Commonly Asked Questions: The Pre-Med Edition

Category Student Voices


Halie Class of Alumni
Authored on March 02, 2015


As someone who came into college with only a vague idea of what “applying to medical school” entailed and no clue how to get there (or even that I wanted to), the whole idea of being a “pre-med” was pretty daunting.

However, it’s not as scary as I thought! Here are a few questions that I had coming in, and what my experiences have taught me so far.

First of all, what does being ‘pre-med’ actually mean?

Being “pre-med” simply means that you are at least considering applying to medical school in the future. There is no “pre-med concentration” at Harvard, and anyone who wants to can fulfill the requirements and apply to medical school. 

Do I have to know that I’m pre-med right away?

Definitely not! Many students come into freshman year thinking that they want to be pre-med and change their minds, and others come in having no desire to be pre-med and end up at medical school a few years later. I had no idea that I wanted to be pre-med when I came into college—with figuring out rooming, classes, and everything else, the idea of being “pre-med” was practically off my radar. And that’s okay! I started thinking about it toward the second half of my freshman year, and while I’ve been enjoying it so far, I still have time to change my mind at any point.

Is there a specific concentration/major you have to be in?

Nope! Like I said, there is no “pre-med concentration” at Harvard. Not only that, but you also do not have to even pick a concentration in the sciences. I know pre-med students concentrating in English, Computer Science, and Folklore & Mythology, and they are still able to fit all of the requirements in. At Harvard, comparable students in the humanities vs. the sciences do not have different acceptance rates into medical schools, so there is no reason not to study things you enjoy.

What classes do you have to take?

Medical schools all have pretty similar requirements for what classes they expect you to take. Very generally, you need to have a certain number of courses (and labs) in biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, math, biochemistry, and English. At Harvard, the pre-med program has compiled a list of the specific classes that can be taken that fulfill these requirements for medical schools. I’ve found it very manageable to balance these classes in with my concentration requirements and the other classes I’m taking. Also, most of these classes are ones that I was planning on taking anyway!

student wearing goggles

Look how happy organic chemistry makes me!

This sounds confusing—who helps you figure out what you’re doing?

You’re not in this alone! There are TONS of resources available, even if you are only kind of considering the pre-medical track. First you have the Mignone Center for Career Success (MCS): one-stop shopping for pre-med advice. MCS holds Pre-Med 101 info sessions throughout the year, drop-in pre-med advising hours, scheduled appointments, and a plethora of resources for finding internships, shadowing experiences, etc. You also have advisors, and when you officially declare yourself as “pre-med” you are assigned a pre-med advisor in your House to guide you through the process. This is also the case if you decide to apply to medical school after you graduate from college—the pre-med advisors from your House will still help through it. Finally, there are also student groups on campus (i.e. the Harvard Pre-Medical Society) that host events and send along emails with different medicine-related opportunities.

Are all pre-meds super scary and intense?

I was actually a bit worried about this, but I’m pleased to say that pre-med students are (generally) not scary at all. Yes, we all get a bit stressed out when there’s an organic chemistry midterm coming up—but honestly, who wouldn’t?!

group of students selfie style

Come on, do we look scary?

Do you like being pre-med?

So far, so good! I’ve enjoyed the classes so far, and with the little bit of shadowing I’ve been able to able to do, being a doctor seems like a pretty cool job. While I still have a lot of decisions to make about whether this is the right path for me, I know that there are lots of people there to support me along the way. We’ll see how it goes!

Halie Class of Alumni