You did it—you got into medical school! Following months applying, years of volunteering and extracurricular activities, and over a decade of schooling, you’ve finally achieved the first of many goals leading to a future in healthcare. As the excitement begins to wear off, you may begin to feel nervous about your first year of medical school.

The road ahead won’t be easy, with the first year of medical school being highly competitive and often including a hefty schedule. That doesn’t mean you can’t have an enjoyable experience though. By preparing early and framing expectations for your first year in medical school, you will be apt to manage stress and be set for success. Below is an outline of what to expect during the first quarter of your medical education.


Grading Systems

One of the big changes you’ll experience as you transition from an undergraduate education to medical school is the grading system. Pass/fail grading systems are becoming increasingly common for first- and second-year programs. This grading system maintains institutional integrity while limiting strain and stress attributed to traditional grading systems. Although you may feel that pass/fail grades do not present a full picture of your academic abilities, they will provide you peace of mind and bring you closer to other students, lessening the emphasis on competition.


Course Curriculums

While actual degree requirements and schedules vary from school to school, courses required during the first year of medical school are similar. Classes may focus on physiology, anatomy, and chemistry, providing foundational knowledge that you can lean on as you continue your education. Although you may not interact with patients until your third year of medical school, you will have plenty of opportunities for hands-on training by way of cadaver dissection. This activity is often included in first-year studies.

Most medical schools follow one of two scheduling formats. Your school may require you to take multiple courses over many months or, you concentrate on one course exclusively for a week at a time. Regardless of the learning structure your institution follows, you will spend most of your first year in classrooms, lecture halls, and, occasionally, labs.


Standardized Tests

During the first year of medical school, you will want to plan for future standardized testing. You will need to take the USMLE Steps 1 and 2 to apply for residency. While most students take these exams during their third year of school, you may elect to take them earlier if you feel prepared to do so.

If you do take Step 1 during your first year, you will need study time separate from that required for course exams. Because you’ll be required to sign up for these exams well in advance, you may be inclined to put off studying. Somehow, it will always seem like you have enough time to put it off.

Start studying for the USMLE Steps before you think you need to. This will prevent you from having to cram in the weeks or days before the test.


Extracurricular Activities

As you transition into medical school, it’s important to understand that the next four years will include social sacrifices. While making time to socialize and enjoy aspects of life outside of medicine is essential to your wellbeing, there will be times when these things should be set aside. You have chosen to pursue a professional that can direct the course of an individual’s life. A license to practice medicine does not come easy, and you will need to prove worthy of it.

Study groups and cohorts are common in medical school. They can help you to stay on top of the required course material while still engaging with others. Signing on to be part of a study group can help you meet academic goals while scratching your social itch.



Medical education is expensive. During your first year of medical school, you will want to plan how you will be financing the next four years. Because you will probably need to take out student loans, you will want to keep your credit in check. Limit the number of credit cards you take out, and be sure to pay your bills on time.

If you have a job while in school, make sure you are saving something. If an emergency arises, you will be thankful to have something to fall back on, no matter how small.

For additional information on funding your medical schooling and managing student loans, consider checking out the American Association of Medical Colleges’ financial resources.


Have you already completed your first year of school? Is there a piece of advice you would like to share with future medical students? Add it in the comments below!


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