Developing a premed 4 year plan early in your academic career is one of the best preparation tasks you can do. Having a solid plan will ensure you are on track for medical school admissions. This guide will show you how to efficiently create a premed 4 year plan for meeting all the medical school requirements and recommendations.
College can be distracting. The pressure of balancing everything and trying to plan is tough! Balancing your time and efforts can be overwhelming. This can be especially true about volunteering, internships, and exams. However, preparing for medical school is more than just taking the right classes. That said, it’s also essential to equip yourself with a strong research and writing background.
Most importantly, you also need to know how schools will evaluate you. For these reasons, planning is a smart move. With a strategic premed 4 year plan, you can guarantee that you meet all the medical school requirements and more! So, how do you create a premed 4 year plan? This guide will teach you everything you need to know!
Step 1: Research the classes you need to meet medical school requirements.
The first step to creating your premed 4 year plan is to understand the admission requirements to medical school. This section describes the required (or recommended) classes for med school. These class topics will prepare you for all things science-related, like biology and chemistry. As you master these subjects, you will build a solid foundation to study for the MCAT exam. Even more, these prerequisites will prepare you to do well in your first year of medical school.
Traditionally, medical schools require that you complete the following courses in college:
- General Biology I and II (1 year with a lab)
- General Chemistry I and II (1 year with a lab)
- Organic Chemistry I and II (1 year with a lab)
- Physics I and II (with or without calculus and 1 year with a lab)
- Math (1 semester)
The following courses may be optional, as requirements may vary by school:
- English Composition (1 year)
- Biochemistry (1 semester)
- Psychology (1 semester)
- Sociology (1 semester)
More and more medical schools are replacing coursework requirements with recommendations. This means that you are not required to take any specific classes to apply! Further, most medical schools don’t require particular majors. Therefore, you can choose any major you want! Students commonly select a major in the biological sciences because the classes are often the same as med school requirements. That said, there are about 34 schools in the U.S. that don’t ask for prerequisites. Generally, you can apply to these schools as long as you have excellent grades. However, you will need to show that you have a strong understanding of the biological and social sciences. You can accomplish this by getting a good score on your MCAT. The class requirements for all the other schools are extensive, and we will describe them in this section.
Here is a list of recommended topics to include in your premed 4 year plan:
- Biology: Understanding how cells are structured, mechanisms of function, assembly in development, and evolution
- Chemistry: Learning the nature of chemicals and chemical processes in biology
- Physics and Math: Knowing how to apply math to biological or real-world problems
- English: Applying critical reasoning and analysis to literature outside of the biological sciences
- Social Sciences: Learning how people communicate, interact, their psychology, and learning about sociocultural factors that contribute to health.
To efficiently make your premed 4 year plan, check out the admission requirements for your schools of interest. We have compiled a complete list of U.S. medical schools below. Click on each link to view every school’s admission requirements page!
List of medical schools that do not require specific medical school prerequisite coursework:
- California University of Science and Medicine
- Creighton University School of Medicine
- CUNY School of Medicine
- Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell
- Duke University School of Medicine
- East Tennessee State University James H. Quillen College of Medicine
- Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California
- Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University
- Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine
- Medical College of South Carolina College of Medicine
- New York University Grossman School of Medicine
- New York University Long Island School of Medicine
- Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine
- Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine
- Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania
- Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University
- Southern Illinois University School of Medicine
- Stanford University School of Medicine
- The University of Texas Joe & Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine
- Tulane University School of Medicine
- University of California, Los Angeles David Geffen School of Medicine
- University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine
- University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine
- University of Central Florida College of Medicine
- University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine
- University of Cincinnati College of Medicine
- University of Colorado School of Medicine
- University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences
- University of South Carolina School of Medicine Columbia
- University of Virginia School of Medicine
- Vanderbilt University School of Medicine
- Wake Forest School of Medicine
- West Virginia University School of Medicine
- Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine
List of medical schools that do require prerequisite coursework for admissions:
- Albany Medical College
- Albert Einstein College of Medicine
- Baylor College of Medicine
- Boston University School of Medicine
- Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University
- California Northstate University College of Medicine
- Carle Illinois College of Medicine
- Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine
- Central Michigan University College of Medicine
- Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine at Florida Atlantic University
- Chicago Medical School of Rosalind Franklin University
- Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons
- Cooper Medical School of Rowan University
- Drexel University College of Medicine
- Eastern Virginia Medical School
- Emory University School of Medicine
- Florida International University Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine
- Florida State University College of Medicine
- Frank H. Netter M.D. School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University
- Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth
- Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine
- George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences
- Georgetown University School of Medicine
- Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine
- Harvard Medical School
- Howard University College of Medicine
- Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
- Indiana University School of Medicine
- Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Buffalo
- Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
- Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine
- Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV
- Loma Linda University School of Medicine
- Louisiana State University School of Medicine in New Orleans
- Louisiana State University School of Medicine in Shreveport
- Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine
- Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine
- McGovern Medical School at the University of Texas Health Science
- Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University
- Medical College of Wisconsin
- Meharry Medical College
- Mercer University School of Medicine
- Michigan State University College of Human Medicine
- Morehouse School of Medicine
- New York Medical School
- Northeast Ohio Medical University
- Northwestern University the Feinberg School of Medicine
- Nova Southeastern University Dr. Kiran C. Patel Allopathic Medicine
- Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine
- Ohio State University College of Medicine
- Robert Larner, M.D., College of Medicine at the University of Vermont
- Rush Medical College of Rush University Medical Center
- Rutgers New Jersey Medical School
- Saint Louis University school of Medicine
- Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University
- State University of New York Downstate College of Medicine
- State University of New York Upstate Medical University
- TCU and UNTHSC School of Medicine
- Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine
- Texas Tech University Health Sciences Paul L. Foster School of Medicine
- Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Medicine
- The University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences
- The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University
- Tufts University School of Medicine
- Uniformed Services University F. Edward Hebert School of Medicine
- University of Alabama School of Medicine
- University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson
- University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix
- University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences College of Medicine
- University of California, Davis, School of Medicine
- University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine
- University of California, Riverside, School of Medicine
- University of Connecticut School of Medicine
- University of Florida College of Medicine
- University of Hawaii, John A. Burns School of Medicine
- University of Houston College of Medicine
- University of Illinois College of Medicine
- University of Iowa Roy J. & Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine
- University of Kansas School of Medicine
- University of Kentucky College of Medicine
- University of Louisville School of Medicine
- University of Maryland School of Medicine
- University of Massachusetts Medical School
- University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine
- University of Michigan Medical School
- University of Minnesota Medical School
- University of Mississippi School of Medicine
- University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine
- University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine
- University of Nebraska College of Medicine
- University of Nevada, Reno, School of Medicine
- University of New Mexico School of Medicine
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine
- University of Oklahoma College of Medicine
- University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
- University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry
- University of South Alabama College of Medicine
- University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville
- University of South Dakota, Sanford School of Medicine
- University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Medicine
- University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School
- University of Texas Medical Branch School of Medicine
- University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine
- University of Texas Southwestern Medical School
- University of Utah School of Medicine
- University of Washington School of Medicine
- University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health
- USF Health Morsani College of Medicine
- Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine
- Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine
- Washington State University Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine
- Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine
- Wayne State University School of Medicine
- Weill Cornell Medicine
- Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine
- Yale School of Medicine
Step 2: Look for easy A classes to get the highest GPA possible.
Our second tip to create your premed 4-year plan is to look for easy A’s. Don’t try to impress admissions with advanced classes that you don’t need. Sometimes, this can do more harm than good. You may hurt your medical school application by getting anything lower than an A. So instead of taking challenging advanced classes or electives, focus on maintaining an excellent grade point average (GPA). You can do this by taking only the classes you need. It’s also important to know the difference between BCPM and non-BCMP classes. This section will discuss what BCMP classes are and explain why your GPA matters. After, we will also share tips on finding “easy A” classes at your university.
