Pre-Health Professions Advising Center

Pre Health Information Session

Before your first scheduled appointment with one of the pre-health professions advisors, you are required to complete the worksheet at the end of this workshop. 

Before starting the workshop, the link at the end of this sentence will give you an overview of services available to you as a pre-health professions student. 


The purpose of this workshop is to provide you with information about the process of preparing for and applying to a health profession school. We require completion of this workshop so that you will be better able to address the issues specific to your situation when we meet with you in a one-on-one advising meeting. We want to use the time we have to help you with issues that are pertinent to your particular needs instead of repeating information that we’ve made available here for you to use any time.

The workshop is set up in a question-answer format. When you have read through the answers to all of the questions you will find a worksheet that you need to complete and submit prior to your appointment with a pre-health professions advisor.

Where do I start?

You've already started by coming to this web page to learn more about the health professions and what the Pre-Health Professions Advising Office has to offer you. It may be most helpful for you to know more about what applying to a health profession school is all about.

Health Professions schools will be looking for evidence of the following qualities and skills (Taken from the recommendations of the Committee on Admissions, American Association of Medical Colleges-AAMC):

  • Integrity & Ethics
  • Reliability & Dependability
  • Service Orientation
  • Social & Interpersonal Skills
  • Teamwork
  • Capacity for Improvement
  • Resilience & Adaptability
  • Cultural Competence
  • Oral Communication

They find evidence of these qualities through the application process. Most students focus a great deal on the need to have top grades and high scores on admissions tests along with becoming a scientist. While these may be important to your application, they are only a part of a much larger picture.

How you do in class and on tests will demonstrate your knowledge and to some extent your motivation and reliability in the sense that if you were not motivated or if you do not have a sense of responsibility, you would not have finished your classes and/or earned high grades. Grades and test scores don’t show Service Orientation, Cultural Competence, Interpersonal Skills nor several others of the skills and qualities you see above. For evidence of these other vital items, you will need recommendations, an interview, a personal statement and additional essays.

Not all health profession schools have this specific a list of criteria, but if you keep the comprehensive nature of the above list in mind, you will be headed in the right direction. All professional schools want to know that you are capable, dedicated, motivated and that you are a good person. Your application needs to reflect what’s unique about you and how well developed these qualities are in you.

What major is best? (or, what do you mean, there’s no Pre-Med major?)

There is no one right major; the “best” choice depends on who you are. One question you should ask yourself is this: “if I’m not accepted to my health profession school, what career field will I enter?” If you love science, see yourself working in a laboratory or research setting or otherwise hope to work in an environment where a background in science is a must, then a science major may be right for you. If you would choose to teach literature, play in a symphony or start a business, then you should look into a major that will help prepare you for that career field.

If you have already completed your undergraduate degree, you may be wondering if the degree you earned will help or hurt your application to a health professional program. As long as you have completed the prerequisite courses for your program and otherwise meet the admission criteria for the schools to which you are applying any major you chose fits into the story of how you have arrived at this point in your life and are applying to professional school. No one major is necessarily any "better" than another.

But Surely a Science Major is Better?

A science major is NOT a prerequisite for successful application to medical or other health profession schools. Successful applicants come from all departments, and students are encouraged to major in an area of genuine interest. The biological sciences all require the same introductory courses, and because choosing a major is not required until the end of the sophomore year, students may wait until completing introductory Biology 181 before choosing a major. However, non-science majors can choose the pre-health thematic minor, which adds an additional ten upper-division units to the basic chemistry, biology and physics courses.

Health profession schools want to know that you are skilled in the sciences, but also want you to explore your interests and strengths as you complete your undergraduate education. These institutions are not looking for “cookie-cutter” applicants and they don’t want 1,000 applications from students who have all taken the same classes; they want to know who you are, and what you are able to offer the profession. This can be reflected, among other ways, in your choice of major.

For example, when you choose a major in a field that fascinates you, that feeling of passion will come through in your application. You are more likely to excel in your classes and select courses that push and expand your development, and in doing so you are demonstrating your motivation and ability to learn (knowledge). These are two of the characteristics medical schools will be looking for in their successful applicants (for more information about these four characteristics, see question 1).

Also, admission to health profession schools is highly competitive. Many successful health professionals were not ready and not accepted the first time they applied to professional school. Instead, they finished their degrees, pursued other interests, additional educational opportunities or related careers and then applied successfully to their professional school. If you have a degree in a field that interests you as well as a background in the pre-requisites for a health-professional school, you may be more marketable as an applicant.

