Many students begin their college careers in a college of liberal arts and sciences (LAS). These colleges often go by slightly different names and are either housed within a larger university environment (such as University of California Berkeley’s College of Letters and Sciences) or be a stand-alone LAS institution (such as Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, Bowdoin in Maine, Middlebury in Vermont and Pomona in California). Liberal arts and sciences schools typically offer a myriad of courses that you can and should select from to find your true passions. It is important to recognize that you do not have to major in a science to be successfully admitted to a health professions program, such as medical, dental or veterinarian schools. If you are serious about preparing for a health profession career, you should start selecting basic science pre-requisite courses (one, perhaps two at most each semester or quarter). Use these courses as opportunities to test both your aptitude and interest in the sciences. Do not overload; balance your schedule and protect your GPA. But by the same token, make sure you do incorporate all required pre-health courses into your curriculum over your college years. Here is an additional Baker’s Dozen of tips:
1. After you are certain you want to apply to a professional school, start to research what certain schools require. Admission requirements do vary.
2. Actively participate in health related fields. You may find that you are not happy being around sick people. In that case, you may still pursue a career in the healthcare professions, but your focus may shift to public health, health care administration or medical research. Or perhaps a different career path altogether.
3. Remember that professional schools are not interested in your high school resume; they want to know what you have done in college. It’s important to start early and build your extracurricular experiences during your time in college.
4. Health professions are helping professions, therefore regular volunteerism is important, both in and out of healthcare settings.
5. Research experience, in or out of a laboratory environment, is important.
6. Participation in direct patient care experiences is critical to knowing if becoming a doctor, physician assistant, dentist or other health care provider is the right path for you; select experiences that test and affirm this decision for you.
7. If at all possible, study abroad; use your summers in constructive, productive ways.
8. There are hundreds of health and health-related professions to choose from. Investigate various options. If your college offers pre-health seminars or workshops (MEDS at USC is an excellent example), be sure to participate in these and any upperclassmen mentoring and alumni networking opportunities.
9. Do research online. Check out one excellent resource.
10. Get to know faculty members at your college; if you have a pre-health professional advisor, get to know each other well.
11. Investigate professional schools based on factors important to you (type of program, location, proximity to loved ones, finances). Attend health care professional fairs and speak to school representatives to learn more.
12. Visit schools that offer open houses and information sessions to prospective applicants. Take copious notes, study takeaway materials, record impressions; if you apply and are offered an interview, this information will come in handy.
13. By your junior year, you should know if you are serious about a career in the health professions and, in particular, whether you wish to attend immediately after college or take one or more gap years to gain experience and strengthen your application. Teach, publish, study abroad, gain proficiency in a second language and/or take additional coursework to strengthen you core science GPA. A good rule of thumb is to apply when you have assembled the strongest possible application.
There are many ways to attain your health care profession career goal. How and when you get there is up to you, and your path contributes to your uniqueness. Identify distinctive talents and experiences that only you could have and you will stand out among others with similar GPAs and test scores.