AMCAS categorizes your coursework into two main categories: BCPM and non-BCPM classes.
The biological sciences are essential for success in medical school. You should strive to get good science grades because they contribute to your BCMP GPA! BCPM stands for Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Math. Therefore, any class you take in these disciplines will count towards your BCMP GPA. For instance, a grade in Anatomy & Physiology will contribute to your BCPM GPA. Even though it is technically not required for medical school admission, this class is still a Biology subdiscipline. So, plan carefully and protect your BCPM GPA!
All other classes outside of BCPM will contribute to your “non-BCPM” GPA. These non-BCMP disciplines include:
- Behavioral & Social Sciences
- Computer Science & Technology
- English Language & Literature
- Fine Arts
- Foreign Languages, Linguistics, & Literature
- Government, Political Science, & Law
- Health Sciences (dentistry, optometry, nutrition, pharmacology, etc.)
- Natural & Physical Sciences
For a complete list of coursework that AMCAS will count towards your BCPM or non-BCPM GPAs, check out the AMCAS Application Course Classification Guide.
Taking “easy A” classes in non-BCMP disciplines will give you several advantages.
“Easy A” classes are popular and highly favored among premed students. You’ll find that these classes commonly require less work. Undeniably, these classes tend to be leniently graded. Some courses may also be popular because the professor is simply a great teacher. And what’s better than having a good professor?
There are several reasons why we recommend “easy A’s.” First, your overall GPA will be higher with less work. Second, you will focus more on the more challenging science classes. This will increase your chances of graduating with a higher GPA and a more competitive grade transcript.
When creating your premed 4 year plan, remember that taking “easy A” classes also applies to the BCMP disciplines.
When you begin to layout your classes, you’ll notice that many science classes overlap. This will be especially true during the last two years of college. To prevent burning out and the risk of getting bad grades, you should find “easy A” classes at your school. In fact, taking “easy A” classes during your entire college career can really pay off. Getting as many A’s as possible is essential because medical schools will directly compare your BCMP GPA and cumulative GPA.
So which GPA matters most?
Now, you may be wondering if your BCMP matters more than your non-BCMP GPA. Above all, medical schools will evaluate you on both! Your grades in the biological sciences carry a lot of weight. Regardless, having good grades in all of your classes is equally important. This is because it will help you maintain a high overall GPA. This overall GPA is an essential part of your primary applications. From then on, schools will assess your BCMP and non-BCMP GPA for admission. We recommend that you strive for A’s in all of your classes for these reasons. Protect both GPAs equally!
Why should your BCMP and non-BCMP GPA be identical?
Protect all of your grades at all costs! If your GPAs differ too much, med school admissions may interpret your abilities in the wrong way. For instance, let’s say that your overall GPA is (3.9). However, your non-science GPA is only (3.1). If this is the case, admissions will think you can’t handle challenging science classes. Similarly, they may also believe that you will struggle as a medical student in advanced medicine classes.
Now, let’s say that you have a high science (BCPM) GPA but a low overall GPA. In this case, admissions will think that you lack diversity of knowledge in those non-science disciplines. For these reasons, you must strategize how to maintain good grades in all of your courses. To do this, search for those “easy A” classes ahead of time!
If you think that medical schools will know that you took an “easy” class, think again!
Medical schools care about your GPA. Above all, they will not know (or check) that you took an “easy” class. In fact, you will not be compromising your education at all, either. This is because universities must approve every class syllabus. This way, students are always taught the foundational concepts in that class subject. That said, make sure to plan ahead of time and act fast because well-known “easy A” classes will fill up quickly!
How to find “easy A” classes at your university:
Want to know the secret to finding easy classes? Our hot tip is to review your classes on ratemprofessor.com. This website lets students rate their professors and the class they took. Student evaluations include:
- the class difficulty level
- quality of the class
- attendance requirements
- whether you will need to buy a textbook
- whether or not previous students would take a class with the same professor again.
