The 10 Best Pre-Med Schools in California

Most medical schools share similar requirements. What medical schools do not require is a specific “pre-med” major – in fact, most U.S. undergraduate programs don’t even have such a major by name.

Most colleges approach pre-med as an advising track, a program of coursework that helps them cover all the classes required for admission by most medical schools.

While it’s true that most required classes are science-based courses like biology, general chemistry, and physics, medical school admission also requires English and specific math courses. 

Most pre-health counselors urge students to determine if medical school is the right choice by researching other careers in health care. Some programs recommend a gap year to focus on MCATs or to gain work experience.

If a student is set on med school, advice and support through the undergraduate years can make all the difference. The best undergraduate programs for pre-med students have high student/faculty ratios, strong undergraduate teaching ratings, and ample opportunities for research and internships.

Because of their programs that help students schedule appropriate coursework, find scholarships, research the best medical programs, and get involved with internships and volunteer opportunities, these ten California undergraduate programs can make a student “pre-med,” regardless of major.

A great MCAT score won’t hurt, either.

Here are 10 of the best pre-med schools in California.

Occidental College (Los Angeles, CA)

Occidental University
The Port of Authority, Occidental quad, CC BY-SA 3.0

Occidental College, a small, liberal arts college in Northeastern Los Angeles, grounds its mission in the ethics of community. Occidental (Oxy) fosters a commitment to service and to academic excellence in its students – great foundations for a medical school applicant.

It’s not a major, but Oxy offers Pre-Health Advising to undergraduates planning careers in health-related fields. The college offers an array of specific majors and minors; students wanting to create a strong profile for a med school application could combine a Biology major with a Biochemistry minor, or Writing and Rhetoric as a major with Neuroscience as a minor, as a more novel approach.

The Pre-Health Advising program helps students select courses, set professional goals, and find research and volunteering opportunities. They even review med school applications and conduct practice interviews.

Pre-Health sponsors events for students interested in health-related fields, including workshops, conferences, and graduate school fairs so that students can find the best fit for their next program.

Named one of the most beautiful campuses in America by Newsweek, Oxy has been used as a filming location for TV and movies. The school typically accepts around 40% of undergraduate applicants annually.

Santa Clara University (Santa Clara, CA)

Santa Clara University
Cristiano Tomás, Sobrato Campus for Discovery and Innovation, CC BY-SA 4.0

Santa Clara’s Pre-Health Advising program has ushered over 200 graduates into more than 60 different medical schools over the last two decades, including prestigious programs like Duke, Stanford, and Johns Hopkins.

Candidate experience can dramatically enhance a med school applicant’s profile. Santa Clara helps students choose projects to nurture their interests while also making a difference in the community. 

From starting undergraduate research projects with faculty members to working as a medical scribe, the Pre-Health Advisors have ideas that pre-med students might not know about or how to pursue.

Santa Clara has numerous student clubs related to health care fields. Joining a campus group like Global Medical Bridges or Women in Medicine helps undergrads make lifelong connections and establishes a pattern of interest for a med school application.

Santa Clara is a Jesuit university with an 11:1 Faculty/Student ratio, so students can expect strong campus mentorship and individually-focused academics. U.S. News ranked Santa Clara #23 nationwide in undergraduate teaching; Forbes ranks it #51 out of its 650 Top Colleges. Its Bay Area location attracts students for its beauty and for its proximity to San Francisco.

Claremont-McKenna College (Claremont, CA)

Claremont McKenna College
Victoire Chalupy, Kravis Center, Claremont McKenna College, CC BY-SA 3.0

Claremont McKenna is one of the seven Claremont Colleges, a consortium of liberal arts colleges modeled on Oxford University. (Pomona and Harvey Mudd are also Claremont Colleges).

Oxford’s influence can be seen in the way Claremont McKenna guides undergrads through experiential learning, mentorships, and internships both on and off-campus.

The Keck Science Department at Claremont McKenna offers a program called Accelerated Integrated Science Sequence, unique to this department and developed with assistance from the National Science Association. 

First-year students can take an intense, interdisciplinary science course that packs three years of biology and chemistry into one. AISS students are then prepared to take more in-depth coursework sooner, moving toward majors like Molecular Biology or Organismal Biology.

Keck Science also offers Pre-Health Advising, where Claremont McKenna students can plan a timeline for their exams, as well as find internships and volunteer positions. 

