August 25, 2020

Medical School Admissions Requirements 2020-2021

By: Savvy Pre-Med Staff

Stable job

No kids

Owns a house and car

We’ve seen these as “requirements” in dating profiles before.

Whether you think those are fair prerequisites for a relationship or not, it’s obvious that true love will hinge on additional factors - intelligence, sense of humor, physical chemistry, and compatible personalities. 

The same goes for medical school admissions requirements - you’ll need to meet all the prerequisites to be considered for admission, but you’ll need to go above and beyond to stand out and ensure your chances of getting in.

Since you’ll have to go above and beyond, we want this post to do the same thing. We’ll give you all the requirements, BUT we’ll also provide tips and tricks for separating you from the countless other eligible applicants.

Medical School Admissions Requirements 2020-2021

The 2020-2021 cycle has been marked by unprecedented changes due to COVID-19. So we’ll be sure to cover all the unusual adjustments.

Keep in mind that there might be further changes. If new information comes to light, we’ll make sure to update this post.

Will some of these changes carry over to 2021-2022? Only time will tell. 

Required Coursework for Medical School Admissions 2020-2021

We’ve taken our data on medical schools and converted it into this handy chart, which shows you how many schools require or recommend certain prerequisites:

Need help planning your coursework? We’ve written an entire article about developing your pre-med 4-year plan, including a free Pre-Med Planner download!

Selecting Your Major for Medical School Admissions

The good news: it doesn't matter what you major in for getting into medical school.  

“But I thought I had to major in biology to go to medical school.” Nope. Not only do you not have to major in biology, but there are many drawbacks to doing so.

Let's compare biology with a non-science major like history.

Who's more unique in the application process and therefore more likely to stand out? History majors.

Who's likely to have easier classes (not graded on a curve)? History majors.

Who's going to have a better GPA? History majors.

Who's going to spend more time outside of the classroom doing interesting things that make them a better candidate for medical school? History majors.

Okay, but biology majors must do better on the MCAT right? Wrong. History majors routinely beat biology majors. Why? History majors are substantially better at the CARS section that tests how well you read.

Fine. At least biology majors do better on the biological sciences section, right? Wrong again. History majors beat biology majors at their own game. Even the science portions of the MCAT are passage-based, so good readers (e.g. history majors) are more likely to succeed.

We’re not saying you should switch your major to history. The whole point is to show you that you can major in almost anything and go to medical school.

The most important part is getting good grades. So pick something you’re naturally good at, as that should allow you to do well in your classes while spending time and energy outside the classroom pursuing other interests that’ll help your application.

If you’re going to major in biology, you will need to find other ways to stand out (more on that later).

“Will a double major help me stand out?” Maybe, but we’re not sure it’s worth it. You would have to take at least six more courses, amounting to another 400-600 hours worth of studying, so there’s a big opportunity cost. 

If you’re going to double major, pick something distinct - the weirder, the better - but even that will only carry so much weight. 

Which Medical Schools Accept AP Coursework?

This is not a simple or short list. 

Some schools don’t accept AP credit at all. Some accept it on a case-by-case basis. Some accept it for some prerequisites but not others. Some only let you use it in conjunction with completing upper-division credit in the discipline. 

AP policies at various institutions may change each year and vary from institution to institution. In many cases, if a student has AP credit and elects to keep it, completion of upper-level coursework in the discipline will fulfill the requirement. Even when AP  credit is in place, it is highly recommended that upper-level coursework in biology and chemistry is completed.

This COMPREHENSIVE TABLE from 2019 will (hopefully) give you all the information you need about individual medical schools’ AP coursework policies.  

Which Medical Schools are Accepting Online Classes in 2020-2021?

Normally, the MSAR “advisor reports” are not made publicly available, but the AAMC has decided to disseminate this information in light of COVID-19.

Thankfully, that means we have a central source of truth about medical schools’ individual policies surrounding online coursework, pass/fail classes, and the MCAT.

As usual, individual schools have their own stipulations or specific caveats, so make sure to read the descriptions next to each program.  

In terms of online classes, we found that the vast majority of medical schools inside the advisor report are accepting this type of coursework. 

Which Medical Schools are Accepting Pass/Fail Classes in 2020-2021?

