relevant to the MCAT and many medical schools require or recommend it. 

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. You may also take General Chemistry II at another institution, in the summer without receiving Swarthmore credit. 

C. Physics

Either the two-semester sequence:

  • PHYS 003 - General Physics I: Motion, Forces and Energy - Fall Semester OR
  • PHYS 003 L - General Physics I: Motion, Forces, and Energy with Biological , Biochemical and Medical Applications  - Fall Semester 
  • PHYS 004 - General Physics II: Electricity, Magnetism and Optics - Spring Semester OR
  • PHYS 004L - General Physics II for Life Sciences: Electricity, Magnetism and Optics with Biomedical, Biochemical and Medical Applications - Spring Semester

Or the three-semester sequence:

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

All of these physics courses require some calculus, with increasing amounts of calculus use from  Physics 3L - 4L  (Math 15 only) to Physics 3-4 (Math 15 and 25) to Physics 7-8 (Math  34).  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 summer non-calculus-based Physics I and II with laboratory at one of the many accredited universities and colleges that offer summer school sessions.  The Department of Physics and Astronomy at Swarthmore College will not allow Swarthmore credit for non-calculus-based physics, but receiving Swarthmore credit is not necessary for those courses to meet the premedical requirements.

Physics 3L, which emphasizes biological, biochemical and medical applications of physics, is offered every fall.  Physics 4L, which emphasizes biological, biochemical and medical applications of physics, is offered every spring.  Physics 3L and 4L are designed for life science students, and are also appropriate for the chemistry or biochemistry major. Physics 3 is offered every fall and Physics 4 is offered every spring. These courses are geared towards engineering  majors. 

Please be advised that medical schools will not accept AP credit in place of a physics course and taking Physics 3/3L and 4/4L or 7 and 8 at Swarthmore means that you will relinquish any AP credit you have been awarded.  Physics 5 is a prerequisite for Physics 7, but it does not satisfy the physics requirement for medical, dental or veterinary school.

Scoring a high enough grade on the department's placement exam can earn a student equivalent Swarthmore credit for Phys 3 and 4. However, medical schools will not accept that placement credit. So students may want to reject it, even if they earn it, and take the 3L/4L sequence instead. 

Please note that the physics courses should be taken in the proper sequence; Physics 3/3L before Physics 4/4L, or Physics 7 before Physics 8, unless you have permission of the instructor.  Permission to take Physics 4/4L before 3/3L will only be granted in special circumstances, and must be obtained in November or December so that necessary review can happen over the winter 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  your first physics course at Swarthmore. Physics 4 (but not 4L) requires Math 25 or Calc. II credit, before or while 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.) The specific math requirements for the Physics 7-8 sequence are to have completed Math 25 before Physics 7, and to have completed Math 33 or 34 before Physics 8.

D. Mathematics and Statistics

  • MATH 015 - Elementary Single-Variable Calculus - Fall Semester
  • MATH 025 - Further Topics in Single-Variable Calc. - Fall or Spring 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 math/stat requirement for any medical school.

The math/stat department requires all first year students to get a placement result 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 015 (Calculus I) or 2 credits for Math 015 and Math 025, 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 requirement for nearly all medical schools, including Harvard, and the California medical schools, which used to have a different policy. That said, everyone should check the policies at their own state institutions, to make sure they meet those requirements. 

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, as an increasing number of medical schools require or recommend statistics and it is helpful for the new version of the MCAT. 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.

If a student has received placement, but not credit, for Math 15 or 25 but would like credit, that student has the option of registering for the class and arranging with the professor before the semester begins to take the course without actually attending the class meetings. This is at the discretion of the professor, but often involves simply taking the final exam. Please see the Math/Stat placement coordinator, Professor Phil Everson, for more details. 

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 or a comparative literature course; 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. 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 take what we call  "Gateway" literature courses. These are not lotteried and work well for a first or second English Literature course. Many non-majors as well as potential majors take them, and taking either a First-Year Seminar or Gateway (or both) is recommended before trying other upper-level literature classes.

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

Courses such as English 1C, 1F and 2A, and the Poetry, Fiction and Journalism Workshops 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
  • Any course in the Soc/Anth department

The MCAT includes a social sciences section, which tests "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 to prepare for the MCAT. Currently at Swarthmore, that would mean PSYCH 001 and any course offered in the Soc/Anth department. ANTH 043E, Culture, Health, Illness, SOCI 007B, Intro to Race and Ethnicity in the U.S., ANTH 049B Comparative Perspectives on the Body, and  SOCI 050B, Medicine as a Profession, along with PSYC courses numbered in the 030s, are of interest to premedical students, but those particular courses are not required.