Questions About Required Science Coursework

Biology Requirement The Move Away from Requirements
CHM 304 or 304-B?
Do Neuroscience Courses Count as 'Science'? 
Doubling Up on Science Do I Have to Take Orgo II?
EEB:  Can I Place Out?
EGR 191 - 194 for Engineers Summer Science Courses
How Much Science?
Integrated Science Curriculum (ISC)
ISC 335
ISC, Starting Sophomore Year
MOL 214 as a First-Year Student
MOL 214 or 215?


AP Credit

Question: I’m preparing to apply to medical school and have AP credit in Biology, Physics and Chemistry and took extra classes in each one following HPA guidelines. I want to double check with schools that I have met their prerequisites. What’s the best way to do so?

Answer: If you follow the recommendations we outline in our HPA Preparing Guide, you'll be set for most schools. For the most up to date information on specific schools, check each school’s website for their prereqs and AP policies. We have many schools' prereqs pages linked from our website and they should be linked from the AAMC Medical School Admissions Requirements (a must-have investment for current applicants). If the policy is unclear from the website, email us and we can provide guidance from there, which may include contacting the school directly, or contact them directly if you’d prefer.

If you are contacting a school, we recommend that you be very specific: include the year in which you intend to matriculate at medical school, the exact number of units of AP credit you have been granted by Princeton in the subjects in questions, and the departments, course numbers, exact names of classes that you have taken to fulfill pre-requisites, indicating whether or not those classes have labs. It can also help to include the course descriptions from Course Offerings, the prerequisites required for classes you took, and the texts that you used. It would be helpful to us if you forward any response you receive from the medical school. If you don’t get a response, or the response is unclear, you are welcome to be in touch with us and we can follow up with schools on your behalf. 

II. AP Credit and California Medical Schools

Question: I am a California resident, and am interested in California medical schools. I received a 5 on the AP Physics exams and plan to take a year of Physical Chemistry. I was just wondering if I still had to take physics here.

Answer: We have, in the past, had students take CHM 306 as a supplementary course to the AP exam and had it accepted for medical schools that required advanced course work beyond the AP (see: AP Credit FAQs). 

California schools were once notoriously stingy about allowing students to use their AP credit to bypass the traditional pre-requisite courses, but they have started to follow suit with other schools that ask for competency in the sciences rather than specific course work (e.g., UCLA, UCSD). Policies do change from time to time, so be sure to be up to date with what their policies are in your application year, in case things change.

For schools outside of California, most will accept AP Physics, or will accept AP with one semester of advanced Physics course work. Again, it never hurts to check the pre-requisites of schools that are of particular interest to you. We’re starting to keep a list of links that will take you directly to the pre-requisites for medical schools that are popular among our students. You can find it on our website here

II. 2 Units of AP in Math

Question: Hi HPA, I had a question about the med school pre-reqs concerning mathematics. I have two units of AP math already, based on how I did on AP tests in high school. So I am exempt from taking any more math (at least in terms of med school requirements). If I do not take any more math at Princeton, especially calculus (like MAT 201), will that be viewed negatively when I eventually apply to medical school?

Answer: You are done with your math requirement for medical school. We do not advise most pre-health students to continue with math above 104 (to 201, for example). There is no evidence to suggest that medical schools favor applicants who have done more calculus beyond the basics (our 100-level courses), nor do they “view negatively” those who have not done so. For someone in your situation, we do recommend, however, a statistics class at some point during your college career, mainly because medical students and physicians sometimes report that a background in statistics is useful. But no 200-level calculus. The only exceptions to this would be if you had a serious interest in multivariable calculus—and perhaps are considering Math as a major, or, in some rare cases, MAT 201 might be a pre-req for something else you’re pursuing. For anyone out there who has 1 unit of AP in math, it is important to remember that you have two options—taking either a calculus class or a stats class. Many medical schools require 2 total terms of “college math,” specifying that at least one of these needs to be calculus. Your 1 unit of AP would count as this calculus.­

III. AP in Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Math

Question: Hey HPA, I’m a freshman who doesn’t fit into any of the plans in the handout you gave us. I’ve looked on your website too but don’t see any information about what I should take. I have AP credit in biology, chemistry, physics, math, English, and some others. What should I be taking now?

Answer: To break it down: For Biology, take MOL 214 (or 215) + an upper-level biology class later on; for Chemistry, take CHM 303-304 plus at least one upper-level chemistry class later on; for Physics, take one upper-level physics class (suggestions for which one are noted in the "preparing" handout); for Math, we would recommend a statistics class. If you are from Texas and plan to apply to Texas state med schools, you will need a second year of biology coursework. We also recommend having a minimum of 10 courses in math/sciences to demonstrate your overall ability in the kinds of course work that you'll take in medical school. Additional science classes beyond what is outlined above, particularly in biology, are always recommended. Lastly, a basic rule of thumb: your AP credits “count” for all U.S. medical schools as long as they are supplemented by advanced coursework; when you look online, a few medical schools say that they do not accept AP, but what they mean by this with few exceptions is that they do not accept AP by itself, with no supplementary advanced coursework done in college

IV. AP in Physics

Question: I have a course-related question for you. I know that students who have taken AP Chemistry in high school can place out of general chemistry at Princeton and go directly to Orgo, usually as a sophomore. What about AP Physics? If a student has taken the AP Physics exams and done well, can they simply not take Physics in college? Alternatively, would AP credit just allow a student to take an upper-level course? Thanks.

Answer: While some medical schools will accept the AP credit on its own, many will strongly recommend or require that you supplement any AP with advanced courses. If Princeton granted you 2 units of AP based on your scores on your AP or IB exams, then we strongly recommend that you take one semester that builds on your Physics foundation to satisfy medical schools’ requirements. You do not need to repeat introductory Physics by taking 101-102 or 103-104. Possible course selections for your one term of more advanced Physics include AST 204 (Astronomy), CHM 305 (The Quantum World), or CHM 306 (Physical Chemistry). While these courses are not taught through the Physics Department, their content includes sufficient Physics. BSE students might not take courses that specifically list a Physics prerequisite; in this case, we recommend that they consult with BSE advisers to determine which of their courses build on introductory Physics in case medical schools question their preparation. Also, please note for those students with AP in Chemistry, you’re not done after taking Orgo and Biochem; we advise you to take a more advanced Chemistry course after Orgo and Biochem, just one term.

V. Biology Requirement

Question: Hi HPA – I have AP Biology and I’ve taken MOL 214 and no other Biology courses yet. Are there certain courses that you recommend? Do I need to take more than one?

Answer: Biology (EEB, MOL, NEU) coursework beyond two semesters is always valued in the admissions process (and required by some schools, including the University of Texas medical schools). If you’re only going to take two courses, we’d recommend choosing a second course with a lab component – EEB 314 (Comparative Physiology) and MOL 380B (Modern Microbiology and Disease – not offered Spring 2017) are good options. Alternately, if you’ve done a summer of Biology research or worked in a Princeton lab, it becomes less important that you take a lab-based second Biology course. If you have lab experience, courses that touch on biomedical sciences or human biology may be especially valuable; for example, MOL 342 (Genetics); MOL 423 (Molecular Basis of Cancer); MOL 425 (Infection: Biology Burden, Policy) – try to focus your presentation on a scientific topic rather than policy to emphasize the engagement with science in the course; MOL 458 (Psychopharmacology); EEB 403 (Genes and Neurons Underlying Behavioral Evolution); Neuroimmunology (MOL 447). 

VI. Forfeiting AP Credit

Question:  Dear HPA: I am a freshman who is entering the University with a lot of AP credit.  I have credit in Chemistry, Biology, Physics, and Math.  I've read through your handout from orientation and I understand what classes you recommend but I'm worried that I won't do well if I take classes that are too difficult.  To be honest, I want to make sure my grades are good for medical school, so I'm going to take CHM 201-202 now and PHY 101-102 next year even though I have AP in these subjects.  Is that OK?

Answer:   In most cases, it is not advisable.  We are so glad you asked this question!  When the University granted you AP credit, it was based on your performance on a variety of AP or IB tests, or on some other high school qualification that assures us that you have the basic knowledge in these subjects.  Medical schools would prefer that you do not retrace your steps and avoid the challenges of upper-level coursework.  You do not need to take on too much as a freshman, true, but over the course of the next four years we expect you to move forward and learn new material in the four basic pre-medical sciences (Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Math).

In some instances, after consulting with the student, we do suggest repeating ONE introductory course in ONE subject where the student has AP credit.  If you're worried about preparing for the MCAT, remember that you will review the introductory material diligently in the months prior to the test, either on your own or through a prep course.  If you're worried about your knowledge of general chemistry as a pre-requisite for Organic Chemistry, it is worthwhile to consult with HPA advisers and Chemistry department representatives to review your preparation and make a measured decision. Remember that all AP credit granted to you will be listed on your Princeton transcript when you send it to medical schools, even if you've gone back and done the introductory courses over again and forfeited your AP. 

VII. What if a School Won't Accept AP Credit?

Question: I’m hoping to be entering med school in 2016 and I’m really worried about whether my AP credits are going to count for med school admissions. When I read the Harvard website, it seems like they won’t. Should I just take the General Chemistry and EEB 211 courses even though I have AP for Chemistry and Biology?

