Guidelines for Pre-Health Students
Compiled by the Health Professions Advisory Committee (HPAC)
Begin early to give careful consideration to your entire four-year pre-professional program, since your success during this period will determine whether or not you eventually gain admission to a professional school. Your admission to a professional school (medical, dental, nursing, optometry, etc.) will be based upon four criteria:
- Your course of study and your grade point average.
- Your score on the national aptitude test in your chosen field.
- Your letters of recommendation from the Health Professions Advisory Committee (HPAC) and others.
- Your interview with the Admissions Committee at the professional schools to which you apply.
The following guidelines are organized around your tenure as a student at BSC and provide you with suggestions and procedures to enable you to present your best application to the professional schools of your choice.
I. Freshman-Sophomore Years.
Upon entering Birmingham-Southern College you are assigned a faculty advisor. During your freshman year, with the help of the pre-health advisor and your faculty advisor, you should outline a tentative plan for a course of study to be followed during your four years at the College.
Your undergraduate major is a choice you make. It may be in any of the disciplines represented at the College, or it may be interdisciplinary or individualized. Regardless of the major you choose, most professional schools list specific courses that they consider as necessary preparation. The following are the most common prerequisites for various health career options. This list of health related professions is by no means complete. Since individual graduate/professional programs may have their own unique requirements of science/math courses and distribution requirements in the humanities/social sciences/arts/physical education, you should check the specific requirements of the schools to which you are interested in applying. This site includes a listing of Web sites that provide additional requirements about these career opportunities.
ALLOPATHIC (M.D.)/OSTEOPATHIC (D.O.) SCHOOL REQUIREMENTS: Medical/osteopathic school requirements generally include: at least two courses in Biology (BSC recommends four courses); four courses in Chemistry with laboratories including Organic Chemistry; two courses in Mathematics of which one is a course in calculus, (HPAC strongly recommends that you take a course in statistics); and two courses in Physics. (Note: With the change in the MCAT scheduled to begin spring 2015, it is very important to have a course in statistics, either through the Mathematics Department or one of the social science departments, prior to taking the MCAT.) Some medical schools require additional mathematics courses such as calculus II. Some schools also require specific courses in areas other than science, such as English composition and literature.
DENTAL SCHOOL REQUIREMENTS: Dental school requirements are generally similar to medical school.
OPTOMETRY SCHOOL: Optometry school requirements generally include: two courses in Biology (BSC recommends 4 courses); 3 courses in Chemistry including one term of Organic Chemistry; two courses in Physics; Calculus I, Statistics; and a course in Microbiology.
PHYSICAL/OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY: Graduate programs in Physical Therapy typically require: two courses in chemistry; two courses in physics; four courses in biology of which 1-2 courses must be in anatomy and/or physiology; Calculus I; Statistics; and three courses in Psychology.
VETERINARY MEDICINE: Prerequisites generally include: four courses in Biology including an animal biology course (Note: this course may be taken online—University of Oklahoma offers such a course); two courses in general chemistry; two courses in Organic Chemistry; Calculus I.
VANDERBILT NURSING PROGRAM: The graduate nursing program at Vanderbilt University requires: four courses in Biology including Human Anatomy and Physiology, and Microbiology; four courses in Psychology including a developmental psychology course; Nutrition; and Statistics. Click on the link for pre-nursing guidelines for additional information.
PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT PROGRAM: PA program requirements vary somewhat and you should check the requirements for the schools to which you will be applying. In general the requirements include: 3 or 4 biology courses including Human Anatomy and Physiology, and Microbiology; 2 or 3 courses in chemistry including one term of Organic Chemistry; Statistics; 2 courses in psychology; and a course in English composition.
You should plan to complete the basic math and science courses by the end of your junior year to best prepare for taking the national aptitude tests.
Other than perhaps a more carefully planned course of study, your activities during your freshman and sophomore years will be much the same as those of all other students. It is a time to decide on a major if you have not already done so. You should take part in extracurricular activities. You should demonstrate a commitment of service to others through volunteer activities. You should become an active participant in some phase, or phases, of the College community other than academics. Treat your course work seriously. Develop good study skills along with the habit of regular class attendance. Give each course your best effort. Reading speed and comprehension are important. To help develop these skills you should read as broadly as possible on a continuing basis. Remember that the academic record you make in your first two years represents two-thirds of the record that will be presented to the professional schools reviewing your application.
Contact your faculty advisor and pre-health advisor on a regular basis. The guidance your advisor will give you is generally better than that of the "student grapevine." You will be given counsel in meeting the general education requirements of the College, in sampling a number of different disciplines, and in scheduling the proper sequence of courses to prepare you for the national aptitude tests.
Support services available to pre-health career students:
A pre-health advisor is available to assist you throughout the year. First year students should set up an appointment to have an extended interview sometime during the fall term. During the interview, the pre-health advisor will review your academic record and make recommendations concerning future course work or other activities which will make you a more competitive professional school applicant.
You should have some experience in a hospital, clinic, physician's or dentist's office, or other appropriate health care facility. Multiple health-related experiences are an important part of your pre-health career training. Whether or not you have had prior experience, you should plan to participate in such an activity during your sophomore exploration term. Established internship programs are available for students.
In September of each year, the College's Counseling Center offers all pre-medical, pre-dental, pre-optometry, and other pre-health students an opportunity for simulated interviews. Local health-care professionals volunteer their time to give simulated professional school interviews to each student who signs up for the program. In this session, each student is interviewed by a health professional in the presence of a BSC faculty or staff member. Questions asked are typical of the questions one would encounter in the professional school interview. At the conclusion of the interview, the student is provided both written and verbal feedback on the effectiveness of the interview and is given suggestions for improving the interviewing technique. The interview can be taped if the student wishes to watch and listen to replay. This program is designed to improve interviewing techniques, to help students feel more comfortable, and do a better job "selling" themselves to professional school admissions committees. For more information about this program, please contact the Counseling Center.
INTERVIEW WITH GRADUATE/PROFESSIONAL SCHOOL PERSONNEL:
In late spring of each year, personnel from UAB and South Alabama medical schools and the UAB dental school visit Birmingham-Southern College and spend the day talking with pre-health students. Sophomores and juniors are particularly encouraged to participate in this activity. Medical school officials are available to answer questions about the admissions process, undergraduate preparation, and to provide a personal evaluation of students' chances for admission.
Each fall, a representative from the Vanderbilt School of Nursing visits Birmingham-Southern College and spends the day talking individually with students interested in learning more about the program. She is available to answer questions on the career opportunities available to the MSN educated nurse practitioner, financial aid issues, prerequisites and course of study.
The Office of Career Counseling operates a mentor program designed primarily for sophomore and junior pre-health students. The mentor program is available to provide advice and counseling on career opportunities, and to provide students a realistic perspective on the life of a health professional. Contact the Career Counseling Office for additional information.
PRE-HEALTH STUDENTS ARE STRONGLY ENCOURAGED TO PARTICIPATE IN THESE PROGRAMS.
II. Junior-Senior Years
This is a busy period for you, especially the junior year. At the beginning of the spring term of your junior year you should notify the Health Professions Advisory Committee (HPAC), through the Secretary for Science and Mathematics that you plan to apply for admission to a professional school so that a file can be established for you. It will be your responsibility to submit to the Secretary for Science and Mathematics various items to be placed in your file folder. These items will aid HPAC in its review process and in composing its letter of evaluation for you. These items are indicated in the paragraphs that follow. You should also be well into an intensive study program for the pre-professional test needed for your career goal.
PROFESSIONAL SCHOOL ADMISSIONS TESTS
Determine the professional test needed for your field of interest and be sure to take the test at the appropriate time. You should arrange to take the MCAT or DAT in the spring or early summer of your junior year, or the OCAT in October of your senior year. Many schools including the Medical Colleges of Alabama and South Alabama begin initial screening of applicants as early as August. Your application will probably not be considered, nor will you be interviewed by the professional schools, until after your scores reach them. Remember, if you wait to take the MCAT or DAT in August of your senior year, your scores may not be available until around November 1. This may delay consideration of your application for admission.
Do not underestimate the importance of these tests, especially if you plan to apply to private or out-of-state schools. Do not expect to score well on these tests unless you begin early to prepare yourself by a judicious long-term review of mathematics, biology, general and organic chemistry, and physics. Treat your review as a regular course; schedule a time for review just as you would schedule study time for any other course. To increase your speed on the exam, you should study and take practice tests.
The current Medical College Admission Test contains four sets of test questions and preparation of an essay:
SET I: Verbal Reasoning
SET II: Physical Sciences
SET III: Writing Sample
SET IV: Biological Sciences
Each set is on a scale of 1 (lowest), through 15 (highest). The writing sample is given a letter grade.
