Premed Survival Guide

Thanks for stopping by this page! Let us know using this form if you have any comments, suggestions, or want to add your own advice to help other premed BIOEs! The advice given is from the experience of BIOE pre-meds and is not necessarily endorsed by the Career Center or the Bioengineering department.

Paths to Medicine

There are actually several paths to becoming a doctor. There are lots of great resources to help you understand each path, so be sure to check out the Canvas course to learn more.


“MD programs are generally considered more competitive than DO programs (however, don’t underestimate the competitiveness of medical school admissions in general. Qualified applicants can be and often are rejected from “less competitive” programs). A common strategy is to apply some MD and some DO so that you maximize your chance of admission in a cycle. I applied only MD because I did not want to try to fill out two separate application systems and I thought my application was competitive enough to gain admission to an MD program, but definitely consider applying to DO if you want to maximize your chances of admission.”


“Pursuing an MD/PhD is one of the most rewarding paths if one is interested in translational research. Historically, the MD/PhD program is designed to train physician-scientists who spend 80% of their time on research and 20% of their time in the clinic. Having the ability to see both perspectives allows one to devise new therapies and diagnostics. I used to think that the MD/PhD was more clinically focused, but I realized that MD/PhD was much more geared towards research. I participated in the Mayo Clinic SURF program, and this experience helped me concretely see how the MD/PhD training prepares students to conduct translational research. Learning about this unique research training that also blends in clinical perspectives led me to choose to pursue an MD/PhD program.”


You may not have heard of the distinction between MD and DO, but DO programs are definitely worth checking into. Both degrees can lead to the same outcome (becoming a practicing physician).

“You can pursue any specialty as a DO and perform work the same as an MD. You will have specialized training in Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment and the philosophy is intended to focus on whole-patient well-being.”

“One physician I talked to said that in his experience, DO residents outperformed MD students especially at the beginning because they had more hands-on clinical training.”

“One caution I have heard is to check into the curriculum of DO programs. Some programs require you to find your own rotations, which can put a lot of stress on the medical student.”

First Steps

Meet with a pre-health advisor at the Career Center. You should meet with a pre-health advisor once per semester to keep current and accountable on your progress through your pre-medical requirements. Build good rapport as early as possible! Maddie Darling is also a great resource because she knows how the Bioengineering curriculum interfaces with pre-medicine. Bring up your interest in medicine as early as possible–this helps you plan early and make room for the coursework and other activities you need to be successful. However, don’t stress if you decide to apply to medical school later in undergraduate – taking gap years before matriculating to medical school is a very common path to medicine as well. 

Then, check out the BIOE Premed Resources in the Resources tab!

Medical College Admission Test® (MCAT)

The MCAT Exam is a just over 7.5 hour exam with test-taking time and optional breaks—including one for lunch. Yes, it’s crazy, but you can do it! Each of the four sections of the MCAT is scored from 118 to 132, with the mean and median at 125. Therefore, the total score ranges from 472 to 528, with the mean and median at 500.

The Kaplan Complete 7 Book Subject Review MCAT series is popular among BIOE’s for content review, and Uworld is a great resource for practice problems. It is highly recommended to take several of the practice exams from AAMC to get a feel for test day. BMES has some MCAT resources available during office hours, so check them out! You should start preparing anytime after your spring sophomore year and take the exam sometime in your junior year. The most common time to take it is in the spring semester of your junior year if you plan to apply to medical school right out of undergraduate.

  1. Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
    1. Biology
    2. Biochemistry
  2. Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
    1. General Chemistry
    2. Organic Chemistry
    3. Physics
  3. Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
  4. Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

Coursework can change from time to time, so double check all advice here with your premed and BIOE advisor.

The Bioengineering curriculum already includes the following:

Biology: MCB 150, BIOE 202, BIOE 206
Physics: PHYS 211/212
General Chemistry and Laboratory: CHEM 102/103, CHEM 104/105
Organic Chemistry and Laboratory: CHEM 232/233
Anatomy and Physiology: BIOE 302/303

Additionally, you will need to take

Biochemistry: MCB 450 (more common) or MCB 354
Social and Behavioral Sciences: examples, SOC 100, PSYCH 100, PSYCH 201, etc.

And evaluate if the following are required for your medical schools

Organic Chemistry II: CHEM 332 (more common) or CHEM 437
Specific sequence of Social and Behavioral Sciences
Check the MSAR and send emails if necessary to their admissions departments

“Be as informed as possible on the requirements for the specific schools you want to apply to. I had access to the MSAR database and the general pre-medical requirements, but I found it the most helpful to look up the information specifically on each school’s website anyway. I also emailed admissions officers from the school to clarify requirements if I had questions, or asked my pre-health advisor from the Career Center to contact the school and find the information I needed.”

