Questions About Studying Abroad

May I Take Pre-med Requirements Abroad?  
Popular Study Abroad Programs for Premed Students  
Studying Abroad and Being Pre-med  
Study Abroad and Applying Direct Entry  


May I Take Pre-med Requirements Abroad?

Question:  Hi, I want to study abroad this summer and I was looking at some programs in the UK.  Since biochemistry is not a universal requirement for med school, would it be OK to take it at an university abroad?  I know that you recommend we do pre-med courses here at Princeton.  Would the med schools that require biochemistry have issues if I took the class in a foreign country?

Answer:  The medical schools that require biochemistry will want it taken at a U.S. school, preferably Princeton.  All pre-med science coursework should be taken in the U.S.  However, please do not let this discourage you from studying abroad if you're pre-med.  Careful planning will allow you to go abroad and complete your science requirements (it's done all the time!).  Even if your foreign country of choice is English-speaking, medical schools are not familiar enough with foreign curricula, faculty, and science texts to accurately evaluate the content of what you've taken; they're pretty much unanimous in asking that pre-med sciences be taken at American colleges and universities. The only exception, re: biochemistry, would be our fall at Oxford program, where students have succeeded in counting that very intensive term as their biochem for med school.  Please note:  Taking other science abroad (just not the courses for med school admissions) is acceptable.  Taking a literature course abroad is fine, too (if you're looking to complete the second English course required by many schools). 

Popular Study Abroad Programs for Premed Students

Question: I really want to study abroad at least once during college. Are there any programs that are popular with premed students?

Answer: Spending time abroad is the kind of opportunity you shouldn’t pass up in college if you have an interest, especially at Princeton, where there are such rich opportunities. Rather than focusing on ‘most popular’ or ‘what will medical schools want,’ think about what you want to gain from the experience abroad and use your interests to guide your exploration of programs. That said, in recent years, premeds have participated in:

  • language programs and seminar programs in the summer after freshman year;
  • the EEB semester/summer abroad in Kenya, Panama or Bermuda;
  • IIP or Health Grand Challenges internships;
  • MOL research opportunities at Oxford, ETH Zurich, Karolinska in Sweden and others;
  • some sophomores have created their own opportunities and received funding through the Dale awards.

The DIS-Copenhagen and King’s College London programs may also be attractive – you can take electives in neuroscience, biomedicine and public health (but there is no requirement that you focus on medicine/science while abroad – if you have specific cultural/academic interests that you want to explore abroad, by all means, do that). And, don’t forget that there are many fellowship opportunities that allow you to spend your glide year abroad in work, service, and graduate study endeavors, and many medical schools offer study abroad or medical mission trips, so your four years at Princeton aren’t the last chance to go abroad within your educational path. Keep in mind that you can’t take any of your prehealth pre-requisite courses abroad, and that it will probably take careful planning to get all of your major and prehealth coursework, along with your application logistics into a four-year plan, so don’t hesitate to meet with us to work out a basic timeline. 

Studying Abroad and Being Pre-med

Question:  I really want to study abroad during my junior year but I also want to major in MOL and finish the pre-med requirements.  It really doesn’t seem possible.  Can I study abroad, complete what I’ve got to do for my major, and study abroad?  Thanks.

Answer:  Yes, it is indeed possible.  As a potential MOL major, check the MOL Department advice for study abroad and our HPA/Study Abroad handout. The Study Abroad Office can help you find a summer abroad opportunity as well.  Many pre-meds do end up studying abroad in summer programs.  Lastly, no matter what your concentration, studying abroad is a valuable experience for all college students and should be encouraged.  As a prehealth student, exposure to different cultures will make you more culturally competent, and in the diverse world of patients you will one day encounter this background will be vital.  Learning new languages also helps in this regard.  Do not forget that more than two-thirds of Princeton pre-meds take the full four years to complete requirements and do all that they want to do with their Princeton education, applying to medical school during the summer after senior year and taking one year off before matriculating in med school.  Spreading the list of requirements for your major and your pre-med curriculum out over four years almost always allows a pre-med student to go abroad for a summer or a semester at the very least. 

Study Abroad & Applying Direct Entry

Question: I want to study abroad in junior spring but I’ve heard it’s hard to apply direct entry to medical school if I do. Have any students done this successfully? What do I need to keep in mind?
Answer: It is uncommon, but where there’s a will, there’s a way! Here are some of the complications and ways you might address them:

  • Application prep: If you’re applying direct, you’ll want to submit your application by mid-June after junior year. HPA’s committee letter process has you working on pieces of your application throughout the year, so if you keep up with that, this timeline will be manageable. Even so, choosing a study abroad program that gets back earlier than later may give you more time to focus on your application before June.
  • MCAT: If you’re applying direct and you want to know your MCAT score before you submit your application, you should take the exam no later than May of your junior year. You’d want to focus on a September 2018, January 2019, or May 2019 MCAT date. From past students’ experiences, you’ll likely find it very difficult to focus on MCAT during your time abroad, so September or January may be better. More MCAT advice here and here.
  • Classwork for MCAT prep: Taking Biochem and PHY 101 in fall and the MCAT in January is the most likely timeline, but we can talk with you about what courses you’ve taken and how you might finish everything you need in order to take MCAT. You’ll need to self-study some Physics content, but with a prep course or self-study with MCAT prep materials, it’s possible to do this. Treat MCAT study like an extra course in your fall schedule and adjust your course choices accordingly.
  • Requirements: You need to have your premed pre-requisite courses completed by the time you start med school, not by the time you apply, so if there are a couple courses you stlil need during senior year, that’s okay.
  • Clinical experience: This is where many of our juniors end up falling short, whether they study abroad or not. If you don’t have much clinical experience yet, prioritize it this summer. Shadow physicians, volunteer in a hospital or clinic alongside whatever else you’re doing this summer. Prioritize clinical experience for the junior summer, as well – even if you haven’t done it by the time you submit your application, you’ll be able to talk about it on your interviews that’ll happen during senior year.

Prehealth students who study abroad never regret it. The personal growth you’ll experience, the cultural competence, resilience, adaptability, time for reflection, grounding that you experience by stepping away from the Bubble for a bit—we know it sounds intangible, but study abroad really is a transformative experience. If you’re thinking about study abroad in the spring of next year, it may help to come to our Sophomore Application Preview on Tuesday to get a better sense of the application process, and don’t hesitate to make an appointment so we can help you evaluate your candidacy holistically and give you a sense of what you might want to focus on if you do decide to apply direct entry.