Planning and Preparation

What You Need to Know

First Semester Recommendations

It is of utmost importance that you get started your first year by taking both BIO 150 and CHM 129 (or possibly CHM 210 if you have an AP chemistry score of 4 or 5). These are the prerequisites for CHM 221-222 (Organic Chemistry) and BIO 251 (Molecules, Cells, and Organisms), which are required by most health professional schools.

Required or Recommended Courses for Most Health-Related Programs

  • 1 year of biology (Biology 251, 252) (Note: Bio 150 is a prerequisite for Bio 251)
  • 2 years of chemistry (Chemistry 129, 210, 221, 222)
  • 1 year of physics (Physics 131, 132) 
  • Calculus (as required for physics at Grinnell) 
  • 1 year of English
    • Tutorial counts for one semester.
    • The second semester should stress literature.

You may also need:

  • 1 semester of biological chemistry (BCM 262) (some medical schools require this, and it's important for MCAT preparation) 
  • Statistics (some medical schools are starting to require this)
  • Introductory Psychology and Sociology (helps with MCAT preparation)

You might consider these courses as electives: 

  • Animal Development
  • Animal Physiology
  • Microbiology
  • Neurobiology

Take courses other than science, too! 

Some schools specify a minimum number of courses outside the sciences. Be sure to check the requirements carefully for the schools to which you want to apply. The AAMC website links to most U.S. medical schools’ requirements.

If you intend to begin medical school in the fall following college graduation, plan to take the medical college admissions test (MCAT) in the spring of your third year. This will allow you to apply to graduate programs over the summer before your fourth year. All the material covered in required courses is subject to examination on the MCAT. Therefore, those who aspire to medical school should complete all pre-med course requirements before sitting for the exam. If you have not completed advanced placement as an incoming student at Grinnell, you can expect to average two courses in the science division per semester. See potential course scenarios below. 

Most (~80%) of Grinnellians who apply to medical or other graduate health professions do so following graduation. Typically, they complete the required coursework over 8 semesters and take the MCAT during their fourth year. Many of them participate in off-campus study during their third year. This mirrors national trends where 71% of all matriculants to medical school report a year or more had passed since graduating college. (AAMC 2022 MSQ). 

About 20% of Grinnell applicants to medical school aim to begin graduate programs immediately following their fourth year of undergraduate study. In this scenario, applicants take the MCAT as a third year (junior) in hopes of matriculating to medical school in the fall following graduation.

These course scenarios are only examples. Grinnell College students should consult regularly with their academic advisors regarding their course selections.


A major in science is not required for admission to medical school. With careful planning, pre-health students can pursue a non-science major. Nationally, just over half (57%) of entering medical students majored in biological sciences, 9% majored in physical sciences, 13% majored in humanities or social science fields, and 21% were categorized with an “other” major. (AAMC Table A-17, 2023 (PDF)) 

Are you interested in a public health field? Check out the public health cooperative degree (4:1) program between Grinnell College and the University of Iowa, which allows completion of a baccalaureate and master's degree in five years. Admission to the program occurs during spring semester of the third year at Grinnell. Prospective Master of Public Health (MPH) students should enroll in the Fundamentals of Public Health course in the spring of their second year. 

The AAMC has identified seventeen core competencies for entering medical students: 

  • Professional Competencies
    • commitment to learning and growth
    • cultural awareness
    • cultural humility
    • empathy and compassion
    • ethical responsibility to self and others
    • interpersonal skills
    • oral communication
    • reliability and dependability
    • resilience and adaptability
    • service orientation
    • teamwork and collaboration
  • Science Competencies
    • human behavior
    • living systems
  • Thinking and Reasoning Competencies
    • critical thinking
    • quantitative reasoning
    • scientific inquiry
    • written communication

Successful applicants will be able to demonstrate skills, knowledge, and abilities within the competencies. Your goal for your pre-medical preparation should be to engage in courses and activities that develop these competencies in order to be an effective future activities. Visit the AAMC Core Competencies Resources page to learn more about the competencies and complete the Anatomy of an Applicant Self-Assessment Guide (PDF).  

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