“Be persistent until you find what you need.”

– A thorough and sometimes annoying premed who found what they needed.

Information from the Bioengineering department regarding coursework for pre-medical bioengineering students.

Pre-health materials in the broader UIUC community. Enroll in the Canvas course for Pre-Health at Illinois. Students can use the modules to learn about different health fields, find clinical experience and volunteering, schedule a peer advising appointment and much more.

The Career Center has various resources like Health Professions Advising (30 minute appointments with pre-health advisors) and
Health Professions Drop-ins to answer quick questions about classes & more.

“Advisors are a great starting point to get the information you need. However, remember that your experiences and background are unique from other pre-medical students; the Career Center advisors are not always as familiar with engineering students and their curriculum, so make sure you are your own best advocate to reach for the resources and support you need. Ask the Career Center. Ask Maddie Darling. Ask the department advisor of whatever department your question involves. Ask upperclassmen. Be persistent until you find what you need.”

The Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR database) is a database with information on all US medical schools. There are some elements you can access for free, such as class size, application fee, degrees offered (MD/MPH, MD/MBA, MD/PhD, etc.), tuition, etc. Other elements are subscription only, such as Required / Recommended Coursework, GPA ranges, and MCAT ranges.

Subscriptions to MSAR are available by purchase as a 1 or 2 year subscription.

BIOE Tip: “I got a discount by attending an AAMC virtual fair and then signing up for the MSAR database. Especially after COVID, however, I found that the database was not always accurate, especially for coursework requirements which changed quite a bit, so I found myself looking up this information on each schools individual website anyway. Check with an upperclassman before purchasing to see how much they used the database and if it is worth it.”

This newsletter from the AAMC is useful to keep track of upcoming MCAT deadlines, learn about virtual admissions fairs, and find book recommendations or blog posts written by students in medicine.

The AAMC offers virtual fairs for prospective applicants that connects students with admissions representatives from many schools.

“I attended several of these admissions fairs and talked to representatives from schools I was really interested in like Case Western Reserve and Washington University. I gained helpful insights, like realizing how much Washington University valued update letters from its applicants. It’s a great way to get a bit familiar with your top school’s admissions staff too. Just make sure you follow virtual fair etiquette and always behave like a professional, because there are real people behind the screen even if it feels less formal than an in-person career fair. Make sure the fair is free because they offer both free and paid events throughout the year.”

“Be as informed as possible on the requirements for the specific schools you want to apply to. I had access to the MSAR database and the general pre-medical requirements, but I found it the most helpful to look up the information specifically on each school’s website anyway. I also emailed admissions officers from the school to clarify requirements if I had questions, or asked my pre-health advisor from the Career Center to contact the school and find the information I needed.”

Find Your Story

Don’t just check boxes to fill your time as a pre-medical student at UIUC. Look for cohesive, enjoyable activities that together tell a story of why you are interested in medicine and where you are headed. If an activity is not a good fit, do not be afraid to move on to something new (and don’t get too worried, all pre-health activities are not necessarily a good representation of medicine as a career). However, try to have some solid activities under your belt that you want to continue by around your sophomore or junior year so you can move into leadership roles in the future.

“I have family experience and an interest in geriatrics and oncology. I sought out volunteer opportunities as a Hospice Volunteer, participated in the Cancer Scholars program, and did research in a cancer research laboratory. My personal statement built off of these interests and told the story of how they drew me into a career in medicine.”

BIOE Favorites


Check out AAMC’s Great Summer Reads for Aspiring Physicians. Vol. 1 Vol. 2 Vol. 3 Vol 4.

The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee, MD, PhD
Pulitzer-prize winning author and pathologist, Dr. Mukherjee, writes about the history of cancer from its first documented occurrence to modern treatments.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, MD
After being diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, Dr. Kalanithi reflects on the challenge of facing mortality and the relationship between doctor and patient.


“Christian Essman of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, gives the listener a unique view into the medical school admissions world through a series of revealing interviews with key admissions figures from around the country.”

Premed Application Timeline and AMCAS

Broadly speaking, you begin the application process about a year before you matriculate. There are several helpful timelines out there, including from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), Shemmassian Consulting (Plug for this website–Shemmassian got me through the entire application process with a ton of free posts and information), and the Princeton Review.

Many BIOE’s take the MCAT over winter break in their junior year if they plan to matriculate directly after undergraduate. 
There are several steps to the medical school application process itself, including a primary application through AMCAS, secondary applications for each individual school you apply to, and (hopefully!) interviews. There are also other ways to communicate with the admissions office, including update letters and letters of interest or intent that can be sent after applications are submitted. Check out Shemmassian Consulting for posts with guidance for each of these stages of the admissions process.

