Frequently Asked Questions


  • What kinds of co-curricular activities are helpful or appropriate if I am considering medical school or another career in the health professions?


  • What concentrations are best if I am pre-med or looking into the health professions in general?


  • Do I have to get straight A’s or mostly A’s to be a viable candidate?
  • What counts in the science GPA (BCPM- Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Math)? 

Letters of Recommendation

  • What are the best kinds of recommendations for med school?


  • Is doing research really critical if I follow the pre-health/pre-med track?

Timeline for Applying

  • What is the timeline for applying, including finishing the required courses, taking the MCAT or other, and actually submitting applications?

How Many Schools to Apply To

  • To how many schools do "typical" pre-health/pre-med students and alumni apply?

S/NC Courses

  • Is it ever okay for a Brown pre-health/pre-med student to take a course satisfactory/no-credit? If so, which ones and how many?

The Math Requirement

  • How much Math is really required for the majority of med schools?

The Chemistry Requirement

  • Which courses meet Chemistry requirements and provide preparation for standardized tests?

Concentrating Outside of the Biosciences

  • If I am not a Biology concentrator, how many Biology courses should I take in order to be a viable candidate and do well on the MCAT? Any suggestions about which are the most useful ones?

MCAT Preparation

  • What are the best ways to prepare for the MCAT?

Summer, Winter, Online Courses

  • Is it ever okay to take required health careers courses in the summer, winter or online at Brown or elsewhere?

First-Year or Sophomore Seminars

  • Do First-Year or Sophomore Seminar courses fulfill pre-health/pre-medical requirements?

Other Sources of Advice

  • Where else can I get advice about premed or other health careers?

What kinds of co-curricular activities are helpful or appropriate if I am considering medical school or another career in the health professions?

Medical and other health profession schools are looking for evidence that candidates for admission are making an informed choice and that they are altruistically oriented. Hence, any activities that help you to learn about the profession are important. Experience in a clinical setting is required for admission. In addition, you should consider service-oriented activities that interest and inspire you. If you are considering a career in dentistry or veterinary medicine you may be required to have spent a certain number of hours volunteering, interning with or shadowing a practitioner in the field. Be sure to check the requirements for schools in which you are interested for specific guidelines. Sections on our website that may be most helpful include: Health Professions Competencies, Gaining Experience in the Health Professions, Forms & Tip Sheets.

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What concentrations are best if I am pre-med or looking into the health professions in general?

Medical schools, as well as other health profession training programs, do not require any particular concentration.  You should choose your concentration based on your academic interests. As you think of your concentration and other courses to take, consider that college offers a unique opportunity to explore different knowledge areas. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of all that Brown’s curriculum has to offer- it will make you a well-rounded individual and a stronger candidate for admission. 

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Do I have to get straight A’s or mostly A’s to be a viable candidate?

It is true that you'll need strong grades to be a viable candidate for medical school admission. This does not mean that you must have an A in every single class you take. Students who may have experienced significant challenges in their transition to college or during an impactful personal situation and demonstrate academic improvement can also prepare well for the application process. Talk with us if you have experienced challenges so we can help you assess and plan ahead. The best source of information about grade point averages needed for admission is Medical School Admission Requirements, the official guide from the Association of American Medical CollegesOther health professions vary in their competitiveness for admission. Guidebooks for various health professions are available at Health Careers Advising in the Pre-Professional Advising Center; most are on the web. Links to health professions schools and application systems are posted on our Resources page. Use them to help gauge your preparedness for admission. The Admission Statistics page on our website provides helpful context. 


What counts in the science GPA?

(BCPM- Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Math)

Each health profession has its own online common application service which has its own method of classifying courses for the science GPA. Usually, application services count courses listed in biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics toward the science GPA. Application services will often include neuroscience courses under biology, but they do not include courses in psychology, cognitive science, geology, or computer science (engineering is usually a separate classification). Mathematics generally includes courses in applied math as well as statistics courses in the social sciences (e.g., sociology and psychology). For more information on which courses count toward the science GPA, consult the instructions provided by the application service(s) you use when applying for admission.