The advisors in the Pre Health Professions Advising Center can help you look for the right major for you. If you are just starting your college education, as long as you are starting with the math, science and general education classes required by the pre-health curriculum you have time to make the right decision for you. If you have completed your undergraduate degree, we can help you consider how your degree has helped you be a stronger candidate.

I’m considering a career in health care. What are the career options? 

Many students begin their college careers feeling that they want to work toward a career in the health professions and assume that their choices are limited to becoming a doctor, nurse or dentist. There are many more options when considering what type of practitioner you wish to become. These include Physician Assistant, Optometrist, Nurse Practitioner, Physical Therapist, Chiropractor, Podiatrist, Naturopathic Physician, Osteopathic Physician to name just a few. While all of these careers require the study of some basic sciences in your undergraduate program, requirements for admission to the appropriate health profession schools do vary.

If you are not sure which types of positions might be best for you, the Pre-Health Professions Advising Center offers a one unit course each fall semester: LASC 195A, entitled “Exploring Careers in the Health Professions.” We encourage you to include this course in your schedule as early in your career as possible to help you learn about the wide and varied opportunities available in the health professions. We want to help you make the choice that’s right for you.

How can I be sure that I’m taking the classes I’ll need for admission?

Health profession schools require that you complete certain courses to be considered for admission. We have compiled a group of U of A courses that will fulfill most, if not all, of these requirements. This group of courses is called the “pre-health curriculum.” You can find these courses listed on the pre-health professions advising web site.

Students should also be looking at requirements for specific schools in which they are interested. Medical school requirements can be found at the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) website.

Admission requirements for dental schools are listed in the American Dental Education Association’s (ADEA) publication entitled, Official Guide to Dental Schools, available in our pre-health professions resource room as well as through the ADEA web site. Links to web sites for other health professions are found at our web site on the Pre-Health Links page. These web sites will direct you to information about admission requirements for your particular career of interest as well as the schools to which you might apply.

Essentially, you need to complete one year of general chemistry, one year of organic chemistry, one year of physics and one year of biology including labs for each of these classes. If you plan to major in one of the sciences, then completing this curriculum will ensure that you are prepared for the application process.

If, however, you decide that you are best suited for a non-science major, we offer a minor specifically tailored for students planning to apply to health professions schools. This minor is called the pre-health thematic minor. Our web site lists the requirements for this minor under Pre-Health Academics. Completion of this minor with any major will prepare you for the application process.

Please note that there is a strict policy prohibiting any courses in this minor from fulfilling a major requirement. In other words, if you plan to major in molecular and cellular biology, it would be virtually impossible to complete the pre-health thematic minor as well, since so many of the courses required for the minor are also required for the major.

What’s the entrance examination like?

The required entrance examinations for health professions schools vary in length from 4 to 8 hours. They may be administered online or in a classroom-type setting.

Following is a list showing which type of test is usually required for each health profession. To be sure that you are taking the appropriate exam, you should check the web site for the school(s) to which you plan to apply:

  • Medical (College Admission Test ) MCAT
  • Dental (Admission Test) DAT
  • Optometry (Admission Test) OAT
  • Podiatry (College Admission Test ) MCAT
  • Osteopathic Medicine MCAT
  • Pharmacy (College Admission Test) PCAT
  • Physical Therapy GRE
  • Physician Assistant GRE
  • Nurse Practitioner GRE

Under Professional School Admissions you will find links to web sites with information about these tests, how to sign up to take them and deadline information.

Plan ahead!

Find out the best timetable for taking the entrance exam required by your health profession. It may be best for you to take the examination more than a year ahead of when you plan to begin study at a health profession school. For example, if you are applying to medical school, you will probably take the MCAT sometime between January and April, complete your application in June or early July and receive your acceptance any time until classes start a full year or more later.

What do I need to do before I take the admissions test (MCAT, DAT, PCAT, etc.)?

Preparation and practice for the admissions tests virtually guarantees better performance than if you do not prepare. Determining what type of preparation will work best for you requires some self reflection.

Do you organize your time and tasks well? Are you good at giving yourself limits and deadlines and following through on these? If so, you might have great success organizing your own preparation and practice schedule using one or more of the many preparation packages and books available for this purpose.

Do you procrastinate? Do you follow through better when you have someone else prepare a schedule and expect your attendance? Then you might benefit from taking one of the prep courses available. When looking into these, though, remember that you are the consumer. Evaluate what each prep course has to offer and make sure it is a good match for your needs.

Which is Better?