“Make sure you leave time the summer you plan to apply for medical school. The application process is BRUTAL. Sorry, not very encouraging–it is worth it for the end goal! But you definitely want to have enough time to complete your applications both thoroughly and as soon as possible because many schools have rolling admissions.”

Components of AMCAS

  1. Identifying information
  2. Educational history
  3. Biographical Information
  4. Coursework
  5. Work, Activities, and Meaningful Experiences
  6. Letters of Evaluation
  7. Medical Schools that will receive your application
  8. Essay(s) (Personal Comments Essay; MD-PhD Essay; Significant Research Experience Essay)
  9. Standardized Test Scores (MCAT; CASPer; PREview)
Interview Tips

There are plenty of resources out there for medical interviewing, whether virtually or in person. There’s an entire podcast episode about virtual interviewing from the All-Access Admissions Podcast as well as articles like this one from The Ohio State University College of Medicine.

“I interviewed all virtually for the ’21-’22 application cycle. Interviewing can be both really exciting and really draining (even virtually, most of them took all day with a welcome session, breakout rooms, etc. on top of the 2-3 actual interviews). If you can, try to leave flexibility in your schedule for the fall and winter of your application cycle. Especially think about senior project and if you want to be handling that on top of interviews–I interviewed mainly in the fall semester and did senior project at the same time, and it was a bit hectic. No regrets though because it was nice to have it out of the way.”

“Write your interview thank you emails as soon as possible after your interviews. The details are fresher and it’s much easier to include details from the interview, which helps your thank you letter be more personal.”

RSOs and Volunteer Opportunities

“Carle Hospice volunteers touch the lives of terminally ill patients and their families through the delivery of compassion and companionship. You can help by training as an In-Home Hospice Volunteer, Bereavement Volunteer, or an Administrative Volunteer.”

“Volunteers are an extension of our Community of Caregivers’ team and serve as a liaison for patients, their families and our Mission Partners. Our volunteer opportunities fall into the following three categories: Greeter and Escort Team, Clerical Support Team, and Patient Services Team.”

“Avicenna Community Health Care is entirely dependent on volunteers to make our services possible. We thrive on reliable volunteers who are passionate about providing health care services to the uninsured and underinsured population in Champaign County.”

“Mi Pueblo is a student-run network of Spanish conversation groups. This means that U of I students volunteer their time to lead 1-hour sessions in Spanish at different times and places around campus every week.”

COVID-19 and Pre-Med…

Take advantage of these opportunities to participate in virtual shadowing – some have certified hours for shadowing and it is a great opportunity to experience a variety of specialties.

“Virtual shadowing exposed me to a variety of specialties I was unaware of previously, like Maternal Fetal Medicine. Hearing the physicians talk through cases and be honest about the challenges of their jobs reinforced my passion for medicine. Use virtual shadowing to understand the breadth of the medical field and highly value in-person experiences to get depth into a specialty. As in-person opportunities (hopefully) become more possible after the pandemic, place a lot more weight on these experiences because admissions committees do not always know what to expect from virtual experiences.”

Pre-med maybe just isn’t for me, now what??

Be honest with yourself. Medicine isn’t a career for everyone, and the last thing you want to do is keep convincing yourself you want to be a doctor against what you feel is actually right for you. Give yourself freedom to explore other career options like industry, research, and graduate school or other health professions. Your talents will be amazing in any field you choose, especially if it is a better fit for you! 

How did other BIOE’s decide?

“As an underclassman, I initially wanted to do an MD-PhD. I knew early on that I definitely wanted to do the PhD, or some other research-heavy track. With an MD, I hoped to both enhance my research capabilities, and have person-to-person interactions with patients.

However, I quickly realized that I did not enjoy the premedical courses such as BIOE 302 and MCB 450. The memorization and content was simply not interesting for me, and in the case of BIOE 302, the only aspects of the course I truly connected with were all related to computational modeling. The most important lesson I learned from these classes was that I do not enjoy biochemistry or physiology, the hallmarks of medicine.

At the same time, I found myself drawn more and more to my research. I enjoyed the collaborative environment and coalescence of different skill sets. The critical and independent thinking was unbelievably enjoyable and rewarding in its own unique way. I found myself continuing to enjoy engineering and research while dreading all things medicine.

Then I started to think more about the lifestyle in medical school and beyond, including the stress, hectic pace, and schedule (read: early morning surgical rotations). Graduate school also had its own challenging demands with long hours in the lab, teaching assignments, and extensive writing. However, graduate school promised both flexibility and independence. I could choose the projects I wanted to work on, and thus, both enjoy my work and take ownership of it.

In the end, I was forced to ask myself if I wanted to trade two years of a PhD career for 6-7 years of a medical career that I would struggle with. The answer was pretty easy.”

– Abid Rehman, ’22. For questions, please email: