A guide to life as a ‘pre-med’ student at Yale
Read the SciTech desk’s guide to being pre-med on campus, from classes to majors to extracurriculars, including advice from Dean Sandy Chang.
Mark Chung, Staff Illustrator
This is an installment in a series by the News’ SciTech desk aiming to help readers engage with the University’s resources, research and programs in the fields of health and science.
For those who aspire to receive a white coat and take the Hippocratic oath, medical school is the collegiate end goal.
Yale has no pre-med major, but potential medical students usually take prerequisites for medical school admissions — the most common ones being general chemistry, general biology, organic chemistry, physics, mathematics, biochemistry and psychology.
Students report that being pre-med can sometimes be an overwhelming — but often rewarding — process.
“At the end of the day, I remind myself that yes, it’s a lot of work to be pre-med. But my work is going towards a goal that I’m willing to dedicate my life to,” Elizabeth Lin ’25 said.
Who can students go to for advising?
Dean of Science and Quantitative Reasoning Education Sandy Chang ’88 is one resource pre-med students can lean on.
“Having gone through the med school application process as a Yale undergrad, I know the challenges of applying to medical school,” Chang said. “I am also on the admissions committee at Yale Med for the MD-PHD program … so I know the current challenges of getting into a medical program.”
Along with Kristin McJunkins, who is the director of Health Professions Advising & STEM Connect at the Yale Office of Career Strategy, or OCS, and Laurie Coppola, a senior associate director in Health Professions and STEM Advising at OCS, Chang works with pre-med students to provide advising and one-on-one support.
“I love eating meals with students,” Chang said. “I give informal advice about medical school, [everything from] which courses you should be taking, when should you be doing research, when should you be going to do your clinical volunteering experience, why should you take a gap year.”
Pre-med advising appointments with McJunkins and Coppola can be scheduled through the OCS website. Students seeking advice on keeping up with schoolwork can contact the Poorvu Center of Teaching and Learning’s Academic Strategies program.
What kind of classes and majors are typical for pre-med students?
While the course timeline for each pre-med students varies, some of the most common classes that pre-med students may take in their first year can include a combination of the following: a chemistry sequence such as CHEM 161/165 or CHEM 163/167 for general, or CHEM 174 and sometimes 175 for organic, a chemistry lab such as CHEM 134L/136L for general, CHEM 222L and sometimes 223L for organic, the intro biology sequence of BIOL 101-104, a math course, a writing course, a language course or a first-year seminar.
Chang has created a “Guide to STEM Activities at Yale,” with one section in particular focusing on providing advice for pre-med students. The guide also includes a more detailed outline of the course timeline for pre-med students throughout their four years at Yale.
Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, as well as the History of Science, Medicine and Public Health are all popular choices for pre-med students, with their major requirements overlapping the prerequisite courses
Many students also pursue majors outside of the biological sciences and nonetheless find success in medical school admissions. Even though these students have to complete additional requirements outside of their majors — the pre-med prerequisites —, pre-med students can also major outside of STEM, according to Chang.
Allen Ryu ’23 is pursuing Computer Science and Mathematics — an unconventional major while on the pre-med track. Ryu is very interested in theoretical concepts within computer science, and although he is pursuing a career in medicine, he believes that the skills and knowledge of computer science will be useful later on, specifically with applications to medicine.
“As technology develops in the biomedical field, there are more and more applications of theories […] from computer science being put into medicine,” Ryu said. “For example, the lab that I’m working in right now is a biomedical engineering lab, and the research that I’ve been doing is basically trying to create a novel way to diagnose a certain condition using machine learning technologies.
To gap or not to gap?
For a pre-med student, four years at Yale are followed by four years of medical school, depending on the specialty, three to seven years of a residency program and perhaps even one to two years of a fellowship.
Many potential pre-med students opt to take a break from school for a year or two. Gap years can be beneficial, adding time to improve one’s academic standing, gain more premedical experience and work on application components.
“Most students take a gap year, and they do better,” Chang said. “The admissions committee likes gap year students, thinks that gap year students are less stressed, more focused on medicine, know why they are getting into [medicine], and why they want to go to medical school. I think just going in straight through [to medical school applications] after your junior year, which is what I did, you have to get everything done by the end of your junior year, and that’s very very stressful.”
The long medical school application process can be stressful in itself, taking much consideration to even decide to undergo.
While she does not plan to take a gap year herself because she feels certain of her goal to pursue medicine, Hannah Huang ’24 recognized an increasing relevance of gap years for pre-med students.
“Overall, gap years are a really good thing for anyone who’s pre-med to consider,” Huang said. “I definitely think being a pre-med and getting to the point of applying to medical school is more of a marathon than a race … because it’s something that you want to undertake when you know you’re ready.”
What extracurriculars should pre-med students get involved in?
Medical schools consider not only a student’s academics, but also the experiences and competencies they possess that may be beneficial to them as a physician.
Extracurricular involvements weigh heavily as a factor in medical school admissions. The most popular pre-med extracurriculars include clinical volunteering experience, experiences involving direct patient exposure, service work, physician shadowing opportunities and scientific research.
However, branching out from these traditional, premedical extracurriculars may be valuable as well.
Toni Oluwatade ’24, a student currently on the pre-med path, has previously tutored New Haven high schoolers as part of the Urban Improvement Corps and completed lab research on polycystic ovary syndrome.
However, Oluwatade notes that many of her extracurriculars do not necessarily fit the “traditional pre-med trajectory,” but she believes “it’s important to also do things that you’re interested in that might not fit in with the common pre-med path.”
Oluwatade plays club soccer and is involved in Yale Students for Christ as a first-year Bible study leader
“I think that getting to teach and serve the first years has taught me a lot about learning from and communicating with other people,” Oluwatade said. “Mentorship is a really good skill to have going into medicine, especially because I want to be a pediatrician. I know mentorship is a big part of being a doctor with kids, because they’re not only going to see you as their doctor but also as a role model.”
Ultimately, almost 90 percent of medical school applicants from Yale College receive admission from a U.S. medical school.