Frequently Asked Questions


  • What kinds of extracurricular 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 am pre-med?

Time Line for Applying

  • What is the time line 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 does a "typical" pre-med apply?

S/NC Courses

  • Is it ever okay for a Brown premed 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

  • Will CHEM 0330, 0350, 0360 really be sufficient for most applicants?

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 Courses

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

Other Sources of Advice

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

What kinds of extracurricular 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. 

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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. 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 University Hall 213; most are on the web. Use them to help you gauge your preparedness for admission.


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 in 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?

The Health Careers Advisory Committee requires that applicants from Brown University have two letters of recommendation from faculty at Brown, at least one of which must be from a professor in biology, chemistry, physics, or mathematics. 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 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 experiences. 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. 

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Is doing research really critical if I am pre-med?

Engaging in research, whether in the sciences or 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 school (or to other health profession schools) as most applicants would have some research experience. 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 passion or zeal 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. 

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What is the time line 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 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 take at least one year to strengthen their credentials, work, volunteer, travel or combine those. Nearly three-quarters of Brown applicants take at least a year off. The national average age of matriculating applicants to M.D. programs is 24.

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 MCATs in senior year or later, engaging in meaningful work or volunteer activities, and putting together strong applications 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 well-rounded record to succeed in their programs and the profession.  Consider the health careers personal competencies as you reflect on your exploration of your academics and activities. 

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To how many schools does a "typical" pre-med apply?

The average applicant to medical school from Brown University applies to between ten and fifteen schools. Nation-wide, the average is fourteen schools.  Applicants to other professions generally apply to about ten schools. 

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Is it okay for a Brown pre-med 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 obvious exception of courses that are only offered Mandatory S/NC). 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, so be careful. Taking one or two S/NC courses during your studies at Brown should not be problematic. You should only choose the S/NC option if you believe that it will enhance your educational experience in a given course. Never 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 grade point average 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. Between 30 and 40 medical schools require up to two semesters. Three medical schools, Harvard, Washington University in St. Louis, and Johns Hopkins, 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. The remaining medical schools with a math requirement will look for between one and two semesters of math and often one of those should be calculus. For this reason, we recommend that you take one semester of calculus in college (e.g., MATH 0090 and/or MATH 0100) followed by a second semester of either calculus or some other topic in math (e.g., Statistics, Applied Math). A course in statistics can count at many schools. Also, many schools will accept advanced placement credit in math though some may want to see college-level courses as well. No medical schools require multivariable calculus. The definitive source of information on all required coursework by individual M.D. schools is the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR), an internet-only system. D.O. schools produce the Osteopathic Medical College Information Book (OMCIB) which is a printed book and a free PDF. Other health professions have their own web and printed resources. Be sure you know the requirements for schools in which you are interested. 

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

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Will CHEM 0330, 0350, and 0360 really be sufficient for most applicants?

No. Nearly all health profession training programs, including medical, dental, and vet schools, require four semesters of chemistry with lab. The knowledge you gain in CHEM 0330, 0350, and 0360 gives you adequate preparation for the MCAT, DAT, or other standardized admission tests. You can meet the fourth semester requirement by taking a course in chemistry above the level of CHEM 0360 (CHEM 0040 or CHEM 0050) or by taking Introductory Biochemistry (BIOL 0280). Most health professions schools look at Biochemistry as an excellent substitute for a second semester general chemistry with lab. It would further be necessary for MCAT 2015 preparation. Although it is advisable, you need not take your fourth chemistry or equivalent general chemistry course prior to the MCAT; as long as you take it before you matriculate to your professional training program, you will have met the requirement. A number of schools require a semester of biochemistry in addition to 4 semesters of chemistry with lab (2 general and 2 organic). To meet this requirement, take CHEM 0040 or CHEM 0050 in addition to BIOL 0280. Biochemistry will be necessary for MCAT 2015. Note that CHEM 0100 can meet the first semester general chemistry requirement but should only be taken by students with no high school 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.

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

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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.  If you are considering additional course work beyond what is normally required for admission you might consider Introduction to Biochemistry (BIOL 0280). This course is required by some medical, dental, and vet schools and is also strongly recommended by many medical schools. A list of such M.D. schools is available on our website. 

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What is the best way to prepare for the MCAT?

Both self-study and preparation courses are 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 $1,800. 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. You can obtain official MCAT practice tests from AAMC.

Note that there will be a new MCAT format in 2015. You should not rush to take the current exam unless you have acquired the content knowledge, experiential skills and observation that prepare you to apply to medical school. At present, medical schools have not modified their course requirements, but to do well on the MCAT 2015, we recommend that you take at least one course in the social and one in the behavioral sciences. A course in biochemistry will also be necessary.  Consult the following:

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

In general, many 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. However, if you have a compelling academic rationale for taking summer courses (e.g., to enable you to do study abroad, or to participate in research or clinical activities) 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 school with a strong academic reputation (no community colleges).  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, particularly chemistry.

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

  • Dean Marjorie Thompson oversees Biology undergraduate programs and academic advising. Her office provides full service academic counseling and assists all undergraduate student in the biological sciences and related areas. Her office and web site also have essential information about research opportunities at Brown and elsewhere. Dean Thompson is knowledgeable about pre-med and other health careers requirements and challenges. Her office is located in 124 Arnold Lab, 97 Waterman Street.
  • Pre-vet students might want to talk to Dr. James Harper, a veterinarian who is the Director of the Bio Med Animal Facility. Dr. Harper is very knowledgeable about veterinary medical education.
  • David Targan, Associate Dean of the College, is knowledgeable about science education in general and undergraduate research in particular. His office is in the Sciences Center, on the third floor of the Sci-Li. He holds weekly office hours which are posted on the Dean of the College web site.
  • For various aspects of your preparation for health careers schools, be sure to connect with advisors and mentors at the breadth 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 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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