Questions About the English Requirement

English Requirements Flow Chart

Logistics

Does it need to be a literature course? Would another course in the humanities work so long as it has a lot of reading and writing in it? Why do they require English anyway?

Medical schools want students who have prepared for a medical education by cultivating humanistic qualities inside and outside the classroom. By requiring English, medical schools hope to help you achieve these goals in at least three ways. First, reading literature challenges you to broaden your perspective so that you will attend to the individual and communal power of narratives. In “Why Doctors Should Read Fiction,” Sam Kean highlights the recent work of medical humanists, who argue that fiction helps the medical student better confront their own limitations—in understanding patients’ dilemmas—than the tried-and-true medical school case study. Second, literary analysis encourages you to reach for an emotional understanding of the complex lives you encounter on the page, which prepares you to elicit, encounter, and respond to patients’ narratives as a health professional. Finally, writing a critical analysis of the literature you read helps you develop respectful and insightful ways to question, explore, and understand another’s experiences; it also helps you consider how you can communicate these insights to others. More immediately, you will need to hone your critical analysis and reading skills for the MCAT and convey your thoughts effectively via writing in your medical school applications. The more that you flex your reading and writing muscles, the more successful you are likely to be in these imminent tasks and in your longer term work in your career.
 
Most medical schools require that applicants complete one year of English coursework. Princeton’s Writing Seminars fit this English requirement, so you need add only one more English literature course to fulfill this prerequisite. Medical schools are typically looking for a course where you (a) read literature (e.g., novels, short stories, plays, poetry) in English, (b) write critical analyses of that literature, and (c) include significant graded writing count toward the overall course grade. Not all humanities or LA coursework will require you to read literature; many will instead have you read historical monographs and religious or philosophical essays. Not all humanities will have a sufficient writing load either. Anytime you are unsure whether a course seems like a good fit for the English prerequisite, you can email the name of the class, a course description, and a syllabus to hpa@princeton.edu – we will be happy to give you our thoughts. Additional FAQs about the English requirement can be found on the HPA website.

Do I need to take the English requirement before I apply?

Nope -- just by the time your schools of interest require that you've completed their requirements (for most this is the summer before matriculation, for some it may be in the fall semester prior to matriculation). Keep in mind that honing your reading speed and reading comprehension skills prior to application will still be important for the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section of the MCAT. 

I’m thinking of taking an English course to satisfy premed requirements over the summer. I know HPA says that medical schools prefer that we take prerequisites in the school year. Does this apply to English or just to sciences?

This applies more to sciences: schools want evidence that you can succeed in rigorous science courses, so taking science courses within a full course load during the academic year best simulates the demands of the science course work in health professions school. It’s less of an issue to take non-sciences in the summer, but keep in mind that there’s an added cost to taking the course, it’ll move fast since summer terms are condensed, and it may take away from your ability to gain other experience that’s important to your holistic candidacy to medical school (e.g., clinical experience, research, service). If you take a class, it might be nice to balance it with some volunteer time at a nearby hospital, clinic, or other patient care facility. Be sure to get pre-approval through your residential college so that the course will count for credit here, and even if you don’t want the course to count toward graduation requirements, every course that you take at a college or university must be reported in your medical school application, so try your best to do well!

Can I PDF my premed English requirement?

 All requirements for health professional school need to be graded.  In all likelihood, you will end up applying to some medical schools that require two semesters of English (about half of them do), and all classes that are required for admission or entrance, whether science or humanities, need to be graded and passed, usually with a grade of C or better.

Specific Classes

Does the freshman writing seminar fulfill the English requirement for medical schools?

Yes! Writing Sem can count toward the English/Literature requirement for health professions schools.  

Does a class have to be in English literature to count for the premed English requirement?

We recommend a literature class, ideally, a course in the English or Comparative Literature department (or cross-listed in one of these departments), in which at least half of your grade is based on written work. The content of the course can vary, as long as you're reading literature and analyzing that literature. This is the simplest way to go.

Some medical schools state that one of their two required terms of English must focus on literature, some are most concerned with your practicing your written communication.

We are somewhat partial to courses that will help you develop cultural competency, since this may help you relate to future patients and colleagues (. If you have another humanities course in mind outside of these guidelines, and it is writing-intensive, take it through the flowchart on our website (above), and if you're still not sure if it'll work, send us a link to course offerings or a copy of the syllabus and we’ll look it over.

Can the English/literature course be a taught in another language?

If all of your essays are written in English, you might get away with this, but to err on the safe side, we'd recommend a course taught in English with English readings (it could be texts in translation, but you want to be reading, writing, and communicating in English). 

Does a class have to be an LA to count for the premed English requirement?

Nope! In fact, one of the most popular courses, Literature and Medicine (SLA 368), is an EM, but it's pretty clearly reading, analyzing, and writing about literature, so it'll be fine!

Does every LA count for the premed English requirement?

Not necessarily! If you're not reading, analyzing and writing about literature, it's not likely to satisfy the prerequisite. If it's not a course taken for a grade (like CWR), that won't work, either. If it's taught in another language with reading and writing in that other language, that will also probably not be considered sufficient.

Will a course with a lot of reading but no writing count for the premed English requirement?

It depends on the school and how closely they scrutinize your course choices. Some schools will ask you to fill out a list of courses that you plan to use to satisfy their requirements. If you list a course that they have questions about, you may be asked to provide a syllabus. If a school wants writing-intensive literature courses and the course you're hoping to use for the requirement had a lot of reading and very little writing, they may require you to take an additional course to fulfill their requirement.

I was wondering if one of the Freshman Seminars could fulfill one of English classes for med school. During Orientation, I was told that a Freshman Seminar could count as an English class if it specifically focuses on the English language.

As usual with these requirements (especially the "English" requirement), it’s better to err on the safe side.  We advise you only to count a freshman seminar as one of your English classes for medical school if the course has "literature" in its title, or specifically sounds like something that could be taught in the English department.  It's not quite as simple as saying that the course should focus on the English language.  Some medical schools state that one of their two required terms of English must focus on literature; while there are not many schools that make this distinction, there are enough of them that we would advise you to be careful.  We also recommend ensuring that at least half of your grade is based on written work, particularly papers that require a drafting process, which will provide further evidence that you're focusing on your writing skills.  And, as you know, your Freshman Writing Seminar (not to be confused with a Freshman Seminar!) counts as your other English class.

The only exception that we know of, to the above comments, is one Canadian medical school (Univ of British Columbia) which insists that "English" courses be taught only in the English Dept.  Unless you're Canadian, you do not need to worry! 

Public Speaking (ENG 230) counts toward my LA requirement. Will it count as English for medical school, too?

Public Speaking is a course we’d certainly recommend.  It will help you, no doubt, in your future presentations as a med student and doctor.  However, it is not a literature course, and we would advise you to not try and count it as your second English class (after your writing seminar).  The second English class for medical school needs to be literature-based.  Some med schools do specify that they want you to have some expository writing and some literature.  Your freshman writing seminar takes care of the writing component; your second class should take care of the literature component.  We realize that this is confusing since Public Speaking is taught through the English Dept.

Will LIN 201 (Linguistics) fulfill this requirement?

No, we’re afraid not. After your Freshman Writing Seminar, the second half of the year’s worth of English that many health professional schools require needs to be “writing intensive.” Many schools specify this. There are no essay assignments in LIN 201 and 202.