Applying to Be a Medical Student – A Definitive Guide

Find Graduate Programs
medical student

Becoming a medical student could be transformative journey that typically requires dedication, resilience, and meticulous planning. The process of applying to medical school may be both exciting and overwhelming, but with the right strategy, you could navigate the admissions process successfully.

This guide will provide you with everything you need to know about applying to medical school—from taking the MCAT to paying tuition and exploring specializations within the field.

Medical School Requirements Explained

The requirements to be admitted to medical school may vary based on the university itself as well as the type of medical school program you are considering. However, there are some consistent medical school requirements you need to fulfill, regardless of the school. Prospective medical students will need to have completed specific, relevant coursework during their undergraduate program as well as take the MCAT exam.

What is the MCAT?

The Medical College Admissions Test, or MCAT exam, is a standardized entrance exam that is required by all United States medical schools. The MCAT is designed to be a challenging, comprehensive exam, ensuring that all students who are able to pass the exam are prepared to enter medical school. Known for its rigorous curriculum and exhaustive coursework, it serves as a consistent benchmark to verify the qualifications, knowledge, and understanding of the applicants.

There are four sections in the MCAT:

  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

In order to prepare for the MCAT, prospective medical school students should pursue an undergraduate degree program that includes relevant coursework.

What classes are required for medical school?

If you would like to become a medical student, your journey actually begins in undergraduate school. While no specific undergrad degree is required to apply to med school, it‘s important to select a major and degree program that could adequately prepare you for medical school.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges AAMC, in 2023–24 the most common undergraduate degrees for students who were accepted to med school were biological sciences, physical sciences, social sciences, specialized health sciences, and humanities. (Note, however, that the second largest category was “other.”)

Regardless of your major, however, you need to make sure that you take certain core science classes—the AAMC publishes a list of requirements for each medical school in the country. These typically include biology, biochemistry, physics, behavioral sciences, and college mathematics. If you are already interested in a specialization, you can begin to explore that topic in undergraduate school as well.

How long is medical school?

Medical school typically lasts 4 years. According to the AAMC, it can be broken down into two distinct phases:

  • Pre-clinical Phase—The first 2 years of medical school are considered to be the pre-clinical phase, which is when you will develop a scientific foundation and in-depth understanding of medical practice. Courses that are required as part of the pre-clinical phase may vary from one university to the next, but they could include molecular science, biological science, immunology, infection, and evidence-based care.
  • Clinical Phase—The final 2 years of medical school are known as the clinical phase, which is when you, as a medical student, begin to work hands-on with patients under the supervision of other doctors and physicians. During the clinical phase, you will rotate among different specialties and units in order to receive hands-on training in various medical situations.

Knowing what will be required of you in medical school is only the first step toward pursuing your career as a doctor. You also need to reflect on what it means to be a doctor and what will be required of you in the future.

Tips for Applying to Med School

Applying to medical school is a multifaceted process that requires careful planning and attention to detail. Here are some tips that could help you navigate the application process successfully.

  1. Start early: Begin the preparation process early, ideally during your undergraduate years. Ensure you complete the necessary prerequisite courses, gain relevant clinical experience, and engage in extracurricular activities that showcase your commitment to healthcare.
  2. Research medical schools: Thoroughly research different medical schools to find those that align with your goals, values, and preferred learning environment. Tailor your application to highlight why you are a good fit for each specific program.
  3. Apply to many schools: Many guidelines suggest that you should apply to between 20 and 30 schools.
  4. Be well-rounded: While academic achievements are crucial, medical schools also value well-rounded individuals. Participate in extracurricular activities, community service, and leadership roles to demonstrate your ability to balance academics with other responsibilities.
  5. Prepare for interviews: If invited for interviews, be well-prepared. Practice common interview questions, research each medical school, and be ready to discuss your motivations for pursuing a medical career. Use the interview as an opportunity to showcase your interpersonal skills and professionalism.
  6. Stay organized: Keep track of application deadlines, requirements for each medical school, and any additional materials needed. Organization is key to ensuring that your application is complete and submitted on time.
medical student

Share This Infographic On Your Site

<a href="">Tips for Applying to Medical School</a><strong>Courtesy of</strong></p><a href=""><img alt="medical student" border="0" src="" /></a>

What It Takes to Become a Doctor

Becoming a doctor is more than just pursuing a professional opportunity—it’s the assumption of a lifestyle. Doctors are some of the most dedicated and devoted professionals in the modern world, and pursuing a career as a doctor requires a significant effort of your time and resources.

