9 Ways Medical School Differs From Undergraduate College

By Nayra Mendoza on March 27, 2016

This article is brought to you by Kaplan, the leader in test prep for over 90 standardized tests, including the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, and MCAT.

Undergraduate students aren’t exactly prepared when they come into college.

Attending medical school is yet another milestone that has to be reached in your medical career. A thriving medical school will emphasize teamwork, active learning, and prioritizing.

Here are 10 ways medical school is very different from undergraduate college.

Refining Your Studies

medical school differences

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Undergraduate schools have general majors and fields that will eventually end with a general bachelor’s degree. You can go anywhere from there.

Once you get to medical school, you already know you’re pursuing a career in medicine and health. Even if you haven’t figured out where your specialty lies just yet or where you will begin your internship, you have already made a huge step towards completing your medical profession.


If you think undergraduate research papers are the worst, you’re not ready for medical school. Your workload will only increase and intensify. The medical field changes constantly, and scientists find newer and better ways to treat health problems. Students have to learn the original ways to diagnose and treat issues as well as keep up with new studies.

Medical students also do research in labs at or near their school for further learning and experience. Applying some of your research knowledge and skills to your lecture and vice versa is also a good way of memorizing information.

A Change of Pace

Many students are used to walking into their class on the first day of class and reading a syllabus that outlines the dates for major quizzes and exams throughout the semester. When the time comes for an exam, you’re most likely up at crazy hours of the night trying to absorb all of your notes.

This will not get you through medical school, however. The best way to keep up with your medical school learning is by actively studying. Take as many notes as you can during lecture. Identify what was given more emphasis and what is most important. Think of how to apply the information to a “bigger picture.” Continuously apply your notes to theoretical problems. Keeping important concepts fresh in your mind throughout all of your lectures will help you when the time comes to take your exam.

Teamwork Makes The Dream Work

medical school differences

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Most of your cases will be team-based. Team projects are more successful in teaching students by learning from and correcting your teammates and yourself. Teamwork will also facilitate the ability to trust colleagues and other doctors you will have to work with in the future.


The time you commit to medical school is a lot more demanding than when getting your associate’s or bachelor’s degree. There is more complex, critical-thinking work and material that needs to be digested by the brain in a shorter amount of time.

Self-Check Your Progress

Be comfortable but never satisfied. Study more and party less. Don’t stress yourself on the small things. Create self-assessment checkpoints accordingly to make sure you’re on the right track. It’s easy to get stressed to the point of insanity with a heavy course-load and intense learning.

Just because you can’t do everything you used to, that doesn’t mean you have to cut all of it completely. Plan accordingly and you can still have good breaks from school to see friends and family.

Cases Take Over

The undergraduate format of teaching and learning differs from how professors prepare future doctors. You’re most likely used to didactic learning, or professors lecturing you to cover the material in the course.

Medical school lectures differ from this type of learning because you will encounter case-based work. Learning from past cases is the most common form of successfully applying lessons to real patients and future cases in medical school.

Monitor Your Heart

medical school differences

Image via (New York Post)

You don’t have the energy or time for much else when you’re in medical school outside of class and studying. Just don’t forget your body and heart need to be as healthy as your brain.

Exercise often to keep your body functioning properly. Of course, everyone knows that what you fuel your body with is just as, if not more, important. Eat healthy meals to keep your metabolism working properly and energy up.

No Time For Distractions

School should always come first. You’re still young and you can still have fun, but your idea of fun will definitely be altered. Distractions can come in many forms: relationships, technology, keeping up with a social life. We all give ourselves some Netflix time as rewards, but think about how much more useful that time can be studying.

Whether you are considering medical school or already know where you’re going, you should be aware of the differences you will face. Stay on top of your studying and homework, actively apply information to new lectures and cases, and self-assess your progress frequently. You’ll be much more prepared for medical school, and you can modify your learning skills as you go.

Learn more about Kaplan’s test prep options and start building the confidence you need for Test Day.

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