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What are the best kinds of recommendations for medical school?

Health professions schools vary in their expectations for letters of recommendation. Brown's Health Careers Advisory Committee requires that applicants from Brown University have two letters of recommendation from faculty members at Brown, at least one of which must be from a professor in biology, neuroscience, chemistry, physics, or mathematics. These should come from faculty members who have taught you and/or supervised you on a project. You are also required to have a third letter from an individual who knows you in an academic, supervisory, or mentoring capacity. This could be another Brown faculty member but it could also come from other individuals on or off campus. You can add a fourth letter from a faculty member, mentor, supervisor, etc. (from Brown or elsewhere) if you feel that this will help to represent the breadth of your knowledge and experiences effectively. In general, letters of recommendation should be substantive evaluations of the particular qualities that you will bring to your chosen profession. Therefore, the best recommendations will come from people who know you well. Recommendations from high-ranking or well-known individuals who do not show substantive knowledge of your qualifications are not as helpful as letters from individuals who are less prominent but who have better knowledge of your abilities and experiences. Applicants have the right to retain right of access to letters of recomendation (FERPA). However, health professions admission committees do not consider non-confidential letters to be as informative as confidential ones. Sections on our website that may be most helpful include: Applicants, Forms & Tip Sheets

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Is doing research really critical if I follow the pre-health/pre-med track?

Engaging in research, whether in the sciences or in other disciplines, is a wonderful way to enhance your education and to build connections with faculty mentors. This can certainly help your application to medical or other health professions school as most applicants would have some research experience. Foundational knowledge of research methods is also woven into the MCAT exam and is one of Brown's learning goals. However, you should never undertake research unless you have genuine interest in it. Faculty at Brown, as well as members of admission committees, can recognize lack of enthusiasm for a particular activity listed on an application. You will be a stronger applicant if you are truly excited about an activity in which you have participated and if you have engaged in it well. There is a range of approaches you could take. Participate in research projects on campus or away from Brown, enroll in a summer intensive research program, aim to write a thesis and take a semester or two of independent study for academic credit (more than two is not advisable), or work on a research project after graduation, particularly if you plan to take some time before applying to health professions schools. If you choose to do a third semester of independent study for academic credit do this together with 4 other courses so admission committees won't consider that you have effectively had 3 semesters of 3 courses each. Independent study for academic credit in a science department should count toward your science GPA but can't be taken to fulfill baseline science requirements, such as Biology, Physics, or Math. Sections on our website that may be most helpful include: Gaining Experience in the Health Professions, Health Professions Competencies

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What is the timeline for applying, including finishing required courses, taking the MCAT, and submitting applications?

The process of applying to medical school, or to any other health profession training program can take up to one and a half years. Students planning to take one or more years off before beginning their professional training have much flexibility and can develop stronger application credentials. Students who wish to matriculate to a health profession school in the fall immediately after college graduation must have completed all of their required pre-med/pre-health course work and have taken the MCATDATGRE, etc. in the spring and no later than May of junior year.

Nationally, the majority of successful applicants begin the application process after completing their undergraduate studies in senior year (taking one "gap" or "glide" year). This allows them to present stronger credentials, to work, volunteer, travel or combine any of these. Some employers require or strongly prefer a two-year commitment (partciularly in research, teaching, or consulting). Nearly three-quarters of Brown applicants take at least one "gap" year, applying to health professions schools after senior year. The national average age of matriculating applicants to M.D. programs is 24 and is similar in other health professions.

Applicants who take one or two years off are better able to focus on their studies in their senior year of college, which in turn can lead to a higher senior year GPA. These students can then focus their attention on preparing for and taking the MCAT or other standardized tests in senior year or later, engaging in meaningful work or volunteer activities, and amassing strong application credentials that reflect their growth and development over time. An extra year or two can also help you better understand why you want to pursue a career in health and medicine. Your application will reflect this deeper understanding, and will make you more attractive to admission committees which look for applicants who possess the maturity, drive, and a well-rounded record to succeed in their programs and in the profession. Sections that may be most helpful include: Health Professions Competencies, Admission Statistics, Applicants, Standardized Tests.

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To how many schools do "typical" pre-health/pre-med students and alumni apply?

The average applicant to medical school from Brown University applies to between 15 and 20 schools. The national average is 15. Applicants to other professions generally apply to about 10 schools. 

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Is it okay for a Brown pre-health/pre-med student to take a course satisfactory/no-credit? If so, which ones and how many?

You should not take any of the courses required for admission satisfactory/no-credit (with the exception of courses that are only offered Mandatory S/NC). Note that S/NC* courses (with an asterisk) indicate that the S/NC grade option was mandatory. The asterisk does not indicate that you passed the course “with distinction”. Note also that “with distinction” does not appear on the Brown transcript.

 Courses not required for admission may be taken S/NC but you should be judicious in using this option. Schools find it difficult to evaluate applicants who have taken a large number of S/NC courses. Taking one or two elective S/NC courses during your studies at Brown in areas outside of your concentration or major area of study should not be problematic. Only choose the S/NC option if you believe that it will enhance your educational experience in a given course. It is best not to take S/NC courses in your concentration or area of major academic focus. Don't use the S/NC option to make it easier to do well in the rest of your courses for a given semester. The S/NC option is not intended as a time-management tool or GPA enhancer.  

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How much Math is really required for the majority of medical schools?

Health profession schools vary in their mathematics requirements. Over half of all M.D. programs require up to two semesters and all remaining schools strongly prefer some experience with college mathematics. The majority of medical schools (M.D. and D.O.) with a math requirement will look for between one and two semesters of math. Most of them would expect a semester of calculus and a semester of statistics. No health professions schools require multivariable calculus. A small number require two semesters of calculus but they will allow you to substitute college courses with advanced placement credit or credit from other college-level exams taken in high school. Until recently a few medical schools, including a couple of California state medical schools, did not accept advanced placement credit. The trend has been away from this restriction for years. While you are unlikely to be an issue as the great majority of schools now accept such credit, check school websites a year or two before you apply. If you had AP or other credit for MATH 0090 and/or MATH 0100, you should still take at least one math course at Brown (statistics recommended).  

The definitive source of information on all required coursework by individual M.D. schools is the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR), an online system. D.O. schools have an analogous online resource, the DO Explorer on their website.  Other health professions have their own web and printed resources. Be sure you know the requirements for schools in which you are interested. Sections on our website that may be most helpful include: Pre-Med/Pre-Health Professions CoursesAP Scores.

For all health professions, it is your responsibility to be sure that you have met all applicable admission requirements. 

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What courses meet Chemistry requirements and provide preparation for standardized tests?

Nearly all health profession training programs, including medical, dental, and veterinary schools, require 4 semesters of Chemistry with lab (2 semesters general/inorganic and 2 semesters of organic). Most health professions schools look at Biochemistry as an excellent substitute for a second semester general chemistry with lab. Knowledge of biochemistry is also necessary for the MCAT beginning in 2015.  

A number of medical schools and approximately two-thirds of dental schools require a 5-course sequence in chemistry (2 semesters general/inorganic, 2 semesters of organic, and 1 semester of biochemistry).


At Brown there are two typical course sequences depending on the level of your Chemistry preparation and the health professions programs to which you plan to apply.  They have served hundreds of applicants very well for years regardless of the particular breakdown of general/organic/biochemistry courses individual schools expect. 

* Most Brown pre-health/pre-medical students start the course sequence with CHEM 0330 and follow it with CHEM 0350, CHEM 0360 and BIOL 0280 (or CHEM 0400).  Placement into CHEM 0330 is based on AP or other pre-college credit or a score from the Chemistry Department Placement ExamNote that the Chemistry department oinly uses AP scores for course placement but does not list those on students' transcripts. 

