Academic Preparation

Coursework

It’s all about the timing and the goals!

As a pre-health student it is very important to keep ALL your goals in mind and to carefully plan the sequencing of your coursework.  Not only do you need to stay on track for your degree(s) by completing your general education and major/minor requirements, but you have the extra challenge of completing pre-health coursework too. 

Depending upon the health career you are interested in this could involve coursework to prepare for an admission examination like the MCAT, DAT, OAT, PCAT or GRE. You may also need to complete specific coursework or prerequisites that are required by your target health professional schools for acceptance. See the “Admission Exams” tab for more information.

Focus first on completing coursework that will help you succeed on admission exams while you also stay on track for your degree(s).  Then complete any additional science prerequisites required by your target health professional programs.  Finally complete any non-science prerequisites. Keep in mind, the more prerequisites completed before applying means fewer unknown grades. This can help make you a more competitive applicant.

Why Coursework Balance Matters

As you work with your advisor to map out your coursework, plan to add non-science coursework each term to help “balance” your science coursework.  Since science courses can require a lot of time outside of class, this strategy can help increase your chances of success in all your courses and hopefully keep your GPA higher.  Unfortunately, students who elect too many science credits in a term before they are ready can have a much tougher term and end up with a lower than expected or desired GPA.  


Double Up Only When Ready

Similarly, “double up” or elect two science courses ONLY when you are ready.  This doesn’t have to be done your first term here at Oakland University. An example of “doubling up” would be electing a Biology course with a Chemistry course or even a Biology course and a Math course.  Completing multiple terms successfully “doubling up” or even “tripling up” on science coursework can make you a more competitive applicant.  Challenging yourself in this way helps graduate health admission committees assess whether you are likely to successfully adapt to the increased academic rigor of their graduate health programs.  Not sure if you are ready?  Then connect with your unit academic and faculty adviser(s) for guidance and take advantage of all the OU resources!


Any Major is Possible

Some students choose a science major because of their interest in the subject.  Others choose a science major because of the amount of overlap between the major and courses required by their target health professional programs.  The reality is you can choose ANY MAJOR and be successful in applying to health professional programs as long as you have also successfully completed the prerequisites!  

Admission committees looks for applicants who have varied backgrounds and experience.  As they “build their incoming class” they like to accept students with different majors because this can add unique perspectives and foster different contributions to the overall class.  Look for “Class Profiles” links at schools.  For example, you can find Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine's Class Profiles by clicking on the link in the left navigation column (OUWB Class Profile) of their home page.  This site lists “Fields of Study” as well as other interesting class summary information.

So, explore your options, think about how you would explain your degree choice(s) to someone if asked and choose the degree(s) that makes the most sense for you! 


Strive to Exceed the Minimums

As a pre-health student, plan to elect and complete prerequisites on a letter grade basis and not pass/fail. The minimum grade required for prerequisites at many health professional programs is a letter grade “C”.  However, individual programs can have widely varying grade minimums.  For example, the individual prerequisite grade minimums at Eastern Michigan University for Occupational Therapy is a B- or higher while the individual grade minimum at Wayne State University for the Physician Assist program is a B or higher  as of February 2015.

Keep in mind too merely achieving the minimum grade will not help you be accepted to your target programs.  Always strive for a much higher grade than just the minimum grade required.  It is not unusual for students accepted to health professional programs to have both overall and science GPA’s that are 3.5 or higher.  

Consider also completing more than the minimum prerequisite coursework required.  You will compete with students who exceed the minimum requirements so completing additional upper level coursework should be encouraged.


If a Course or a Term Doesn't Go Well

If you experience difficulty in a course or during a term, connect with your unit or faculty adviser(s) asap.  They can listen, help recommend resources and discuss with you how to positively move forward.  They can also suggest things to consider before deciding whether or not you should consider dropping or repeating a course.  Dropping or repeating a course may affect your degree, financial aid and/or pre-health plans. 

Connecting with an adviser is also a great place to start if you are having problems/difficulties that go well beyond just a single course.  They want to help and choose to advise because they enjoy helping students just like you.


Where Should You Elect Science Courses?

Unless there are unusual circumstances, once you have begun at Oakland University, it is recommended that you complete your science coursework here or at least at another four-year university.  Coursework completed at four-year institutions is often viewed as more rigorous than coursework completed at community colleges by health professional admission committees.  However, depending upon your career path there may be more flexibility about where you elect some coursework like Math.   

Please review transfer credit website information and meet with your unit academic advisors before electing any coursework outside of OU.  Where you elect your coursework can also impact your degree(s) plans.


Is AP, Community College or Online Credit Accepted?

The answer is – it depends!  Whether or not these credits are accepted by health professional programs depends upon EACH individual program or school's policies.  There also can be a difference between what is “preferred” and what is “accepted”.  Whenever possible strive to give programs what they “prefer” – this will make you a more competitive applicant!  So, be sure to check the specific requirements of your target health professional programs.

AP:  Even if a school accepts AP credit, programs will often want to see additional college coursework successfully completed in the same subject areas. International Baccalaureate (IB) credit is often viewed in a similar way to AP credit. 

Community College: As discussed in the prior heading, community college coursework can be viewed as “not as rigorous” as coursework completed at four-year universities.  Some programs may accept community college work, but others may not.  Others may accept community college coursework on a “case by case basis”.

Online: Online coursework is a relatively newer option and it is sometimes difficult for programs to know from a transcript whether a course was elected online or not?  Regardless, some schools choose to accept online coursework on a “case by case” basis and others will not accept it, especially for science prerequisites.  The safest option is to elect all prerequisites in-person unless you have confirmed in advance that online coursework would be accepted.

Keep in mind too, programs and schools can change their policies on these credits each application cycle.  So be sure to check back with your target schools if you aren’t applying soon.

Admission Exams

Admission exams for health professional programs are very different than taking the ACT or SAT.  Every score counts, so take the exam when you are most prepared to do well. This includes having completed all appropriate college coursework prior to your exam date. Whether it is the MCAT, DAT, or any other exam, assume all your official scores will be seen by admission committees.  So, there is considerable risk to taking the test before you are ready, “just to see what it’s like”. It is best to plan to take your admission exam only once and prepare to the best of your abilities.  Admission exam scores remain an important factor when reviewing the strength of an applicant.  

Read the sections below and 20 Tips to Help You to Help You Succeed on Your Admission Exam to learn more.
 

If You Need to Repeat/Retake an Exam

Make sure that you have put in enough extra time and effort needed to give yourself a real chance to improve your score before retaking an exam. A hurried, ill-prepared repetition will likely result in a lower score rather than a higher one. Check class profiles of your target schools for the ranges of exam scores accepted applicants had in the past. Consult with your target schools and advisers as needed about the risks and/or benefits of repeating your admission exam.


How are Repeat Exams Viewed?

There can be variation in how health professional schools review/use multiple admission exam scores in their evaluation of an applicant.  

For example, from a survey of medical school admissions officers (AAMC.org site "How are Multiple MCAT Scores Used?):

  • Some schools weigh all sets of scores equally and note improvements.
  • Other schools consider only the most recent sets of scores.
  • Still others take an average of all sets of scores.
  • Finally, some schools use only the highest set of scores or the highest individual sections scores.

Even more complicated for medical schools in the next few years is how will they review/use previous MCAT scores and new MCAT 2015 scores?  You can view the AAMC Medical School Policies from Current and the New MCAT, but be sure to double check your individual target schools' sites too.


Planning Your Exam Date

Given that many programs use rolling admissions, an exam taken late in the application cycle may reduce your chances.  Rolling admission usually just means applicants are considered for admission on a first-in, first-completed basis. So it is to your advantage to have your application completed earlier in the cycle.  A good "rule of thumb" is to have your application materials available to admission committees within a month of the opening of the cycle, but be sure to consider your particular situation.  Application cycles for different programs such as medicine, dentistry and physical therapy open in different times of the year. So it is important to know the timing for your particular path.  See the "Application Cycles" Tab on the "Preparing to Apply" page for more information about the cycles and consult with your adviser(s) as needed.


Tips for Preparing for Your Exam
  • Preparation begins when you start taking the courses on the tested subjects.  Most of the admission exams required by health professional schools (except the GRE), will expect knowledge in basic science courses like Biology and Chemistry.  Physics topics are covered on the MCAT and the OAT, but not the DAT or PCAT.  Keep in mind that although Physics may not be part of the DAT or PCAT, Physics courses may still be required by dental and pharmacy schools.  A suggested list of courses/knowledge to have before taking these exams can be found here - Courses/Competencies Recommended Before Taking Admission Exams.
  • More detailed links and topics covered on the DAT, GRE, MCAT, OAT, and PCAT can be found under the next section "Common Admission Exams".  
  • In addition to science courses, coursework or experience in these areas can also be very helpful: reading, writing, problem-solving and critical thinking.
  • Make sure you allow for enough preparation time in your schedule taking into account all other time commitments you have made. Adjust your commitments as necessary.  It is common for students to spend two to three months preparing for the GRE and more than four months preparing for the DAT, MCAT (especially MCAT 2015), OAT and PCAT exams.
  • Acquaint yourself with the nature of the exam before deciding how to prepare.
  • Is using a test prep company is an option or good fit for you? Can you consistently organize or devote time to study for your admission exam? Or would you benefit from the structure a test prep company can provide?
    • Does a test prep company teach you how you want to be taught? For example, do you get to interact with actual instructors?
    • Will you learn test taking strategies and time-saving techniques you might not learn on your own?
    • Ask people (whose judgment you trust) about their experiences with companies you are considering.
    • In the end, choose the option that is best for you.  
  • When ready take enough timed practice exams and see if you are reaching above your minimum target scores?  It is good to aim above where you want your final real scores to be because the stress of the exam day can often lower a student's scores.
  • Trust your instincts when you are determining whether you are ready.  If ready, then go into your exam with confidence!  If you're not ready, then consider adjusting your timeline and perhaps moving your exam date forward.

No matter what option you choose there are NO SHORTCUTS.  You need to put in ENOUGH time to succeed.  Don't underestimate how much time is needed for you to be successful. 

As you review the links below, keep in mind Pre-Professional Advising at Oakland University does not recommend any particular test preparation method or company over another.  Carefully consider your own unique situation and all the different options available to you before making your decision on how best to prepare for your admission exam.


Common Admission Exams