Questions About Required Science Coursework

Are Minimum Prerequisites Enough?
How Many Science Classes do I Need?
Unforeseen Medical School Requirements
Summer Chemistry
Taking a Premed Course Online
PDF'ing a Science Course
Vet School Requirements
Does ENV Count as BCPM?


Are the Minimum Prerequisites Enough?

I have fulfilled all the basic premed requirements with a combination of AP credit and a few classes taken here at Princeton, and I’m not planning to major in a science. Are there other classes that I should take, or will this really be enough?

It would be helpful if you came in so that we could talk about your specific situation. It’ll depend on a number of factors: exactly how many science courses you took here and which ones, how well you did in them, how you’re doing overall, your MCAT score if you’ve taken it, and your state of residence, among others. Also keep in mind that you’ll need at least two letters of recommendation that comment on your ability in sciences – many students take smaller science courses in order to have better opportunities to get to know faculty who can then write for them.  Medical schools are interested in candidates who have both a well-rounded, liberal arts preparation and ample science background to be able to succeed in an intensive science curriculum – you want to find a balance of both. It might be helpful to read through the pre-requisite requirements and recommendations offered by schools of interest. We have compiled a list of some popular schools on our website.

How Many Science Classes do I Need?

Hi HPA – I have a lot of AP credit and I’m not planning to major in a science. Is there a minimum number of science courses I should take before applying to med school?

There is no agreed-upon minimum stated by medical schools, though any medical school would tell you that they’ll want to see evidence that you will be able to succeed in the rigorous, science-based curriculum in medical school. Our rule of thumb is generally that you should have at least 11-12 science classes (which is the equivalent of 48 credit hours); this corresponds to the number of classes you’d take to meet minimum requirements with no AP credit (4 semesters chem, 2 bio, 2 physics, biochem, math and stats). But, it’ll also depend on which courses you’ve taken, how well you do in them, whether you take any over the summer, how strong your science letters of recommendation are, whether you’ve done science-based work in the summers – all of these factors will be important in providing the evidence that schools are looking for. Looking at our recent applicants, the average number of BCPM credits of successful applicants is 70 (17-18 classes); looking only at non-science majors, the average was about 52 (13 classes).  A couple of students have been accepted with as few as 40 credits (10 classes), but they tended to have very high MCAT scores and GPAs. We’re happy to talk with you about your specific situation!

The Move Away From Requirements

A friend of mine told me that there’s a medical school that has no required science courses – this can’t possibly be true, right?

This is technically true, but it’s more complicated than that. Many medical schools are recognizing the unique ways in which undergraduate schools teach introductory science content and are trying to be sensitive to models that don’t include the traditional two-semester sequences. Additionally, some medical schools acknowledge that students can gain competency in knowledge and skills in places other than traditional classroom settings. The movement from pre-requisites to competencies is driven in part by two reports: Scientific Foundations for Future Physicians and Behavioral and Social Sciences Foundations for Future Physicians – both outline the kinds of competencies—observable abilities related to a specific activity that integrates knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes— that physicians should gain throughout their training. In turn, the medical schools seek to enroll students who already have a basic grasp of these competencies, and who are going to be interested and able to continue to develop them throughout their medical training.

For specific school examples, read the explanations for the medical schools at Vanderbilt, Stanford, and Penn, all schools that have shifted from specific course requirements. Does this mean that you could take zero science courses and still gain entry to these schools? No – you’ll need to demonstrate ability in the sciences, and provide evidence that you’ll be able to navigate the rigorous medical school curriculum – but it does provide some flexibility. Not all schools have moved away from discrete requirements, though – be sure to fulfill the prerequisites for your public state medical schools, since they are among your best chances of gaining entrance to medical school and stop by HPA any time to look into requirements for other specific schools – we have a list of requirements for schools popular with our applicants in our office (also published in our Majors and Prehealth handout on our website). You can also access to this list yourself by buying a subscription to the AAMC Medical Schools Admissions Requirements website or check individual websites for medical schools (we have compiled links to many of them on the Prerequisite Web Links page of our HPA website). 

Unforeseen Medical School Requirements

Hello, I have a question.  I plan on attending medical school in Texas.  I recently learned that the Texas schools require more than one year of biology.  In fact, they want 4 semesters!  This was news to me.  Are there other requirements I should know about?  I was under the impression that I needed a year of biology (2 semesters).

Texas is unique in this respect. You’re right, all the Texas schools (save Baylor) ask for 4 semesters, or two years’ worth, of biology.  This is included in the information you were given as a first-year, in our handout “Preparing for a Career in the Health Professions” (and online).  For those of you with no intention of applying to medical school in Texas, your EEB 211 and MOL 214 sequence meets the requirement, don’t worry.  However, this Texan’s question does bring up a larger point: It is always wise to check the Medical School Admissions Requirements, or MSAR, available in our office. This is the most centralized and reliable source for reviewing the requirements at the medical schools you dream of attending and making certain that they do not have any unusual, school-specific requirements beyond the basic ones.  Websites for individual med schools will give you that information as well, although they tend to be more confusing, in our experience, and it can get frustrating trying to navigate through various sites. As we all know, more schools every year require Biochemistry, and that number may be rising in the near future. Also, schools have changed their math requirement in recent years, saying that one term of Calculus plus one of Statistics is acceptable. Most of you will be fine if you stick to the basics: one year of biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, physics, math, and English.  We’ll certainly let you know if anything changes on a grand scale. Nevertheless, when the new MSAR comes out this spring, take a look—at least at the public medical school(s) in your home state. 


Asking Schools About Requirements

I'd like to get in touch with a few schools and see if I've met their requirements. What's the best way to go about getting an answer?

First, go through the med school prereqs on the website and check for any admissions FAQs that might address your question. If you can't find anything, send an email to whatever contact address they provide (we recommend email rather than phone so that you can have an answer in writing). Include your name, expected graduation date, expected med school admissions year, and as much detail as you can about your situation. You might include a copy of a syllabus or course description if you're asking for a specific course exception. For example:

Dear X School of Medicine Admissions,

I am a current sophomore at Princeton University majoring in Psychology and hope to start medical school in Fall 2021. I have 2 units of AP credit in Biology and I know that you require two semesters of Biology with Lab. I plan to take one semester with lab (Introduction to Molecular and Cellular Biology, MOL 214), as well as two semesters of upper-level Biology that do not have a lab component. Will MOL 214, two advanced courses, and AP credit satisfy your requirements? Thank you in advance. 


... I see that you require a statistics course. As a neuroscience major, I took a course called Mathematical Tools for Neuroscience (NEU 314), which included x weeks of stats study and required learning to use statistical software. I have attached a copy of the syllabus for your review. Please let me know if this course would satisfy your statistics requirement.

If you'd like us to review what you plan to send to schools, feel free to email us a draft!


Summer Science Courses

I’ve heard that medical schools don’t like it when you take summer classes. Is this true? I really want to study abroad in the spring of next year, and I’m not sure how else I would get Physics done.

We say a little bit about this in our “Preparing Guide,” generalizing that taking prehealth science requirements in the summer is generally not encouraged. Health professional schools want evidence that you can succeed in rigorous science courses, and taking them within a full course load during the academic year best simulates the demands of the science course work in health professions school. But, we wouldn't want you to give up a meaningful academic enrichment opportunity like study abroad, either! We encourage you to come in and discuss your specific situation in more depth, so that we can look holistically at your prehealth preparation and provide more individualized advice. If you do choose to take classes over the summer, be sure to get pre-approval through your college if you want them to count for course credit, and be sure to check with HPA to make sure that they’re the appropriate courses to fulfill prerequisites.  

Summer Chemistry

Hi HPA – I didn’t start Chemistry as a first-year, so now I feel like I want to catch up and either take Gen Chem this summer and Orgo in the fall, or Gen Chem in the coming school year and Orgo in the following summer. Is one better than the other for medical school?
This will be easier to discuss in person -- please come in and visit to talk it through! -- but here are a few things to consider:
How premed are you? If you’re still debating whether to pursue premed, it’s a lot of time, money, and effort to take Gen Chem this summer when you might never need it. Plus, it can be difficult to do well in prereqs unless you’re pretty committed to the premed track. You may be better off spending this summer on activities like hospital volunteering and shadowing that will help you determine whether premed is for you, then if it is, you could look at Orgo (or Physics) after sophomore summer.
How rigorous are the science courses you can access? Organic Chemistry at Princeton is very rigorous and many summer Gen Chem students find they don’t have an adequate foundation for Orgo after their summer Gen Chem. If you choose to take Gen Chem this summer, take the most rigorous course you can find and do some self-study of Organic Chem this summer in anticipation of the academic year. When you return, start using your McGraw resources, office hours, etc., as soon as the semester begins so that you can stay on top of the work. Taking Gen Chem at Princeton then Orgo over the summer, the same would apply in terms of trying to position yourself well for Biochemistry.
Do you really need to take summer science? We can work with you to look at potential graduation timelines that work around summer courses, taking all of your academic and other interests into account. Medical schools want to know that you can manage rigorous science courses in the context of the academic year and the more science that you move into the summer, the more that this can be called into question. Plus, summer is the time students tend to focus on gaining research, work, and clinical experience, which can be challenging (but not impossible!) on top of course work. Stop by to talk with us about your overall plans and we can provide some advice.

Taking a Pre-med Course Online

Hi! I'm a sophomore and I need to take Physics next summer before I can take the MCAT or apply to med school. Can you tell me if it's OK to take Physics online? I've found several options for online courses. This would be cheaper and more convenient for me than doing the regular course. Do medical schools accept these classes?

Your medical school requirements should be taken the old-fashioned way--in a classroom with preceptors and professors present. Most medical schools would not accept prerequisites such as Physics taken purely online. For one thing, what would you do for lab? Even if the online courses you're considering do offer some sort of "virtual" lab, medical schools would be deeply skeptical about the quality of the material you've learned. The same would apply to courses taken by a Princeton student at a community college. And lastly, as we hope you know by now, we do not recommend that you do your requirements over the summer without talking with us about your rationale and additional science plans. Thanks for asking this one! 

PDF’ing a Science Course

I have AP in chem and bio, and need to take one upper-level chemistry class and one upper-level biology class as part of my medical school prerequisites. Can these classes be taken PDF, or must they be taken for a grade?

Because you’re using them for pre-requisites, you must take them for a grade. As a general rule of thumb, we recommend taking all of your science courses for grades rather than pdf. As written in the Undergraduate Announcement, the spirit behind the pdf option is “to encourage exploration and experimentation in curricular areas in which the student may have had little or no previous experience.” By the time you’ve reached advanced level science electives, most of them will not fall into this exploration and experimentation philosophy. Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule of thumb, and we would encourage you to talk with us about potential implications if you’re considering pdfs in your science course work. 

Vet School Requirements

Dear HPA, I have actually always been considering vet school because I love animals and I am interested in medicine.  I think concentrating in EEB has helped me realize that I really do want to study and work with animals.  I also like the fact that veterinarians are usually less specialized than doctors, so there would be more variety in my every day job and maybe longer-term relationships with “patients” and animal-owners.  I think I have many of the pre-vet requirements done, but it seems I still need to take biochem, genetics, microbiology, physiology and public speaking.  Is this true?  Do I need to do all of these courses in addition to the standard pre-med classes?

Great question.  Don’t forget to email us at and get yourself on the pre-vet email list for your class year, in case we have any vet schools visiting or any of your peer pre-vet students plan any related programming.  As for the vet school requirements, alas, you are correct in that they often have slightly different requirements than med schools. A list of each school's requirements is available on the AAVMC website. You may have had enough genetics within one of the biology courses you’ve taken already, and physiology isn’t a standard requirement (fairly rare, actually).  As for microbiology and public speaking, you should probably do these.  Public speaking is offered once per year at Princeton via the English Dept (ENG 230, a fall course). Microbiology (MOL 380) is sometimes offered with a lab at Princeton, usually in the fall semester. All in all, come in to see us and we’ll discuss your interest.  If you can get biochem, public speaking, and microbiology done before you apply, great.  As for the others, we’ll tailor our advice depending on your possible list of schools. 

Does ENV Count as BCPM?

Hi HPA – I’m trying to calculate my science GPA and I don’t know whether ENV 303, Agriculture, Human Diets, and the Environment, should count as Biology (and be a part of my BCPM GPA) or as Environmental Science and Policy (and not be part of my BCPM GPA). What do you think?
With interdisciplinary classes, it’s so difficult to try to box them into one category or the other. Plus, depending on who’s teaching the course and how they present the material, the classification could change from term to term. It’s up to you to categorize it based on where you felt the majority of the course content resided – if the course was primarily biology content with some policy and environmental studies, then you would classify it as Biology. Talk it over with peers in your class and even with the professor if you’d like other opinions on the subject, but ultimately, you just want to place it where you feel it best belongs. Students have had the same question about some CBE and PSY courses, among others—it always comes down to your own judgment.