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What Are the Best Classes to Take in High School for Pre-Med

By Cait Williams

Cait Williams is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cait recently graduated from Ohio University with a degree in Journalism and Strategic Communications. During her time at OU, was active in the outdoor recreation community.

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Reviewed by Bill Jack

Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

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Edited by Maria Geiger

Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Updated: February 6th, 2024
What Are the Best Classes to Take in High School for Pre-Med

Thinking about pre-med courses in high school may feel premature, but if medicine is something you’re passionate about, it’s never too early to start! In this article, we will look at what classes you can take in high school to prepare you for a pre-med career in college.  

Pre-med and medical school classes 

Before looking at what classes are best to take in high school for pre-med, it’s important to know what classes you will take in college as a pre-med student and then what you will take as a medical student. 

Pre-med college courses

Pre-med courses in college typically consist of biology, chemistry, physics, and a few math and English courses. Pre-med courses are designed to give you a good base for what you will eventually study in medical school. There are other courses that you may take due to the nature of your major, but broadly speaking these are what most medical schools require.  

The classes you take in medical school will be where you take all the base knowledge you’ve gathered and go even deeper. Subjects like biostatistics, pathology and medical ethics are all courses that will stem from material you previously studied. 

Also see: Top medical internships for high school students

High school pre-med courses 

So, what are the best pre-med classes to take in high school? As you progress towards medical school, the classes you take will sequentially become more rigorous. Biology will become microbiology and then cellular biology and so on. This means the best place to start is with a solid foundation in science and math. 

Science 

Science courses like chemistry, biology and physics are all great classes to start with. Starting with these courses in high school is a great way to ease into these subjects and prepare for college courses.  

Math 

Math is another subject that you’ll want to study a variety of topics within. As a doctor, you will work with graphs, charts, and statistics and make calculations of your own. Algebra, calculus, and statistics are all beneficial for building a solid foundation in math.  

If you can take science and math courses every semester of your high school career, then go for it! Remember, however, that quality is better than quantity. It is better to take fewer courses and receive higher grades and deeper understanding than to overload yourself and just barely pass by.  

Continue reading: High school checklist: freshman through senior year 

Advanced placement vs. honors classes 

Okay, let’s talk about advanced placement (AP) and honors classes for a second. There’s no doubt that they are something that has already come across your desk, but should you take them? And if so, which looks better on your resume?  

Honors classes

Honors courses are designed like regular high school classes, but they move at a faster pace and are more challenging academically.  An AP course is designed to be a college-level class. The curriculum for AP courses is designed by The College Board and is standardized across all high schools. Depending on the college a student matriculates into, it is possible to receive college credit for these classes after completing the course. College credit depends on whether the student received the minimum acceptable score on the AP test (and that score varies by college).

Advanced placement courses

AP classes cover a specific list of subjects, while honors courses will vary by each school. For a more in-depth look at AP and honors classes, check out our article that takes a closer look at them. Colleges would like to see AP classes on your transcript. But again, a student who has high marks in honors and regular course work compared to a student with poor grades in all AP classes may look much more appealing to a college.  

Consult with your guidance counselor early and often

Ask your guidance counselor what AP and honors classes your high school offers and what they might recommend you take. They may be a bit more challenging, but that’s okay. Start challenging yourself in small ways now, as the road to medical school will certainly not always be easy!  

Building your medical school resume in high school 

Classes aren’t the only thing you can do to set yourself up for success in medical school while you’re in high school. While grades and test scores are important factors in your admittance to medical school, there are other things that they will look at as well.  

Medical school admissions boards want to see what you are like as a person as well. Being a doctor also means being a well-rounded person who can work well with patients. So, what kinds of things can you do? 

Shadowing  

It’s always a plus if you can show that you have taken the time to explore the field of medicine and have a realistic idea of what it looks like. Shadowing is a great way to do this!  

Spend some time with various doctors to see what it would really be like to practice medicine. Some doctors may not allow you to shadow them, but don’t let that discourage you–ask someone else! Even if you can’t shadow a doctor, ask to speak with them about questions you might have. Established doctors were once in your position and will likely want to share their knowledge.  

Volunteer 

Volunteering is a great way to gain experience and show that you have a passion for serving others. While volunteering of any kind is great, there are certainly some opportunities that may help you stand out more than others.  

A lot of hospitals have volunteer positions for students. Some positions may require you to be a certain age, but again, that shouldn’t discourage you from looking into what opportunities are out there! There may also be opportunities within your school or community that may be a great fit for you as well.  

Further reading: Virtual volunteering opportunities for students 

Travel 

This may be a possibility that immediately sounds out of reach for you. Traveling can be expensive, intimidating, and a slew of other things. However, travel doesn’t have to mean going across the globe and doing volunteer work while doing so. There are plenty of travel opportunities that may be a lot closer than you think.  

Summer STEM and medical programs

There are lots of summer programs that allow you to immerse yourself in pre-med experiences. STEM or medical summer programs are great choices for high school students. Again, they don’t have to be programs that take you far from home, they can be nearby as well. Some of the programs are even online, and if you have financial need, there are free programs as well. 

Also see: What are extracurricular activities and why do they matter?  

Take a breather 

As a student in high school that is already thinking about medical school, there might be some stress. Remember that while it is great to push yourself and lay a good foundation for your future, it is also hard work. Give yourself credit for how hard you are working. When you hit bumps in the road, take them in stride and don’t let them knock you off course. Medical school is an attainable goal, so take it little by little. You’ve got this and we are here to help! 

Also see: What are AP classes? Everything you need to know 

Concluding thoughts 

To close out this article, we’ll make a brief list of the classes we talked about and what questions you should explore in addition to your classes. 

Best classes to take for pre-med majors in high school 

  • Biology 
  • Chemistry 
  • Calculus 
  • Physics 

Things to consider 

Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways

  • A solid foundation in high school science and math sets up students for pre-med in college and medical school
  • If it is possible to take courses as AP or honors classes, that may be the most helpful choice 
  • Start building your medical school resume in high school through shadowing, volunteering, traveling, or summer programs
  • Finally, remember that it is about quality of learning over quantity 
Key Takeaways

Related: Ultimate guide to self-studying AP Exams

Frequently asked questions classes to take in high school for pre-med

How many AP classes should you take?

There isn’t a set number of AP classes that you should take in high school. However, the more you can take the better. A college wants to see that you can prove sustained academic achievements. So, while one is better than none, 3 or 4 (or 5 or 6) is even better! 

Are AP or honors classes better?

Both AP and honors classes are great options. AP classes do offer you the chance to receive college credit, but that doesn’t automatically make them better. Discuss with your guidance counselor about what your school offers and what options are best for you. 

Can you take AP classes at any time in high school?

This answer will vary by school. The College Board does not have any rules that specifies who can take what classes, However, high schools want to be sure that students can handle the workload, which is why they may require you to finish prerequisite classes or placement tests before enrolling in them.  

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