Choosing Courses


The admission requirements of most medical schools are satisfied by the following Williams College courses:

BIOL 101, 102 The Cell, The Organism
CHEM 153 (or 151 or 155), 156 Introductory Chemistry, Introductory Organic Chemistry
CHEM 251 (or 255), 256 Intermediate Organic Chemistry, Advanced Chemical Concepts
PHYS 131, 132 Introduction to Mechanics, Electromagnetism and the Physics of Matter
ENGL 1XX or higher Courses with an emphasis on literature and composition. Many schools require two such courses; others permit one writing intensive course to substitute. (Note: these courses must be designated at Williams with a “W.”)
MATH 1XX or higher; STAT 101 or 201; PSYC 201 Calculus (the equivalent of Math 130–140) or a higher math course; and a statistics course. May fulfill with AP.
BIOL/CHEM 321 or 322 Biochemistry I or II


Some students elect to take courses beyond the basic requirements, based on interest in the material and the additional requirements published by specific schools. Plan to meet with the Health Professions Advisor(s) early in your Williams career to discuss these options. It is advisable for humanities majors to take at least one more science course beyond those required for medical school.

Typical additional courses might include:

PSYC 101 or SOC 101 Intro to Psychology or Sociology
BIOL 202 Genetics
BIOL 205 Physiology
BIOL 301 Developmental Biology
PSYC/BIOL 212 Neuroscience
BIOL 315 Microbiology (required by many vet schools)

In some cases AP or IB credit may be used, but it is not automatically accepted in lieu of a required course. AP is best used to place into an advanced section, as appropriate. Check with the Advisor for details.

In general, medical schools do not view favorably the taking of prerequisite courses overseas or during summer session. Schools are aware that in many instances the standards of these courses are not equivalent to courses offered in regular semesters. Except in those cases when the student must resort to summer courses because of a late decision to prepare for medical school, it is best to avoid them.

Your major is arguably the most important curricular decision in your college career, and among the least important factors in your medical school application. Professional schools do not prefer any particular major, though many eventual applicants major in the sciences as a result of their interests. In recent years, nearly every department on campus has been represented among medical school applicants.

Factors to consider when choosing courses:

  1. In your first year, try to sample at least one course from each department that you see as a potential major. This guide may offer good advice:
  1. You should elect no more than two laboratory science courses during each of your first-year semesters. Some students choose to take two science courses in their first semester at Williams, such as Biology 101 and Chemistry 153; others opt to take only one science course. Those students likely to do well in a single science course are also likely to do well in two taken simultaneously. Doing well in two laboratory courses taken concurrently requires excellent study habits and time-management skills. You are probably the best judge of whether you will thrive with a schedule that demands considerable time and effort in and out of class (including studying regularly, doing problem sets, and analyzing laboratory data).
  1. Recognize that your first-year courses are part of a multi-year plan. It is helpful to list courses you need and courses you want, then arrange them into a semester-by-semester schedule. In this way, you can see how early choices affect later terms. Some students who enroll in only one science course at first later regret not starting with two laboratory courses, as it becomes significantly harder to complete the pre-medical requirements while at the same time balancing study abroad or double major plans. Other students regret enrolling in two science courses in the first semester, finding it difficult to adjust successfully to college life with such a demanding course load. For such students, it is realistic to take multiple science courses later on, when career goals are solidified and experience enables effective use of time.
  1. Your early course choices should not over-emphasize pre-professional study because experience shows that many students reconsider their career plans as they develop other academic interests.
  1. Students interested in study abroad during the junior year should consider Chemistry 153 (F),156 (S) during the first year in order to complete the four-semester chemistry sequence without interruption.
  1. Choosing a 100-level English course in the first year is advisable, as entering students are given preference in many sections.
  1. You are encouraged to consult with the Health Professions Advisor, with course instructors, with department chairs and with your First-Year Advisor as needed before making final decisions regarding courses.

The Health Professions advisor is Barbara Fuller. If you have additional questions, you should feel free to contact her via e-mail at [email protected]  The Health Professions website, which offers general advice and guidance, can be found here.