Before the MCAT, there is your pre-med GPA. Despite your diligent research, stellar preparation, and unique extracurricular activities, the first thing on your application medical schools will look at is your name; the second thing is your grades.
So, what grades do you need to be accepted to medical schools in the U.S. and Canada? This is easy to find out. Just check out MCAT Scores for the average GPAs and MCAT scores that U.S. and Canadian medical schools find acceptable. Next, you must give serious consideration to your undergraduate course of study as well as how you can maintain academic coherence.
You have the liberty to choose any undergraduate major you please. Indeed, pre-med students majoring in biology, economics, foreign language, or psychology all essentially have the same opportunity for admission provided they meet each medical school’s required prerequisites. Every year, many students select biochemistry or physiology as their major not because they love the coursework, but because they think that particular program will improve their chances of acceptance to medical school.
This could not be further from the truth! As a matter of fact, the medical student who performs best in anatomy in medical school tends to be the pre-med student who never studied anatomy in undergraduate school. It works out this way because while the medical student who studied anatomy in undergraduate school is concentrating on other medical courses, the novice is learning anatomy at an exponential rate. Again, medical schools are more interested in the grade you earned in a course than the course itself.
Long story short, choose the course of study that you love or would love to learn more about. If that is biochemistry, then go for it! If it is architecture, business, or art, then by all means go for that. Stretch your mind, explore electives, and enjoy the learning process. Doing these things will strengthen your interests and help you perform optimally. Likewise, broadening your knowledge and scope of experiences will make you a more competitive, medical school applicant.
As a rule, it will work to your advantage to maintain yourself as a full-time student. Since the definition of “full-time” varies among medical schools, clarify this with medical schools before selecting your course of study. Part-time students should also clarify conditions of eligibility with individual medical schools. At the same time, complete the expected number of credits during the prescribed time period even if it means taking summer courses. Be aware that a few medical schools will accept credits received for summer courses, but will not include those grades in your overall GPA for admission.
Either way, your course selections must be coherent, logical, and evident. If you think your academic performance leaves any room for question, then explain those gaps in your personal statement or secondary application essays. Make sure not to apologize for the courses you studied. Instead, emphasize the material you learned, the skills you developed, and how they all apply to medicine.
Once you ensure that your coursework fulfills all the basic academic requirements for medical school, then you can take other courses without doubt or hesitation. Remember that it is OKAY to be different -- everybody is! At this very moment, there are medical students who took time off from school, had a horrible undergraduate academic year, changed majors, retook the MCAT exam, completed two bachelor degrees, earned a master’s or doctorate, pursued another career before medical school, etc. So, just know that medical schools have designed their admissions requirements to allow for considerable diversity in the applicant pool -- and that includes you.