Questions About Studying Abroad

Is it recommended that prehealth students study abroad?

Future health professionals will need to be broadly educated, mature, adaptable citizens who have had significant experience in the world beyond the classroom. Study abroad is an ideal vehicle for developing some of the skills and attitudes that are valued in the practice of medicine—flexibility, self-reliance, and appreciation of other cultures. If you’re interested in study abroad, you should not pass up the opportunity for intellectual and personal growth.

How do I manage study abroad, my major requirements, and premed?

Planning ahead and with the guidance of advisers in each area -- the study abroad office, your department, and HPA -- is recommended. In your initial exploration, check out the Advice by Department / Certificate guidance on the study abroad website and the HPA advice on our website. Sometimes prioritizing international experience may mean adjusting other parts of your academic plan and medical school application timeline. Spreading the list of requirements for your major and your premed curriculum out over four years almost always allows a premed student to go abroad for a summer or a semester at the very least. 

Can I take premed courses abroad?

All premed prerequisite science coursework should be taken in the U.S. or Canada. Even if your country of choice is English-speaking, medical schools are not familiar enough with international curricula, faculty, and science texts to accurately evaluate the content of what you've taken; they're pretty much unanimous in asking that premed sciences be taken at American colleges and universities.

However, please do not let this discourage you from studying abroad if you're premed.  Careful planning will allow you to go abroad and complete your science requirements (it's done all the time)! 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). 

What should I keep in mind if I want to study abroad and apply direct entry?

It is uncommon to prepare your application while abroad, 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. 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 watch our Application Preview, 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.