Each score is determined by computing the number of questions answered correctly. A score of 15 means the student answered all the questions included in that particular portion of the test correctly or at most missed one to three questions depending on the total number of questions in that particular portion of the test. A score of 7 or 8 means that the student answered about half the questions included in that portion of the test correctly. Since only right answers are counted and there is no penalty for guessing, you should answer all questions.
Currently, the average MCAT score of students admitted to UAB is about 29-30 (total of three numerical sections). If you do not achieve this level, you should plan to study over the summer and retake the MCAT in August. More selective schools, such as Washington University have higher requirements.
The MCAT will undergo significant changes beginning in the spring 2015. Consult with the pre-health advisor and the AAMC website for information about these changes.
The DENTAL ADMISSION TEST (DAT) is divided into four examinations:
- Survey of the natural sciences (biology, general chemistry, and organic chemistry)
- Perceptual ability (two and three dimensional problem solving)
- Reading comprehension (of dental and basic science materials)
- Quantitative ability (math problems)
Scores range from 1 to 30, with 17-18 being considered average.
Follow this link for additional information about the DAT.
The OPTOMETRY COLLEGE ADMISSION TEST (OCAT) is given in March and in October of each year. If you are applying to UAB's School of Optometry, you should take the test in October of the year prior to the year you expect to matriculate. The OCAT consists of six parts: biology, chemistry, physics, study reading, verbal ability, and quantitative ability. Your scores will be in percentile for each part of the test.
The GRADUATE RECORD EXAMINATION is given several times through the year. For more information about the GRE click on the link to ETS.
Applications to HPAC are available in the office of the Secretary for Science and Mathematics, SSC 128. They are also available in Word format online via Moodle or by requesting an electronic copy from the Secretary for Science and Mathematics (firstname.lastname@example.org). Complete all sections and return the form to the Science and Mathematics Secretary.
ESSAYS: Two essays are required.
Submit a personal subjective essay of 2-3 double-spaced typewritten pages. This is one of the most important documents in the application process and should demonstrate to the Committee your intelligence, commitment and writing ability. It should include a candid presentation of the following issues:
- What led you to the decision to become a physician, a dentist, optometrist, or other health care professional?
- An explanation of what guided you in designing your undergraduate educational program.
- A clear summary and evaluation of your work experiences and extracurricular activities.
- An explanation of any inconsistencies in your academic record.
- Address strengths and weaknesses—how did you develop your strengths? Did you consciously work to overcome a recognized weakness, and if so, how?
Make your essay concise, specific, and interesting. Avoid spelling and grammatical errors. This type of essay is required by professional schools; accordingly, you will want to keep a copy that may be modified to satisfy several purposes.
Complete the appropriate HPAC information form (which you get from the Science and Mathematics Secretary) and attach this as a cover page for your essay. Do not turn in this material without the photograph requested.
Submit an essay of 2-3 double-spaced typewritten pages outlining your career choice if becoming a health-care professional were not an option.
You will need to have an evaluation sent to HPAC from a minimum of two faculty members who are not on HPAC. Ideally, one of these should be from a member of the sciences and mathematics faculty and one from humanities, fine arts, business, or the social sciences faculty. Choose these evaluators with care and be sure that they are familiar with you and your work so they can present a meaningful evaluation. You should consult, in advance, with the faculty members you select. If they agree to evaluate you, ask them to submit the evaluation directly to the Health Professions Advisory Committee via the Division Secretary of Sciences/Mathematics. Transfer students may wish to consider instructors at the colleges they have previously attended for additional faculty appraisals. You may submit more than two recommendations. Suggestions for Requesting Letters of Recommendation have been prepared for you by the Biology Faculty. Additional letters of recommendation from a healthcare professional that knows you or from a College staff person (work study supervisor, coach, etc.) may be of value to the Committee in drafting your letter of evaluation.
Applicants may be requested to appear before the Committee or meet with the pre-health advisor should the Committee need additional information.
LIST OF SCHOOLS:
List schools to which you are applying in order of priority. HPAC will need a complete list of all professional schools to which you expect to apply along with their addresses and application deadlines for those that require hard copies of the letter of recommendation. List these in order of preference on the request-for-evaluation form, and return this form to the Science and Mathematics Secretary in SSC 128. Students should check out-of-state schools to which they wish to apply to insure that they accept out-of-state students. It is important to send the appropriate form giving the pre-health advisor access to your application that you are submitting online via one of the electronic distribution sites; for example, AMCAS, AADSAS, VMCAS, CASPA, etc.