How many years does it take to become a doctor?

The path toward a career a doctor can be long and challenging, so it’s important for you to know what the timeline is like before you begin medical school.

Depending on the specialization that you choose to pursue, it could take anywhere from 10 to 14 years to become a doctor. Here is a typical timeline for aspiring doctors:

  • 4 years—Undergraduate School
  • 4 years—Medical School
  • 3-9 years—Residency/internship

Further specialization may require additional training through a medical fellowship, which could increase the time it takes for you to become a doctor. Fellowships typically last between 1 and 2 years, depending on the specialty area.

How much does med school cost?

In addition to devoting your time to training and education, you also will need to make a significant financial investment in order to pursue a career as a doctor. The average cost of medical school in the United States could range from $150,000 to $250,000+, with costs projected to keep going up. The exact cost of medical school, however, will vary significantly based on the location of the school (whether it’s in your own state) and whether it is a private or public university.

While medical school is expensive, it’s important to recognize that there are resources available to help offset the cost of your education. Many medical students take out federal loans in order to finance their education, and there also are scholarships and other types of financial aid available to students who may qualify based on income or other demographic information.

  • Earn your degree from a university with a “Whole Human Education” approach that focuses on assisting you in all aspects of your education: academic, emotional, career, financial, and family.
  • Choose from 75+ programs: Whether you’re starting fresh or seeking advancement, our career-focused programs are designed to help you make an impact in your chosen field.
  • National University is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).
  • Award-winning programs created to help you succeed.
  • A quality education doesn’t have to be expensive. Earn an accredited degree for less.
  • Programs start monthly – Apply free this week! 

How Hard Is It to Become a Doctor?

The experience of medical school could feel very similar to doctoring—it typically requires long hours, involves emotionally-draining days, and might be defined by stressful, unexpected moments. However, if becoming a doctor is your dream, the hard work and effort should pay off. Choosing a medical school that aligns with your goals and preparing accordingly during your time as a medical student could leave you feeling ready for whatever challenges lie ahead in your years as a doctor.

Attending medical school—what you might expect

As a medical student, you will probably find that your studies and work are all-encompassing, leaving little time for anything else. The pressure may be intense, the long hours draining—but your time at medical school is geared to uniquely prepare you for the rigors of working as a doctor.

According to the AAMC, first-year medical students may spend several hours per day studying, with those hours increasing exponentially during exam periods. It’s recommended that first-year students begin to find a social network within the medical school in order to enjoy a sense of belonging and support during this strenuous time. As the responsibilities increase throughout the next several years, medical students often find that they spend less time behind the pages of a book and more time working with patients or completing hands-on work in the lab.

Choosing to specialize allows you to explore your niche interests and passions within the field of medicine. Many medical students opt to specialize as a way of personalizing their career path, allowing them to focus on a subset of patients and provide them with the care that they require.

Many medical students choose a specialization at the end of their third year of medical school. As they select their specialization, they might weigh a variety of factors, including personal interest, ability to strike a work/life balance, fellowship training options, and income expectations.

Do medical students get paid during a residency?

During medical school itself, students do not get paid to practice medicine. If they require income to support themselves, they need to pursue outside work. During residency, however, students do earn a paycheck.

Residency begins after your fourth year of medical school, when you are matched to a program through the National Resident Matching Program. The NRMP prides itself on using an algorithm that is both equitable and transparent, ensuring that residents are matched with a program that interests them and allows them to pursue their chosen specialization.

Residency salaries vary depending on location, employer, and specialty, but tend to average around $60,000 per year, with a raise each year of residency. Salaries also typically include benefits such as health insurance and paid time off.


Medical school is meant to be a challenging, invigorating experience in order to prepare students for life as a doctor. Knowing that you have what it takes to be admitted to medical school and being aware of the personal and financial commitments involved could turn you into a world-class medical student.

Consider these online medical degree programs, and apply to medical school today.

Sponsored Result

Study anywhere. Study any time.

Join the millions earning their degrees online!

32.6% of graduate students were enrolled exclusively in online courses in 2019*.