Similarly, we found that the vast majority of medical schools inside the report are accepting pass/fail classes.

When skimming the document, you can make it easier on yourself by using the CTRL + F function on your keyboard and searching for “pass/fail.” Or use this function to search for the medical school of interest to read.  

Which Schools Waived the MCAT Requirement in 2020-2021? 

Some schools are waiving former policies about submitting an MCAT score from the last three years. Others are not requiring it for applicants to submit but will require it eventually before matriculation. Again, search for your programs of interest to read about their specific MCAT policies. 

Although it’s not an expansive list, we found that the following schools have made the MCAT optional for the 2020-2021 cycle:

Stanford University School of Medicine

University of Washington School of Medicine 

University of Minnesota Medical School

University of California San Francisco School of Medicine

Let us know in the comments below if we’ve missed any other medical schools that have completely waived the MCAT for 2020-2021. 

Required Extracurriculars for Medical School Admissions

EVERY PRE-MED is trying hard to meet the requirements, often at the expense of satisfying the second step of standing out and being different.

Yes, you need to meet the requirements of the typical pre-med checklist, but that won't actually get you into medical school. A high percentage of pre-meds who are qualified still don't get in.

Why? Because they failed to differentiate themselves from the pack. Down below, we’ll not only tell you the extracurriculars you NEED, but how to elevate them to more impressive heights.

Clinical Exposure

You’ll want a solid 100 hours or more of shadowing, and another 200 or so hours spent in a hospital or clinic. You need to show medical schools that you know what the job of a doctor entails, that you’re capable of making connections with a wide variety of patients, and that you’re not starry-eyed about the profession.

Think of this as exploring the map--you’ve got to put in your time to familiarize yourself with the environment.

Non-clinical Volunteering

You’ll need to accumulate several hundred hours of volunteering to demonstrate that you’re committed to serving humankind for the rest of your career.

To gain more experience points in the eyes of admissions committees, make sure your volunteer efforts are focused and sustained in one or two specific areas so that you can make a bigger impact on a particular cause (for example, spending all 300 hours helping feed the homeless is better than doing a scattered assortment of blood drives, beach cleanups, and charity fundraisers).


You’ll want at least a year of research experience if you want to level up competitively with the rest of the playing field.

Again, sustained focus or progress in one area or project is ideal. We’ve written about several strategies to get the most out of your research position


Like research, you’ll want a year or two of leadership positions.

As a pre-med, you can stand out most by spearheading different group efforts on and off campus. Remember: Job Titles Don’t Make Great Leaders; Impact Does.

Standing Out

How can you stand out when applying to medical school?

Choice #1. Be higher, better, stronger, and faster than everybody else in the categories above.


Choice #2. Do something to specialize, to give you an ability outside of what’s listed above.

If your stats are high enough (GPA and MCAT), you can get into medical school even if you don’t stand out in any particular area. But if you don’t have stellar numbers, then specialization is key. It’s not enough to just do the pre-med checklist; you need to have something else to make you stand out. 

One way to increase your chances of standing out is to design and execute a “capstone project.” 

To create your own capstone project, start by asking yourself:

  • What am I especially good at? What is my “superpower?”
  • Do I have access to a large group of friends? Access to funds?
  • What resources are available at my college or in my community that I could use to make an impact on my community?

These questions will help you determine what’s within the scope of possibility.

More importantly, you must determine a specific need or deficiency in your community. The best problems come from organizations where you’re already involved; that way, you can see what has already been attempted. If you don’t have any experience in the field, you’re just guessing at what you think the problems are:

  • What do I or my friends constantly complain about?
  • In what ways am I already making someone’s life better? How do I turn this into a more structured program and get others involved?
  • What’s a hot topic right now in the news that needs addressing in my community?

Need more inspiration. Here’s 3 example capstones to guide you. 

A capstone is a time-consuming process. But in a stack of similar applications, a significant accomplishment or distinct undertaking can set you apart and make you memorable.

Have any questions about medical school admissions requirements? Let us know in the comments below, and we’ll respond to you personally!

Learn to be Savvy! Get creative pre-med strategies delivered right to your inbox.
FREE Medical School Application Timeline when you subscribe.

We follow the email Golden Rule: we will never send you anything without your permission.