Health Professions - Medical

About Medical School

If you are interested in applying to medical school, we invite you to learn more! Please take some time to review this page and the pages following, where you will find useful information about what undergraduate courses to take (see Sample Schedule), which examinations are required, and how to apply to medical school. In addition, you are encouraged to connect with one of our Pre-health Advisors who can help answer more specific questions about preparing for your future career.

Keep in mind that students do not need to major in biology, chemistry, or a related science major to apply medical school.  Students in humanities or social science majors who do well in the required pre-med courses can be competitive applicants.  For example, read about Rebecca Loman, a UCSB History major and graduate from UC Davis Medical School.

The medical school application process is quite competitive: nationally, from 2011-2015, about 40% of students who applied to medical school were accepted.  About 42% of all UCSB students who applied to medical school--and 62% of students who were in the College of Letters and Science Honors Program--were accepted from 2011-2015.  One should be aware that unlike at many colleges and universities, UCSB does not have a pre-health committee that effectively screens less successful students from applying to medical school.  

Helpful Information

Where can I find the application requirements for medical school?

If you intend to apply to medical school, it is important to be aware that each school will have its own specific admissions requirements. The best way to learn about these requirements is to consult a specific school's website.

In addition, you can obtain annual publications that list the requirements for each medical school:

  • For allopathic schools: The Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) is a publication revised annually by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Copies of the MSAR catalog are available at the AAMC website.
  • For osteopathic schools: The Osteopathic Medical College Information Book (CIB) is a publication revised annually by the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine.

How long is medical school?

Medical school takes four years to complete. The first two years usually consist of basic sciences coursework, beginning with normal structure and function of human systems and then shifting to abnormalities of structure and function. The last two years consist of a series of required clinical rotations, followed by electives. During the fourth year, students choose a medical specialty and apply to graduate medical education programs (residencies) through ERAS, the Electronic Residency Application Service.

Depending on the specialty chosen, residency takes an additional 3 to 7 years.

What is the difference between an M.D. program and a D.O. program?

There are two types of medical schools: allopathic programs (which bestow the M.D. degree) and osteopathic programs (which bestow the D.O. degree). The main difference between the two programs is that osteopathic medicine tends to approach medicine and diagnoses with a more holistic focus. In addition, D.O.s are trained in the use of osteopathic manipulative treatment. While M.D. and D.O. programs do differ, it is important to note that state licensing agencies and most hospitals and residency programs recognize the two degrees as equivalent.

Allopathic Medical Doctors (MD) diagnose illnesses and treat people who suffer from injury or disease. Their professional lives are filled with caring for people, keeping up with advances in medicine, and working as a part of a health care team. Every day in communities around the country, doctors work in neighborhood clinics, hospitals, offices, even homeless shelters and schools. Few fields offer a wider variety of opportunities.

About one-third of the nation's physicians are primary care doctors who provide lifelong medical services for the entire family. General internists, family physicians, and general pediatricians are all considered primary care doctors. They are the first doctors people consult for medical care. And they are trained to provide the wide range of services children and adults need. When patients' specific health needs require further treatment, primary care physicians send them to see a specialist physician.

Specialist physicians differ from primary care physicians in that they focus on treating a particular system or part of the body. Surgeons who treat injuries, disease and deformities by performing operative procedures, neurologists who treat disorders of the brain and spinal cord, cardiologists who treat the heart and blood vessels, and ophthalmologists who treat the eye are just a few examples of the many specialties in medicine. These physicians work together with primary care physicians to ensure that patients receive treatment for specific medical problems as well as complete and comprehensive care throughout life. For information about these and other medical specialties visit Careers in Medicine.

Physicians also do many other things. Physician researchers are at work today developing new treatments for cancer, genetic disorders, and infectious diseases like AIDS. Academic physicians share their skills and wisdom by teaching medical students and residents. Others work with health maintenance organizations, pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufacturers, health insurance companies, or in corporations directing health and safety programs. People with medical skills are in demand everywhere.

Osteopathic Medical Doctors (DO) provide all of the benefits of modern medicine including prescription drugs, surgery, and the use of technology to diagnose disease and evaluate injury. They also offer the added benefit of hands-on diagnosis and treatment through a system of therapy known as osteopathic manipulative medicine. Osteopathic medicine emphasizes helping each person achieve a high level of wellness by focusing on health promotion and disease prevention. Today, nearly one in five medical students in the United States is training to be an osteopathic physician.

Required Courses

The courses listed below are those that undergraduates are required to complete prior to entering medical school.

As you plan your course of study, please note these important considerations:

  • You are encouraged to make a list of the medical schools in which you are most interested and consult each school’s admissions requirements for more specific information about prerequisite coursework. For allopathic programs, consider purchasing the Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR), a publication revised annually by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). The MSAR can be purchased at the AAMC website. For osteopathic programs, purchase or download the Osteopathic Medical College Information Book.
  • All of your required courses must be taken for a letter grade, not on a Pass/No Pass (P/NP) basis.
  • Information about repeated coursework:
    • Allopathic programs—Both grades will be used to calculate your AMCAS grade-point average. Please note this is different than UC Santa Barbara policy.
    • Osteopathic programs—As of May 1, 2017, AACOMAS will include all course attempts in the GPA calculation.  Please note this is different than UC Santa Barbara policy.
  • Please note that some medical schools will not accept AP credit.

Required Courses

One year of general chemistry with lab

  • Chem 1A/1AL, Chem 1B/1BL, Chem 1C/1CL (or Chem 2 equivalent)

One year of organic chemistry with lab

  • Chem 109A, 109B, 109C and 6AL, 6BL

One year of introductory biology with lab

One year of physics with lab

  • Physics 6A/6AL, 6B/6BL, 6C/6CL

Three quarters titled "Writing" or "English"

  • Writing 1 or AP credit will not count for this requirement.
  • One quarter should be a literature course taught in the English department.
  • Writing 109HP is a useful course for writing personal statements and should be taken closer to when you apply.

Mathematics or Statistics (not required for all schools)
Most medical schools expect students to demonstrate strong quantitative skills by completing math and stats courses at college.  See "UCSB Mathmatics and Statistics for Pre-health Students--Revised" for details about how to meet this requirement at UCSB.

Social Sciences & Humanities

  • Psychology 1:  suggested preparation for the social and behavioral sciences component for the MCAT (AP is fine)
  • Sociology 1:  suggested preparation for the social and behavioral sciences component for the MCAT
  • Some schools have a minimum requirement for units earned in humanities and social sciences. Please check with individual schools regarding admissions requirements.

Additional biology courses required

  • MCDB 101A (genetics)
  • MCDB 108A or 110 (biochemistry)
  • MCDB 111 (physiology)
  • Check each medical school’s admission requirements.

Scheduling Pre-med Required Courses, Years 1 & 2

  Fall: Winter: Spring:
1st Year
  • Chem 1A + 1AL
  • Mathematics or Statistics (See above)
  • GE or Elective
  • Chem 1B + 1BL
  • Math or Stats (See above)
  • GE or Elective
  • GE or Elective (if you feel you can handle another course)
  • Chem 1C + 1CL
  • Math or Stats (See above)
  • GE or Elective
  • GE or Elective
2nd Year
  • EEMB 3 + 3L*
  • Chem 109C
  • Chem 6BL (May be done later
  • GE or Elective

*New Biology Labs:  Beginning in Fall 2019, the Biology Program will restructure its introductory labs, changing from three, 1 unit labs--MCDB 1AL, MCDB 1BL/EEMB 2L, and EEMB 3L--to two, 1.5 unit labs--MCDB 1LL and EEMB 2LL.  Most students will do MCDB 1LL in winter quarter and EEMB 2LL in spring quarter.  Although taken over two quarters rather than three, these will count as a full year of introductory biology labs.

Please consider the schedule above as a sample; it is only one of several paths for completing essential pre-med requirements. Students, in consultation with pre-health, general, and major advisors, should develop individual schedules that will allow them to explore their interests, achieve their goals, and complete other required and recommended courses.  Note that medical schools require a year of physics with lab (Physics 6A & 6AL, 6B & 6BL, 6C & 6CL), and although most students complete physics by the end of the 3rd year, just when to take physics depends on how well students are meeting the demands of their other courses. We strongly recommend you consult with a pre-health advisor or general Letters and Science advisor if you are considering enrolling in physics as a first year student.  For scheduling upper division biology courses after second year, students should meet with pre-health and major advisors to consider their options.

Required Tests

Almost all medical schools require that applicants take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). You should take the MCAT at least one year before you plan to enter medical school.

The MCAT includes four sections:

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

For general information about the MCAT format and content, please refer to the Taking the MCAT website.

Preparatory Coursework
It is advised that you complete your chemistry, physics and biology prerequisites before taking the exam. You may take the MCAT in the spring quarter in which you are enrolled in Chem 109C or Physics 6C; however, it is recommended that carbohydrates and amino acids have been covered in organic chemistry, as well as optics in physics. MCDB 108 or 110, MCDB 111 or EEMB 154, and MCDB 101A should also be completed prior to taking the exam.

Extracurricular Activities

Volunteering, shadowing a doctor, getting EMT-certified, or performing undergraduate research are all great ways to improve your medical school application. In general, medical schools are looking for three areas of relevant experience:

  • Medically-related work
  • Community service
  • Research

Keep these three areas in mind as you seek extracurricular opportunities during your undergraduate career. If you intend to apply to an osteopathic medical school, make sure you shadow a doctor that is a D.O.

For more information about internships and volunteer opportunities, please visit the Clinical Experience page.


Below is a summary of the basic application process for medical school. Regardless of what type of medical school you apply to, be sure to apply early as admissions are "rolling." This means that the longer you wait, the less likely you are to be admitted. See our application timeline for details.

Go to the AAMC for Students, Applicants, and Residents website for detailed information about the applicant process.

Application Services for Medical School

Most medical schools participate in either AMCAS, the American Medical College Application Service (for allopathic medicine), or AACOMAS, the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (for osteopathic medicine). Through AMCAS or AACOMAS, you will complete your primary application which includes a personal statement, a description of your extracurricular activities, and a list of your college transcripts. Once your application file is complete, the service will send your application to every medical school to which you indicate you want to apply. If a school of your choice does not participate in ACMAS or AACOMAS, you are responsible for contacting that school and asking for the proper application materials.

Secondary Applications and Interviews

Once your primary application has been received, schools will send out secondary applications that may ask for additional essays, information, etc.

After your secondary applications are sent, some schools may contact you and invite you for a personal interview. Be sure to prepare for your interview. Try to imagine questions schools might ask, be familiar with what you wrote on your application, and practice speaking to friends.

Early Decision Program

The Early Decision Program (EDP) allows applicants to secure an acceptance from one EDP-participating medical school by October 1 while allowing sufficient time to apply to other schools if not accepted. For AMCAS participating schools, the deadline is August 1 (application and official transcripts). For non-AMCAS, contact the medical school admissions office or refer to the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR).

Medical School Abroad

US citizens choosing to go to medical school abroad are faced with the same requirements as foreign born international medical graduates (IMGs). The certification process is described on the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) website, which has sole responsibility for certifying IMGs in the United States. Upon obtaining their ECFMG certificates, IMGs must compete for a residency (specialty) training position. Residency training in a program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education is necessary to be eligible for a licensure in the United States.

What are the Selection Procedures for Admission?

  • Successful completion of required undergraduate courses
  • Grade point average
  • Performance on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)
  • Extracurricular activities—especially those reflecting public or health-related service, volunteer work, and other evidence of your initiative
  • Letters of recommendation from undergraduate health professions advisors and faculty members as well as physicians and other members of the health professions, community leaders, and other individuals who have employed you or supervised your volunteer experience
  • Interviews with medical school admissions committees. Unlike colleges, which hold interviews early in the application process, medical schools arrange them near the end. As they narrow their selection of candidates, most medical schools invite the most promising applicants to interview with faculty and other members of the admissions committee
  • Admission criteria may vary slightly by institution; therefore, visit the website of the school or college of your choice to obtain specific information