Answer: Harvard Med is one of many schools making a move away from discrete prerequisites and toward competencies. If you read the Harvard Med School requirements carefully, you’ll see that instead of asking you for specific prerequisites, they are now asking you instead to be able to demonstrate knowledge of key concepts. In other words, they’re looking for a level of scientific competency that can be met in a number of ways. 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 HMS specifically, they explain the kinds of information that they’d like you to gain fairly explicitly on their Course Requirements website. You’ll see that they say AP will not be accepted, but then go on to say that upper level courses should be taken if students have been granted AP credit. Further on in the page, you’ll see that they state that, “Required laboratory components of biology and chemistry are no longer defined as discretely as they were in the past. Lengthy laboratory components of the required science requirement courses are not necessarily time well and efficiently spent.” Instead, they encourage “hypothesis-driven exercises, problem solving, and hands-on demonstrations of important principles” which can be acquired through other means (such as thesis research in a science, or a summer research opportunity mentored by a faculty member.

We can tell you anecdotally that, of this year’s Princeton applicants accepted to Harvard Med, one had AP Gen Chem + Orgo + Biochem; two had AP Gen Chem + CHM 215 + Orgo + Biochem, and the rest took the traditional Gen Chem sequence. Four had AP Biology and took MOL 214 and additional advanced Biology courses that didn’t have a lab component. Based on consultation with admissions personnel at HMS, we continue to recommend the combination of AP credit, Organic Chemistry, Biochemistry and an additional advanced Chemistry course moving forward for the Chemistry requirements. For Biology, we recommend AP Biology, MOL 214, and at least one additional MOL course, ideally combined with at least one summer research experience in which you can continue to refine your laboratory skills. However, if you’d like to be completely sure that you’ve met this requirement based solely on course work, we would recommend EEB 211 and MOL 214 if you are not a MOL or EEB major (MOL majors will be taking core lab and writing the thesis, and thus will be covered in terms of their laboratory experience, and EEB majors will be writing a biology-based thesis). If there are other schools that you come across where you have concerns about your prereqs and APs, please don’t hesitate to email HPA, include the link to the website you’re referencing, and we’ll check into it for you. 

Are the Minimum Prerequisites Enough?

Question:  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?

Answer:  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.  



Question: Hi. I have a question regarding chemistry requirements for medical school. I understand that if we use our 2 units of AP to place out of introductory chemistry, then we should take an upper-level course in chemistry to fulfill the requirements for med school. I was wondering how many such upper-level chemistry courses you would recommend we take, and whether they ought to include a lab. Does Biochemistry count as one of these upper-level classes, and is it sufficient (even though it doesn't have a lab at Princeton)? Also, is it all right to take the upper-level class during my senior year while I'm applying to med school, or should I take it earlier? Thank you.

Answer: Until recent years, yes! Biochemistry was a great choice. Now that so many medical schools require Biochemistry, though (see MD Program Biochemistry Requirements (pdf) for a list of schools requiring or suggesting Biochem), we would recommend taking an upper-level course other than Biochemistry to fulfill upper-level course requirements. We recommend taking Biochemistry before taking the MCAT, but you could take your additional supplementary courses after the MCAT. 


Question: Hi, I am a sophomore and will have completed MOL 214 and Orgo by the end of this year. I noticed that in HPA’s suggested course plans Biochemistry is listed as something people take in the junior fall (if they take it). Is there a particular reason for this? Or would it be OK to take it senior fall? The reason I ask is I will already be taking a heavy science load next fall, and one of my courses does have a time slot conflict with Biochem.

Answer: Biochem (MOL 345) is usually done junior year, by those who do it, because of the demands of the senior thesis as well as other departmental responsibilities that come up senior year. With the new MCAT2015, you will also want to have taken Biochem before you take the MCAT exam. If you are applying with one glide year, you could opt to take MOL 345 in senior fall, and be ready for the MCAT in senior spring. We should add that there aren’t any other courses (other than MOL 345) at Princeton that would be “counted” as biochemistry by medical schools or that are appropriate for undergraduate pre-medical students to take with the intent of “counting” it as their biochemistry. MOL 345 is the course to take if you’re going to do Biochem. 

CHM 304 or 304-B?

Question:  Hi,  I'm a current sophomore enrolled in CHM 303 (Organic Chemistry).  I noticed that there are two Orgo classes next semester - CHM 304 and CHM 304-B.  Their course descriptions look very different.  I was wondering if you had a recommendation between the two to take - which would fulfill the premed requirement (and assuming both do, which would be more helpful in preparing me for the MCATs).

Answer:  You assume correctly – both courses fulfill the requirement for medical school and both will prepare you as well as possible for the MCAT (although to clarify, you prepare yourself for the MCAT!).  Our Organic Chemistry courses have always provided students with an excellent background for doing exceptionally well on the Biological Sciences portion of the MCAT, where you are tested on your knowledge of Orgo.  The course descriptions look different probably because they were written by two different professors with two different emphases in mind.  304-B will be the one with more of a biological emphasis, more similar to what you’re doing now in 303, and we are told will possibly link up more smoothly with MOL 345:  Biochemistry if you plan to take that course.  However, either course is a fine way to finish your Organic Chemistry.  We do not recommend one course over the other. 

CHM 538

Question: Hi, I am a junior pre-med. I have yet to fulfill my biochemistry requirement for medical school, and I heard a rumor that CHM 538—Biological Chemistry which is being offered next semester is going to be adequate for medical school purposes. While it is likely that I would take CHM 538 if it fulfilled the biochem requirement, I’m contacting you not only on my own behalf but also to alert you that I heard this rumor from a friend of mine who has already enrolled in CHM 538. I thought you should know that there may be other pre-meds signed up for this class because they believe it’s sufficient biochemistry for medical school.

Answer: Good to hear from you. As for CHM 538, after corresponding with the professor who teaches the course as well as some other CHM faculty, it has been determined that this is not a course to take for any fundamental instruction in Biochemistry. This isn't a course designed to fulfill medical schools' requirement or recommendation, nor is it the right course for the purpose of preparing you for more advanced Biochem in med school. I'm so glad you contacted us directly; I wish your friends did as well! MOL 345 is what you need to do if you are going to take Biochemistry at Princeton. 

Doubling Up on Science

Question:  HPA – I’m a freshman who is thinking about taking MOL 214 in the spring.  I’m also in Chemistry right now.  I heard that it would be hard to take two sciences together but I also heard that you should take more than one science at a time.  Should I do MOL 214?

Answer:  Whether or not you’re comfortable taking MOL 214 as a freshman will depend on the strength of your background in biology and on how successful you’ve been so far in your classes.  If you’re struggling in CHM 201 right now and you’re working as hard as you can—and seeking help—then it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to add MOL 214 to the mix (wait and take it with EEB 211 as a sophomore).  However, if you’re doing fine in CHM as well as your other courses, and you’re up for the challenge, then go for it.  What you’ve heard about taking more than one science course at a time is generally true.  It is wise to “double up” on science courses at some point during your college career, if at all possible.  Of course if you concentrate in a science, then you’ll certainly do that automatically, but for the humanities and social science majors out there, just remember that the 1st-year med school curriculum is vastly science-oriented, and to indicate to Admissions that you’re ready for that much science coming at you all at once, it is a good idea to demonstrate your ability to handle two hard science classes at once.  Let us repeat, however, that this shouldn’t be done at the expense of strong performance. 

EEB: Can I Place Out?

Question: I am currently a freshman international student hoping to pursue premed with a concentration in WWS. I took the International Baccalaureate my junior and senior year and ended up with a 6 in Higher level biology, and a 710 on my SAT Ecological Biology test. I have emailed a couple of EEB professors who confirmed that I can place out of EEB. Is this okay for premed?

Answer: You will need to take EEB 211. As a non-science major, who will not have as many upper-level science courses and lab experiences as a major, and as an international student who is already going to be limited in the number of schools where you can apply, better to just have the two bio courses with labs on your transcript. Plus, no transcript notation is provided for a score of 6 on the IB Biology test, so you’ll need to have two semester of biology with lab on your transcript.  You must have courses with grades (or information about placing out) on your transcript for every premed prerequisite course. I’d also recommend taking additional science courses if you can find room for them! We’re happy to sit down and work through potential graduation timelines with you, if you’d like

EEB 211

Question:  Dear HPA, Do I really need to take EEB 211?  I don’t have any AP credit in Biology but I have a very strong background in it, and I’ve done MOL 214.  I know other students who have skipped 211.  I also have plans to take more Biology in college.  Is it really necessary to do 211 or can I skip it?

Answer:  Without AP credit in Biology, you need to take EEB 211.  Though some medical schools have moved to competency-based requirements or have a broader “one year of biology courses” prerequisite, many schools still require one year’s worth of “introductory” or “general” biology for applicants who entered college without AP credit.  At most colleges, your year would be made up of “General Bio I” followed by “General Bio II.”  At Princeton, that sequence is MOL 214 and EEB 211.  With AP credit, it’s fine to do MOL 214 plus at least one upper-level biology course. If you are majoring in MOL or NEU, you could check with schools of interest to see if they’d be satisfied with MOL 214 plus core lab, since that will give you a year of Biology with lab and you’ll be taking significant additional biology courses, but to keep all of your options open, the safest bet is to take EEB 211. As an aside, be sure to check your public state schools’ requirements to check their specifics when it comes to Biology requirements – some Texas, California, and other schools require additional Biology course work.  

