Berkeley offers excellent undergraduate preparation for medical and other health-related professional schools and sends an impressive number of students on to these graduate
programs each year.
Cal, like most universities, does not offer a specific “pre-med” major. Few colleges in the United States do, because there is no specific major required for admission to medical or other healthrelated schools. All students obtain a bachelor’s degree before admission to medical school. For students seeking admission to dentistry, veterinary medicine, optometry, and other healthrelated graduate programs, many have received a bachelor’s degree prior to admission.
What should I major in at Berkeley, if I want to go to medical school?
There is no preferred pre-med major. Every year students with majors in the social sciences, humanities, chemistry and engineering are accepted to medical school from Berkeley. If you want to study biology at Berkeley, you can choose from more than 25 areas of specialization in the biological sciences, such as Molecular Environmental Biology, Genetics and Plant Biology, or Nutritional Sciences in the College of Natural Resources. Chemical Biology in the College of Chemistry and majors in the Department of Integrative Biology or the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology in the College of Letters and Science offer more options.
While any undergraduate major is acceptable, you must fulfill the following requirements to prepare for medical school:
- two years of chemistry (general and organic) with lab
- one year of physics with lab
- at least one year of general biology with lab
Some medical and other health professional schools also require some or all of the following courses:
- calculus or other college-level mathematics
- advanced biological science and/or biochemistry
We recommend that you check with the schools to which you intend to apply by reading specific school websites or reviewing the Medical School Admission Requirements at aamc.org or in the Career Center Info Lab at 2111 Bancroft Way, once you have settled into your first semester at Cal. The most important thing for you to do is to complete the required preparatory course work in college and to maintain a high GPA. (Note that AP credits will not satisfy prerequisites at most medical schools.) Select an academic major that interests you and allows flexibility in taking the required pre-med courses.
What should I do when I’m not in class?
One option is to experience the health care environment in a paid or volunteer position during college. Or you could actively engage in pursuits that support your interests and talents and demonstrate your strong leadership skills (e.g., in community service, the arts, or athletics).
Many Berkeley students who are admitted to medical school also have done research during their undergraduate years at Cal. The campus offers a variety of ways to get involved in undergraduate research, including the Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program. Students also may contact professors directly and ask to join their research projects. The opportunity to perform research as an undergraduate is one of the advantages of enrolling at Berkeley.
Does Berkeley have a medical school?
Berkeley does not have a medical school on campus, but that has no bearing on your admission to medical school. Large numbers of Berkeley students enter medical schools all over the United States each year.
The campus has a limited medical program with UC San Francisco through its graduate program in health and medical sciences. Each year a small number of graduate students are simultaneously enrolled on the Berkeley and San Francisco campuses where they complete the five-year Joint Medical Program earning a M.S. in Health and Medical Sciences from UC Berkeley and a M.D. from UC San Francisco. The Joint Medical Program has more information.
Does it make a difference where I complete my academic preparation for medical or other health-related schools?
The quality and reputation of the college or university from which you graduate can play a role in your acceptance to a medical school. The high quality of Berkeley students and the campus’ worldwide academic reputation are major factors in the success rate of Cal’s applicants to medical school. Many attend UC and other California medical schools as well as out-of-state private schools.
Berkeley’s acceptance rate is consistently higher than the national average. Medical school acceptance statistics for Berkeley graduates may be viewed on the Career Center’s website. Note that when comparing Berkeley’s acceptance rates with those from other schools, not all schools compute their average in the same fashion.
What do medical schools look for in applicants?
Medical schools look at a number of factors when selecting their students:
- College GPA. This is an important factor. Science and non-science grades are considered separately. Year-by-year improvement trends and recent grades are very important. An excessive number of courses taken passed/not passed could work against you because medical schools cannot interpret your accomplishment accurately. Many medical school admissions officers assume that a GPA wouldbe lower if all courses had been taken for a grade.
- The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). Before taking the MCAT, you should have completed a year of college courses in each of the following subjects:
• general biology
• general chemistry
• organic chemistry
Successful applicants plan for a semester or summer to study for the MCAT after these courses are completed. The test has four sections: Verbal Reasoning, Physical Sciences, Writing Sample, and Biological Sciences. Information on the MCAT can be found on the AAMC site. (link is external)
- Personal insight questions and/or personal interview. This is an opportunity to inform the school of factors not reflected in your GPA or your application. Consequently, it is important to have a clear sense of your motivation and your goals and to articulate them effectively.
- Letters of recommendation. These should be from individuals who know you well and can write knowledgeably about you. Get to know several professors early in your college career so they can provide a compelling recommendation on your behalf.
- Motivation. Since medical school admissions officers often look for evidence of genuine concern for others, as well as personal interest and knowledge about the health field, prior experience—either paid or voluntary—can be crucial in the selection process. Research is not necessary for the successful applicant; exposure to the medical work environment is required.
How competitive is admission to medical schools?
