Let’s start by clearing something up — “pre-med” isn’t actually a major at many universities across the U.S.
Rather, pre-med is an advising track that helps students take the courses they need to get into medical school. The required classes look similar across all schools, with variations in the number of courses and labs, but they usually include biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, math, and English.
Different medical schools may require different coursework, so applicants are encouraged to check individual schools here.
As long as students complete this roster of pre-med requirements, they can major in whatever field they want. It makes sense to major in a science like biology or chemistry because of the overlap of pre-med and major requirements, but many students opt to study something else entirely.
In fact, it may be a smart move to major in something you’re passionate about before you get to med school, where you can expect to be inundated by courses only related to medicine.
Aside from biology, pre-med students have found success majoring in economics, psychology, English, history, anthropology, and even religious studies.
Learning about humanity through these varied disciplines can help future doctors understand their patients beyond health.
No preference is given to certain majors over others — as long as med school applicants can demonstrate their passion, experience, and aptitude for working in healthcare, they have a good shot of getting into the med school of their choice.
The following pre-med schools have an excellent track record of producing students who get into the best medical schools in the U.S.
These undergraduate programs have abundant opportunities to gain clinical and community service experience, special programs just for pre-meds, and exceptional pre-med advising.
The ranking for this list is based on colleges that have the highest “feed” into medical school, as reported by collegetransitions.com.
Here are the 10 best pre-med schools in the US.
10. Vanderbilt University (Nashville, TN)
Home to one of the nation’s top medical schools, Vanderbilt has consistently educated and prepared top pre-med undergraduates for their med school of choice.
In 2019, 71% of Vanderbilt pre-med graduates got into a med program on their first try. The acceptance rate for re-applicants, 61%, is still higher than the national average for both first-time and re-applicants: 43%.
These stats are a testament to Vanderbilt’s strong pre-med tracks. The most popular majors are medicine, health and society; neuroscience; molecular and cellular biology; and biomedical engineering.
Students can major in any subject, but in order to be considered for med school, they must complete the pre-med prerequisite classes.
Whatever their major, if they’re on a pre-med track at Vanderbilt, students are encouraged to participate in the Alpha Epsilon Delta Pre-Health Society (AED). This student society unites aspiring health professionals through social events, guest speaker presentations, and volunteer service activities.
Plus, with plenty of exclusive clinical opportunities to get involved in at local hospitals, Vanderbilt pre-meds have the upper hand compared to pre-meds at most other schools.
Vanderbilt is known for its world-class pre-med educators, like chemistry professor Sandra J. Rosenthal, who researches how to apply nanocrystals in neuroscience to understand mental disorders better.
9. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC)
Pre-med students at UNC typically have more choices for specialization within their chosen discipline. For example, biology majors can specialize in animal behavior, biomechanics, genetics, genomics, to name a few.
They also have access to plenty of shadowing opportunities at University of North Carolina hospitals and the UNC Hospitals Children’s Specialty Clinic. They can join the UNC AED chapter to meet other aspiring doctors, pre-med alumni, and get involved in local service opportunities.
UNC School of Medicine offers a nine-week summer program called the Medical Education Development (MED) Program. This intensive, selective course was established in 1974 to expand opportunities in health for academically promising students who are socioeconomically disadvantaged or underrepresented.
MED program participants learn and experience what it’s like during the first semester at med school. They hone their studying and test-taking skills as well as their core knowledge in the sciences: biochemistry, gross anatomy, histology, microbiology, and physiology.
The program is divided into academic, professional development, lab, exam, and clinical case blocks. Participants also receive a $3,000 stipend to use towards the cost of meals, transportation, and ancillary living expenses.
The summer MED program covers housing fees.
8. University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA)
Pre-med students at this prestigious Ivy League have access to excellent research and clinical opportunities, which are integral parts of the med school application.
As a result, Penn pre-meds are better prepared and accepted at a higher rate than the national average.
Regardless of major, those interested in a career as a physician must complete a standard pre-med curriculum, which includes biology, chemistry, physics, organic chemistry (with labs), English, and math courses.
It’s also a good idea to take upper-division biology and biochemistry, as some of the most competitive med programs in the nation require them.
The pre-med course offerings at UPenn are uniquely equipped to educate aspiring doctors. These courses include medical sociology, bioethics, health care systems, and genome sciences & genomic medicine.
UPenn pre-meds often apply for the Premed Volunteer Program at Pennsylvania Hospital. In this role, volunteers help nurses and doctors and interact with visitors, patients, and families. Along the way, students learn about the nursing unit and its essential interactions with other departments. This position is ideal for premed, post baccalaureate, physician assistant, and nursing students.
For med students, they can use this opportunity to build their personal and professional network, leaving the program with a letter of recommendation they can include in their med school application.
7. Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, MD)
Johns Hopkins is particularly good at preparing pre-med students for med school. The school boasts world-class facilities and resources that are specially designed to help aspiring healthcare providers get into med school and be able to decide their specific interests in the health field.
For example, medical tutorials give undergraduates the chance to learn about medicine through non-credit, non-graded modules. Faculty supervisors allow participants to ask questions and learn for the sake of learning.
All pre-health students can join the Health Sciences Career Academy in the Life Design Lab. Through this academy, students are free to explore their specific interests, whether it’s in basic science, research, pharmaceuticals, public health, or medicine. Students can also network with alumni and professionals in the field for insight into their desired careers.
Pre-med students can also complete the Committee Letter requirements to receive a letter of recommendation touting their strengths and competencies. The conditions are relatively easy to fulfill, especially for full-time students already on a pre-med track, and takes care of one of the letters of recommendation requirements for med school applications.
These are just a few of Johns Hopkins’ exceptional resources and opportunities for pre-med students. Others include pre-med-specific study abroad opportunities, like the Hopkins Oxford Pre-Medical Science Program in the UK and Hopkins Neuroscience in Salamanca, Spain.
6. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (Ann Arbor, MI)
Michigan has not only an excellent pre-med program but also an outstanding Honors pre-med program. A whopping 80% of Honors students are accepted into MD programs, compared to a 56% acceptance rate for regular Michigan pre-med graduates, a percentage that is still higher than the national average of 43%.
The university is also at the heart of the region’s best hospitals where students can volunteer their time to get clinical experience. These centers include:
- A. Alfred Taubman Health Care Center
- C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital
- Frankel Cardiovascular Center
- Med Inn Building
- University Hospital
- UH South
- Rogel Cancer Center
- Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital
Michigan’s med school is also highly ranked — U.S. News puts it at #15 for both research and primary care.
For pre-med students, there are plenty of specialized health-related research opportunities to get involved in, such as the UM-SMART Undergrad Summer Program. This program is designed for ambitious students seeking a combined MD/PhD. Participants work full-time in a basic research lab under faculty supervision.
At Michigan, students will be surrounded by brilliant faculty who will help learners discover their healthcare passions. Brent C. Williams is a professor in internal medicine and leads Paths of Excellence, a co-curricular program for med students to explore eight different specialties within healthcare.
5. UC Berkeley (Berkeley, CA)
Cal pre-med students have a wealth of clinical and research opportunities to take part in alongside their required pre-med coursework. For support and chances to help the local community, they can choose from over 50 health-related student organizations and student-facilitated courses called DeCals.
Through the Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program (URAP), pre-med students work under the tutelage of faculty, who conduct cutting-edge research. From there, students may take a more active research role through Sponsored Projects for Undergraduate Research (SPUR), which is limited to students in the Rausser College of Natural Resources but gives participants the chance to work on a faculty project or create their own.
Berkeley has research partnerships with the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI) and UC San Francisco, where students can get basic science and clinical research experience.
Berkeley doesn’t have a medical school of its own, but many Berkeley pre-med graduates applying to med school get into nearby UCSF.
Pre-med students who want to assist underprivileged global communities can apply to various international health study abroad programs.
One of the short-term programs (2 weeks to 3 months) is Amigos de los Americas, a Latin American study abroad trip for nutrition and pre-med students interested in public health.
An example of a long-term program (3 months to 1 year) is Nepal’s Rural Community Development Program, an opportunity to help out at underdeveloped and understaffed hospitals and clinics.
4. Yale University (New Haven, CT)
Yale pre-med students receive a lot of support, which is why almost 90% of pre-med graduates later get accepted to med school.
