PRE-HEALTH GENERAL FAQ’s
This FAQ sheet addresses questions whose answers are often subjective and vary between programs--you should always verify the answer to your question by contacting the prospective program(s).
Letters of support for medical school applicants: what sources and how may?
Information from UCDSOM: Students need to have a community service letter and/or clinical experience letter, at least two science professor letters, and the other one or two can be non-science faculty or any other character reference type letters that may also speak of their academic abilities. UC Davis SOM has a limit of five letters of recommendation. If the student is applying with a low verbal score on the MCAT, I would recommend they have a non-science/humanities faculty letter to convey the strength of their verbal skills. I encourage students to consider their strategy carefully. If they mention a mentor in detail in the personal statement, they must have a letter from that mentor. Every application will require a different strategy depending on its strengths and weaknesses.
Are committee letters of evaluation more useful than individual letters?
There are very few medical schools that only accept committee letters. Three members of Medical School Admissions Committees (from UC schools) were asked if they are more useful than individual letters. Here are their responses:
Respondent 1: The majority of the applications we see do not have a committee letter; the application reviewers look through the individual letters and form their opinion after rating each letter, which is quite adequate for the application process. A committee letter is in most cases is in addition to the individual letters, and sometimes in discrepancy with these individuals letters which sometimes can confuse the reviewer. Also, we screen about 3000 applications manually per year, after an additional 3000 were already screened out by a computer program that looks at the minimum scores required for MCAT and GPA. Committee letters are often written in a lengthy fashion, and not to the point. You may now understand why the additional committee letter may not be so well liked with the reviewers.
Respondent 2: They tend to be too long. A useful letter is one that quickly addresses whether the student is capable and will finish the program, and if there extenuating circumstances we should know about.
Respondent 3: Committee letters have value, but individual letters are more important.
Committee interview for medical school applicants: is it useful?
Certainly. The interview will help prepare you for the real experience. Given the apparent discrepancy between the value of the interview and committee letter of evaluation (see above), you may wonder if they are a package deal? There is no reason why that is necessary. It is something to discuss with a prospective committee chair.
Letter Services for medical school applicants: should you use them?
Most medical schools are now using the AAMC letter service: http://www.aamc.org/students/amcas/faq/amcasletters.htm. I recommend to students the electronic letter service, Interfolio: www.interfolio.com. The students can have their confidential letters sent to Interfolio through which they can mail their letters to the AAMC letter service. Last year, two students’ letter packets were lost by two different medical schools. It was convenient for the students to have the ability to send their letters directly from Interfolio to the schools. Interfolio provides students with 24/7 access to mailing out their confidential letters.
Common mistakes made by pre-health students
1) Not starting their Chemistry sequence immediately (it is the longest series of courses needed; typically: Chem: 4, 1A, 1B, 24, 25, 124, 161).
2) Not getting substantial, volunteer experience before choosing a profession. Good decisions are based on experience. Professional schools know this and that is why they favor applicants with extensive experience.
Which major will best prepare me for my chosen professional program?
It is generally important that you demonstrate very strong academic skills. Therefore, majoring in a subject that you find truly interesting should be an important factor in your decision. For professional health programs you must complete prerequisite coursework, which includes a substantial amount of chemistry and biology coursework, so those majors are the most efficient. Most pre-med's are Chemistry or Biology majors because they are interested in science, but successful pre-med's may major in Philosophy, Psychology, English, or a variety of other majors. Biology majors do not outperform other majors in science GPA or standardized test scores, nor do they have higher acceptance rates into Dental or Medical schools.
Prerequisite courses for professional schools
For commonly required courses, see Pre-health required courses. For specific CA schools, see Assist.org: Select the school (e.g. UCSF School of Pharmacy), then, under "Agreements with Other Campuses",select CSU Sacramento. For other schools, see their web site: Goggle
BA or BS?
It depends. Health professions require sound scientific backgrounds, but they also require the art of working with others in a sensitive and compassionate way. It is important for health professionals to be well-rounded and to have rich life experiences. For students concerned about their GPA, the extra semester of upper division science courses required of the BS may be important. If you are an outstanding student (e.g., 3.8-4.0 GPA) you may prefer to take a BA and use the additional time to pursue extracurricular interests, research, volunteer work, etc. The additional units for a BS will delay your graduation by approximately one semester.
Do I need a 4.0 GPA to get accepted?
