Applying to Medical School

While the majority of students interested in medical school plan to complete premedical requirements during college and start the application process by the end of their junior or senior year, others take the necessary courses as postbaccalaureate students. Many students don't make the decision to pursue a career in medicine until after graduation. Applying after college does not put you at risk; in fact, many medical schools say they appreciate the maturity of older applicants.

If you are a current applicant for the 2017 cycle or if you an alumni planning to apply to a future cycle, please subscribe to the OCS Medical School Applicant Listserv using a Harvard.edu address (college, post, or alumni.harvard.edu)

There are two timelines to consider, depending on when you plan to apply to and attend medical school:

Senior Applicants
Attending medical school directly after graduation; applying the summer after junior year.

Alumni Applicants
Taking a year off before med school; applying the summer after senior year. Many Harvard alumni/ae choose to take more than one year off before entering medical school, so the timeline should be adjusted accordingly.

Freshman Year

  • Review the Premedical Information for Students booklet, which provides an overview of academic requirements and dispels some pervasive premed myths.
  • Read the weekly “This Week at OCS" email newsletter and choose to receive “Health and Med” updates.
  • Begin to identify possible sites for volunteering in the health field, e.g. hospitals, community clinics, nursing homes, HIV clinics, etc.
  • Get involved in the campus and Cambridge communities.
  • Get to know your faculty - attend office hours, invite them to dinner, etc.
  • Sketch out a tentative timeline for completing premedical requirements.
  • Seek out help and advice from faculty, student, and/or OCS advisers.
  • Attend a Pre-Health 101 workshop.
  • Attend workshops in the Gaining Traction in Pre-Health Series.

Sophomore Year 

  • Attend medical and other health-related programs at OCS and in your House.
  • Discuss your interest in medicine with friends and others on campus.
  • Participate in service organizations and campus activities.
  • Refine extracurricular interests whether or not they are medically relevant.
  • Continue gaining healthcare experience.
  • Continue meeting with faculty. Consider asking for a recommendation letter.
  • Think about what you might like to do during the summer.
  • Attend some medical school admissions information sessions on campus.
  • Attend workshops in the Gaining Traction in Pre-Health Series.

Junior Year (Senior Year for Alumni Applicants)

Fall term

  • Begin Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) preparation (MCAT calendar).
  • Make an appointment to speak with one of the Resident Premedical Tutors on the Premedical Committee in your House.
  • Attend pre-applicant meeting and/or other programs for upcoming applicants arranged by your House Premed Committee.
  • Review House deadlines.
  • Attend OCS workshop on Medical School Application Process (pdf).

Spring term

Summer

  • Complete MCAT by June.
  • Complete AMCAS application by the middle of June.
  • Receive and complete secondary applications for individual med schools with no longer than two-week turnaround. (July/August)
  • House Premedical Committee letters are sent to all medical schools by August 15 provided you have adhered to House deadlines.

Senior Year (Post-Grad Year for Alumni Applicants)

Fall term

  • Confirm with medical schools that your application is complete. (September)
  • Prepare for medical school interviews:
    • Attend a Medical School Interview workshop.
    • Keep up with current issues in medicine.
    • Schedule a mock interview with your House.
    • Practice interview questions with friends/family.
    • Contact alumni/ae at the medical schools for further information.
    • Attend medical school visits on campus.
  • Receive invitations to interview. (August through February)
  • Travel to interviews. (September through March)

Spring term

  • Stay in touch with House Premedical Tutor regarding status of application.
  • Apply for financial aid.
  • Be aware of the last date to hold multiple acceptance offers (April 30)
  • If on waiting list(s), keep in touch with medical schools.
  • Register for your first day of medical school!

Apply for AAMC Fee Assistance Program (FAP) prior to MCAT. (if eligible).

As an alumna/us who graduated fewer than five years ago, you may continue to take advantage of the many resources available to you at OCS (workshops, premed/pre-health drop ins, and individual counseling appointments). If you are no longer in the Cambridge area or are abroad, phone or Skype appointments with a premedical adviser can be arranged. If you have been out longer than five years, please contact the OCS front desk to arrange for a single courtesy advising appointment.

If you are planning to apply to medical or dental school soon, please contact your House Premedical Committee as soon as possible, preferably by early spring of your application year, for assistance with the process. The House Premedical Committee will write House letters of support for alumni up to five years post graduation. However, at the discretion of the House Faculty Dean, the number of years post graduation may, at times, be extended. Applicants should be ready to submit their AMCAS application by mid-June the year prior to matriculation at medical school. AMCAS processing and verification can take up to six weeks for those applicants who submit AMCAS later in the summer or early fall, significantly delaying consideration of their application.

 

If you are considering other pre-health professions such as nursing, physician assistant, physical therapy, pharmacy, optometry, or midwifery, please make an appointment with the OCS Premedical and Health Careers advisers.

A significant number of students take postbaccalaureate coursework before entering medical school. There are many types of postbaccalaureate programs, but they generally fall into two main categories: “career changer” and “enhancement” programs. The target population of these two programs differs. A “career changer” program is geared toward students who have completed few or no premed science requirements, whereas an “enhancement” program targets students who have completed all or most of their required science courses, but are advised to take additional science courses to strengthen their GPA. 

Many Harvard alumni choose to enroll in the courses offered at the Harvard Extension School. This is an excellent option for “career changers” as well as students who seek to enhance their academic record and GPA. Harvard alumni who do not plan to apply for a federal education loan do not need to apply to the Extension School’s Health Careers Program, but may simply enroll in the individual courses they need while working with the OCS Premed and Health Careers advisers and their House Premedical Committee. Alumni who do wish to be eligible for a federal loan to help cover the tuition cost of their Harvard Extension School courses or who wish to receive other benefits of the program such as access to the Harvard libraries should apply to the Health Careers Program. Like alumni who enroll in individual courses only, alumni accepted to the Health Careers Program (and who are less than five years post graduation) are advised to seek premedical advising from the OCS Premed and Health Careers advisers and their House Premedical Committee. Ordinarily, the House will write a Committee Letter for alumni in this situation.

Please review the following resource page for postbaccalaureate information, a glossary and FAQs developed by the National Association of Advisors in the Health Professions.

How can I connect with Harvard Extension students?

The Harvard Extension Pre-Health Society(HEPS) is a student-run organization that supports students on the pre-med track at Harvard Extension through advising, events, and networking. Their website highlights paid and volunteer opportunities, guest speakers, medical school visits, and forums for students to discuss the physics, chemistry, and biology classes offered.

How do postbaccalaureate students afford to take classes?

Postbaccalaureate courses are often offered in the evening, allowing students to work during the day. Some universities offer tuition assistance to employees, encouraging staff members to enroll in courses for very low fees. For example, Harvard University offers an exceptional Tuition Assistance Plan (TAP). Eligible employees can enroll in Harvard Extension courses for just $40/semester. The AAMC also provides information on how to finance a postbaccalaureate program.

How can I connect with recent Harvard alumni who have applied and enrolled in postbac programs?

See a list of postbac alumni on the OCS iSite (Harvard PIN or Harvard Alumni login required).

Postbaccalaureate Career-Changers

Career-changer programs are typically designed for students with little or no science background, who have completed none (or only one or two) of the science course requirements. These programs can vary in their degree of structure, ranging from a certificate program with a set list of courses and pre-professional internships to a self-study continuing education program.

Things to consider when choosing a career-changer program:

  • Structure and access to courses (including electives outside of the premed core requirements)
  • Size of program
  • Cost and financial aid 
  • Individualized advising (by whom) and academic support
  • Workshops, programming, alumni contact
  • Internships/volunteer/research opportunities
  • MCAT support
  • Committee letter
  • Linkage arrangements with medical schools
  • Postbac student culture

Syracuse University provides a curated list of postbaccalaureate programs for career changers. 

See a full listing of Career Changer Programs maintained by the American Association of Medical Colleges.

Postbaccalaureate Academic Record Enhancement

Academic record enhancement coursework is targeted to those students right out of college who have already decided that medical school is their primary goal, but whose academic performance and/or pre-professional preparation requires additional effort in order for these students to be competitive for medical school admission.

Examples of such students include, but are not limited to:

  • Students with a lack of clinical exposure and experience
  • MCAT scores with any section below a 9
  • Science and overall GPAs below 3.30
  • Students who experienced personal illness or other issues during the undergraduate career, which impacted GPA negatively
  • Students who elected to use AP credits in lieu of several of their intro-level science courses and achieved mediocre grades in the more advanced science courses taken in their first year of college but achieved an upward trend in their grades later in their career 

Special Master’s Programs

Students with cumulative undergraduate GPAs above 3.0 and MCAT scores above a 501 may want to consider a special master’s postbaccalaureate graduate program in which students take actual medical school courses and are graded in relation to the University’s own medical school students. This allows postbac students to demonstrate their ability to perform well in a rigorous medical school program. A true special master’s post-baccalaureate program is one that is affiliated with a medical school and whose curriculum overlaps with the medical school curriculum. An example of a true special master’s program is the Interdepartmental Medical Science (IMS) program offered at Drexel University College of Medicine. Students take the same medical school courses and exams as those taken by the school’s MD program students. Other programs listed as special master’s programs offer evening courses taught by medical school professors, and students are not graded on the same curve or by the same standards as those applied to the school’s MD students.

Students whose cumulative GPA is below 3.30, but who have a strong upward trend in GPA over the course of their undergraduate career may apply to medical school in the summer preceding the start of a special master’s program. These students will need to update the medical schools to which they are applying with their master’s program grades during the course of the application cycle.

However, many students with weaker credentials are better served by completing additional coursework or a full postbaccalaureate program prior to applying to medical school.

Syracuse University provides a curated list of postbaccalaureate programs for academic record enhancers. See the sections titled “Academic Record Enhancers” and “Masters/Advanced Programs.”

See the full listing of Career Enhancer Programs maintained by the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC).

Opportunities for Economically or Educationally Disadvantaged Students and Those Belonging to Groups Underrepresented in Medicine (URM)

Special programs for disadvantaged or under-resourced students exist. Although URMs account for about 25 percent of the US population, they account for a substantially smaller percentage of practicing physicians. In order to address this imbalance, numerous postbaccalaureate programs have been developed that assist disadvantaged students with gaining acceptance to medical school. These students are self-described as disadvantaged applicants using AAMC criteria. Eligible students typically matriculate into these specially designed programs with lower cumulative GPAs and MCAT scores. These programs for disadvantaged or underrepresented students generally fall into two categories: 

  • Programs at medical or other health professional schools that invite only students from their prospective applicant pools to apply. Some of these programs offer conditional acceptance to the medical school upon completion of the program with a certain GPA and MCAT score.
  • Programs to which students may apply directly, regardless of their application status with the health professional school with which the program is associated. 

Some medical schools offer summer programs which expose students to a limited science tutorial program in which they must attain a certain level of proficiency before they can be considered for acceptance to the medical school. Other schools accept students into their MD class, but require a summer enrichment program to facilitate the student’s transition to medical school. In some instances student performance may dictate that the accepted applicant be placed in a decelerated program (e.g., the first year of medical school courses may be taken over a two-year period).

Syracuse University provides a curated list of postbaccalaureate programs specifically designed for groups underrepresented in medicine or otherwise disadvantaged. See the section titled “Groups Underrepresented in Medicine/Economically Disadvantaged Students.”

MEDPATH at Ohio State University College of Medicine aims to increase the number of URM students and/or students from economically and/or educationally disadvantaged backgrounds who graduate from medical school. The OSU College of Medicine Admissions Committee refers rejected applicants who show potential but need additional help in developing skills that will help them be more successful in medical school to the program. Conditional acceptance is awarded following the successful completion of the program.

The Drexel Pathway to Medicine program offers conditional acceptance to Drexel Med School and is open for direct applications by URMs. (They also invite applicants rejected from Drexel Med to apply.)

A great program that does not require prior application and rejection by a medical school is MEDPREP at Southern Illinois. While MEDPREP gives preference to Illinois residents, it also accepts out-of-state students. The program there is two years long, and students are more likely to get tuition waivers in the second year (you can read more about the financial aid policy at the MEDPREP website).

In addition to the programs for URMs on the Syracuse site, there are other similar programs:

The NAAHP provides information and links to dozens of research programs and fellowships for premedical and other pre-health students at universities and research centers across the country, including the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP)Community Based Dental Education, and numerous postbaccalaureate programs. Also see the NAAHP’s “Addressing Diversity” and “Supporting Diversity” resource pages.

See the full listing of postbaccalaureate programs designed for economically or educationally disadvantaged students as well as for groups underrepresented or in medicine maintained by the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC).