Applying to Washington University School of Medicine in 1891

Requisites for Admission to Washington University’s Medical Department in 1891.
Requisites for Admission to Washington University’s Medical Department in 1891. The requirements listed here were published in the medical school’s inaugural 1891-92 annual announcement and course catalog.

Applying to medical school today is widely known to be an intensive and rigorous process. In 1891, the year Washington University first offered medical education, an applicant to the university’s medical school only needed to satisfy any one of the four admission requirements listed below:

  1. A college degree
  2. A high school diploma
  3. A certificate denoting accreditation as a grade school teacher in the state of Missouri
  4. A passing grade on an admissions test administered by the university

Just to be clear, medical school applicants needed to meet just one of the four requirements above. In the 1800s, there were no standardized tests like today’s MCAT to assess an applicant’s aptitude and preparedness for the challenges of medical school, and only a few schools required a Bachelor’s degree as a prerequisite for admission. In fact, you could be accepted to medical school without a high school diploma at most institutions, including Washington University, as long as you could pass the university’s admissions test.

Perhaps even more surprising than the nominal requirements for admission as a first-year medical student was the university’s remarkably accommodating policy towards transfer students wishing to continue their medical education at Washington University. Applicants who had already completed one course of lectures from another institution were allowed to enter the second-year medical class regardless of which classes they had taken at the other medical college.

Likewise, this transfer policy applied to applicants who had completed two years of study at another institution. These applicants were admitted directly into the third-year class regardless of which courses they had taken up to that point in their medical education. In other words, Washington University’s medical school did not require transfer students to complete the same courses it required of its own first-year and second-year students.

Although considered one of the top medical schools in the country today, Washington University is just one example of dozens of medical schools nationwide that had extremely lax admission requirements in the 1800s. For the first 20 years of its existence, most students entered Washington University’s medical school with only a high school diploma to attest to their preparedness for the study of medicine. Like most medical schools at the time, successful completion of only three years of courses was required to earn a medical doctor’s degree from Washington University.

Admission requirements for the study of medicine at WashU in 2017.
Admission requirements for the study of medicine at Washington University in 2017. The requirements listed here were published in the university’s 2016-2017 bulletin of the School of Medicine.

By comparison, applicants to Washington University School of Medicine today must meet all four of the requirements listed below, and importantly, all applicants are reviewed on how well they have demonstrated their aptitude and/or mastery of each requirement.

  1. Evidence of superior intellectual ability and scholastic achievement
  2. Completion of at least 90 semester hours of college courses in an approved college or university
  3. Completion of the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) of the Association of American Medical Colleges
  4. Evidence of character and integrity, a caring and compassionate attitude, scientific and humanitarian interests, effective communication skills, and motivation suitable for a career in medicine