REVIEW PROCESS BY THE HEALTH PROFESSIONS ADVISORY COMMITTEE AND LETTERS OF EVALUATION
The review process by the Committee takes place during the late spring and early summer and results in a letter of evaluation for each student. No review of a student is made until all materials requested, with the exception of MCAT/DAT/OCAT scores, are available to HPAC. Hence, it is very important that you meet the spring deadline established by HPAC each year for submitting these materials to the Science and Mathematics Secretary in SSC 128 for inclusion in your file folder.
The letters of evaluation point out both the strengths and weaknesses of students. (For example, if you are late in meeting deadlines, procrastinating might be mentioned). These are not simply letters of praise, but in all cases reflect our honest evaluation of you at the present time and as a potential professional.
After careful consideration of the student's application--weighing the many qualitative factors along with their grade point average and overall academic performance, the Committee makes a consensus judgment and places the student in one of five categories for recommendation:
- Highest Recommendation
- Strongly Recommended
- Recommended with Reservations
- Not Recommended
(NOTE: Students receiving a recommend with reservation or not recommend are notified and given a chance to withdraw their application folder prior to drafting and mailing the letter of evaluation to the health professions program to which the student is applying. If the student receiving a recommend with reservation or not recommend chooses to have HPAC write the letter of evaluation, the reason for receiving this level of recommendation is clearly stated.)
PRIVACY AND RIGHT OF ACCESS TO RECORDS
Section 438 of the General Education Provisions Act, (PL93-380) as amended in 1974, commonly known as the "Buckley Amendment," guarantees the privacy of student records and right of access to them under certain stipulations and exceptions.
Procedurally, (as a matter of factual understanding and fairness to all parties involved in the process), each faculty appraisal form will indicate whether or not the waiver has been signed. If you feel that you need further information about this, please do not hesitate to get in touch with the Chairperson of the Health Professions Advisory Committee.
APPLICATION TO PROFESSIONAL SCHOOLS
Application to medical or dental school should be made in the spring or summer; one year prior to the date of expected entrance. Application to UAB's Optometry School should be made by February 1 of the academic year prior to your expected matriculation; however, an earlier application will be to your advantage since the optometry school starts screening applicants on August 1. When applying, always indicate the year you seek entrance and strive for accuracy, neatness, and legibility when filling out all forms. Grammatical errors leave bad impressions.
AMCAS or AADSAS. Most medical and dental schools, including University of Alabama School of Medicine and Dentistry and the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, are using the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) and/or the Association of American Dental Schools Application Service (AADSAS). These central application services lessen considerably the amount of detail required of the student in making application to their selected professional schools, making it possible to apply to a number of schools by submitting one application, one set of transcripts, etc. Your MCAT and DAT scores are also reported to the schools to which you apply via AMCAS or AADSAS. Most application services require that letters of recommendation be sent to them and not to individual schools. These websites will provide you with information on how to provide access to the pre-health advisor to submit a letter of recommendation on your behalf.
AADSAS applications can be downloaded here.
AMCAS can be downloaded here.
Early Decision Plan (EDP). A majority of the medical schools are now under the EDP, including UAB and USA medical schools. Under EDP, a student may apply to only one U.S. medical school prior to September 1, and receive an acceptance or rejection by October 15. If accepted by the school, the student cannot apply to any other school, but must attend that school. If rejected, the student may then apply in the usual manner to other schools (including the school that rejected him or her). This is a program for superior students with GPA's of 3.7 or above and MCAT scores which average 10 or above with no score less than 9. If you meet the criteria you should apply to the EDP since the chance of acceptance is higher than the later applicant pool.
Check release blank of AMCAS form. There is a blank on the AMCAS form to check indicating whether you want to release application data to your advisor. HPAC urges you to check yes in this blank so that we can receive useful (always-confidential) statistical data from AMCAS concerning BSC students. We wish to stress that the kind of data referred to here is already present in your application file. If you do not check yes, the statistical picture for Birmingham-Southern College will be incomplete. Regardless, you should send HPAC the Advisor's copy of your MCAT or DAT scores.
Application to School not Affiliated with AMCAS or AADSAS.
