DavisConnects health professions advisors provide specialized advising, beginning in the first year and continuing after graduation, for students who are preparing for all careers in the health professions.
Students interested in health professions work with Emily Wagner ’08, the DavisConnects Pre-Health advisor. Emily helps students plan their prerequisites, make decisions about how and when to fit courses together, plan and prepare for the MCAT, DAT, GRE, or other tests, strategize their application process, and prepare for interviews. She tracks the success of Colby applicants in the application process and continues to work closely with Colby graduates who plan to apply at some point after graduation.
Academic Guide and Resources
There is no one way to prepare for graduate study in the health professions. The correct sequence or combination of courses will be the one that leads to success for you personally. For some students, taking all required courses in a relatively short time is appropriate, but for others, spreading the courses out over a longer time frame makes more sense.
Students interested in physician assistant, nursing, advanced practice nursing (a.k.a. nurse practitioner), physical therapy, optometry, occupational therapy, public health, veterinary medicine, health administration, and other health professions are urged to consult the health professions advisors for information on required and recommended courses for graduate study in their field of interest as they vary widely from prerequisites for medical school and from each other.
The admission process for medical and dental schools has undergone substantial change over the past few years, with more change to come. Required courses for admission to many medical schools have been adjusted (for example, medical schools are moving away from requiring calculus and moving toward requiring a course in statistics). A revised MCAT was launched in 2015, requiring knowledge in sociology, psychology, statistics, and biochemistry that was not included in the previous MCAT.
The following science courses comprise our Colby course recommendations for students to fulfill the range of courses required for admission to most U.S. and Canadian medical and dental schools. Specific requirements for individual schools can be found in the guides published for allopathic, osteopathic, and dental schools and may vary from this list. Students interested in other health professions will need to develop their unique list of prerequisites based on the schools they believe they will want to apply to as no other field has a standardized list of prerequisites.
- One year of introductory biology with lab: BI 163, BI 164
- One year of general chemistry (inorganic) with lab: CH 141, CH 142 OR CH147 (credit notation for CH 141 will be added to the transcript for students achieving a B or higher in CH 147, fulfilling the two semesters of general chemistry required by the majority of medical schools)
- One year of organic chemistry with lab: CH2 41, CH 242 (note that some medical schools now only “require” one semester of organic chemistry, but keep in mind that both semesters are required in order to take ciochemistry at Colby)
- One semester of biochemistry: BC362 (medical biochemistry, one semester, no lab) OR at least one semester of the two-semester sequence BC 367 AND BC 378
- One year of introductory physics with lab: PH 141 OR PH 143 followed by PH 145
- One or two semesters of mathematics, including one semester of statistics
- Statistics: SC 110 or SC 212, PS 214/215, EC 293, SO 271/272
- One or two semesters of English, usually EN 115 or a W-1 course. (Typically, writing intensive courses in other disciplines are accepted as a second course if needed.)
In addition, courses strongly recommended for preparation for the MCAT 2015 are:
- Introductory Sociology: SO 131 (must be taken in first or sophomore year)
- Introductory Psychology: PS 111
Students who enter with AP equivalents for prerequisite courses MUST take a least one additional course in that field. For example, if Colby gives you course equivalency for Physics 141 and 145 based on a 5 AP score, medical schools will require one additional upper-level college physics course taken at Colby or over the summer at another institution. Despite having placed out of a science course, students who feel that they would benefit from taking the introductory level course at Colby (which will move at a significantly faster pace and have more lab work than a high school AP course) are strongly encouraged to do so. Students placing out of Chemistry 141/142 may not take organic chemistry in their first year at Colby without petitioning the department for permission—those students are encouraged to take CH 145 (Honors Chemistry) to meet their medical school prerequisite in general chemistry.
Students wishing to enter medical, dental, or veterinary school directly after graduation should plan to complete all prerequisites by the end of spring semester their junior year, allowing them to take the MCAT by April and begin the application process in May. This usually involves studying for the MCAT during the spring semester in addition to a rigorous course schedule. Students pursuing direct entry should work closely with their academic and health professions advisors beginning in their first year to chart an individual curriculum plan that best aligns with their academic, personal, and professional goals.
For some students, the opportunity to work for one or two years after graduation in a position related to health care can help confirm that a career in the health professions is the right choice and show admissions committees substantial evidence of relevant experience and commitment. Students following the Postgraduate Path will typically take the MCAT or DAT in the spring of their senior year or the summer after graduating (if planning to work for two years between Colby and professional school) and apply to medical dental or veterinary school following graduation. As with the Direct Entry Path, students pursuing medical, dental, or veterinary school through the Postgraduate Path should consult with their academic and health professions advisor to develop a curriculum plan that best supports their long-term goals and success.
No specific major is required for admission to medical/dental/veterinary school. This has been the case for many years. Students should select a major area of study that is of interest and that will provide a foundation of knowledge necessary for the pursuit of several career alternatives. Students who select a major area of study solely or primarily because of the perception that it will enhance the chance of acceptance to a school of medicine are not making a decision in their best interest.
It is the general rule, however, that students who do not take more than the minimal number of science courses should have very high grades in those courses to ensure serious consideration. Competence in the sciences, regardless of your major, is a key factor in health professions school admission. Majoring in a science with mediocre grades will not make you a more attractive candidate than a non-science major who excels in their science prerequisites.
There is some degree of variation in acceptance rates across undergraduate majors. Recent data reveal that although students majoring in humanities represent a smaller proportion of those entering medical school than do science majors, the probabilities of being accepted are actually higher than for natural science majors. Moreover, studies have found that science and non-science majors are not differentiated in terms of performance in medical school or in their careers as physicians. Overall, no one major can be said to provide an edge in terms of medical school admission. Medical schools readily accept well-qualified students with diverse academic backgrounds and strong performance in biology, chemistry, physics, and math courses.