EGR 191 - 194 for Engineers

Question:  I am an Engineering student. Right now I'm in the integrated introduction to Engineering, Math, and Physics. I just want to make sure that what I've heard is true, that the integrated course will fulfill my requirements for Physics for medical school.

Answer: EGR 191-192 will satisfy the PHY 103 and Math requirements for medical school. For detailed information, go to the Integrated Introduction to Engineering, Mathematics, Physics (EMP) page of the Keller Center website.  We have a dozen or so engineers applying to medical school each year, and they do quite well.  Welcome to SEAS!

How Much Science?

Question: 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?

Answer: 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 Integrated Science Curriculum (ISC)

Question:  Hi, I just enrolled in the integrated sciences curriculum, and I was wondering how it fit into the pre-med curriculum. Will it fulfill the medical school requirements? Are there any disadvantages (or advantages) to me choosing to take the ISC instead of the normal freshmen science classes for pre-med students?  Thank you.

Answer: The Integrated Science Curriculum (ISC) was designed originally for those top scientists who would probably end up in doctorate programs, earning their PhDs.  However, several pre-meds have done the program and applied to medical school successfully.  We would advise you to take the full Organic Chemistry sequence (CHM 303-304) in addition to the bit of orgo you're taught in ISC.  Everything else - math, physics, bio, general chem. - is covered sufficiently to count for medical school requirements.  It is simplest that you stick with the ISC for the full two years, since stopping out after one year isn't really in the spirit of the program and it also makes things a little more complicated when we explain your transcript to medical schools.  But, of course, if you are struggling in the ISC, then by all means come see us and we'll talk about your options - it is possible to leave the program after one year if need be.  Hope that clarifies - good luck! 

ISC 335

Question: I noticed there’s a new Organic Chemistry class offered through ISC – can I take this to fulfill medical school pre-requisites?

Answer: Organic Chemistry of Metabolism, ISC 335, is in fact a new course this coming fall, which teaches organic chemistry  through examples drawn from metabolism. It could be a great option for quantitatively-inclined MOL majors, but may not satisfy all medical schools. Specifically, many medical schools require two semesters of Organic Chemistry with lab and this course does not include a lab. While a combination of this course, biochemistry (MOL 345), and core lab might satisfy many medical schools, and we are willing to support students who choose this route, medical schools will make the final determination as to whether you have fulfilled their pre-requisites. Thus, it is safest to stick with CHM 303 and CHM 304/304B. 

Integrated Science Curriculum, Starting Sophomore Year

Question:  Hi, I am interested in the genomics sequence for sophomore year in place of MOL 214.  It offers exposure to biology, genetics, and biochemistry. The description says that it is equivalent to credit for MOL 214 and MOL 345, both of which I had planned to take, but I was having a hard time fitting biochemistry into my schedule.  The description sounds extremely interesting and is very tempting.  Do you know if this sequence is much more challenging or has disadvantages to it that I should be aware of?  If you could let me know any details pertaining to the program at all, I would really appreciate it.

Answer:  The sequence is indeed very challenging. The integrated science program looks for those with rigorous science backgrounds and strong performance.  However, the program isn't designed for the pre-med; it is designed for those interested in doing high-level science, but was not put together with the pre-medical curriculum in mind nor with the thought that future doctors would enroll.  The last thing you should do is part of the program (and not all of it).  Medical schools have accepted ISC 231-234 to satisfy General Chemistry and Physics requirements when students began the curriculum in the first year, but jumping into the second year of the program runs the risk of leaving medical schools unable to accurately interpret what you've had and what you haven't had.  Especially when it comes to Biochemistry, medical schools may very likely want more depth (the medical schools that require/recommend Biochem, that is).  Yes, the program "offers exposure," but medical schools will be hard pressed to determine the depth of the exposure you've had.  In sum, the second year of the sequence should not be taken merely as a means of completing Biochemistry for medical school, and should not be done only in part.  

MOL 214 as a First-Year Student

Question: Hi HPA – I noticed that few of your “plans” in the Preparing for a Career in the Health Professions guide recommend taking MOL 214 along with CHM 202 in the spring of my first year. Why is that? I’d really like to get started in MOL and see if I like it since I might concentrate in it.

