Here, you'll find a quick, overview of the timeline to being a successful pre-med, including a discussion about how best to participate in undergraduate research and bolster your med school application. Maybe you're just checking out the idea of med school. 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, and 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 significant milestones!
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 into your planning. In the beginning, you should focus on figuring out if a career in 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).
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 your 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.
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.
Undergraduate research is often a key component of your medical school application. 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 the 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.