What's the best major for medicine?

There is no formal “pre-med” major at the College of Charleston. Medical schools are interested in broadly educated students who have developed excellent written and oral communication skills, possess well-developed critical thinking skills, are enthusiastic, and are life-long learners. Understanding the behavioral aspects of medicine is just as important as understanding the science.

Your major will not determine your success in applying to medical school. Your interests should determine your choice of major. Majoring in an area that you enjoy is more likely to lead to academic success than pursuing a field for which you have little enthusiasm. Regardless of your major, it is necessary to demonstrate a mastery of science; proficiency in other areas will not compensate for a lack of science ability.

The benefits of choosing to major in one of the sciences are that many of the courses required to prepare for clinical medical careers and the associated standardized tests, such as the MCAT, can be satisfied within a science degree. Therefore, a student can prepare for medical school, while also satisfying degree requirements, without taking a number of additional courses.

Undergraduate Preparation  

Pre-requisite Courses

Complete course descriptions are available in the Undergraduate Catalog.

The minimum science course work necessary for preparing for medical school and the MCAT includes two semesters each of general biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics. These courses should be completed no later than the end of your junior year so that you will be prepared for the MCAT exam. The MCAT is now offered 22 times each year which allows students more flexibility as they prepare to apply to medical school. The courses at the College of Charleston that fulfill these requirements are:

General Biology

Biol 111 + Biol 111 Lab (4 SH)
Biol 112 + Biol 112 Lab (4 SH) 


HONS 151 + HONS 151L (4 SH)

HONS 152 + HONS 152L (4 SH)

General Chemistry Chem 111 + Chem 111 Lab (4 SH)
Chem 112 + Chem 112 Lab (4 SH)
Organic Chemistry Chem 231 + Chem 231 Lab (4 SH)
Chem 232 + Chem 232 Lab (4 SH)
Biochemistry  Chem 351 (3 SH)
Physics Phys 101 + Phys 101 Lab (4 SH)
Phys 102 + Phys 102 Lab (4 SH)


Phys 111 + Phys 111 Lab (4 SH)
Phys 112 + Phys 112 Lab (4 SH)

 Behaviorial Science

Psych 103 and Socy 101  (6 SH)

Medical school admission committees focus attention on CUM GPA, BCPM (science & math GPA), MCAT score and exposure to the clinical environment achieved through volunteer work, internships, shadowing or employment.

Each medical school determines its specific requirements for admissions.  These requirements can be found in the Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR), an official guide published by the Association of American Medical Colleges. Additional recommended electives for medical school are Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Microbiology, courses that expose students to Multi-cultural Diversity, Biomedical Ethics and Medical Terminology.

There are 4 medical schools in South Carolina, The Medical University of South Carolina; The University of South Carolina in Columbia; The University of South Carolina in Greenville SC and Edward via Virginia (VCOM) School of Osteopathic Medicine in Spartanburg SC. Up-to-date admissions requirements for each school can be found on their respective websites.

Tests and Application  

MCAT & Application Process

Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)

The MCAT is required by allopathic and osteopathic medical schools for admission. This standardized test is directed at core competancies based in the sciences and comprehensive skills in reading and writing. To do well on the MCAT students must have well developed critical thinking skills. Adequate preparation for this test is essential. A student should prepare to take the test only once however, it can be repeated if necessary. Most professional programs will consider only the highest or the most recent score. To adequately prepare for the MCAT, students must not only be knowledgeable about content, but must also be familiar with the test format and develop the resilience and stamina needed to concentrate for these marathon length exams. Most standardized tests have a deadline for applying that is about 6 weeks prior to the scheduled test date. Students must allow another 6 to 8 week for the test scores to be forwarded to the professional schools when determining when to take the test and apply to professional school.

The MCAT is offered only in a computerized format and is offered 22 times during the year. Applicants must register for this exam online and it will be administered  at their local Prometrics Testing Center. CofC offers our own MCAT Prep course every spring at a special discounted rate.

MCAT Testing Dates

A calendar of testing dates is maintained on the Medical College Admission Test section of the Association of American Medical Colleges web site. Along with the calendar are official procedures, guides and valuable tips for preparing and taking the exam.

Application Service (AMCAS & AACOMAS)

Centralized application services are used to apply to most allopathic (AMCAS) and osteopathic (AACOMAS) medical schools. Students who apply to any of the professional programs submit just one application through the service. The centralized service verifies the information provided on the application and submits the application to the professional schools designated by the applicant. The verification process may take up to 6 weeks and this time should be factored in when trying to meet application deadlines. Applying EARLY can significantly enhance chances of getting invited for an interview. Most professional schools require additional information – called a secondary or supplemental application – from the applicant once they receive the student’s application from the centralized service. Application advising and assistance are offered through Health Professions advising.

Specific information on deadlines, fees, and participating institutions can be found at these websites:

Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC)
American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS)
American Association of Colleges of Podiatric Medicine Application Service (AACPMAS)
American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS)


Design an Academic Plan


Fall Semester

Explore various majors and declare as early as possible. Because you will need to complete the 36 SH of sciences before you can take the MCAT it will be necessary to get your science courses underway as quickly as possible. As soon as you declare your major, you will be assigned an academic advisor within that department. Once you identify your interest in Pre-health you will be assigned a Pre-Health Advisor to support you on your path to medical school.

Make an appointment with your advisor to discuss professional goals and determine an academic game plan to ensure you will have taken all courses needed to prepare for standardized admissions tests in your field of interest by the time you take the exam (usually at the end of your junior year). More than 50 percent of students nationally are now taking a GAP year after graduation to gain additional clinical experience while interviewing for medical school.

As soon as you get settled into your classes, contact the Pre-professional Health Advisor, to make an advising appointment to discuss professional goals and discuss what the professional will want you to have completed by the time you're ready to apply.

Spring Semester

Make time to meet with your academic advisor to discuss your progress. Start or continue to search for shadowing and volunteer opportunities in your field of interest. Explore areas of community outreach to establish your humanitarian interests.

First Summer

Shadowing, working, or volunteering to gain insight into your career choice.


Fall Semester

Meet with your advisor to discuss your Spring schedule. Visit the Center for Student Learning and schedule a meeting with the Director to begin to learn about the MCAT Continue volunteer work in your field to whatever degree manageable during the academic year (Grades should always take priority)

Spring Semester

Discuss your academic progress with your advisor and adjust your academic plan, as needed. Meet with Pre-Health Professions Advisor to make review your progress and the next phase of preparation Explore career options and alternatives, if your GPA is not adequate or your career interests have changed. Sign up to take a free practice MCAT through Kaplan.

Second Summer

Work/volunteer to gain insight of your career choice. Explore available internship and research opportunities Get involved in the community


Fall Semester

Meet with your advisor to discuss Spring schedule. Get organized, order review booklets and practice tests to prepare for standardized exams. Explore various professional schools and determine to which ones you will apply.

Spring Semester

Discuss your academic progress with your major advisor. Meet with the Pre-Health advisor to determine if your GPA is competitive and whether or not this is the year you should apply to professional school. (Contact the Director of Health Professions Advising, Karen Eippert). Establish a Confidential File that will be used to create a Letter Packet to submit with your AMCAS application.

Collect materials needed to fill in application and start working on application essay. Apply and study for standardized admissions tests. Check the deadlines and do not miss them.

Practice, practice, practice taking the standardized admissions test. Take the standardized admissions test and request that scores be released to the College of Charleston, schools to which you are applying and the application service (if appropriate). Request letters of evaluation from faculty and health professionals who know you well. Make sure to provide each of them with a signed Faculty evaluation form (download PDF).

Third Summer

Continue to work/volunteer in your field of interest and community outreach projects. Complete your applications and submit early.  Early decision program applications must be submitted to the schools by August 1st. Complete your Confidential File.  Provide each of your evaluators with either a statement of intention or  a copy of your personal statement from your application. Talk to your Pre-health advisor about whether your standardized test score is competitive.


Fall Semester

Meet with your advisor.  Get a degree audit and apply for graduation. Make sure your Confidential File is complete and all your letters of evaluation have been submitted. Respond promptly to requests for secondary applications from each professional school. Prepare for interviews. Interview and wait. Search for sources of financial aid.

