What’s it like to be pre-med at Yale? The short answer is, anything you want it to be! But since this is a very common question from prospective students, allow me to give you the long answer.
First of all, “pre-med” refers to anyone who is completing coursework in preparation for applying to medical schools. Medical schools vary in their requirements and recommendations, but typically pre-med students take courses in biology, math, physics, statistics, writing, and social science (i.e. psychology or something similar).
If this sounds vague and also, like, kind of a lot, that’s because it is. Thankfully, I’ve found that Yale has a lot of resources for navigating pre-med life, and that the climate among pre-med students is supportive rather than cutthroat.
During my first year, the most helpful advising resources were FroCos (First-Year counselors) and professional advisers at the Health Professions Advisory Program (HPAP) - part of Yale’s Office of Career Strategy.
Among the FroCos in each residential college, there’s usually at least one pre-med who can provide informal, very helpful advice. FroCos really understand how overwhelming it can be to choose classes as a first-year, because they were in your shoes just a few years ago. I’ll never forget when I talked to Priya, a Saybrook FroCo, about how confused I was about what I needed to take my first semester. She calmed me down, walked me through the core pre-med classes, and handed me an index card listing them. This simple gesture made my aspirations feel a lot more manageable. I’m pretty sure I still have that notecard somewhere.
Here’s the notecard! I took a picture so I could refer to it during Shopping Period my first year.
The advisers at HPAP provide more structured guidance throughout your four years and during the medical school application process itself. You can set up 15 to 30-minute meetings at any time. The advisers are super friendly! I always try to set up a meeting with Laurie at the beginning of each semester. She looks at my courses to make sure I’m checking off all the boxes, and gives me a much needed sanity check.
Pre-med courses vary in difficulty, but are generally hard. Not to fear, though! Practically all of the courses have a ton of support from Undergraduate Learning Assistants (ULAs), graduate Teaching Assistants (TAs), and professor office hours. They are there to help you do your problem sets and prepare for exams. ULAs are students who have taken the class before and are generally a year or two older. TAs tend to have more expert knowledge in the subject and can explain tricky concepts in new ways.
Many classes also allow you to work with your peers on problem sets, and Yale students are excellent collaborators! By putting our heads together, we can work through a lot of problems. I’ve learned so much from my peers, and it’s very comforting to know that we’re all in it together. This collegial (pun intended) atmosphere makes my pre-med classes a lot more fun.
Beyond the recommended pre-med courses, there is no specific major for pre-meds. Many choose to major in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, or Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry. However, many others choose English, Religious Studies, Biomedical Engineering, or even Computer Science (like me!). While biology-related majors tend to already include many pre-med courses, majors like English and CS don’t have much overlap. However, it is perfectly possible to complete any major you choose alongside pre-med, as long as you plan well–see advising resources above :)
Being pre-med is difficult, but it definitely doesn’t mean you have to miss out on other aspects of Yale. Apart from being able to major in anything you’d like, pre-meds also engage in Yale’s extracurricular and social scenes. Among the pre-meds I know, there are singers in acapella groups, Whaling Crew members (our pep club), varsity athletes, and Yale Daily News reporters. The key is, of course, time management!
I am really excited about a future career in medicine, but I’m glad that being “a pre-med” is hasn’t boxed me in at Yale. I’ve been able to major in a totally different field, make friends across majors, and be really engaged with the Yale Symphony. I hope that my wide range of experiences at Yale will help me to become a more empathetic and informed doctor one day.