Office of Pre-Health Advising

backup-plans

Backup Plans

You Can't Always Get What You Want

As the old song goes, "you can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need."

Your first plan for a pre-health career might fall through a number of reasons. The most common:

  • Your grades are low compared to what the professional schools expect
  • A lack of experience or perceived commitment
  • Your test scores are low compared to what the professional schools expect
  • You decide you don't like the field enough to spend the rest of your working life in it

What to Do About Low Test Scores

This one's easy. If your test scores are low, study for it again, trying a different approach the second time around. Professional schools don't generally mind if you have to take a test more than once. If it takes you more than three times, though, then what you're doing isn't working, and you should think about other options.

Sometimes you can find schools that don't require the test, but in some fields that can be unwise. Why? Because after you complete professional school you will have to take the licensing exam required for your profession. If you can't pass that exam, you won't be able to practice your profession, and you'll be stuck with all the debt that almost inevitably accompanies getting your professional education. It may seem mean that professional schools require test scores in order to get in, but it's actually protecting you: if you can do well on the entrance test, the schools are pretty confident that they can give you the advanced education necessary to do well on the licensing exams. But if not, they don't want to put you in the position of paying for an education you end up being unable to use.

What to Do About Lack of Experience/Perceived Commitment

This one is also straightforward. Just the fact that you're willing to wait a year and try again is a positive. If you spend that year improving aspects of your application that are weak, that also shows commitment. Continuing to acquire clinical experience through volunteering, shadowing, or working in health care is helpful, and is crucial if you are applying to PA school.

What to Do About Low Grades

For grades that are just a bit too low at the time of first application, the solution is to take more science and math courses, as a post-bac or master's student if necessary, to bring up your G.P.A..

If your G.P.A. is much too low, you don't have to give up! Students can still get in to professional school if they do the following three things:

  1. Demonstrate a run of strong recent grades. The key here is to avoid low grades: 10 B+'s and 5 A-'s over your 3 final semesters is better than 12 A's and 3 C's, even though the G.P.A. would be higher in the second case. As a rule of thumb, avoid getting anything less than a B+ when trying to make up for low grades you got early in your academic career.
  2. Be able to explain what has changed, either externally or internally, to allow you to improve. Perhaps you cut back on work hours, learned more effective study habits, or just got more serious. Whatever the case, be honest, and think about what you will do in professional school if you run in to a course that has extra challenges for you.
  3. Score well on the standardized test associated with your profession (e.g. MCAT for physicians).

Another question is whether you should retake courses you did poorly in or move forward to new courses. It's usually better to move forward than to retake, but there are exceptions: see our page on grades or set up an appointment with the pre-health advisor.

Switching Tracks

The different professional tracks supported by our office emphasize different aspects of your application to different extents.

If you were pre-PA, but feel you don't have enough experience, consider medical school, pharmacy, optometry, dentistry, or physical therapy.

If you were pre-med, but can't seem to score well enough on the MCAT, consider pharmacy, optometry, dentistry, or physical therapy.

If your grades were a bit low, pharmacy often has somewhat lower grade requirements than the other tracks.

Fortunately the course requirements for all of these tracks are similar. Typically, you can switch from one of these tracks to another without difficulty up until about one year prior to application.

Foreign Schools

For medical schools, consider St. George or AUC in the Carribean. For veterinary schools, AVMA accreditation is available in schools worldwide.

Beyond that, schools outside of the United States and Canada are not recommended if you want to practice in the United States.

Other Advanced Schooling

Some students who are looking for alternatives to the clinical professions consider graduate work in the sciences, nutrition, health advocacy, genetic counseling, or public health.

If you're considering one of these fields, ask yourself what attracted you to health care in the first place. If you like the idea of helping and working with people, for example, health advocacy might make sense. If you like research, then the sciences might be the way to go. If policy is more your thing, then consider public health.

Other Health Care Certifications

A list of other health care careers can be found here.

Get a Job

One of the most frequent questions we get in pre-health advising is "what can I do with a degree in biology/art/sociology/etc.?"

All of those fields are, in the older sense of the term, "liberal arts." (Some people now exclude the sciences from "liberal arts," but that's not what we mean here.) Vocational fields like accounting and social work are not liberal arts; but sciences, social sciences, humanities, and many fine arts majors are.

There are virtually no jobs for bachelor's degrees in specific majors within the liberal arts. You won't find a job saying "bachelor's in chemistry required" or "bachelor's in comparative literature required."

But there are lots of jobs that require a bachelor's degree, ask for specific skills to go along with that, and then reward additional skills. A laboratory job, for instance, might ask for a bachelor's degree and laboratory experience. A biology or chemistry major might have an inside track to a job like that, but an English major who had taken pre-med courses would have a shot as well, and could also argue that they could be valuable in helping to write up results for publication.

Likewise, a job in marketing might go well with skills in art, or psychology, or sociology.

It does mean a change in how you've been thinking about employment. For professional tracks like medicine, you are pursuing a particular educational credential to be eligible for particular kinds of employment. As a liberal arts major, you are instead using your particular portfolio of skills to argue your case for jobs that are less specifically defined.

Last modified: Jun 20, 2017

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