* Students without much or any pre-college Chemistry preparation begin with CHEM 0100, followed by CHEM 0330, CHEM 0350, CHEM 0360, and BIOL 0280 (or CHEM 0400). Note that CHEM 0100 should only be taken by students with limited or no pre-college chemistry background. Do not take CHEM 0100 after taking a higher level chemistry course simply to meet the requirement. This will look very bad on your applications! Admission committees will expect you to take challenging courses that are appropriate for your level of preparation.

* There are two ways in which you could complete the five-course sequence in chemistry. If you completed CHEM 0330, CHEM 0350, CHEM 0360, BIOL 0280 (or CHEM 0400) take one additional general chemistry course with lab. This could be either CHEM 0400 or CHEM 0500. If you plan to take a more advanced course, consult with the schools where you plan to apply first. If you completed CHEM 0100, CHEM 0330, CHEM 0350, CHEM 0360 and BIOL 0280 (or CHEM 0400) this should be sufficient to meet this requirement. 

Note also that it is not sufficient to complete only 1 semester of organic chemistry. Although approximately a quarter of M.D. schools would accept a semester of Biochemistry in lieu of a second semester organic chemistry with lab, the great majority of Brown students take Biochemistry in lieu of second semester General Chemistry with lab. You will be deficient in both General and Organic Chemistry if you complete only Chem 0330, Chem 0350 and BIOL 0280. You will not be adequately prepared for the MCAT and the bulk of admission committees will consider your application incomplete. Sections on our website that may be most helpful include: Pre-Med/Pre-Health Professions CoursesAP ScoresForms & Tip Sheets. 


Prior to the launch of the new MCAT in spring 2015 the courses at Brown that had fulfilled the chemistry requirement were the same. However, it hadn't been necessary to complete BIOL 0280 before taking the exam. 

For all health professions, it is your responsibility to be sure that you have met all applicable admission requirements. 

***BIOLOGY 0285

This is a small inquiry-based research course taught during the same semester as BIOL 0280. The course is primarily intended for Sophomores and Juniors with strong interests in molecular/biochemical research and students who are contemplating writing an honors thesis in this area, or graduate school and research careers. The course may be of interest to some students who pursue the pre-health/pre-medical track at Brown. However, it is not a requirement for admission to health professions programs and is not an optional or mandatory laboratory section of BIOL 0280.

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If I am not a Biology concentrator, how many Biology courses should I take in order to be a viable candidate and do well on the MCAT, DAT, or other exam? Any suggestions about which courses are the most useful?

In general, two Biology courses with lab sections will prepare you adequately for the MCAT, DAT, or other standardized test though taking more than two would strengthen your preparation and credentials.  You should begin with BIOL 0200 unless you have an AP score in biology or other equivalent preparation.  Physiology (BIOL 0800) and Genetics (BIOL 0470) are both excellent courses to take in preparation for a career in the health professions.  Non-science concentrators are encouraged to complete additional course work in Biology or Neuroscience (no lab component necessary). Most Brown pre-health/pre-med students take Introduction to Biochemistry (BIOL 0280) to fulfill chemistry requirements and to prepare for theMCAT. This is a course many health professions schools recommend or require but will not be counted as a biology course. Sections on our website that may be most helpful include: Pre-Med/Pre-Health Professions CoursesStandardized tests (MCAT, DAT, GRE)

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What is the best way to prepare for the MCAT?

Most importantly, you should take the exam only after you have completed the necessary courses successfully and have given yourself ample time to prepare. All of your MCAT scores are visible to every medical school to which you apply and it is important to take the exam only when you are prepared to do your best work. Most students and alumni take the exam in the year prior to their application (which starts every June). About two-thirds of Brown students and alumni apply to medical school upon or a year after graduation. Nationally, 63% of applicants admitted to M.D. programs have done the same. Nationally, the average age of M.D. program matriculants is 24. Your academic preparation should include a biochemistry course, as well as a foundational course in the behavioral and social sciences. After you complete these courses 3-4 months of dedicated study is typically sufficient. Both self-study and preparation courses can be effective though each has pros and cons. A test prep course gives you plentiful review materials and practice exams, as well as a lot of structure. However, the price is high, sometimes exceeding $2,000. Self-study is less expensive and many good review books and practice exams are available at bookstores and through on-line booksellers. Note that this approach requires self-discipline. If you opt for self-study, consider forming a study group. Be sure that your partners are self-motivated, reliable, and dedicated! Consult the official MCAT preparation web-based and print guide books including the Khan Academy tutorials. You can obtain official MCAT practice tests and many tutorial and self-evaluation materials from AAMC's website.  All currently available relevant information and preparation resources are detailed on our website under Standardized Tests.

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Is it ever OK to take required health careers courses in the summer, winter, abroad or online at Brown or elsewhere?

In general, most health profession schools, and particularly medical schools, do not view summer courses as favorably as they do courses taken during the fall and spring terms at Brown. In part this is because they find it difficult to assess the rigor of students' summer coursework- summer sessions most everywhere are shorter than academic semesters. Additionally, schools prefer to see how students perform when completing a full course load as this is more similar to the rigorous education at their own programs, for which they will be evaluating you. They are also mindful that sometimes students may consider summer courses, especially at another college, to result in higher grades. While none of these may be your intention, it is important to be aware of schools' preferences and perceptions. 

However, if you have a compelling academic rationale for taking a summer course (e.g., to enable you to study abroad, or to participate in research or clinical activities which you would miss otherwise) and if you think you will be a strong applicant overall, you could take a required course over the summer. You should preferably do so at Brown or at a university with a strong academic reputation (no community colleges or online courses). Furthermore, we do not recommend that you take more than one required class in the summer for the duration of your undergraduate education. It is best not to take any required science courses during the summer.

No study abroad courses, during the summer or the academic year, would be accepted by health professions schools in fulfillment of pre-health/pre-medical requirements although they may count for your Brown concentration. No pre-health/pre-medical requirement courses can be taken during Brown’s Wintersession, even if they are also offered during the regular fall or spring semesters. Wintersession offers a range of innovative courses and you can certainly sign up if you are interested. Medical, dental and veterinary schools generally do not accept online courses. If you plan to apply to other health professions schools, which indicate that they may accept online courses, you could do so. This may not put you in the strongest position as an applicant, however.   

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Do First-Year or Sophomore Seminar courses fulfill pre-health/pre-medical requirements?

First-Year and Sophomore seminars can be an excellent way to learn about a wide range of topics in a small class format often focusing on interdisciplinary subjects. The seminars are intended to offer a wide range of perspectives, ideas, and approaches to subjects that are not part of any particular course sequence in a particular department or field of study. Such courses would not fulfill medical or other health professions schools' requirements but are a great way to engage with Brown's Open Curriculum. A potential exception could be a course in literature, college composition or foreign literature in translation to English that may fulfill health professions schools' English requirement. Explore the Pre-Health/Pre-Medical Course page for further detail about the English requirement. You can learn more about First-Year and Sophomore Seminars here

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Where else can I get advice about pre-med or other health careers?

  • Dean Katherine Smith currently oversees Biology undergraduate programs and academic advising. Her office provides full service academic counseling and assists all undergraduate students in the biological sciences and related areas. Her office and website also have essential information about research opportunities at Brown and elsewhere. Dean Smith is knowledgeable about pre-med and other health careers requirements and challenges. Her office is located in 124 Arnold Lab, 97 Waterman Street.
  • For various aspects of your preparation for health careers schools, be sure to connect with advisors and mentors at the range of academic and extracurricular support offices throughout campus. CareerLAB and the Writing Center are especially helpful when you are working on resumes and personal statements. The Swearer Center can be an excellent resource as you seek volunteer opportunities in the community. The Curricular Resource Center as well as the Office of International Programs would be especially helpful as you plan your academics. The Tutoring Office and Student Support Services can give you indispensable support with your academic preparation. The Office of the Dean of the College, as well as the Office of Student Life assist with general advising and support all aspects of your overall college experience. Health Careers Advising is the hub for all matters relating to your exploration of the health professions as educational and career options. 

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