The Health Professions Advisory Program helps students handle the rigor of pre-med tracks at this Ivy League. They provide structured assistance throughout all four years of undergrad as well as assistance putting together med school applications in junior and senior years.
Undergraduate Learning Assistants (ULAs) and graduate TAs are also a crucial part of the support system for pre-med students at Yale.
On top of this, pre-med students have access to shadowing some of the country’s top doctors at the Yale New Haven Hospital, Hospital of St. Raphael, Connecticut Hospice, Leeway, Fair Haven Community Health Center, and Cornell Scott-Hill Health Center. Most of these institutions provide specialized care and serve underprivileged communities.
Yale has many pre-health student organizations, but one of note is the Hypertension Awareness and Prevention Program, or HAPPY. This collaboration between Yale students and healthcare providers is dedicated to offering regular hypertension screenings and connecting hypertensive patients with affordable care. It’s yet another way that Yale and its local health care community are breaking down barriers to follow-care in medically underprivileged communities.
3. Stanford University (Stanford, CA)
Like Berkeley, Stanford is centrally located so that pre-med students have access to clinical and research opportunities in the local community. The Stanford Immersion in Medicine Series (SIMS) program allows sophomore, junior, and senior pre-meds to shadow physicians at Stanford Hospital, Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, and the Palo Alto VA Hospital.
SIMS students are paired with a physician mentor and accompany them on rounds, observe during surgeries, attend lectures, and more. Over the course of a quarter, students will have a better idea of what kind of career in medicine or health they’d like to pursue.
Stanford pre-meds also have access to unique study abroad opportunities.
For example, students can travel to Oaxaca, Mexico, one of the most medically underprivileged states in Mexico. Students are required to demonstrate proficient Spanish language skills and, once there, they’ll learn about the Mexican healthcare system in the context of the cultural, socioeconomic, and educational factors that affect the health of Mexicans and Mexican immigrants to the United States.
Students take this type of experience with them forever; indeed, participants in the Oaxaca program are expected to use what they learned to serve the local Latinx community in Palo Alto and beyond.
2. Duke University (Durham, NC)
With access to one of the nation’s best medical schools, Duke pre-med students are guided by pre-health advisors from the very start of their undergraduate careers. This ensures that 70-80% of Duke’s first-time applicants get into med school, almost double the national average.
Duke pre-meds also have access to ample clinical and community service experiences. Some of the school’s notable student organizations include:
- Duke Adopt-a-Grandparent
- Public Health Brigades
- Pancakes for Parkinson’s
- Duke Disability Alliance
- Autism Speaks U
- Special Olympics College
- Project HEAL: Health Education and Awareness in Latin America
There are numerous other opportunities to serve the community, conduct research, and gain transformative clinical experience in Durham and abroad. The Duke-NUS Medical School offers summer programs and clinical observerships to students interested in learning about the Singapore healthcare system from the country’s leading biomedical faculty.
Pre-med students can also get involved in research at Duke’s many humanities labs, ranging from social justice to publishing to the Amazon rainforest. Learning about humanities will give pre-med students a balanced perspective that will be integral to patient care in their future health professions.
1. Harvard University (Cambridge, MA)
Like the other schools on this list, Harvard doesn’t have a designated pre-med major for undergraduates, but it does offer a post-baccalaureate pre-med program through Harvard Extension School.
This pre-med program is personalized to each applicant’s specific needs. Students receive guidance from pre-med advisors on required coursework as well as the med school application process. Coursework is flexible (evening classes, part-time), affordable ($480 per credit with access to federal financial aid), and rigorous, leading to high rates of med school acceptance.
For pre-med undergraduates, Harvard has published sample four-year plans with variations for study abroad and summer school. They stress that pre-med schedules can be flexible and that students should feel free to explore interests outside health.
To help navigate all this, students can go to their assigned pre-med advisor and join pre-health student organizations, like the Harvard Pre-Medical Society.
Of course, Harvard is also home to the #1 med school in the U.S. That alone shows the school’s strength in biomedical sciences.
Furthermore, pre-med students can gain clinical experience at any of Harvard’s teaching hospitals, like Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston Children’s Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Cambridge Health Alliance, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
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