What’s more, ratemprofessor.com lets students submit a free-response review. There, students commonly share tips on how to get that A! Using this resource, we recommend that you look up each of your classes. Try to do this before your registration date! That way, you will be ready at registration time and won’t miss out!
Step 3: Don’t neglect Reading Comprehension and English classes when creating your premed 4 year plan!
Can you guess what the most common mistake that premeds make is? That’s right! Premeds often neglect English and Reading Comprehension. Unfortunately, this happens because premeds are too focused on science courses. As a result, they forget to build strength in other areas. There are two main reasons why adding literature (or Humanities) classes to your premed 4 year plan is essential. In this section, we will explain those reasons.
The first reason to take a Reading Comprehension course in college is to build skills as a future doctor.
English classes can help you develop an understanding of complicated literature. You may be wondering, how does this translate to a career as a doctor? As a doctor, you will be expected to listen to your patients’ concerns with tact. You will also need to think critically and fast. This is primarily true during medical school. Classes that focus on writing, comprehension, or the humanities will help you think critically. Even more, comprehension classes will also train you to interpret information and solve problems quickly. Both of these skills will give you an edge in medical school and beyond!
The most important reason to add Comprehension classes into your premed plan is to prepare for the CARS section of the MCAT exam.
The Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section of the MCAT is called CARS. According to the AAMC’s Summary of MCAT Total and Section Scores from 2019 to 2020, the CARS section had the lowest average score out of all of the MCAT sections. This data shows that premeds struggle the most with CARS. For this reason, you should consider adding classes that will prepare you for CARS in your premed 4 year plan. Don’t wait until the last minute!
In this section, we will describe:
- What you can expect in the CARS section of the MCAT
- Specific criteria you will be evaluated on
- Where you can find more information about CARS
What is the CARS section of the MCAT and why do premeds have such a hard time with it?
First, let’s break down what the CARS section is. CARS tests your ability to read passages about many topics. However, these topics will not always be related. You will also need to answer questions about the passages very quickly in this test. Specifically, you will read 9 passages and answer 5-7 questions for each. In total, you will have 90 minutes. Because of this, you need to know how to use your time wisely before it runs out!
The 9 CARS passages are likely to be complex. These assigned readings focus on different Humanities topics. Don’t worry, though! This does not mean that you need to study these subjects. Med schools don’t expect you to be an expert in them. Instead, the goal of CARS is to test how you interpret information and understand arguments. Because most science classes do not focus on critical analysis and reading comprehension, many premeds don’t do well in this area. Don’t let this happen to you!
CARS will test your abilities in three areas: comprehension, reasoning within the text, and reasoning beyond the text.
According to the AAMC’s CARS description, this MCAT section tests three primary skills. These skills are comprehension, reasoning within and beyond the text. Here, we will explain what you can expect in each area.
Foundations of Comprehension (30% of the test):
- Did you understand the basic components or main ideas of the passage?
- Why did the author include certain information to support their claim?
- Which ideas are NOT supported by the passage?
- What do certain phrases mean in the context of the author’s argument?
To learn more about this CARS subsection, visit CARS Section – Skill 1: Foundations of Comprehension on AAMC’s website.
Reasoning Within the Text (30% of the test):
- Are you able to think critically about the passage?
- How well can you infer relationships between different pieces of information?
- Can you understand information that supports or contradicts the author’s conclusions?
To learn more about this subsection, visit CARS Section – Skill 2: Reasoning Within the Text on AAMC’s website.
Reasoning Beyond the Text (40% of the test)
- Are you capable of applying the idea presented in the passage to a new scenario?
- Can you incorporate new information to the main idea?
- How would new information change the main conclusions of the passage?
To learn more about this subsection, visit CARS Section – Skill 3: Reasoning Beyond the Text Passage Types.
Also, if you would like to see some examples of CARS questions, visit Kaplan’s CARS MCAT Practice Questions. In the next section, we will walk you through how to choose the best classes for you!
