For those students planning careers in the health professions, the Health Professions Advising Office helps direct and prepare students for the many opportunities in that area; the Pre-medical Advising Committee coordinated by this office, in particular, offers guidance on personal statements, application completion, and the all-important interviews. Celeste Crowe is the contact for this office and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are planning to become a physician or dentist, it is essential to recognize that you will need far more than a magna cum laude GPA (3.65) and good MCAT (~516+) or DAT score (~20). In order to be competitive for any school you will need those as a minimum, but in addition to academic competence, the admissions committees are looking for evidence that you are an individual of compassion and integrity who is commited to this career choice. While all schools expect applicants to have substantial clinical and service experience, the most highly ranked schools (see U.S. News & World Report for one such list) admit those applicants who have gone beyond that, and who demonstrate significant accomplishments as scholars, researchers, and leaders. Luckily, those are all things you are doing as part of your Honors College experience!
This is a brief list of what a potential pre-medical/dental applicant should be thinking about throughout their college career. Also, you may click these links for general guidelines for both pre-medical (PDF, 476KB) and pre-dental (PDF, 378KB) students with information about regional schools' requirements.
While Biology and Psychology are excellent pre-health majors, most other majors will also work, and students should pick a subject to study that they love and will excel in. Of course, you will need to take the preparatory MCAT courses, but you can do that while majoring in Spanish, History, Interdisciplinary Studies, or many other majors. Some students illustrate their breadth and intellectual strength by being both scholars in a non-science discipline and in the required science courses. The most selective schools are looking for that combination. For more information on the required science courses, please see the Health Professions Advising Office website. In addition to these characteristics, however, it is highly recommended that students take at least one intensive reading/writing course each year, preferably each semester; one-third of the MCAT score depends on verbal reasoning, and this too-often overlooked section can be the undoing of many great science majors.
Most schools are looking for clinical experiences that consist of full-time summer commitments or regular (weekly) volunteer work done throughout the academic year. While shadowing clinicians is important, and you should do as much as you can, and from a variety of different types of practitioners, this does not fulfill the expectation of either service or a "substantial" clinical experience. Schools tend to be vague on what "substantial" means, but it usually full-time summer jobs or several academic years of weekly volunteering.
If you are able to get your clinical experience in a paid job setting, that is excellent, but you will also need to show that you are someone who cares about your community by volunteering in some fashion. Ideally, the volunteerism is clinically related, but if you have a great deal of clinical work experience, then the volunteer opportunities might be something else, such as Habitat for Humanity or Alternative Spring Breaks.
While many schools will not expect to see a research component to the application, the very best schools will see many applicants who have this; everything else being equal, those students with research will have an advantage over those without research experience. While it is typical for pre-med/dental Honors College students to pursue their thesis research in a scientific, bench-based project, this is certainly not required. We have had many students do very valuable clinically-relevant research projects in History, Spanish, and Business. There are too many topics to cover that would be intriguing to an admissions committee; only the student's imagination limits them. Examples of non-bench research extend from biomedical ethics to health communications, health-care access issues, and beyond. Those students who hope to attend a top-ten school should identify their research interests in the freshman year and be actively engaged in original scholarship by the sophomore year. Ideally, such students are positioned to present their work at national meetings (and perhaps publish their findings) before they start filling out their AMCAS or AADSAS application.
Choosing the Right School
Part of your preparation should include looking into which schools might be good choices for you. There are excellent resources to help with this for both medical and dental school (revisit the Health Professions Advising Office link for more information!). Talk to your Honors advisor (Dr. Zerucha) and HPO Advisor (Ms. Crowe) about what your long-term goals are and which schools might be the best fit for you. Then, get to know what those schools' expectations are so that you can tailor your experiences to match.
Planning Your Path
These sheets outline the typical path both for courses and the essential extra-curricular experiences for a competitive applicant: