The School of Molecular and Cellular Biology

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Pre-med Frequently Asked Questions, answered by MCB Advising

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What are medical schools looking for in an applicant?

Medical schools are looking for well-rounded, mature students who have diverse interests and a demonstrated commitment towards the profession.

Applicants are expected to have exceptional grades (GPA of 3.6 is competitive) and a high MCAT score (510 and higher is competitive). Your BCPM (biology, chemistry, physics & math) GPA is very important to medical schools. You should strive for a 3.6 or higher and earn no lower than a C in these subject areas.

Pre-med students must also demonstrate compassion towards others, an interest in community service, good communication skills, and a clear motivation for medicine. These traits may be demonstrated through participation in activities that are especially meaningful to you. It is better to be active in a few organizations/activities where you make a significant contribution than to overextend yourself by taking on too much. Make sure to include some clinical or medical related activities, as most schools will expect that you have earned a minimum 150 hours of community service and 150 hours of clinical experience. Competitive applicants have much more than the minimum. Leadership experience is also highly desirable.

What are the admission requirements for medical school?

Admission requirements vary from school to school, but in general, pre-med students must complete the following prerequisites with a C or higher. See The Career Center Web Site for additional information.
  • 1 year of Biology with lab (MCB 150, IB 150, MCB 251, MCB 253)
  • 1 year of General Chemistry with lab (CHEM 102, 103, 104, 105)
  • 1 year of Organic Chemistry with lab (CHEM 232, 233 + CHEM 332 or MCB 354)
  • 1 year of Physics with lab (PHYS 101 and 102)
  • 1 year of English/Composition (RHET 105 and Advanced Composition)

Additionally, courses in statistics, physiology, psychology, and sociology are highly recommended as these subjects are on the MCAT. Students should also consider coursework that helps to build critical thinking and problem solving skills. Note, for most medical schools (and all of them in Illinois) 1 semester of Biochemistry may substitute for 1 semester of Organic Chemistry. Be sure to check with each individual school for their specific requirements.

Can I use AP credit to fulfill my premed requirements?

Medical schools typically do not accept AP credit; however, those that do frequently want to see graded upper level coursework in the subjects for which you have earned credit.

Can I take prerequisites at a community college?

Yes, medical schools will accept coursework from a community college, but it is strongly recommended to take the majority of the prerequisites at your degree granting institution. This does not apply to transfer students from community colleges.

Is research required for medical school?

Research is not required but many applicants have completed some sort of research during their undergraduate years. Conducting research will improve your critical thinking skills and show that you can work independently. Pay close attention to the mission statements for each school to which you will apply. If they value research highly or have a research-driven curriculum, it might be in your best interest to have this experience.

Do I have to major in a science?

No. Find the major that is best for you! Medical schools are fine with a non-science degree, so long as you do well in the required premed science courses and demonstrate a commitment to the profession through your extra-curricular activities.

Is IB or MCB a better major for pre-med?

Both majors will cover all of the general coursework required by medical schools. The key is to find how YOU like to study biology and follow that path.

What is on the MCAT and when should I take it?

The MCAT consists of four different sections

  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

Watch our YouTube Video on How MCB can help Prepare you for the MCAT.

Typically, a student will take the MCAT one year before they plan to attend medical school. If you plan to go to medical school immediately following your undergraduate degree, you should take the MCAT during the spring semester or early summer of your junior year. Many schools will not accept scores that are more than three years old. It is recommended that you complete the following courses prior to taking the MCAT:

  • General Biology
  • Anatomy & Physiology,
  • Genetics
  • General Chemistry I & II
  • Organic Chemistry I
  • Biochemistry
  • Physics
  • Introductory Psychology
  • Introductory Sociology

When should I apply to medical school?

The best answer to this question is, when you are ready. It is expensive and time-consuming to apply, so you will want to ensure that you have completed (or will have completed) all prerequisite courses, earned exceptional grades (no lower than C in any prerequisite) and MCAT score, obtained the minimum community service and clinical experience hours and are mentally, emotionally and financially prepared for the commitment. Many students begin their application the summer after their junior year, but more and more students are taking a gap year (or two) before applying. Talk to your advisor early to determine your plan.

What is the difference between D.O. and MD.?

Allopathic (MD) and osteopathic (D.O.) schools provide virtually identical training but osteopathic medicine also includes instruction in osteopathic manipulative medicine. An osteopathic physician will, in general, treat the body as a whole, rather than treating for specific symptoms.

Will medical schools accept grade replacement?

All completed courses and grades will appear on your transcript. Allopathic schools will include all grades in your GPA calculation (they do not accept grade replacement), but most osteopathic schools will only use the most recent grade of a repeated course in their calculations. Keep this in mind when deciding whether or not to retake a course.

How many letters of recommendation do I need, and who should I ask to write them?

All schools differ, to some degree, on what they expect, so you will need to check each institution’s web site to confirm their requirements. However, most medical schools require at least three letters of recommendation from professors who have taught you at the undergraduate level. Typically, they request letters from two "science" (BCMP--Biology, Chemistry, Math, Physics) professors and one non-science (anything else) professor. You should try to get letters from professors upon whom you feel you have made a good impression (e.g., you earned an A- or better in the class). It is ok if the professor gets input from a teaching assistant, but it is best if the professor is the one signing the letter. In addition to your academic letters, it is a good idea to get a letter from anyone who has mentored you for an extended extra-curricular activity. This could include the professor you worked with for your undergraduate research, a doctor with whom you spent many hours or months shadowing, or an adult mentor in an extracurricular activity. In the end, you should typically end up with 3-6 letters. Note that some schools will ask for a letter from your "Pre-med committee." We do not have such a committee at Illinois but you should be able to substitute a letter from your academic advisor, assuming they have advised you on pre-med matters.

What is the acceptance rate to medical school?

The national acceptance rate for 2015 was 41% for MD programs and 30% for D.O. programs. The acceptance rate for UIUC students in 2015 was 35% for MD and 30% for D.O. programs. There were over 50,000 applications received in 2015 for only 20,229 spots. This is a competitive profession, so you want to be sure to put forth a strong portfolio when applying.

What is CASPer?

Computer-based Assessment for Sampling Personal Characteristics (CASPer) is an online situation judgement test being utilized by some medical schools, including UIC, to help determine who might make a good physician. It tests your interpersonal skills and decision making abilities. The cost to take the test is $10 and it should be taken in a quiet space using a computer that has a webcam. 

The test consists of 12 sections, followed by 3 questions related to the material presented in each section. These include both video-based and text-based scenarios based on every-day situation. The short video clips will ask for your response to various situations and scenarios. The text-based sections usually involve ‘personal’ questions, designed to find out more about the applicant. In total, CASPer takes 90 minutes to complete; with each section allowing only 5 minutes to answer all 3 questions, as well as a 15 minute break half way through and a short survey at the end.