Maybe you're just checking it out. Maybe you're not quite sure yet. Or maybe you're 100% certain you're going to be pre-med. No matter what, we've got you fully covered in this tutorial. Let's walk through the typical pre-med timeline and discuss everything that needs to happen before you hit submit on that med school application in a few years!
First, if you're just starting out in college, congrats! There are countless experiences and friendships waiting for you, and so many paths to be explored in the next few years. These years are an opportunity to discover interests, goals, passions, and we are so excited for you!! Although we're going to focus on medicine here, remember that college is your time to figure out what you love, so don't box yourself in too early. Also, don't forget, you can major in anything alongside pre-med, so pursue whatever you truly enjoy!
At any school, there's always a flurry of rumors, tensions, and warnings surrounding the idea of being pre-med. There's that fear of organic chemistry that pervades almost every campus. And there's always talk about how medical school admissions are getting increasingly more competitive each year. However, although being pre-med isn't easy, it's also not as scary as people make it sound. It requires hard work, but with the right preparation and planning, the process can be much less intimidating.
As you follow along this guide, remember that you should use this to help you navigate and understand the general timeline of applying to medical school. However, it is not a strict set of rules and not everyone has the same path. That said, let's get started and talk about some of the major milestones!
The Big Picture
The overall picture to keep in mind is that you have four years (or perhaps five, with a gap year) to get your application as ready as possible for medical school. The last year is typically not included in the application, since you will submit over a year before your intended start date, so that should be factored in to your planning. At the beginning, you should focus on figuring out if medicine is right for you. Use your classes, activities, experiences, mentors etc to really explore and decide. After that, the next two years should be spent building up the components of your application. Traditionally, these components are thought of as (1) good grades and scores (2) research (3) clinical activities and volunteering to show exposure to and interest in medicine (4) a clear interest in something within or beyond medicine that a number of your activities, classes, and experiences relate to (5) evidence of leadership and commitment throughout the above. The last year will be spent on the application process, which starts in May of your junior year (for people going straight through) or May of your senior year (for people taking one gap year).
This hexagon essentially encompasses the major components of your application that you would want to show strength in. No single application is strong in all of these factors so don't expect that of yourself. Identify things that you want to focus on an excel and try to make sure they naturally build towards one clear goal or interest that can align with why you want to go into medicine.
Disclaimer: There are, of course, deviations to this timeline and many different paths to medicine. Perhaps you take multiple gap years, or perhaps you decide in last year of college and do a post-bac. Either way, if you've decided medicine is for you, don't be discouraged. However, this specific tutorial focuses on a traditional timeline.
- Focus on exploring at first. Join clubs and activities that allow exposure to healthcare or other interests.
- Identify and speak to potential advisors. Discuss course selection and specific experiences or opportunities that exist at your school that may be relevant to your interests within or outside medicine.
- Attend campus pre-med meetings and make sure you are on email lists to get relevant updates and information
- Figure out what you might be interested in studying and what kind of research you may be interested in pursuing. Through your classes, research, and volunteering, start to develop relations with faculty, advisors, and mentors.
- Seek opportunities to volunteer, shadow a doctor, and, if interested, identify research opportunities on campus.
- Start taking the required portions of the premed core curriculum at your school, geared for freshmen.
- Towards the end of the year, line up a plan for the summer, ideally focusing on some combination of volunteering and research.
- During the summer, get involved in medicine-related activities - consider internships, volunteering, research, and leadership opportunities.Take summer courses through a university if desired or necessary. However, we would not recommend this unless you absolutely need to. Otherwise, it is better to spend the time investing in an experience or opportunity that you can meaningfully gain from.
- Check-in with your pre-health advising office about your progress during first year
- Continue to pursue meaningful clinical experience, medically-related activities, volunteer work, research and/or leadership roles
- Continue to develop relationships with faculty, advisors, and mentors.
- Apply for summer research, internship, or enrichment programs. Ideally continue or expand on your activities of the previous summer. However, if it wasn't a good fit, this is a good time to switch and invest in something new.
- We would recommend depth of activities over quantity - i.e., if you had a good experience, invest in that experience rather than bouncing around and trying new things because that will allow you to develop long-term relationships and experiences.
- During the summer, Continue your summer research, internship, enrichment plans developed during the year. By this summer, if you are planning to apply straight through, you should have been able to identify which activities you really want to invest in. Use this summer and the beginning of your third year to really develop those relationships, push forward publications, gain leadership positions, etc. to bolster the upcoming application.
- Identify and pursue leadership opportunities within organizations you have been deeply involved with through college
- Consider which faculty, advisors and mentors on your campus you have close relationships with, whom you can approach to write letters of recommendation for your applications.
- Continue your participation in meaningful clinical experiences, other medically related activities, volunteer work, research and/or leadership roles on campus; if possible, consider taking on a more substantial role.
- Meet with your pre-health advisor to strategize about your application timeline, whether it be for immediately following graduation or after one or more gap years. Discuss your schedule for completing remaining premedical coursework and other school- specific degree requirements.
- Identify the best time for you to take the MCAT® exam; visit the MCAT website to find the best options for test dates and locations. Take the exam by the end of this year if you plan to apply straight through.
- If you are considering a gap year, investigate a meaningful paid or volunteer medically-related experience to complete during that time.
- Research medical school curricula and joint, dual, and combined-degree programs and start templating a list about where you will apply starting towards the end of this academic year.
- Request letters of recommendation and committee letter and start preparing your personal statement and the rest of your application materials.
- During the summer, continue your involvement with your selected summer activities - paid, volunteer, internship, medically related, research and leadership experiences.
- If you are applying to medical school going straight through, this summer is the time to complete and submit AMCAS and secondaries. Admissions are rolling so the earlier you do this the better.
- In the fall through early spring, if you are going straight through, you should be interviewing with schools and doing campus visits this year
- Continue investing in your activities
- Towards the end of the year, send update letters or letters of interest as needed
- Say yes to the school of your choice and plan to start medical school in the fall!
- Enjoy this summer if you are going straight through. Remember, it will be one of your last real vacations for a long time. Travel, relax, do something you are really excited about.
If you are taking gap years, move all application related components in the timeline above (AMCAS, essays, recommendations, etc.) the appropriate number of years out. Use your gap years to deepen your application - pursue meaningful research, work in a hospital, gain medical exposure by being an EMT or a scribe, or do a post-bac if you need to complete pre-med requirements. Talk regularly with advisors at your school or mentors you have identified throughout the process to determine when you are ready to apply.
Timeline to medical school
Undergraduate research can be a key component of your medical school application, depending on your interests. If you want to go to academic medicine-focused programs, having a strong research background is one of the things that is closely examined in the process. It's useful to spend your first year exploring so you can choose a lab that focuses on something you're excited about. Ideally, you would to stay in this lab for the next four years and develop a strong relationship with the PI and develop a publication record. If you do switch labs, switch early, find a good fit, and then work to develop that longevity. Finally, if you are doing basic science in a lab that doesn't publish as often, it may be good to supplement with additional faster-moving clinical projects to develop relationships with additional mentors and be able to show publications when you apply.
This website is devoted to helping you develop your research skills and walk into lab prepared so take advantage of all the tutorials out there. We also have additional tutorials on choosing mentors, identifying projects, etc. so keep an eye out for those.