A few medical and dental schools are not affiliated with AMCAS or AADSAS. If you are applying to any of these schools, write directly to the Office of Admissions of each school requesting application materials and instructions, or go online. Following receipt of these materials read the instructions very carefully and follow the directions exactly. You will, of course, need to list names of schools on your MCAT or DAT forms and be sure copies of your test scores are sent to them.
The Science and Mathematics Secretary in SSC 128, has copies of Medical School Admission Requirements - U.S.A. and Canada, for allopathic medical schools, Osteopathic Medical College Information Book, for osteopathic medical schools, and Admission Requirements of American Dental Schools, which you may use. You may also order one for your personal use by using the order blank in your MCAT or DAT brochure. These books contain brief summaries and pertinent information about medical and dental schools, including entrance requirements, selection factors, financial aid, and deadlines.
Useful web sites include:
http://www.aamc.org. Site is for the Association of American Medical Colleges and contains information on application procedures to American Medical Schools including AMCAS (American Medical College Application Service).
http://www.aacom.org/about/colleges/Pages/default.aspx Contains links to osteopathic medical schools in the USA.
http://www.aacom.org/about/osteomed/Pages/default.aspx Contains general information about osteopathic medicine.
http://www.aavmc.org. American Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges. Contains useful information on application procedures to Veterinary Medicine Schools.
http://www.ada.org. Site for the American Dental Association. Click on Education & Careers for information on professional school application and AADSAS (Association of American Dental School's Application Service).
http://www.scholarware.com. Commercial site for the purchase of DAT study guides and useful links on dental school admission.
Vanderbilt Nursing Program
http://www.nursing.vanderbilt.edu/- Information on prerequisites and application procedures to the Masters of Science (MSN) program.
http://www.uab.edu/optometry/ Web site for the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
http://www.opted.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=1 This site contains general information about optometry careers, links to US Optometry Schools, and information on the OAT.
Physical Therapy Schools
http://www.apta.org/apta/directories/accreditedschools.aspx?navID=10737423273 This site contains links to most US Physical Therapy programs
http://www.apta.org/ This site contains information on career opportunities, what it means to be a physical therapist, information for prospective students, etc.
http://www.aacp.org/Pages/Default.aspx. This site contains information on the field of pharmacy and links to pharmacy schools.
Physician Assistant Programs
http://www.aapa.org/- Information on what a PA does, how to become a PA, as well as what is involved in a career as a physician assistant.
Information on taking the MCAT, DAT, OAT or other entrance examinations can be found on line. Please consult the appropriate websites when you are ready to register to take the exam needed for your application.
Faculty Evaluations. Take evaluation forms to faculty members as soon as possible but no later than April 1, and request that the faculty members submit these forms to the Secretary for Science and Mathematics located in SSC 128 by the deadline listed in the HPAC guidelines. You must complete the right-of-access form before you can be given evaluation forms.
Transcripts. If you are a transfer student, make sure the Division Secretary has individual up-to-date transcripts from each college attended.
All Materials. Make sure all items, including your essays, are in the office of the Science and Mathematics Secretary by the date requested (except MCAT, DAT, and OCAT scores).
Test Scores. Mail or bring the advisor's copy of the MCAT, DAT, or OCAT scores to the Secretary for Science and Mathematics immediately after receiving them.
Formal Application. You should not submit your application to AMCAS, AADSAS, or any unaffiliated school before July 1. Unless there are specific reasons to delay application, you should complete application procedures during July.
To increase the chances of getting accepted into a high-quality professional school, a student should apply to several schools. Many schools try to maintain a good geographic representation among their constituents, so geographic distance is not necessarily a strike against 'Southern students. Six to ten applications is the usual range.
Get all application materials in to professional schools as soon as possible. This will insure an early evaluation and interview.
Try to arrange interviews at schools in a given geographic area so they can be taken care of in one trip. Most schools are understanding and helpful toward students who must travel during the school year. Suggestions on how to have a successful interview are available online at Success on the Medical School Admission Interview .
Some professional schools begin interviewing applicants in late August, and the pace of interviews picks up from that time forward.
The Committee urges you to be prompt. Evaluations are made on a first-come, first-served basis; this means all deadlines should be met.
All records received by HPAC have been, and will remain confidential as required under the Buckley Amendment. Under the law, a student may or may not waive his or her right of access to records supplied or caused to be supplied by HPAC. Either way the student elects, the Committee will handle his or her records accordingly. The waiver is not a condition for the Committee evaluation.