If you’re interested in healthcare, you might have heard the trope that “every freshman is a pre-med.” It’s true that many students enter college dreaming of becoming a doctor; however, there are a lot of health professions, such as nursing and public health, that might be a better fit for some people. Collectively, preparation for these professions in your undergraduate years is known as “pre-health” while graduate or doctoral level programs for these professions, such as medical school, are known as “health professions programs.” For any potential pre-health student, it’s a good idea to know what resources are available at schools that you’re considering attending.

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What is Pre-Health?

Most people think of pre-health as only direct patient care roles, such as physicians. While every school defines it differently, pre-health generally encompasses many health professions, such as patient care, pharmacy, public health, healthcare administration, and health policy and ethics. A school’s pre-health resources should be able to help you explore different health professions, study the requisite courses for your chosen field, prepare you to apply for health professions programs, and provide a touchstone after graduation.

Pre-Health and Education

The first question to ask is: what kind of pre-health resources does each school have? A dedicated pre-health center? Pre-health advisors? Mentoring programs with alumni or others in the field? Career and school fairs? Scholarships? The easiest way to find answers is to look at each school’s website, or call admissions and have them direct you to a good point of contact.

Some schools actually offer a “pre-health” major that includes most, if not all, of the prerequisite courses to apply to graduate health professions programs. Consider these carefully — most health professions programs want to see multifaceted applicants with a wide variety of activities and interests. Similarly, it can be tempting to only look at schools that have both undergraduate-level pre-health programs as well as health professions programs (such as a medical school), in order to boost the chances of getting into that specific health professions program. However, most health professions programs are very explicit in that attending the same school for an undergraduate education does not affect your graduate application either positively or negatively. Furthermore, there are actually some benefits to attending schools without health professions programs attached. These benefits might include things such as more research opportunities and greater chances to form relationships with professors, potentially leading to stronger letters of recommendation.

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Pre-Health and Preparation

If you decide to apply to a graduate health professions program, the three most important areas that pre-health resources can help you with are letters of recommendation, interview preparation, and writing your personal statement. Many health professions programs will ask for either individual letters of recommendation from faculty or research advisors, or for a packet of letters from a pre-health committee at your undergraduate institution. For the latter, it is imperative that you reach out to the pre-health committee early. Interviews and personal statements are key components of a health professions program application; pre-health advisors should be able to work with you and strengthen these areas.

Pre-Health and Graduation

Many students do not apply to health professions programs straight out of their undergraduate education. Some may choose to take a gap year, while others may enter one profession but later change to a health profession. In this case, it’s important to know whether or not your undergraduate institution is willing to provide a recommendation packet or any other resources once you’ve graduated. Once you’ve entered a health profession, you may even be able to return the favor by mentoring other undergraduate students interested in your field!

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If you are even remotely interested in pursuing a health profession, getting to know what pre-health resources are available at the schools you are considering is crucial. A strong pre-health program should be able to introduce you to various different health professions, as well as guide you through the application process for the graduate health profession program of your choice. A CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Expert can work with you to weigh your options, so that you choose the right program for you!

This application guide was written by Olivia Sullivan, St. Olaf Class of 2018. If you want to get help writing your St. Olaf or music program application essays from Olivia or other CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Experts, click here.