Answer: At HPA, we are firm believers in “doing well” rather than “doing fast” – giving yourself every chance to succeed. “Doubling up” on lab-based science in your first year can make it quite difficult to do well in all of your classes. We do suggest that you “double up” on science courses at some point during your four years, but normally, this happens during sophomore year, after you’ve built a sound academic foundation from your first year on campus and adjusted to Princeton fully, or even junior year. According to the MOL department, MOL 214 is about half first-years and half sophomores, so there are plenty of students who take MOL in first year. But, we have seen many students we meet struggle in this combination, and eventually either drop one course and “catch up” in the summer or see their grades in both classes suffer because they don’t have sufficient time to devote to both of them. If you are doing very well in gen chem this semester, have a strong biology background, and have developed your time management skills, the schedule may be fine for you. If you do decide to stick with a single lab in the spring, it may be a good semester to take your fifth class, so that you can alleviate some pressure on next year and also explore potential areas of interest (don’t forget to use our health related courses list) for suggestions).  

MOL 214 or 215?

Question:  I am a freshman and I have received a 5 on the AP Chemistry, Biology, and Calculus tests so I have 2 AP units in those subjects. I would like your advice regarding MOL 214 & MOL 215. I understand that 215 is more math-oriented than 214.  For this reason, I am considering taking 215 next fall.  However, I am concerned that 215 might not cover the material I need for medical school. Which class, 214 or 215, better covers material for the MCAT?  Which class do you think I should take?

Answer:  Both MOL 214 and MOL 215 “count” as biology for medical school, as you know.  MOL 215 is more quantitative in nature, and the faculty who teach 215 have made it very clear that they want only students who have strong mathematical backgrounds. A requirement for the course is AP in Calculus and Physics, and since you do not have the AP units in Physics it would appear that you do not qualify. However, both courses will prepare you very well for the molecular biology included in the Biological Sciences section of your MCAT, and will give you the foundation you need for medical study. There is no evidence to suggest that one or the other version of the course better prepares pre-med students. More pre-meds take MOL 214, surely, because of the quantitative nature of 215 and the AP prerequisites. 

MOL 215

Question:  I have a quick question. If I take MOL 215 next semester, will it fulfill the pre-med requirement or am I required to take MOL 214, too? Thanks.

Answer: You may take MOL 215 instead of 214. You know that depending on whether you have AP biology credit or not, you need another biology course, with or without lab, right? If you don't have AP biology credit, you'll need to take EEB 211, too. 

MOL and Medical School

Question:  Hi HPA, I had a quick question about molecular biology and med school. I noticed that most MOL majors are also premed. Is there any correlation between these two things? Do you have to be passionate about molecular biology in order to become a good doctor? Or is it because med school studies focus on molecular biology? I've just discovered recently that I'm not particularly passionate about molecular biology, but I am still interested in being a premed. I'm just worried that if becoming a doctor/being premed means that I will need to be passionate about MOL, I may not be cut out for med school after all.

Answer: You certainly do not have to major in MOL as a pre-health student. If you are turned off by science completely, then of course a science-based profession like medicine will make you an unhappy professional. However, you do not have to be passionate about molecular biology per se. Perhaps other fields of biology (evolution, ecology) get you excited? Perhaps chemistry, biochemistry, physics? Perhaps computer science or math or biotechnology? A scientific mind can find any number of rich fields during the undergraduate years and any number of areas of expression in the medical profession. As for your choice of a concentration, study what you love. Many pre-meds major in the humanities and social sciences, everything from French to Philosophy to Anthropology to Classics to WWS, as well as the sciences. And medical schools are increasingly interested in applicants with broad academic backgrounds. The point is to have a fulfilling academic experience, particularly in your independent work and upper-level courses in your concentration, to go off into medicine with a clear sense of what your background brings to the patient’s bedside.  

The New MOL Requirements

Question: Hi HPA – I’m class of 2018 and was thinking of majoring in Mol Bio. Will the new requirements affect my preparation for medical school?

Answer: The amount of cross-over between pre-med requirements and MOL requirements remains high: MOL 214, general chemistry and organic chemistry, and biochemistry are both MOL major requirements and premed pre-requisites. The new quantitative reasoning course, SML 201, paired with MAT 103 (or SML 201, math AP credit and an additional math/COS course), will satisfy medical schools’ math requirements. Medical schools are increasingly interested in students gaining a background in statistics and SML 201 is an excellent match for this trend.

Students who do not have AP credit in Biology should take two lab-based biology courses. MOL 214 (or 215) and MOL 350 (core lab) will satisfy this requirement for most schools, but we encourage students to check the wording on school websites for their state medical schools – if a medical school requires “one year of introductory biology with lab,” then EEB 211 and MOL 214/215 are the appropriate courses (students may wish to communicate directly with medical schools for clarification on prerequisites if the website is unclear). Students who do not have AP credit in Physics should take two lab-based physics courses – PHY 108 (once a lab has been developed for the course) and one additional semester.  

The Move Away From Requirements

Question: 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?

Answer: 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. For example, 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? Almost certainly 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 hard 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 produced by the AAMC that you can access in our office. 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 Pre-Requisite Web Links page of our HPA website). 

