General Questions

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What should I major in?

First and foremost, your undergraduate major does not matter to professional schools.  What matters to them is that you complete your prerequisite courses,  including a few additional upper-level/upper division science courses, and performed very well in them.  That being said, you should find a major that draws upon or somehow integrates your passion and your academic strengths.


Can I study abroad as an undergrad?

Yes, it is possible to study abroad as a pre-health student!  It will take some planning, though.  Additionally, keep in mind that one of the main reasons for studying abroad to be immersed in a place and culture that is different from your own.  Experiences like these can lead to tremendous personal growth, so be mindful of the courses you take when studying abroad. 


Should I take prerequisite courses abroad?

This is a tricky one.  There is the potential that some professional schools may not accept prerequisite coursework taken abroad to satisfy their admissions requirements.  Additionally, science coursework taken abroad, especially when taking more than one course, can take up a great deal of your time.  This can limit the time you have to experience the culture and people living in the area, in turn limiting what I believe to be the most valuable aspects of studying abroad.  My advice, if you study abroad, try to plan to take general education requirements as this will afford you more opportunities to truly experience the place you are visiting.

Can I get financial aid while in professional school?

Prerequisite Courses

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What are prerequisite courses? 

Prerequisite courses must be completed prior to continuing further in a course sequence.  For example, in order to progress to a Biology 2 course, the Biology 1 course must first be successfully completed.  


Similarly, prerequisite courses are those courses that professional schools require applicants to complete as part of the application process and their preparation for professional school.

  

What are some common prerequisite courses? 

Prerequisite courses may vary depending on the type of program (medicine, dentistry, optometry, etc.) and on the needs of each individual school.  Many health professions schools require applicants to take and earn high grades in various courses in the sciences, math, and even humanities.  Some common prerequisite courses include introductory biology, general chemistry, and physics, as well as math courses such as college algebra, calculus, and statistics.  Many programs also require applicants to have completed college-level writing courses and introductory courses in psychology and sociology. 


How do I know which prerequisite courses I need to take?

First, it is ideal to have a pretty firm idea of which career path you plan to follow.  While there is some overlap in prerequisite courses between pre-health paths, there can also be quite a bit of variation.  To gain a better understanding of the career or careers you are or might be interested, use the Explore section of the My Med Future app.  Also consider visiting your institution’s career services center to learn about additional careers in healthcare as well as your own personal interests and skills, including academic and personal strengths and weaknesses.


If you already have a specific career in mind, then consider utilizing the Track Progress section of the My Med Future app.  This section contains common prerequisite course information necessary to prepare for professional school programs in medicine, dentistry, optometry, pharmacy, physician assistant, physical therapy, and veterinary medicine.  Keep in mind that you will need to take your institution-specific equivalencies to these prerequisite courses, which means you should be taking the courses that someone majoring in one of the sciences, such as biology or chemistry, would need to take, whether you yourself are a science major or not.  It is important to understand the differences between what are considered major-level courses and those science courses that students can take in order to meet general education course requirements. 

Check to see if your institution has a Health Professions/Pre-Health Advisor (the name for this position can vary) by using the Find Your Pre-Health Advisor tool in the Resources section of the My Med Future app, or you can simply search the phrase “(Your institution’s Name) prehealth advising”.  The first few results should help connect you to your institution’s website dedicated to pre-health advising.  If your institution does not have a Health Professions/Pre-Health Advisor, you can reach out to a faculty member in one of the sciences who should be able to help you.


Since professional schools might have different prerequisite course requirements, how do I find out which courses each requires?

You will need to do a bit of research in order to determine the specific prerequisite course requirements for each of the professional school programs to which you plan on applying.  The Research tool in the My Med Future app can help to speed this process along.  Select a pre-health path from those available, then select a region of the United States.  Ideally, the region you select to begin your research should include your state of legal residence, as applicants have a higher likelihood of gaining acceptance to programs within their state of legal residence.  Next, select your home state to view the professional school programs in that state.  When a program is selected, you will be directed, in most cases, to the section of the program’s website that contains its prerequisite course requirements.  From there, you can open the Take Notes tool to begin compiling information regarding institution-specific prerequisite courses.  Notes taken using this tool can then be exported to a variety of locations, including your personal email, iPhone Notes, or saved to Dropbox.


Do I only need to complete the prerequisite courses listed on each school’s website?

The prerequisite courses listed on each program’s website should be considered minimum requirements.  Most applicants who successfully gain entry into health professions graduate programs will have taken additional courses.


What grades do I need to earn in my prerequisite courses?

Many programs require applicants to have earned grades no lower than a C; however, most successful applicants will have earned grades of B or better in these courses.


Is it OK to take prerequisite courses Pass/No Pass?

No, all prerequisite courses should be taken for a letter grade. 


Is it OK to retake a prerequisite course? 

It may be necessary to repeat a course if you earned a grade of C- or lower the first time; however, multiple repeats should be avoided.  Repeats of courses will need to be reported in the application to professional school.  If you are struggling in your courses, seek out assistance immediately.  Most undergraduate institutions offer some form of tutoring in academic subjects, and some also offer assistance with improving time management and study skills, which are two key factors in being successful.  Reach out to a pre-health or general academic advisor to learn about resources like these at your institution.


Is it OK to withdraw from a course? 

Students may find that they need to withdraw from a course for various reasons.  This is an option, but withdrawing from courses should be done only as a last resort and only very rarely.  Multiple withdrawals throughout one’s undergraduate career may raise red flags for professional school admissions representatives. 


Can I take prerequisite courses at a community college?

There are a few things to know about taking prerequisite courses at a community college.  First, yes, it is OK to take some prerequisite courses at a CC, especially if there are courses offered at a local CC that are not offered at your 4 year, but you should not complete all prerequisites at one.  Community college courses are sometimes viewed as being less rigorous than courses at 4 year institutions.  As an advisor, I have met with many students who complete their introductory courses at a community college, perform very well, but for a variety of reasons, do not perform as well in upper-level/upper division courses at their 4 year.  When this happens, it can reinforce the thought that community college courses are not as rigorous and therefore do not prepare students for upper-level courses at 4 year institutions when they transfer.  That being said, I have also worked with many who students who transition smoothly from community colleges to their 4 year institution.


What can I do to be successful as a transfer student from a community college to a 4 year institution?

Students who complete prerequisite courses at a CC should plan to do a few things when they transfer to a 4 year.  First and foremost, give yourself the quarter or first half of the semester to get the lay of the land.  Look into clubs and student orgs, but avoid getting involved until you have a better understanding of the college or university, including where important buildings and offices are located (library, student health services, your academic advisors, tutoring services, and so on).  Also make sure you have a very good understanding of your new institution’s graduation requirements and other policies relevant to degree completion.  Next, assess your study and time management skills.  For many transfer and first-year students, their study skills need some serious attention.  I always stress implementing active reading strategies into their study routine.  This means slowing down and adding even more time than you may already dedicate to studying, but it is absolutely worth it!  Time management is also crucial.  If you haven’t used an online calendar or if you only periodically use a reminder app on your phone, it’s to make these things part of your daily routine.  A calendar is a great tool for visualizing your days, weeks, and months so that you know when you’re in class, working, studying, eating, and relaxing or doing whatever.  


Extracurricular Experiences

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What are extracurricular (sometimes referred to as co-curricular) experiences?

Extracurricular Experiences are really any activities that a student might be involved in outside of the classroom.  Essentially, they provide students with opportunities to learn and develop what are sometimes called life skills or soft skills.  These are non-academic skills that are not typically taught in a classroom setting. 

Extracurricular experiences can be thought of as any activities that help students to learn more about themselves, their intended profession, other people, and the world they live in.  Healthcare professionals are lifelong learners, which means they should always seek to learn more in order to better themselves, advance their understanding of the science associated with the practice of medicine, deepen their understanding of the world around them and those who live in it.  For this reason, extracurricular experiences should never be viewed as items on a checklist that can be checked off once “completed”.


What extracurricular experiences should pre-health students seek out?

Pre-health students generally seek out opportunities to shadow (observe) professionals in their intended field, volunteer in their communities, gain clinical experience (direct patient contact), conduct undergraduate research, work (in healthcare settings and outside of them), and many other activities. 

 

Why is shadowing important? 

Shadowing opportunities can be difficult to come by for many students, but they can also be incredibly valuable.  Shadowing affords students the opportunity to be a “fly on the wall” and observe healthcare professionals as they engage in their daily tasks.  For many pre-health students, shadowing is their first real glimpse into the reality of what it is to work in healthcare, which can help them to decide whether a particular is right for them or not.  To learn more about what students should seek to gain from their shadowing experiences, review the Experiences tool, which is located in the Resources section of the My Med Future app.


Why is volunteering important? 

Volunteer experiences not only allow pre-health students to give back to their communities in meaningful ways, they also help students learn more about some of the people they may one day serve as healthcare providers.  Students are encouraged to seek volunteer opportunities that align with or incorporate their personal interests and place them with opportunities to work with and for people who are not like them.  Volunteer work does not have to be in a clinical setting.  There is a great deal of important information, insights, and relationships that can be developed by interacting with people from various backgrounds in leisure settings, such as through sports, hiking, and other activities.  Learn more about volunteering and service-related experiences in My Med Future app.


Why is clinical experience important? 

Similar to shadowing, working or volunteering in a clinical setting can help students add to their overall understanding of the U.S. healthcare system, gain an appreciation for what are often viewed as menial, yet necessary, tasks, learn specific skills associated with providing patient care, and to begin to develop their own philosophy of the provider-patient relationship.


Is participation in undergraduate research required? 