The situation regarding choice of a major is similar for dental and veterinary schools. Academic excellence, regardless of major, is essential for success.
All students interested in the health professions are urged to refer to current editions of the admissions guides for medicine, dentistry, and veterinary, as well as other health professions, in order to get a clearer sense of how these professions view undergraduate education.
- It is extremely important that you begin planning your overall academic program early. This will allow you to arrange a reasonable distribution of required and recommended courses during the undergraduate years, so that you can do as well as possible in each course. From previous academic experience, you should have some idea of which courses will require greatest effort, and you should plan each semester accordingly. However, if you come to the idea of health professions later in your Colby career, get in touch with the health professions advisor—it is possible to go to medical/dental/veterinary school even if you do not complete your prerequisites while at Colby.
- First-year students who plan to major in one of the natural sciences should follow the guidelines for enrolling in science and mathematics courses during the fall semester that have been developed by the department in which they will major. Consultation with the first-year health professions advisor is still highly recommended.
- First-year students who plan to major in one of the social sciences or humanities should work closely with their academic advisor and with the first-year health professions advisor to select the optimal combination of science and non-science courses for each semester.
- When planning course schedules, all students should keep in mind the following:
- The first of the introductory courses in biology (BI 163), chemistry (CH 141, CH 241), and physics (PH 141 and PH 143) are offered only during the fall semester and are prerequisite for enrolling in the second courses offered in the introductory sequence (BI 164, CH 142, CH 242, and PH 145, respectively) in each discipline during the spring semester.
- Effectively, you CANNOT “begin” your sciences in the spring semester. If you do not take the first semester of a science in the fall semester of your first year, you will not be able to take a science until your sophomore year (the exception to this would be if you placed out of an introductory science course). Not taking a science in your first year does NOT mean you won’t be able to go to medical school, but will require you to work with the health professions advisor to plan how you will complete your prerequisites.
Course grades and cumulative GPA are considered to be extremely important indicators of future success by medical, dental, and veterinary admissions committees. In 2017 the national average overall GPA of a students admitted to allopathic (MD) medical schools was 3.71. The national average overall GPA of students entering osteopathic (DO) schools in 2017 was 3.70.
Those individuals admitted to medical school with lower GPAs either have achieved strikingly improved academic performance in their later years of college or have demonstrated other characteristics deemed desirable for medicine by admissions committees. Frequently such students have “proven themselves” academically by taking more science courses, completing a special master’s program, and possibly working for one or more years following graduation.
In addition to the overall GPA, the “science” GPA (also called the “BCPM”) calculated to include all biology, chemistry, physics, and math undergraduate courses taken is another extremely important academic metric considered in the admission process (osteopathic medical schools and dental schools count only biology, chemistry, and physics in the science GPA). While an upward trend in science grades can be taken into consideration, the importance of putting best effort into succeeding in science and math courses cannot be emphasized too strongly.
The GPA situation regarding dental and veterinary schools is more variable. However, competitive dental applicants typically have at least an overall GPA of 3.3, while veterinary applicants are closer to 3.5. The higher the GPA, the higher the probability of being accepted.
If you do poorly in one of the courses required for professional school, it is not necessarily the end of the line for your aspirations. If you have high grades in most of the other required and recommended courses, there is no reason why you cannot retake the course in which you did poorly or take more advanced courses successfully and apply as planned. Professional schools are well aware that no student is perfect under all circumstances and that overall performance speaks more definitively than one exception. Students who demonstrate a distinct upward trend in their academic performance, especially in the sciences, may also be strong candidates for professional school.
There are a million variations on the theme of performance—don’t hesitate to talk with the health professions advisor to assess your situation and develop a strategy to achieve your professional goals.
In addition to academic performance measured through required courses, grade point averages, performance trends noted in the transcript, and the MCAT score, medical schools, in evaluating applicants, seek evidence of “social competencies” that are correlated with becoming an excellent physician.
These nine interpersonal and intrapersonal competencies, listed by the AAMC, should be used as a guide to identifying and organizing activities and explorations both in and outside of the classroom:
Social and Interpersonal Skills
Reliability and Dependability
Resilience and Adaptability
Capacity for Improvement
A combination of volunteering, internships, community service, leadership, campus involvement, summer jobs, and shadowing is critical in demonstrating to health professions schools your competencies and commitment to any health profession (documented clinical hours are required by most PA, NP, and PT programs as an admission requirement). Opportunities on campus, in the Waterville community, and at home should be sought early and often throughout your Colby experience.
You should also seek opportunities to engage in special projects or individual research:
For students majoring in the natural sciences, projects in the major may take the form of laboratory research at Colby, at another college or university, or in a hospital or other research setting. This research may or may not involve human or animal subjects, but will demonstrate your understanding of how research is conceived, organized, and conducted. After all, research is the underpinning of evidence-based medicine.
For students majoring outside of the natural sciences, it is also beneficial to get involved in research in your discipline, especially if it is pertinent to health in the broad sense.
Some recent examples are a psychology major who helped to carry out a study examining perceptions of health risks among college students; an economics major involved in research on the health and cost implications of hydrocarbon emissions near an airport in an urban setting; a Chinese minor who conducted research in Beijing on the effects of air quality on asthma sufferers; and a philosophy major who wrote a senior thesis on medical ethics pertaining to end-of-life standard-of-care decisions.
Humanities and social sciences majors have also developed relationships with faculty in their science courses that have led to science lab research opportunities.