Statistically, there is no difference between studying on your own and completing one of the preparation classes in terms of how much better students perform. The important task is to study in the way that prepares YOU the best.

What’s the application like? What do the schools need from me?

Application to a Health Profession school is a process. To maximize your chances of having a successful application, you will be wise to approach this important task as a project that takes several months to complete. The actual application is a synthesis of all the work and exploration you have done since you first considered the health professions, perhaps many years ago.

An important and often overlooked step as you begin the application process is to answer the following question:

When is the right time for me to apply?

Students often rush to complete prerequisite courses, working out the logistics of taking the necessary courses as quickly as possible in order to apply as soon as possible, usually in the spring/summer after their third year of college. Successful applicants apply after their third year, but others apply after their fourth year or after completion of their undergraduate degree, perhaps many years after graduation. So how do you decide when the time is right for you?

Apply when you can present the strongest possible application.

Professional schools value maturity, strong problem solving skills and dedication to one’s chosen profession.
A rushed application says volumes about your decision making ability and readiness to start a career in the health professions.

Consider whether taking another year to study, volunteer or work in clinical settings might benefit you. If financial concerns are a major issue, consider graduating and working a year or more as you continue building a stronger resume, taking more upper division science courses or working on research that enables you to have a top quality letter of recommendation.

A delay of one or more years when compared to the 40+ years you may be practicing is inconsequential in terms of time but can be invaluable in terms of producing a successful application.

Centralized Applications

Most health profession schools use a centralized application process and an entrance exam designed for a particular profession. For example, allopathic medical schools require an application through the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) and completion of the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Dental schools require the American Association of Dental Schools Application Service (AADSAS) application with Dental Admissions Testing (DAT). A complete list of links to the web sites for centralized applications is found under Professional School Admissions.

These centralized applications are quite extensive, are submitted online and require you to compile information about your completed and projected course work, volunteer and paid work experiences as well as a personal statement. We offer a workshop to help U of A students with this type of application each spring.

Personal Statement

A vital part of your application is your personal statement, a short essay that allows you the opportunity to compel the admissions committee to admit you with your skills and personal characteristics. A successful personal statement is well written, demonstrates the positive qualities that admissions personnel are seeking and is your opportunity to tell your story. This may seem like an impossible mission for a one-page essay but with enough thought and time you will write an essay that explains who you are and why you should be admitted. The Pre-Health Professions Advisors can critique of your personal statement. Keep this in mind as you get closer to time for you to apply.

Secondary Applications

The centralized application is sent to the schools you have indicated on your application. There, each application is reviewed and ranked and then schools will send out secondary applications to the students about whom they wish to learn more. The secondary application generally requests that you send additional materials including answers to essay questions, usually an additional fee and it is at this stage that your letters of recommendation will be sent. These materials will help the admission committee decide whom they will invite for interviews.

For further information, see the Planning Guide for Current Applicants page.

Can I get in with my grades? What will my health profession school be looking for in my application?

Like undergraduate institutions, the competition level among applicants to professional schools varies from school to school. It is true that the process of admission into almost all schools offering degrees in health professions is highly competitive. It is not true, however, that all hope is lost unless you have a grade point average of 4.0.

While demonstrated success in academics, particularly the sciences, is a vital component in any application to a health profession school, it is one component in a comprehensive process.

The application can be described as having three sections:

  • Grades and entrance examination scores (objective data)
  • Clinical experience (translation of theory into practice)
  • Recommendations and Personal Statement (subjective data)

You can see that grades and test scores are only part of the picture. You need to show that you have the ability to perform well in professional school, but equally important is the ability to apply the information you learn to a real-life setting. The subjective data in the recommendations and an applicant’s own personal statement reveal an applicant’s commitment, skills and strengths. Remember that the medical schools are looking for evidence of altruism, motivation and dutifulness, qualities that can be more adequately demonstrated outside the classroom or testing environment. A deficiency in any part of the application can result in a rejection.

Nationally, the average GPA for students accepted into medical schools is usually close to 3.5 on a scale of 1-4. Average MCAT scores for admitted students are generally in the 125-128 point range for each section of the MCAT. See the section about entrance exams for more information.

What kinds of experiences do I need to have outside the classroom?

Virtually all health profession schools want to know that you are a person of good character and that you have enough experience in your chosen career field to say that you understand the job you are seeking and will thrive in that environment. These schools don’t want to accept a student who wilts with stress or one who faints at the sight of blood. Your job is to show them that you understand what you are getting into.