Neuroscience Certificate

Question:  I have a quick question regarding my course load this fall.  I originally was pursuing a neuroscience certificate, but have recently found out that as a premed, I must take 2 semesters of biology and that AP credit does not count as one of those semesters; it only allows you to take a higher level class (without a lab).  In light of this, I wanted to take EEB311, but as a result would probably drop my neuro class this fall (MOL408).  I am DYING to take some humanities to balance out my schedule.  I am leaning toward dropping my certificate in neuroscience so that I might be able to take some other classes of interest to me throughout the next two years, but I wanted to make sure that I am not missing anything, or not thinking of any reason (med-school-wise) that I should think twice about dropping the certificate.  Is it something that is beneficial when applying to med schools? Or am I just as good a candidate without it?

Answer: But you are currently taking biochemistry, yes?  That fulfills the MOL 214-plus-one-other-biology-course requirement if you have AP. You may take EEB 311 if you like, but in light of your desire to take more humanities courses, do so! You could always take EEB 311 next fall if you wish.  No, it does not matter if you do not pursue the neuro certificate. As it turns out, you have taken a number of neuro courses, and medical schools will think that is nice.  But no, you don't need to pursue the certificate for them.  They'll be happy anyway with your course selection thus far, and your high GPA. 

Do Neuroscience Courses Count as ‘Science’?

Question:  I’m interested in going for the certificate in Neuroscience.  I know that medical schools will look at my science grades when I apply to med school.  Will NEU courses be counted as ‘science’ or as psychology?

Answer:  With the ever-growing popularity of Neuroscience courses at Princeton, this type of question is ever-increasing at HPA.  Generally speaking, Neuroscience is listed among the subjects that AMCAS will count as “science” when you apply (AMCAS is the generic online application that is step 1 of the application process).  AMCAS figures all courses whose content are primarily Biology, Chemistry, Physics, or Math into the “science GPA.”  You can see a list of which departments fall within different AMCAS categories in the AMCAS Course Classification Guide online.  

It has been our experience that Neuro courses labeled “PSY” are considered on a case-by-case basis, and may be categorized as “biological science” or, possibly, “behavioral and social science.”  If you feel the majority of the content of the course was biological in nature, then you should label them as such when completing your AMCAS.  Whether or not these are re-classified during the AMCAS verification process is hard to predict. 

Do I Have to Take Orgo II?

Question: I’ve noticed that a lot of medical schools no longer require two semesters of Organic Chemistry and will accept one semester of orgo and one semester of Biochem. Is it okay if I skip CHM 304 if I don’t need it for my major?

Answer: At Princeton, CHM 304/304B is a pre- or co-requisite to Biochem (MOL 345), so we would not recommend skipping it. Generally, though, it’s true that schools’ pre-requisites are diversifying. Of schools most popular with our applicants, Columbia, Rutgers NJMS, UCSF, Northwestern, and Baylor are among those that still require two semesters of Organic Chem; on the other extreme, Penn, NYU, Jefferson, U Chicago, U Michigan, and UVA have no specific prerequisites and focus on scientific competencies. If you are thinking about skipping courses that are common pre-requisites, at the very least, check with the state medical schools in your home state of residence and ensure that you’re completing the pre-requisites needed for those schools: your state schools are almost always your best chance for acceptance (since they are mandated to accept a certain percentage of in-state residents) and it’s best to keep them as an option in the application process. 

PDF’ing a Science Course

Question: 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?

Answer: 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. 


New Physics Course

Question: Dear HPA – There’s a new course being offered called PHY 108, Physics for the Life Sciences. I have 2 credits of AP in Physics. I know you recommend one advanced course for premed requirements. Can I take this course to supplement my AP credit?

Answer: Many medical schools are either moving away from prerequisites all together (like Penn, USC, and UVA). Others will accept AP credit in Physics without any supplementary courses (including Stanford, UCSF, Emory, Johns Hopkins, Wash U, Mount Sinai, NYU, Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson, Cornell, Case Western, and Pitt). We have also emailed schools that require supplementary courses or who state that they do not accept AP credit - we heard back from Dartmouth, UCLA, and Vanderbilt, all of whom were satisfied that PHY 108 would satisfy their requirements. Feel free to stop by HPA to look through our list of schools’ AP policies. In general, though, if you have AP credit, this should be an excellent course if you’d like additional preparation for medical school and the Physics portion of the MCAT. It may preclude you from applying to a couple of schools, but you’ll still be able to craft a strong school list. We do encourage you to double-check the AP policies for your public state schools, as we do for every course prerequisite issue. For students who don’t have AP credit, most medical schools require two semesters of physics with lab. Starting in 2016, PHY 108 is offered with a lab, so you can take PHY 101/108 or PHY 103/108. If you have one credit of AP, now that PHY 108 has a lab, it's fine to take the course to supplement the single credit. 