No. The typical matriculant (accepted) GPA is 3.6-3.7 for health professional schools (see links for each profession). Professional schools do need to know that you have a solid educational foundation and the ability to learn a lot of material quickly. But they realize that employment, extra-curricular activities, and personal commitments make it difficult to get straight A’s. As an indication of your academic preparation, schools look at your GPA, admission test scores, and letters of evaluation. Admission test (MCAT, DAT, OAT, etc) scores are very important because the tests are standardized nationwide. The quality of your other experiences is also very important. Volunteer work not only signifies your motivation, but also gives you a chance to see that you are really comfortable with your chosen profession. Through personal essays you need to demonstrate that you know your strengths and weaknesses as a potential health practitioner, that you know how to work toward goals, and that you know how to give of yourself to others.
My GPA is less competitive (~3.0-3.5). Can I get in to Med School?
It depends on your overall application. However, if your application is less competitive, there are ways to strengthen it. There are post baccalaureate programs and Special Master's degree programs. The UC post-bac programs are focused on students coming from socioecodisadvantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds along with an interest, through life experiences and/or volunteer experience, to work with medically under served communities following medical school and residency. These programs are open to either first-time or re-applicants to medical school. The AAMC has information on post-bac programs across the nation. Additional information. The Special Master's degree programs are open to ALL students having less than competitive GPA's. There are no programs in California. Any post-bac work ought to be completed at a full-time level at a 4 year college/university with the goal to complete a minimum of 25 to 40 semester hours of upper-division undergraduate advanced courses in biology such as biochemistry, physiology, molecular and/or cellular biology, and genetics. These should be new courses, not courses already completed by the student.
You can take additional courses at CSUS through Open University. Prerequisite and other relevant courses are listed here. It can be difficult to enroll in these courses because Open University students are at the bottom of the priority list. See Post-Grad.
Should I voluntarily repeat courses in which I received a C+ or lower?
According to a Medical School Admissions Director, this will not make you a more competitive applicant. Admissions committees will look at your entire record as well as calculate your GPA in a variety of ways. An alternative to repeating courses, is doing well in subsequent courses within the same subject matter, particularly your upper division science courses. This may offset the lower grades previously received.
Should I take pre-health courses at a community college after transferring or graduating from a 4-year University?
According to a Medical School Admissions Director, the most competitive applicants to medical school tend to have completed most, if not all, of their premedical courses at a 4-year college/university. Students who transfer from a community college to a 4-year college/university should not return to a community college to complete the premed courses. However, should they choose to complete some/all of the premedical courses at a community college they are strongly encouraged to then return to a 4-year college to complete advanced courses in the sciences to demonstrate their ability to handle a curriculum similar to the types of courses they will encounter as a medical student.
How do I find a volunteer position?
Look here. Also, see a pre-health professional advisor, join a pre-health club: AMSA (American Medical Student Association), PPSO (Pre-health Professional Student Organization), MOSS (Multicultural Organization of Science Students), talk to your classmates. They can give you leads. In addition, all of the hospitals in the area have volunteer programs in which you can serve. You need to tell them you are interested in the profession, so that you do not just push magazine carts around.
Do I need to volunteer?
From a UCD Medical School representative: All parts of the AMCAS application are taken into careful consideration when a student applies to medical school. If the student is working full time while going to school full time, it is not required for the student to also volunteer. It would be more important for the student to focus on school rather than over-committing themselves to a great variety of community service activities. If they have time and it will not hurt their academics, it would look excellent on their application if they had long term service, even just a couple hours a week. There’s a wonderful resource book titled, the 56th Edition Community Services Directory, published by the Community Services Planning Council, which provides a comprehensive list of all the community service organizations across Sacramento. You can contact them at (916) 498-1000 for a copy. That’s a great place to start looking for volunteer activities.
Should I take all of my GE courses before my science courses?
No. Because the chemistry courses must be taken in sequence, it is important to start your chemistry series as soon as possible. You should try to complete requirements in biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics in the fall before your last year of courses. This will allow you to be prepared for the admissions tests in spring and to apply to professional school in summer before your last year of classes. Take Area A GE classes early, but mix other GE classes in with science classes for variety. See Schedules.
How do I apply to professional school?
See these links: Start here for a summary: Ideal schedule. For specific professions: Health professions, and Pre-health home (Links under "Doctoral program preparation"). There are advisors in various departments to help you; get to know them well. Typically, you will take an admissions test the spring of your “junior” year, apply that summer, complete secondary applications and send letters of evaluation in fall, go for interviews in late fall and early spring of your last year, line up financial resources, and sit and wait until you are notified. All of this is quite costly, so you should plan to spend several thousand dollars on the application process alone.
Do many students from CSUS get accepted to professional school?
CSUS has about the same acceptance rate as the average (35-40% of applicants are accepted to medical school). While we do not have a prestigious name, our former students who attend professional school tell us they are better prepared than many of their classmates. Another plus for our school is that small classes with laboratories taught by professors enable you to get to know faculty members well. This leads to letters of evaluation that can really say a lot about who you are.
Is there a program for calculating GPA?