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What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Pre-Med Student: A Parent’s Guide

Congratulations! Your child wants to go to med school. They are feeling called to take on one of the most noble (and challenging) careers out there. You [mostly] knew how to support them through grade school, junior high, high school, and perhaps even college. But what about their pre-medical studies and med school? Where to even begin? Even if you carry a medical degree yourself, you are probably acutely aware of the rapidity with which things are changing.

First, take a slow, deep breath. Settle back somewhere comfy, and let us walk you through what you can expect, and how you can help when you’re expecting your child to embark on the pre-med — and ultimately medical — path.


An Overview of Required Science Courses for Pre-Med Students:

When a student decides they want to go to med school, they generally follow a pre-medical or pre-health track at their school. (We say “track” because pre-med is usually not the student’s major.) If the student has already graduated from undergrad with a different degree, or they’re transitioning careers, they can opt for a pre-med post-baccalaureate (or post-bacc) program. This pre-med/pre-health “track” will include the science pre-requisite courses that are necessary in order to prepare to take the Medical College Admissions Test, or the MCAT.

The courses each pre-med program requires can vary a little, but for the most part, the courses a student must take to be properly prepared for the MCAT — and for their pre-clinical studies to come — are:

1. Biology


3. Organic Chemistry

4. Physics

5. Corresponding lab work for the above courses

6. Statistics or Calculus.

Some students will also take Biochemistry, Genetics, Psychology, an English-related class, and sometimes Sociology.

Some Smart Extracurricular Choices for Pre-Med Students

When your child applies to med school, many different factors are considered along with their MCAT score. We go into more depth about these factors in our post about the top 5 most important factors considered in medical school admissions. In that post, we also talk about the different extracurricular efforts that can add to a student’s application.

When Do Students Usually Take the MCAT?

Your child has made their way through their pre-med studies and are starting to mention the MCAT occasionally. By and large, most students take the MCAT a year in advance of when they want to start medical school. If they want to take a gap year, they will take it one to two years before starting med school.

We often find that parents are more nervous than the student is about the idea of taking a gap year. We encourage you to look at the big picture by considering this:

The path to a medical degree — and ultimately a medical practice — is LONG. We’re talking anywhere from 6-12 years or so between medical school, residency and fellowships.

Sure, there will be periods therein that are less demanding, but sometimes having a gap year “breather” to pursue some other passions BEFORE embarking on the med school path can help one mature, find themselves, expand one’s horizons, and recharge.

How Much Does it Cost to Take the MCAT?

The American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) is the organization that develops and administers the MCAT exam. Your student will also apply to med school through the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS).

As of January 2020, it costs $315 to register for the MCAT. There are other fees, such as late fees, registration changes, etc. Here’s a detailed breakdown by the AAMC of all the fees for the MCAT in 2020. If you have any concerns about these fees, the AAMC does have a fee waiver program that’s worth exploring.

How Much Does it Cost to Apply to Med School?

When it comes time to apply to med school, you’re looking at a different set of fees. As of 2019, the application fee was $170 for the first school a student applies to, and $40 for each additional school. There are secondary application fees that vary in cost, and most colleges/universities charge a fee for sharing a student’s transcript, and in some cases, for sharing letters of recommendation.

The Biggest Mistake Students Make When Taking the MCAT

We’ve been tutoring for the MCAT and all things med school-related since 2006, and the most consistent mistake we see students make is NOT taking the MCAT or their MCAT studies seriously enough. For most students who fall into this trap, this generally shows up as:

  • Not carving out dedicated time to study for the MCAT
  • Not planning for their studies far enough in advance
  • Cramming for the MCAT in a month or less
  • Assuming that because they’re doing well in their science courses, that they’ll do fine on the MCAT without any prep

Now, as a parent/guardian/spouse, please DO NOT read this as a call to go helicoptering over your student. DO, however, take this opportunity (if/when appropriate) to ask your student when they’re thinking about the exam and how they’re thinking about preparing for the test. Then, feel free to drop a few of these nuggets of wisdom to your student get some MCAT-studying perspective if they need/want it.

What If My Child Pushes Back Their MCAT Exam?

First, try not to react adversely. Rather, seek to understand WHY they pushed their test back. Most students push taking their exam back for the below reasons, and there may be other factors at play — including advice from academic advisors:

  1. A score that has plateaued and is not improving as they expected it to
  2. Testing anxiety
  3. Needing more time to prepare

If you’re concerned that your child is not making a grounded or well-informed decision, talk to an expert. We can’t stress this enough. There are many important factors to weigh when determining whether to push back a test or to void an exam, and if you try to direct or control a situation that you don’t fully understand, you may do more harm than good.

And remember, preparing for the MCAT can be one of the most stressful things your child has ever had to do!

What to Do If Your Pre-Med Student Is Struggling

Studying for the MCAT is a warm-up for med school. (Many students will say that the first coursework test they take in med school is harder than the MCAT.). In studying for the MCAT, students are practicing different skills that they will employ in med school, such as strategic planning, mass memorization, active learning, self-accountability, and more.

If your child comes to you seeking help, or you see them floundering and/or getting increasingly anxious, do not despair. The best thing you can do for them is to help them keep things in perspective: Preparing for any big standardized exam is a marathon, not a sprint. This too shall pass. It’s important to practice self care, good sleep hygiene, and to put reasonable expectations on oneself regarding the tasks at hand.

If they want a helping hand for their studies and/or a mentor to help them along the way, seriously consider helping your student work with a tutor. Sometimes just having someone by your side who has recently successfully navigated the process and can shine light from the other side can make all the difference in:

  • Reducing stress and overwhelm
  • Minimizing wasted energy, time and resources
  • Enhancing productivity, effectiveness, retention, and confidence — for the MCAT, med school and beyond
  • Increasing the student’s final MCAT score

With our MCAT tutors and med school admissions advisors, your child will be in very experienced, proven and deeply committed hands. Our training, tutor mentorship, and student support team are unparalleled, and our 13+ years of student successes speak for themselves.

A Parting Thought About Parental Support

The fact that you’re reading this post says a lot about you as a parent, guardian, spouse, or loved one in your student’s life. Being there for your student as someone they can count on when they face the coming challenges and obstacles is priceless. In the process, try your best to allow your child to choose their own path and be there as an objective sounding board for them.

If they feel your love and support throughout — even if their path takes a few turns that neither of you anticipated — they will be all the better for it. Good luck, and remember that we are here to be a resource and a guide. Call us at any time to speak with one of our experienced team members. We’ll help point you in the right direction! 212-327-0098 |