Spring Semester

Send updated transcripts directly to the professional schools to which you have applied. Wait for decisions. Be sure to let the chair of the Health Professions Committee know the final outcome. Discuss alternatives with your advisor. Meet with the chair of the Health Professions Committee to develop a strategy for reapplying, if necessary.

Letters of Recommendation  

Establishing a Confidential File

Learn more in this Princeton Review article.

Students who plan to apply to Dental, Medical, Optometry, Osteopathic, Podiatry or Veterinary Schools are encouraged to establish a confidential file with the College’s Pre-Professional Health Advisor. It is extremely important that all materials be submitted in a timely manner. Your file should be complete by the start of your academic senior year (and no later than July 1st for those applying to an early decision program). It is to your advantage to complete the application process as soon as possible, in particular obtaining your confidential letters of evaluation.

Some medical schools request that you submit letters from specific individuals, such as, science professors or a clinical practitioner. These individuals should be people who know you well. Early in your undergraduate experience it is adviseable to begin to establish and build relationships that can lead to strong letters of recommendation.

These letters take time to write, so make sure to allow plenty of time for your evaluators to write and submit your letter.

Online Resources  

Website for Health Professions Students

Comprehensive medical school information

Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC)

Medical School Admission Test: MCAT

Centralized Application Services
  • American Assoc. of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine: AACOMAS
  • American Association of Colleges of Podiatric Medicine: AACPMAS
  • American Medical College: AMCAS

             Financial Aid 

            Medical Associations

Opportunities for Minority and Disadvantaged Students
  • Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (for freshmen & sophomore college students) 
Post-baccalaureate Programs:

Preparatory Programs: - NOTE: These programs are listed for the students convenience and inclusion here does not imply an endorsement by the College of Charleston or the Health Professions Committee.

Pre-Professional Student Organizations and Resources Volunteer Opportunities & Summer Programs

Frequently Asked Questions  

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Do I have to be a science major to go to medical school?

No. Your major is not important as long as you complete the pre-requisite course work to satisfy the admissions requirements and prepare for the standardized admissions test in your field of interest.

Will majoring in science give me an advantage in applying to medical school?

Not necessarily. Most medical schools are looking for well rounded students who have an aptitude for science. They do not give preference to science majors. Taking additional science courses may be beneficial in preparing for standardized exams, but the questions in standardized exams are based on knowledge found in introductory level science courses. The additional science background may also be especially helpful for preparation for the first two years of classes in medical school.

Should I minor or take a double major?

Only if you are truly interested in another field of study. There is no evidence that those students who have a second major or minor have a better chance of acceptance into medical school than those who do not.

Should I take a commercial prep course before taking the MCATs?

There is no hard evidence that commercial courses produce significant gains in test scores. These courses may benefit students who need the extra motivation to buckle down and study. They do provide the opportunity to take multiple full length practice test in real time situations. However, motivated students can do the same on their own or in a study group. There are plenty of practice materials available and practice exams are even offered by the AAMC. The Director of the Center for Student Learning here at C of C works with students to prepare for standardized tests, both individually and in groups.

Can I take required courses in the summer and/or at another institution?

In general, it is best to take your required courses at your primary academic institution and during the regular school session. Professional schools want to know that a student can handle science courses while taking a normal academic load. If you have a compelling reason, for taking a course during the summer, for example to be able to get the proper course sequence, then do so. You should try, at least, to take the course at your primary institution or one with equivalent academic rigor. Taking your science courses in a piecemeal fashion and at a two-year institution may be looked on with suspicion by health professions schools. You should also check with the appropriate department to see that the credits from another institution will transfer.

Can I get into medical school in less than 4 years?

Yes, however, this is not the norm and is not recommended for most students. The two medical schools in South Carolina require a minimum of three years of undergraduate work or 90 hours to matriculate into their programs. However, this requires students to squeeze all their required courses and take the MCAT exam by the end of their sophomore year. Four years of undergraduate preparation allows time for students to explore, grow, mature, and have experiences that enrich their lives and make them better medical school candidates.