The best way to do this is to work in the field. Most commonly, students look for volunteer or internship opportunities in hospitals, clinics or settings where health care practitioners work. Ideally, you will have experience with patient contact and be in a position to observe or shadow a health professional. We have a list of Volunteer Opportunities, available either on-line or in our office, of area hospitals, clinics and hospices willing to work with our students.

These experiences will not be scheduled for you or handed to you. You will have to seek out a position that is right for you and gives you the kind of experience that will achieve the goals listed above. You will also need to develop relationships with your supervisor(s) and with the health practitioners, with the goal of asking them for a recommendation that will strengthen your application. These recommendations not only verify your experiences to the application committees, but also can address important issues such as evaluating your communication and “people” skills, your integrity and your overall ability to function in a health field.

What about letters of recommendation?

When do I need to start thinking about recommendations?
NOW. A letter of recommendation is written based on the relationship and experience you have shared with the letter writer. A helpful letter will include examples of why you are recommended for a career in your chosen health profession; it will be based on what the writer knows about you, how you compare to other students/workers and explain why you will be an asset to that profession.

The more specific your writers can be about these items, the more meaningful your letters will be. So, you need to start thinking about what kinds of people you have or need to establish relationships with and what experiences you have already started or need to seek out to find these people.

You want your letters to illustrate the personality characteristics that the admissions committee is looking for in a successful candidate. Can your letter writer address your high level of motivation? Your reliability and level of responsibility (dutifulness)? Your willingness to take that extra step to help a patient (altruism)?

How many letters of recommendation should I have?

We recommend that you try to have 5-6 letters; two should be from science instructors, one from a non-science instructor and one to three from health care professionals/professors/supervisors in clinical and/or in research experience settings.

Will health profession schools interview me? What’s the interview like?

Most health profession schools use a centralized, usually on-line, application service. You complete an extensive application on-line and this is sent to the schools you indicate to the application service.

Then you receive what are called “secondary applications” from the schools interested in you, requesting further information from you such as recommendations and often an interview. Some schools interview most of their applicants; some interview only those they feel will probably be admitted. Most schools are somewhere in between. As with clinical experience and recommendations, the interview is an opportunity for you to demonstrate who you are and why you will be the kind of practitioner that school is seeking.

Often the interview day includes a tour of the campus as well as the actual interview. The specifics of the interview itself vary from school to school but may be a one-on-one experience or involve you speaking with several members of the admission committee either together or separately.

There is a particularly helpful web site where students describe their interview experiences in detail. We recommend you spend some time looking through this information as you prepare for the interview process. There is information regarding medical, dental and pharmacy school interviews, but the information is helpful for students applying to other types of schools as well. The link is:

What if I’m not accepted? How do I decide on an alternative plan?

Hopefully, you’ve looked into the health profession you’re considering enough to know that competition to get into these schools is quite intense. Just because you have earned all A’s in your undergraduate work, or have scored very high on the admission test does not mean that you will be admitted to medical, dental, optometry or other professional school.

There are certainly steps you can take to make your application as strong as possible and improve your chances, but there are no guarantees for any applicant. It is for this reason that we recommend you have a back-up plan in place in the event that you are not successful the first year you apply.

What are my options?

  • If you have given the necessary thought to selecting the right major for you, one option would be to consider other career opportunities afforded by your major. There are many resources at the U of A to help you with this type of exploration and the Pre-Health Professions Advising Office is a good place to start. Make an appointment with us to discuss other career possibilities.
  • You may consider completing your degree and beginning some graduate work to either prepare you better for health professions or to pursue another field of interest.
  • It is possible that another one of the health professions would be a better fit for you. While this can be tricky—no health profession would want you to consider their field as a “back-up”—it may be that you have been heading in slightly the wrong direction and, for example, optometry may be better for you than pharmacy or physical therapy better than a physician assistant. You may decide to explore preparing for another career in health care in this case.
  • Another consideration for you is whether you might have applied before your application was its strongest. Some applicants have success with a reapplication IF they have made significant changes to their preparation as well as their application. If your application was not as strong as it could be in one or more areas and you can correct this, you may be a good candidate for reapplication.

Now that you've completed the workshop, please answer the following questions.

What major have you declared or are you considering or if you have graduated what was your major? Based on what you learned in the workshop, should you be considering the Pre-Health Thematic Minor as part of your degree program?

When did you graduate or what's your estimated date of graduation from the U of A? When do you hope to start your professional school (in medicine, physician assistant, optometry, dentistry, etc.)?

Based on the information presented in the workshop, list what you should plan to do before you take the admissions test (MCAT, DAT, etc):