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Human Medicine FAQ

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Which college should I enroll in?

As a Cornell undergraduate, you may enroll in the courses that fulfill the requirements of medical schools, regardless of college. Traditionally, Cornell undergraduate applicants to medical school have enrolled in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Engineering, and the College of Human Ecology. Your choice of college depends on your academic interests and goals; remember that academic success and engagement are linked.

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What should I major in?

Your choice of a major reflects your personal interests and professional orientation. Base your decision on what you want to learn, not how others will view you. The strength of the academic credentials, rather than the major, is the best predictor of who gains admission to health career schools. You are more likely to succeed at –– and benefit from –– subjects that interest and stimulate you. Health career graduate schools do not require, recommend, or favor any particular undergraduate major course of study, and Cornell does not have a pre-health career major. In majors offered throughout the university, you can complete the pre-professional requirements while at the same time exploring your own interests. In this way, you exercise the option of discovering an alternative career.

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) has stated, "Admission committee members know that medical students can develop the essential skills of acquiring, synthesizing, applying and communicating information through a wide variety of academic disciplines…. Students who select a major area of study solely or primarily because of the perception that it will enhance the chance of acceptance to a school of medicine are not making a decision in their best interest.”

Despite statements like the above, many students believe that medical schools prefer certain major areas. AAMC’s national data, however, refute this. In 2015, 39% of biological sciences majors, 44% of physical sciences majors, 42% of mathematics and statistics majors, 46% of humanities majors, and 41% of social sciences majors that applied matriculated to medical school.  The differences among percentages of acceptance by major are not significant, and major choice cannot be used to predict acceptance to medical school.

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What courses should I take?

Cornell course recommendations are based on two criteria: fulfilling prerequisites for most health career professions and providing optimal coverage for standardized admissions exams, which test the knowledge gained from undergraduate coursework.

Professional schools have their own rules regarding courses they will accept. For details on a particular school’s requirements students are advised to read the individual school’s web pages, check the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) database and the ADEA Official Guide to Dental Schools, or contact admissions offices. Generally speaking, regardless of undergraduate major, professional graduate schools require specific undergraduate coursework. Cornell offers all required courses, often in alternative formats, such as individualized instruction (sometimes called auto-tutorial) or lecture-based. While these prerequisites vary between professions, certain minimum requirements are standard within each health profession. For medicine, for example, all general or introductory science courses must include a lab component or offer an additional course that is lab only.

The required and/or strongly recommended subjects, in alphabetical order, are:

  • Anatomy/Physiology; often required for PA/NP; otherwise an elective
  • Biology, introductory; replacement with AP credit is discouraged
  • Biochemistry; lab not required
  • Chemistry; general and organic
  • Microbiology; often required for PA/NP; otherwise an elective Physics; general
  • English
  • Math; statistics and calculus
  • Social Science; introductory sociology and psychology (see pink pages in this guide)

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What guidance does Cornell give health career-oriented undergraduates?

Cornell has a structured Health Careers Program. The Career Library and the health careers advisor in Barnes Hall provide information, orientation sessions, and advising for students in all colleges. The advisor has walk-in advising hours and scheduled appointments, and can also be reached by e-mail and telephone. Advising information is also available on the Health Careers webpage accessed through Cornell Career Services: career.cornell.edu.

Most of the questions freshman, sophomores, and junior transfer students pose relate to academic requirements. It is best to address these questions to an advisor in your college or major.

  • College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, CALS Career Services, Roberts Hall
  • College of Arts and Sciences, Ana Adinolfi, 172 Goldwin Smith Hall
  • College of Engineering, Liane Fitzgerald, 167 Olin Hall
  • College of Human Ecology, Verdene Lee, 172 Martha Van Rensselaer Hall
  • Office of Undergraduate Biology, 216 Stimson Hall
  • Several advisors are available depending on your question: Beth Howland, Megan Gallagher, Jeff McCaffrey, Colleen Kearns and student peer advisors.

This Cornell Health Careers Guide for First and Second Year Pre-Medical Students is given out at Freshmen/Transfer Student Orientation and is available in various office on campus and on the Career Services website. The Cornell Health Careers Guide for Advanced Pre-Medical Students is also available from the Career Services website.

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