Interest in careers in medicine remains high. This is also true of other medical-related fields, making admission to all health profession schools very competitive. As a result, you should consider and prepare for an alternate career or continued study.
Does Berkeley prepare students to become veterinarians?
Yes, Cal graduates do well in gaining admission to veterinary schools such as the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis. You do not need to complete your undergraduate work on a campus with a veterinary school. Requirements vary from institution to institution so check school information well in advance of applying.
Required undergraduate preparation in science usually includes:
- two years of chemistry
- one year of physics
- one year of biology
- college-level calculus or statistics
Other requirements usually include:
- general humanities
- social sciences
Advanced courses which are often required before entry include:
- animal physiology
- microbiology or immunology
- animal behavior
Professional schools usually require practical experience, either through volunteer or paid employment.
What other professional health programs does the Berkeley campus offer?
At the undergraduate level, a four-year program in nutritional science is available through the College of Natural Resources, which leads to a B.S. degree and ultimately to professional accreditation as a dietitian.
The Graduate School of Public Health offers a wide range of both academic and professional programs related to public health concerns. The School of Optometry offers a postbaccalaureate four-year professional degree program.
How can I get help in preparing and applying for medical school and other health professional programs?
Berkeley’s Career Center maintains a variety of reference materials and catalogs from medical and other health-related programs throughout the United States. It also provides a letter of recommendation service, holds
workshops on preparing and applying for medical and health-related programs, and facilitates recruitment visits with representatives from graduate and professional schools.
If you are a pre-med student, you should register for the Career Center’s Health and Medicine Careermail list to make certain you have the essential information to keep on track.
Association of American Medical Colleges (link is external)
American Medical Student Association (link is external)
Student Doctor Network (link is external)
Not every medical school applicant is a fresh-faced college undergraduate who has spent the past four years in a lab.
More and more people are applying to medical school later in life, perhaps after starting a family, attending graduate school, or pursuing another career. Here are our expert tips for navigating med school admissions as a non-traditional applicant.
Do med schools prefer traditional students over non-traditional students?
If you are an older applicant wondering just how the application process treats nontraditional students, keep in mind that medical schools today admit a wide variety of applicants with special talents and backgrounds. Their aim is to bring true diversity to the average modern entering class of medical school students, making the word “nontraditional” less relevant. Students often take a year or two off from academics for other pursuits, stay an extra year at their undergraduate university to obtain more education, or work a while before applying. Some even take extended time off to raise a family, or switch careers after trying other professions.
Our Top Tips for Non-Traditional Applicants
1. Strengthen Your Application with Post–Bacc Training
All medical schools require a minimum level of science preparation that includes approximately one year each of biology, chemistry, organic chemistry and physics. Many universities offer post-baccalaureate programs for students who need to fulfill pre-med requirements. Post-bacc programs vary in cost, duration and selectivity of admissions.
Even if you fulfilled these requirements in college, taking a refresher course in biology or chemistry can strengthen your application. Most medical schools advise nontraditional applicants to demonstrate success in recent coursework.
2. Get Great Letters of Recommendation
Post bacc programs can also be helpful for nontraditional students who have lost contact with some of their professors and need med school recommendation letters. Post-bacc recs shouldn’t completely replace faculty letters from your undergraduate institution, though. If it’s been a while, make sure you set up an appointment with your potential recommender so that you can catch them up on your career and medical school goals (come prepared with a resume and copy of your personal statement!). Some schools will even accept letters from your employment as a replacement for one academic letter.
3. Show Off Your Unique Skills
As a nontraditional applicant, you have unique experiences and skills. These will help you differentiate yourself from other applicants and can be an important strength. Your job is to prove that your choice to attend medical school is a thoroughly considered one. Even if your resume is impressive in other areas, you should add some medical-related volunteer work to show that you're committed to medicine and understand what practicing it is really like. Look into volunteer programs at health clinics, or find a part-time position as an EMT or nurse's aid.
Despite recognizing the value of nontraditional students, admissions committees may be skeptical of applicants embarking on their second or third career. You can address this concern in your personal statement and interviews by being very specific about how your life experiences have led you to pursue medicine.
4. Make Time for MCAT Prep
A competitive MCAT score is important for all applicants but may be especially so for non-traditional ones. Over the years, colleges and universities have made changes to grading scales and curricular requirements. Therefore, your GPA might not be comparable to that if someone who graduated from the same school more recently. Grades in post-bacc courses are important, but there is wide variation in grading policies between regular undergraduate courses and those same courses within post-bacc programs. The benefit of the MCAT is that it is standardized, supposedly allowing admissions committee to compare the aptitude of people with different backgrounds. Take an MCAT practice test to guage your strengths and weaknesses before choosing the right MCAT prep option for you.
5. Curate a Smart Application List
Research what accommodations your prospective schools make for nontraditional applicants and how many older students are enrolled. If you have a spouse and/or children, ask to be put in contact with students in similar situations. Many medical schools have begun to develop support programs for families of nontraditional students.
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