The answer to that varies depending on the classes available at a particular high school but in general terms BS/MD programs like to see students that have 4 years of each of the 5 core academic subjects. The 5 core subjects?
A Single Foreign Language
In most cases, the strongest students will have a schedule similar to this. Let’s look at each of these subject areas.
For math, a student applying to a BS/MD program will be at a serious disadvantage if they don’t have calculus and preferably AP Calculus. I have seen very few students admitted to a BS/MD program without a background in calculus. Whether it is AB or BC Calculus, or even a higher math, doesn’t seem to matter much from an admissions standpoint.
In the sciences, BS/MD programs typically like to see a year each of biology, chemistry and physics. Some programs specifically require those classes. While this sounds straightforward this can be difficult to accomplish at many high schools.
Many schools want a basic science course in a subject before a student takes an AP course. In other words, you might need to take a year of general chemistry before taking AP Chemistry. Some high schools only allow students to take one science course per year. In those instances it is almost impossible to take all three sciences particularly at an AP level.
There are several options students often consider. One option is to skip physics and focus on biology and chemistry. This can work since biology and chemistry are more fundamental to BS/MD programs, but it isn’t the ideal situation.
Some students will take a science class at a community college either during the summer or evening during the school year so that they can double up in a science and get to the AP level.
If you aren’t able to take all of the sciences at the AP level, and most can’t fit this into their schedule, what is the priority for AP classes? I typically recommend that chemistry be the first option unless the student struggled in general chemistry in which case I would look at AP Biology.
Students should also try to take the strongest schedule of English classes they can take and taking either AP Language or AP Lit or both, is recommended. Students are often confused by this recommendation but the reality is that the ability to communicate is important in any job, including health care. As a physician you need to be able to communicate with patients, their families, nurses, other health care workers and other physicians.
With the history/social studies section there are fewer preferred courses. However, if you are able to take classes like AP Psychology or AP History, it does communicate that you are strong across the board and not just in the sciences. If you school offers multiple AP History courses like US and European, it really doesn’t matter which you take.
Finally, selective colleges and BS/MD programs like to see students with a strong background in a single foreign language. In part this is because the world is becoming a much smaller place and the ability to communicate with others in their native language can be a good skill to have. If you can handle an AP class in the language, great. If not, don’t worry about it.
The above is an ideal course load but many students, for reasons beyond their control, are not able to achieve such a load. If you can’t because your school doesn’t offer a certain option or because you couldn’t fit something into your schedule, the colleges will generally understand.
But whatever you do, don’t skip AP Calculus.