Taking Physics This Summer

Question:  Hello, I met with an adviser last week and discussed the possibility of taking the physics requirements over the summer, so that I can take the MCAT either at the end of the summer or early next year.  I know that PHY 101-102 satisfies the pre-med requirement.  My understanding is that these are not calculus-based, since calculus wasn't listed as a prerequisite, but I'm not positive.  I looked into the course guide and it was ambiguous. When I am registering for summer courses, is it OK to choose the Physics without calculus?  Secondly, is either option substantially better than the other (calc-based or not); will it make much difference?

Answer:    You may take the Physics that is not calculus-based.  The calculus-based Physics is not necessary for the MCAT.  You could be taking Physics next year, however.  People currently have pre-med requirements "in progress" when they take the MCAT, and now that the computerized MCAT is offered in April as well as several dates in May, your Physics would be almost finished at the time of the test (you're studying on your own outside of class anyway).  Plus, the Physics material would be fresher in your mind at the time your did the MCAT.  Medical schools prefer that the pre-med requirements, including Physics, be fulfilled on one's home campus during the regular school year, in conjunction with a full courseload. 

Summer Science Courses

Question: 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.

Answer: We say a little bit about this in our “Preparing Guide,” generalizing that taking pre-health 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 pre-health 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 Gen Chem II

Question: Hi HPA – I’m a freshman and didn’t do well in CHM 201, so I think I’m going to take the semester off from Chemistry and finish it up over the summer. My friends told me this is a bad idea. What do you think?

Answer: This is a complicated question. We wouldn’t be able to answer it without a lot more information: What do you mean by “didn’t do well”? Did you use all of your possible resources and still ran into trouble or are there ways that you could adjust and take CHM 202 with the potential for more success? What other summer plans do you have? How might this affect the rest of the Chemistry sequences that you have to take here? How are you feeling about your pre-health plans in general?

Generally speaking, we don’t recommend splitting sequences if you can avoid it – schools teach the content differently and have different expectations, so you may miss material and may have more difficulty adjusting mid-sequence than students who took the first course and are going directly into the second. We also recommend minimizing the number of pre-requisites that you take outside of the regular course load, and would be concerned that summer Gen Chem may put you at a disadvantage coming back for Organic Chem at Princeton. All of that said, we’d still want to talk with you about your specific situation and help you come up with potential next steps moving forward – please don’t hesitate to talk with us, or with your faculty adviser, director of studies, or our HPA peer advisers for some other perspectives. 

Taking a Pre-med Course Online

Question:  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?

Answer: Your medical school requirements need to 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 pre-medical requirements over the summer. Thanks for asking this one! 

Two Semesters Bio Lab

Question: I was looking at the websites of some of the medical school I’m interested in, and I noticed that most of them require one full year of biology with lab, and some note that AP credit cannot be used for this requirement. I took MOL 214 with lab, I am now taking a MOL that doesn’t have a lab, and I have no other biology classes with lab. Do I need to take a biology class with a lab next semester?

Answer: In past years, we have had students accepted to medical schools with AP + MOL 214 + advanced MOL, regardless of lab. That said, we are glad that you are following our recommendation to check the websites of schools of particular interest, since prereqs have diversified in recent years.

If you come across a school and are unsure of their requirements, you can touch base with us. We will look at your preparation as a whole, and advise you based on your specific situation. We may ask you to be in touch with the school directly for clarification, or we can contact them on your behalf. That said, taking a Biology course with a lab would complement your preparation, and leave you less negotiating that you might have to do with schools later on. In fall 2014, suitable courses would be MOL 380B (Microbiology) or, of course, EEB 211.  

Unforeseen Medical School Requirements

Question:  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).

Answer:  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 freshman, 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. 

Upper-Level Biology

Question:  I have AP credit in Biology.  I took MOL 214 and did another Biology, 400-level, but got a C+ in it.  If I take another upper-level Biology class and earn a better grade, can I use the new course as my upper-level Biology for med school or do I have to use the class I originally planned to count?

Answer:  Interesting question.  It would be a good idea for you to take more biology, given your grade in the 400-level course.  On your secondary applications for med school some day, the schools may ask you to list which Princeton courses you’re “counting” toward their biology requirement.  In your case, you could list MOL 214 + the new course.  This would be a wise thing to do if you performed better in the new class.  However, the positive effect of this is limited.  On your AMCAS application (the first step before the secondary applications), your science GPA will be computed using ALL science courses, so the C+ will be factored in. 

Vet School Requirements

Question:  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?

Answer:  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.