No, participation in undergraduate research is not explicitly required, except in the case of certain programs, such as combined programs like MD/PhD.  Considering that all diagnoses and treatments are founded on research, it is important that all pre-health students have a least a basic understanding of research and its implications in their work as healthcare providers.  Students who are interested in research should certainly consider getting involved.  While not all undergraduate institutions have ready access to research experiences for all students, many offer summer research experiences.


What other experiences do pre-health students get involved in?

Many students hold part-time jobs (not always in healthcare settings), participate in athletics, are involved in student clubs and organizations, take mission and study abroad trips, and so on.  These activities should not be dismissed as many can help students gain vital communication, teamwork, leadership, and other skills that are highly valued by professional school programs.





Volunteering & Service

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There are numerous ways to get involved in volunteer and service-related activities in one’s community.

  

How do I find volunteer opportunities?

Many undergraduate institutions have specific offices or departments that help to connect students to opportunities in their community, but if your institution does not have a resource like this, then a quick search can help you find opportunities.  Additionally, there are many organizations across the country that are often in need of volunteers:  K-12 schools, after school programs, non-profit organizations such as the YMCA, Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Habitat for Humanity, and so on.  The key is to find opportunities that put you into direct contact with the people you are serving or who are benefiting from your service.  While fundraisers are important to help raise money for charities and other causes, these activities are more passive and often will not afford you the chance to interact with those who will benefit from the funds being raised.



Entrance Exams

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Most pre-health students dread entrance exams, but gathering a little bit of information early in your pre-health journey and throughout undergrad can help you be better prepared when the big day finally arrives. 


What entrance exams are required?

Medical (MD and DO):  MCAT

Dental:  DAT

Optometry:  OAT

Pharmacy:  PCAT

Physician Assistant:  GRE

Physical Therapy:  GRE

Veterinary Medicine:  GRE


When should I take my exam?

In short, when you are ready!  Some exams, such as the MCAT, DAT, OAT, and PCAT, are heavily reliant on knowledge you will gain as you complete prerequisite courses.  It is typically best to wait until you have completed the majority of your prerequisite courses before you begin to study for exam.  When this happens is dependent on many factors, but some students get through the necessary courses around the end of their junior/3rd year of undergrad.


How long should I prepare?

This varies significantly from student to student.  A good rule of thumb is to plan to study for your entrance exam throughout a summer when you will have plenty of time to dedicate to studying (6-8 weeks or so) and taking as many full length practice exams you can get your hands on, and take them under simulated test taking conditions.


Should I use a test prep company, and if so, which one?

This also depends on many factors.  To start, consider your preferred learning style(s).  Does self-study work well for you, or do you prefer a traditional classroom setting?  How much are you willing and able to pay for resources?  In the end, you’ll need to do your homework to find the right company to meet your test prep needs.

For more information on entrance exams, check out the Entrance Exam tool in the Resources section of the My Med Future app. 

Applications

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There is a great deal to know about the health professions school application process.  Each type of program has its own application and requirements.  Many institutions, but not all, use what are known as Centralized Application Services.


Be sure to review each application's guide, as these are the GO TO resources for questions regarding application requirements.


Medical School Applications

Medical schools are a unique in that there are 3 different application services that students might need or want to utilize. 

AMCAS:  Application for M.D. (Allopathic) schools.


Application opens in early May, at which point students can begin working on it.  They may be submitted at the end of May.  Applications are then able to be accessed by medical schools near the end of June. Click Here for more info.


AACOMAS:  Application for D.O. (Osteopathic) schools.


Application opens early May. Click Here for more info. 


TMDSAS:  Application for Texas Medical schools.


Application opens in early May. Click Here for more info.


Dental School Application

ADEA AADSAS:  Opens around mid-May.  Click Here for more info.


TMDSAS:  Application for Texas dental schools.  Opens May 1st.  Click Here for more info.


Optometry School Application

OptomCAS: Opens in late June.  Click Here for more info.


Pharmacy School Application

PharmCAS:  Opens mid-July.  Click Here for more info.


Physician Assistant School Application

CASPA:  Opens mid-April.  Click Here for more info. 


Physical Therapy School Application

PTCAS:  Opens early July.  Click Here for more info.


Veterinary Medicine School Application

VMCAS:  Opens in May.  Click Here for more info.

TMDSAS:  Opens May 1st.  Click Here for more info.


How much does it cost to apply to professional schools? 

There are many parts to this question because paying for the application itself is only one part of the whole application process.  Applicants should be intentional in choosing the schools they apply to, especially when considering the costs associated with completing secondary applications, and paying for travel and lodging when attending admission interviews.


Application Costs:

Costs vary for each application, and the initial cost typically only covers a single school.  Applicants will be charged an additional fee for each additional school they want to apply to.  See the application services' websites for up-date-information on cost.  Also be sure to look for Fee Assistance Programs as many application and even admission test companies offer these for students who qualify.