The Keck Pre-Health program recommends and assists students in finding clinical experience opportunities, vital to a robust med school application.

All Keck science majors can participate in a substantive research project with faculty, another critical element in a solid med school application. 

In addition to publication, these internships often lead to participation or presentations at professional society meetings like the Society for Neuroscience or the Genetics Society of America.

The 9.4% acceptance rate can make applying to Claremont McKenna seem a bit daunting. But admissions officials use a holistic approach in evaluating applicants, and they urge students to highlight the rigor of their high school program and their impact on their respective communities.

Pepperdine University (Malibu, CA)

Pepperdine University
​Wolffystyle, Pepperdine University Malibu Canyon Entrance Gate, CC BY-SA 3.0

The undergraduate institution at Pepperdine, Seaver College, offers pre-health and pre-medicine coursework and guidance. 

With an 89% acceptance rate to medical programs after graduation, Seaver’s Pre-Health and Pre-Medicine programs are successful.

A Career Center, Volunteer Center, and research opportunities are all part of the Seaver Pre-health program. Student clubs, visiting speakers, and assistance coordinating Letters of Recommendation make this program truly useful for students interested in medical school.

Founded as a Church of Christ institution, Pepperdine still maintains a strong focus on spiritual practice in student daily life. Spiritual Life Advisors live alongside students in the dorms, and regular religious retreats are offered.

Pepperdine perches above the Pacific Ocean in Malibu, one of the most beautiful college locations imaginable. Seaver College consistently ranks highly in undergraduate teaching, at #18 overall, according to U.S. News. Pepperdine is usually ranked among the top 5 Christian colleges nationwide.

Pomona College (Claremont, CA)

Pomona College
Why.architecture, Pomona College Studio Art Hall aerial view, CC BY-SA 4.0

Pomona College also holds an impressive medical school acceptance rate, with an average of 85% acceptance among their Pre-Health graduates. 

Their program encourages students to familiarize themselves with the overall competencies medical schools want to see in application materials; they also map the specific classes at Pomona that satisfy the most common requirements for medical school acceptance.

Pomona Pre-Health gives its students an advantage by supplying them with numerous guides, worksheets, and planning tools. 

The Pomona approach is practical and strategic while also personal and customizable. The Pre-Health advice and resources here will appeal to students with strong organizational skills, or those who need a defined matrix of goals and benchmarks.

Many Pre-Health students volunteer at Pomona’s Draper Center, or spend summers working with City of Hope or The Lundquist Institute. 

Academic support comes from several campus services, from the Pomona Quantitative Skills Center to the Sage Fellows Program, a peer-based academic coaching group on campus.

Students from all 50 states are currently enrolled at Pomona; its reach is beyond California, and its stellar reputation accounts for its 8% acceptance rate. It’s also a member of the Claremont College consortium, along with Claremont-McKenna. U.S. News has been ranking Pomona in its Top Ten of liberal arts colleges since it began ranking them in 1984.

University of Southern California (Los Angeles, CA)

University of Southern California
Sitao Xiang, USC VKC building, CC BY-SA 4.0

The University of Southern California’s Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences provides prospective medical students with its Office of Pre-Health Advisement. The office serves current students and alumni who decide to apply to medical school after graduation.

At USC, the Office of Pre-Health Advisement fosters collaboration among students and with faculty, creating a community of health-focused learners. Curriculum planning, selection of major and minor, application review, access to volunteer opportunities, and personal support are all furnished by the Office of Pre-Health.

Once students are in the application process, the Office of Pre-Health holds workshops on interview skills, writing a personal statement, and other topics designed to assist students in maximizing their approach to their med school application.

Located right in Los Angeles, USC is a big-city school drawing on a rich pool of resources on and off campus. With core research facilities in Neuroscience and Cell and Molecular Imaging, USC Dornsife offers many options for a pre-health candidate.

The Experiential Learning Program at USC can provide all kinds of social, professional, and academic experiences relevant to pre-health students. Studying abroad represents independent thought, cultural sensitivity, and maturity to medical school application readers, and hand-on learning experiences paint a candidate as capable and self-aware.

The USC Dornsife/Keck Student Shadowing Program gives pre-health students a chance to shadow actual physicians and other health care providers. This opportunity provides crucial mentorship, insight, and experience for future medical students.

UCSD (San Diego, CA)

UCSD School of Medicine
TritonsRising, UCSD Biomedical Library, CC BY-SA 4.0

The University of California San Diego offers guidance for students planning medical school applications through their Career Center, where the Pre-Health program supports students in separate professional paths. Medicine, dentistry, optometry, nursing, veterinary medicine, physician’s assistant – multiple career options have their own advisory tracks.

UCSD Pre-Health helps students plan the application process, study for entrance tests, even plan financing. Step-by step mentoring keeps students on track for graduation and on to professional programs. 

Like many schools, UCSD recommends a gap year between undergraduate coursework and most medical programs.

Events and workshops help students make connections, find work opportunities, and find support from peers during the application process. Students can get help with specific tasks, like creating CVs and cover letters.

Pre-Health encourages students to use self-assessment tools, like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, as a way of determining how best to present their talents and abilities through their written applications and interviews.

UCSD has a highly-ranked undergraduate program and an excellent teaching hospital where students can find opportunities for practical experience. There are strong departments in popular undergraduate majors like Microbiology, Pharmacology, and Psychiatry, along with less common but relevant choices like Infectious Disease.

UCLA (Los Angeles, CA)

UCLA Medical Center
Biochemistry2016, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, CC BY-SA 4.0

UCLA’s Pre-Health Services supports undergraduates preparing for medical school with academic counseling, checklists, sample schedules, and separate counseling for non-science majors. 

An entire year of step-by-step preparation happens before the application, including workshops and interview preparation.

Like many schools, UCLA strongly urges students to gain experience in health fields before applying to any health science program. 

Pre-Health breaks down at least eight ways to gain that experience, facilitating clinical volunteer work, research opportunities, training and certifications, and shadowing programs. The quality and quantity of experience options at UCLA show how layered and complete the Pre-Health support really is.

UCLA’s Pre-Health details useful plans for the gap year strategy so many medical schools favor. Through Pre-Health Services, UCLA med school candidates might pursue formal or informal post-baccalaureate programs to bolster their appeal to their top medical school choices.

Often ranked the top public university in the U.S., UCLA has the advantages of a large public university with the classroom experience of a smaller college: more than half of UCLA’s classes have fewer than 20 students. 

Over 1,000 student organizations, a world-class research hospital, and a beautiful coastal location make it a strong choice for a pre-health undergraduate experience.

UC-Berkeley (Berkeley, CA)

UC Berkeley
Firstcultural, UC Berkeley Wheeler Hall and Library, CC0 1.0

The University of California-Berkeley calls its pre-health advising program a pre-professional path, rather than a major. 

Like most schools, Berkeley urges potential medical school candidates to major in a subject they will excel in.

Cal Berkeley stresses maintaining a rigorous course load and a strong GPA while also showing an interest in helping others through volunteer work. Because the school has many pre-health students and a wide array of science programs, there are numerous ways to participate in research, gain clinical experience, and connect with other future health care professionals in over 50 health-related campus organizations.

Former Cal Berkeley Pre-Health students do well when applying to medical school, with over half of first year applicants placing in a program. Statistics are even better, around 65%, for students who take a year off before applying.

The first public university to be named the number one school in the country by Forbes, Berkeley delivers an elite-level education with a lower price and the resources of a large research institution.

Stanford University (Stanford, CA)

Stanford University
King of Hearts, Stanford University from Hoover Tower, CC BY-SA 3.0

Almost every school advises its students interested in medical school to focus on a rigorous undergraduate course of study in a subject they can approach with enthusiasm. At Stanford University, students can take a course on how to be happy. This skill might be one of the most important to acquire while planning for medical school.

Stanford ranks in the top ten colleges nationwide. Its programs in Biomedical Engineering and Biotechnology are among the best in the country. It’s highly ranked for service learning and internships, also crucial for pre-health students.

For Pre-Health students, Stanford has a Pre-Med Association for each class year. Students meet with Pre-Health advisors individually through the Stanford Academic Advisory Program. 

A mock interview specialist is also available to guide students through the medical school interview process.

An essential feature of Stanford’s program is its shadowing opportunity, the Immersion in Medicine Series. Students can shadow physicians at Stanford Hospital, Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, and the Palo Alto VA Hospital.

Stanford’s advice mirrors that of most other pre-health programs on this point: medical schools want to see a particular motivation to help people through medicine. 

Test scores, science coursework, research credits can all help, but students with the best chance of success are the ones who find a way to engage with people in a clinical setting, developing interpersonal skills, and demonstrating an interest in others.