Which classes will best prepare you for the CARS section of the MCAT exam?
To prepare for CARS, you should develop skills in three main areas. These areas are literary analysis, critical reasoning, and comprehension. Examples of practical classes for this can be English Comprehension, Philosophy, or Writing. Yet, the most important thing to do is take courses you are interested in! If you genuinely enjoy the class, you will be more inclined to read and write. The more you practice, the better you will be!
Remember, you don’t need to memorize facts to do well in CARS. This test is not about how much you know about different topics. As mentioned earlier, CARS tests your ability to understand literature.
As such, you should learn to:
- read excerpts and find the vital information
- discover the meaning behind lofty information
- understand complex arguments
- deduce how an author supports their claims
- explain why the author’s claims may be deemed controversial
Depending on your interests, you can also take classes in the Humanities. There is a bonus to doing so. Courses in the Humanities are often more involved than English or Writing. This is because they require students to dissect ideas and understand counterarguments in texts. In Philosophy, for example, students break down concepts and define their flaws. Ultimately, it is up to you to choose a class you enjoy so that you will be motivated to engage with the material. After all, daily practice is the best practice!
Step 4: Get letters of recommendation from the right people.
We know what you’re thinking–is planning your letters of recommendation (LORs) as a freshman necessary? The answer is yes! A huge part of how medical schools evaluate you depends on how strongly your mentors support you. Think about it! A LOR is a formal letter from someone telling medical schools whether or not you will make an excellent medical student.
This section will explain what type of LORs you will need. We will also share tips on how you can build meaningful relationships with your mentors.
Why is planning ahead for letters of recommendation an important part of your premed 4 year plan?
Don’t procrastinate when it comes to LORS! When the time comes, you will need to formally ask your mentors to write a letter on your behalf. Your mentors will describe your potential as a future physician in their letters. As such, a last-minute request won’t do you any favors. Asking at the last minute will likely result in someone writing a very generic letter for you. Unpersonalized LORs are not good for your applications! Your goal as a premed student is to get the best, most personalized LORs possible.
Identifying the type of LOR writers you need is helpful for these reasons:
- So that you can build meaningful relationships over a long period of time
- To give your recommenders enough time to write a personalized letter for you
- For you to register in classes with the professor you want
For these reasons, adding this step to your premed plan will help you in the long run! Thinking about LORs now will ensure that your applications are the finest they can be.
There are three different letters of recommendation required for medical school.
There is not only one type of recommendation letter. There are several! This section offers a quick summary of who you can expect to write your LORs:
LOR from an Individual (the most common kind):
Individual LORs come from people that know you very well. They should know you in a professional or academic setting. Examples of individual writers are professors, principal investigators, physicians, or employers. Letters can also come from people that you volunteer with.
Universities often have what is called a premed advisor committee. This committee evaluates students interested in applying to medical school. They rank students in their class and record their achievements. Committees also save letters from teachers, but each committee has its own protocol for writing LORs.
Letter packets are compiled over the years and are kept confidential the entire time. They are usually written by your teachers. Your university’s career center stores these letters until you’re ready to submit them to AMCAS.
Additional resources for learning about LORs:
If you want to learn more about LORs, check out our other article! This ultimate guide covers more details of everything you need to know. For example, who you should ask for a LOR and when. Even more, this guide will walk you through how to ask for LORs and more! Here’s a link:
There are different people you will need to build relationships with for LORs.
Medical schools have strict requirements for admission. One of these requirements will outline who should be recommending you. Currently, most schools require recommendations from:
- 2 science professors
- 1 non-science professor
- 2 supervisors
This is what you can expect from most schools. However, it is wise to check what your dream schools may require. That way, you can be confident that you’re on track. Near the top of this article, you can find links to the admission requirements of all U.S. schools. Click the links to double-check! Meanwhile, we will summarize the standard LOR requirements below.
Recommender #1: A science professor who has given you a grade:
A professor whose BCPM class you have taken qualifies as a science professor. Most schools will ask you for two letters under this criteria. Be careful! Some schools may accept letters only from university professors. That means that community college instructors are not always recommended.
Similarly, some schools may consider a recommendation from an upper-division course to be better. It all depends! Checking with your schools of interest is never a bad idea!
Recommender #2: A non-science professor who has given you a grade:
Professors who teach classes outside of the BCMP disciplines are considered non-science professors. Examples are philosophy, sociology, etc. This is another reason you should strive to do well in all of your classes. Med schools want to hear that you are well-rounded!
Recommender #3: Two other extracurricular observers who know you well:
Lastly, you will need two supervisors to recommend you. These supervisors can be from places you’ve volunteered. Keep in mind that these letters will be unique. Unlike the other letters, these will show your interests outside of school. Examples of extracurricular observers include:
- Current or past employers who can write about how professional you are
- A principal investigator you do research with
- Physicians or surgeons that you have shadowed
- Volunteer supervisors who have worked with you directly
So, how do you build meaningful relationships with your letter writers?
Once you identify who your letter writers are, include them in your premed 4 year plan! Your list does not need to be name-specific. Nonetheless, the best way to go about this is to think of your “letter writers” as mentors. Doing this will shift your mindset. It’s not only about what they can do for you. It’s also about what you can learn from them. Here, we will list a few tips on building meaningful relationships with your recommenders.
1. Take a class with the same professor more than once.
At most universities, professors teach more than one class. In fact, one professor often teaches two-semester subject courses, such as chemistry I-II. In that case, taking that professor’s classes will let you engage with them almost every day for 6 months. If you get an A in their classes and engage them a lot, this professor will probably be delighted to write a strong LOR for you. You can engage your professors by asking many questions or discussing projects. You can even ask for career advice. They would be happy to hear you out.
2. In junior or senior year, consider becoming a teaching assistant (TA) for a professor whose class you have already taken.
An excellent extracurricular activity is to be a teaching assistant (TA). In particular, ask one of your previous professors to TA one of their classes. Yet, you may only be able to do this if you got an A in their class. By doing so, you will begin to build a more professional relationship with them. After some time, they will be able to write about your abilities as a student and as a teacher!
3. If a previous or current professor conducts research that interests you, consider becoming a research assistant (RA) in their lab.
The majority of university professors are also principal investigators (PI). This means they conduct research in a lab with post-doctoral and graduate students. Frequently, college labs will also take undergraduates! If you do well in class, you can then express interest in your professor’s research. After, you can ask for an internship. Although RA positions are usually unpaid, you can still get course credit! This way, your time in the lab will count towards your student schedule. At the end of every semester, your PI will evaluate you. Your PI will learn more about you as you engage with them over time. Primarily, they will assess you as a teacher. Even more, your PI will be able to write about your patience and your enthusiasm for research!
4. Make use of office hours, always show up on time, and be professional.
One of the surest ways to build trust is to be professional. This means showing up on time, addressing your superiors properly, and staying up-to-date on your area of study. You should also take advantage of open office hours. There, you can meet with your mentors one-on-one. In these meetings, you can discuss your questions about lectures or talk about your interests in medicine. Sharing this information with your recommenders will let them know you better and write a personalized LOR for you.
5. Always follow up!
Finally, don’t ghost your letter writers! Following up with your letter writers shows that you are grateful and invested in your relationship with them. Even better, following up with your mentors about their work or interests can be far more engaging. This shows that you also care about their projects, not just yours. To follow up, you can meet in person or an email. You can even follow up after you’ve already submitted your medical school applications. Your letter writers will appreciate your updates. Mentors are invested in you, too!
Step 5: Be mindful of extracurricular activities.
You’re almost there! The last factor to add to your premed 4 year plan is your extracurriculars (ECs). That’s right! Even planning your time outside of school is essential. Your med school application (AMCAS) lists all of your ECs. Therefore, you must carefully protect your free time outside of class. So much scheduling might sound dull, but not to worry! ECs can also be fun!
What is the Work and Activities section of the AMCAS ?
The AMCAS has a section dedicated only to your ECs. This section is called Work and Activities. There, you will enter up to 15 activities or accomplishments. In reviewing your application, admissions will look at ECs in chronological order. Mainly, they will assess how you spent your time outside of class. When you consider which ECs to take on, ask yourself these questions:
- What do you enjoy doing?
- Are there any particular causes you care about?
- How do you want to give back to your community?
- Is there an area that you lack experience in?
- What are some academic achievements you hope to reach in college?
- Do you have any hobbies? What skills have they taught you?
ECs are typically for volunteering and academic achievements. However, employments can also be counted. We recommend that your employments are directly related to your growth as a premed. It’s wise to protect your time. Therefore, if you need to work during college, try to work in a medical setting. That way, you can support yourself while also preparing for med school. This isn’t a strict rule. You can absolutely work in another area. However, you can kill two birds with one stone. If you can get paid to work in something that helps your application, go for it!
AMCAS uses 18 categories to classify your extracurricular experiences.
Becoming familiar with AMCAS will help with your planning. Here, we list out the categories that AMCAS uses to label your ECs:
- Artistic endeavors (talents, activities)
- Medical/Clinical-related volunteering
- Non-Medical/Non-Clinical volunteering
- Physician Shadowing & Clinical Observation (can be listed separately from medical volunteering)
- Academic and Professional Conferences Attended
- Military Service
- Awards, Honors, & Recognitions
- Intercollegiate Athletics
- Academic Presentations & Posters
- Academic Publications
- Research & Laboratory Experience
- Teaching Experiences (Teaching assistant, Tutor)
- Paid Medical/Clinical Employment
- Paid Non-Medical/Clinical Employment
- Other Extracurriculars
You can (and should) engage in at least one non-medically related experience.
Being well-rounded doesn’t only apply to classwork. It also applies to who you are and what you care about. For example, what are your interests outside of medicine? Do you play an instrument? What are your artistic endeavors? Do you have a passion for animals rights?
Your ECs don’t need to be boring. They also don’t need to focus only on academics. You can certainly make room for an activity that is fulfilling outside of academia! Pursuing an unrelated interest in school will help you stand out, and it will be fulfilling for you. As a bonus, you can think of your non-medically experience as something that will make your application unique. Almost all premeds will volunteer and shadow doctors when you think about it. But how will you make admissions remember you?
Quality over quantity! You are not required to fill up all 15 slots of experiences on the AMCAS application. However, it is recommended that you list at least 10.
Don’t spread yourself thin. Overcommitting yourself may work against you. Instead, engage in a few long-term experiences. Then, you can fill in the rest with leadership, community service, or research. Don’t just think about what would look good on your med school application to plan for activities. Instead, think about which roles you would enjoy the most. Secondarily, think about which environment you lack exposure in and what skills you would like to develop.
Additionally, using up all of the 15 slots is not necessary. You can list anywhere from 10-13. Remember, quality over quantity! Every experience listed must contribute to your growth. We will explain more in the next section.
Don’t spread yourself thin. Instead, build depth.
The requirement to list 10-15 experiences may seem daunting. Don’t fret! You have four years to work on it! Nevertheless, do not only plan to check off boxes in your med school application. Doing so will have you bouncing between too many activities, creating a problem. Doing as many things as possible is not as helpful as you might think. For example, let’s say that you commit to 5 things outside of classwork. Eventually, you run the risk of burning out. Even worse, you will probably be too tired to do well in your classes or engage meaningfully in your other activities.
On the other hand, you can prevent burnout if you only commit to 1-3 activities every semester. Most notably, you will have more time to build depth in your skills and nurture meaningful relationships. Therefore, your planned ECs should:
- be meaningful to you and others
- play an essential role in your development as a future medical student
- teach you new skills or develop your emotional intelligence
How will you push your own boundaries? Extracurriculars must highlight your growth as a premed.
Medical school admissions want to see growth. As such, make enough time in your premed 4 year plan to advance in your roles. Here are a few examples:
As a laboratory research assistant, you can:
- Learn skills that contribute to a research study
- Publish your results in a peer-reviewed journal
- Be actively involved in the manuscript writing process
- Present your findings at a conference
- Train and mentor younger students
As a volunteer at your school’s pre-health club, plan to:
- Take on significant responsibilities over time
- Show leadership by organizing and leading events
- Bring unique ideas to reality and try something new
- Build seniority and run for president, vice president, secretary, or treasurer
As a hospital volunteer, plan to:
- Learn how to interact with patients and families in a clinical setting
- Get to know and shadow at least one physician
- Lead and help organize hospital or department events
Extracurriculars are important because they also showcase your “soft” skills.
Your transcript will speak for itself. Off of paper, you’ll want to represent who you are in your community. You can do this by engaging in activities that develop the following:
- Commitment to your community
- Emotional intelligence
- Interpersonal interactions
The AMCAS application will require you to expand on three most meaningful experiences.
Each EC slot on the AMCAS application will give you 700 characters for a description. However, you will have ~1,300 characters to expand on three of them. This section of the application is called “Most Meaningful Experiences.”
The Three Most Meaningful Experiences: How will they be different from the rest?
Your college experience will be transformative. Some experiences that challenge you. Others will be more fun. But the most significant ones are the ones that teach you. At the end of it, you will need to reflect on which experiences had the most impact on your growth. To identify these, think about which experiences changed your perspective on something. But stay focused on medicine! Don’t lose sight of the fact that the next four years should be preparing you to thrive in medical school. Your three chosen experiences should also reflect all the hard work you’ve put into this.
As part of your premed 4 year plan, keep a journal to track your EC weekly experiences.
Everyone forgets details over time. As such, we recommend that you keep a journal (or a virtual document) to record your experiences. Taking notes as you go will help you remember important details. Near the end of your premed college years, take some time to reflect on the following:
- Which experience did you most enjoy?
- Where did you feel like you had the most to give?
- Which experiences best prepared you for medical school?
- When did you build the deepest relationships?
- Which experience changed your perspective on something related to medicine?
- Were there any particular moments that you are proud of? Think about what can help you stand out!
Familiarize yourself with core competencies you will be evaluated on.
Medical schools seek premed students that demonstrate specific traits. These traits are evaluated through how well you do in school and your EC experiences. To know which qualities you should develop (and write about), we recommend that you familiarize yourself with AAMC’s Core Competencies for Entering Medical Students. Some of these focus traits are cultural competence, empathy, critical reasoning, and more! Review these core competencies when you reflect on your experiences to evaluate which ones will make your top three.
Each meaningful experience must be from a different EC classification.
College is the perfect time to be well-rounded. Do you have diverse interests? Pursue them! AMCAS wants to see you thrive in different environments. As such, your top three experiences must be from different classifications. That is, AMCAS will ask you to classify every experience that you record in your application. For your three most meaningful ones, you won’t be able to use the same category.
Engaging in different extracurriculars will develop your core competencies in diverse environments. This will help med school admissions determine how you apply your skills and emotional intelligence to different situations. Therefore, the last criteria to identify your three most significant experiences will be to make sure they belong to unique classifications.
In summary, create your premed 4 year plan with these five steps:
- Make a preliminary list of the medical schools you’d like to go to and look up their course requirements. Check out the list we created at the top of this blog!
- Use tools such as ratemyprofessor.com to find the most well-organized classes. Even better, you can use Rate My Professor to find easy A courses!
- Don’t abandon your english, writing, and critical thinking development. Consider taking non-science courses in English and Social Sciences to prepare for the CARS section of your MCAT.
- Be prepared to build meaningful relationships with your mentors and professors. By doing so, they will be more inclined to write you a
- Familiarize yourself with the 18 Extracurricular Categories of the AMCAS application. We have listed the categories above to help you decide how to plan your time outside of class.
Check out these articles to further plan your premed 4 year plan!