Cornell University

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Which college should I enroll in?

As an undergraduate in any college at Cornell, you may enroll in the courses required for entry into medical college or another health professional school. 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. These colleges offer majors that enable you to prepare for medical school, and we find no differences in admission rates for students from these four colleges with equivalent academic credentials. The appropriate choice of undergraduate college depends, largely, on your other academic and career interests. Consult the University's publications for information about the seven colleges at Cornell, their distribution requirements, majors and course descriptions, to find the one best suited to your interests and goals.

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What should I major in?

Medical schools do not require or recommend any particular undergraduate major course of study, and Cornell does not have a premedical major. Therefore, you should pursue your intellectual interests in an academic major, such as history, biology, nutrition, chemical engineering, philosophy, natural resources or any number of other fields. In majors throughout the university you can complete the pre-professional requirements while at the same time receiving a broad education and exploring other interests and careers. In this way, you leave open the option of pursuing an alternative career. Also, you are more likely to succeed at and benefit from subjects that interest and stimulate you.

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) has stated that, "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 actually prefer one major over another. AAMC's national data, however, refute this. In 2008, 42% of biological sciences majors, 47% of physical sciences majors, 50% of humanities majors, and 44% of social sciences majors applying were accepted to medical school. The variation in percentage of acceptance by major is not significant, and major cannot be used to predict acceptance to medical school.

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What courses should I take?

Medical, dental and most health professional schools, while not requiring or recommending any particular major, do stipulate that particular undergraduate courses be completed. Listed below are the recommended minimum prerequisite courses medical schools require. Some schools have specific requirements and/or recommendations in addition to those listed below. Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) contains details.

  • General or Introductory Biology (with laboratory)—8 semester credit hours
  • Advanced Biology—one course recommended
  • Introductory Chemistry (with laboratory)—8 semester credit hours
  • Organic Chemistry (with laboratory)—8 semester credit hours
  • General or Introductory Physics (with laboratory)—8 semester credit hours
  • English Composition—6 semester credit hours
  • Mathematics (required by some schools, recommended by most)

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Education for becoming a physician: a wider view

The science courses required for entry to medical school are only a part of the total educational picture that medical schools consider. It is generally agreed that an applicant must be able to perform well in science, to think like a scientist, and even to enjoy science in order to be a competent physician. Being an educated person with an understanding of human nature and human achievement is equally important to physicians, both professionally and personally. You need to develop the the ability to think criticaly, imginatively and logically. The best way to develop these abilities is to explore in some depth an academic field that you find compelling, with what one dean of admissions calls "a sustained commitment to excellence."

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What percentage of Cornell students are accepted to medical schools?

In 2008, of the Cornell first-time undergraduate applicants to medical school, seventy percent were successful in gaining admission to a U.S. allopathic (M.D.) school. (Nationally forty-three percent of applicants were accepted in 2008.) Eighty percent of 2008 Cornell applicants with a 3.4 or above gained admission to a U.S. allopathic school.

It may be misleading to compare undergraduate institutions using medical school admissions data because institutions have different practices for recommending students for medical school. Some undergraduate institutions recommend only selected students. At Cornell, a student may apply to a health professional school; Cornell will write a letter of evaluation if the student has taken the required courses and follows the procedure for obtaining such a letter.

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What help does Cornell give health careers students?

Cornell has a structured Health Careers Program. The University Health Careers Advisor, whose office is in 103 Barnes Hall, provides information and orientation sessions and advising for students. Monday-Friday she has walk-in advising hours, and can also be reached by e-mail and telephone. Advising appointments can be arranged.

Most premedical questions freshmen and sophomores ask pertain to the fit between major and college requirements on the one hand, and premed course requirements on the other. These can be answered by an academic advisor or by the member of the Health Careers Advising Network in the various colleges:

  • College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cate Thompson, 145 Roberts Hall
  • College of Arts and Sciences, Ana Adinolfi, 55 Goldwin Smith Hall
  • College of Engineering, Fran Shumway, Melissa Hutson Bazley, and Beth Howland, 167 Olin Hall
  • College of Human Ecology, Paula Jacobs, 172 Martha Van Rensselaer Hall
  • University Career Services, TBD, 103 Barnes Hall

The Cornell Health Careers Guide for Preapplicants is available for students and given out at our Freshman Orientation. The Cornell Health Careers Guide for Applicants is given out to applicants and is available in the Career Library, 103 Barnes Hall. Many portions of these guides, as well as additional material, are on the Health Careers web page. As stated above, Cornell also writes the letter of evaluation that is part of an application to most schools of human medicine.

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