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					Frequently asked questions
How do I get into a health professional school?
The pathway is very clear, but not easy. It takes considerable motivation to complete.
Basically, any health professional school is looking for:

   1. Mastery of basic science requirements with a respectable/competitive Grade Point
       Average (however, these requirements vary and students need to check each
       individual programs);
   2. Broad exposure to humanities and social sciences;
   3. Demonstration of initiative for independent learning (independent study,
       undergraduate research, study abroad);
   4. Demonstration of going beyond basic course work to examine one or more subjects or
       areas in some depth. This statement implies approaching your academic requirements
       beyond a laundry list of requirements (minors, a second major, study abroad,
       undergraduate research, special study, independent study are all possible pathways to
       demonstrate a genuine intellectual interest in learning for the pure pleasure of the
   5. Professional growth and maturity as demonstrated through the ability to gain
       strong/excellent letters of recommendation from faculty members at the university;
   6. Demonstration of commitment for caring about people who are medically
       disadvantaged (clinical experience);
   7. Demonstration of community interest and involvement, or trying to make your
       community a better place to live (volunteer experience at some level, for example,
       tutoring, working at a homeless shelter, working with Habitat for Humanity, just to
       mention a few);
   8. Demonstration of motivation to educate oneself about the health care career you are
       aspiring to, understanding the role of the health professional (shadowing experience);
   9. Outstanding personal qualities such as maturity, stability, integrity, responsibility,
       trustworthiness, leadership, enthusiasm and motivation (what examples can you give
       of these qualities and/or who can speak to them on your behalf?);
   10. An indication that you have taken the initiative and have demonstrated the motivation
       to accomplish something worthwhile with your life (creativity/ volunteerism);
   11. Ability to carry on a sophisticated, meaningful, and mature conversation with older
       people (advantage of the interview with the Health Professions Evaluation Committee);
   12. Demonstrated ability to interact and communicate effectively with others from different
       cultural backgrounds.

As one can readily see, preparation for health professional school takes time and a good
plan. That is why advisors and admissions officers lack confidence in the student who
suddenly appears late in their academic career with the epiphany, “I have now decided to go
to medical school!” The pathway is clear, but preparation takes time and considerable
motivation. Plan to begin early and show consistency in your preparation.
Frequent Questions about Academics
Do I have to major in a science to be competitive?

There is no required or preferred major for professional school. You should select a major
based on your interest and abilities, not whether you think it will help you gain entrance into
professional school. As a general rule, health professional schools are less concerned with
what an applicant majors in as they are with the quality of their academic career. You will
need to complete the required prerequisites courses regardless of your chosen major. For
students who do not major in a life science, it is recommended that you enroll in a few
additional science courses beyond those minimally required as part of your elective choices.
If you want to go to the most selective schools, this option is a must.

    Medical schools, for example, consider students from any major, as long as the
     student has completed the pre-requisites. Some medical schools require courses in
     biochemistry and/or statistics in addition to the standard pre-requisite classes. Other
     health profession areas are more restrictive about the classes they expect students to
    Dentistry, for example, has a longer list of pre-requisites, including courses such as
     microbiology, genetics, cell and molecular biology, biochemistry, immunology and
     animal physiology.
    Nursing, PA and PT fields like to see students take the class, Human Anatomy and
    The general goal is to achieve an application package which is well rounded
     academically as well as with respect to clinical, service and social accomplishments.
    At Virginia Tech, many of our pre-health professions students select Biological
     Sciences as their major. However, our students also have majors such as English,
     History, Biochemistry, Chemistry, HNFE, Engineering (Chemical, Civil, and
     Mechanical Engineering), Psychology, and Business Information Technology.
    The best way to garner information is to use the internet to look at the website of a few
     health professional schools that you are interested in, and/or talk with the admissions
     office for those schools to obtain specific details.

What should be my GPA?

The average GPA for students accepted to allopathic medical schools is 3.65 overall and
3.55 in biology, chemistry, physics and math courses. For osteopathic medical schools, the
average overall GPA is 3.4 and for dental schools, it is 3.45. Students who are below these
averages may still be accepted, especially if their GPA is very close to these averages.
However, students whose GPA is more than a few tenths below these averages will have a
much more difficult time being accepted. Each applicant is unique and questions about GPA
and other concerns should be discussed with academic and health professions advisors. For
example, if you have a period of time when you did not perform well academically but there is
an explanation for the poor performance and an established record of success, a poorer GPA
may be less troublesome to admissions committees.
What are the basic pre-requisite courses I must take?

These are:

      First year biology (with labs),
      First year chemistry (with labs),
      Organic chemistry (with labs), and
      Physics (with labs),
      First year Math, and
      English.

However, additional courses in such areas as microbiology, genetics, cell and molecular
biology, anatomy and physiology, biochemistry and immunology would be recommended
depending on the school and the health profession.

What if I receive a C in a class?

It is a better strategy to succeed in a more advanced course than to repeat a course for a
higher grade. If you do not feel you have the necessary foundation to proceed in a discipline,
then you should repeat the class. However, both your grades will be counted towards your
GPA when you apply to professional school so retaking a class will not replace the original

Also you should be aware that Virginia Tech policy states that “a student may not repeat
courses in order to improve his or her grade average where a grade of C or higher has been
earned. An assigned grade of "A-D" will be changed to "P" whenever a graduation analysis
(DARS report) detects a repeated course previously passed with a "C" or better”.

Individual schools set their own policies concerning whether or not a C- grade will satisfy their
pre-requisite requirement. If you have a C- in a required course, you should consult the
websites of all the schools you plan to apply to regarding their policy.

What if I receive a D or F in a class?

You should repeat a class if you receive a D or F. Such a grade suggests you do not
understand the material sufficiently or there was some other significant problem.

Should I consider taking a W for a class?

Professional schools are wary of applicants who must withdraw from classes, especially
when there is no compelling explanation or if it occurs often. There are many factors to
consider before taking a W, such as the effect it will have on future courses, the grade you
might receive should you stay in a course and the reason why you may need to withdraw. It is
recommended you discuss this decision with your academic advisor if you have questions
about this decision.
Is it alright to take these pre-requisites over the summer in summer school?

The answer to this question is “No.” Any health professional school likes to see these
courses, especially the science courses, taken on campus with a normal academic load (15
credits) so that one's maturity, motivation, time management skills and intellect can be
evaluated. For example, the science courses approximate the difficulty of a typical medical
school class if the science course is taken during the academic year. If Organic Chemistry,
for example, is taken during the summer and an A is earned, although this grade will help
one’s GPA, it does not provide a yardstick about one's personal qualities of handling a full
semester load.

If one must take a course in the summer for legitimate reasons, take the course at a home
institution or another four year college. Medical schools frown on taking science classes at a
community college over the summer because the perception is that these courses are not as
rigorous as those taken during the normal academic year. One may argue this point, but
perception counts heavily in this regard. If one or more of the pre-requisite courses are taken
in summer school, this issue needs to be addressed in a letter on your behalf.

Is it a good idea to graduate early?

All applicants should acquire sufficient life experience before applying to professional school.
Some students can do this undertaken in a shorter period of time than others, but it is
generally advisable for students to remain in school and fully embrace all the unique
experiences available to an undergraduate. However, there are always exceptions, such as
financial concerns or interesting opportunities after graduation. These can be addressed best
on a case by case basis.

I did not do well in my early years at college and my GPA is poor. What should I do?
Do I have a chance of getting in?

The answer depends on what is the GPA. If the GPA is marginal, one may need to consider
an extra year and take some rigorous courses to demonstrate one's true academic potential.
Another choice is a graduate program, or a post baccalaureate program at one of the
medical/dental schools. There must be a clear demonstration of an improvement which
should represent your true academic potential, which is competitive.

If the GPA is extremely poor and involves academic probation or suspension, then one may
need to sit down with an individual in an admissions office (for the health professional school
of your choice) and develop a strategy to demonstrate improvement.

There is always the potential to be accepted. However, you must demonstrate your true
character, intellectual ability and seriousness of purpose, which may take much longer than
normal. Some students have tried for as long as four years after graduation to mount a
competitive application, and were eventually accepted to a professional school.
I am a senior and I just decided that I want to go to medical school. I know this career
is really what I want to do with my life, can I get in?

How can you convince someone that you really know what you want to do with your life if this
decision is spontaneous on your part? What is there to show that tomorrow morning you will
not decide to be an aviator, a deep sea diver, a sheep herder or a sea captain? Being a
competitive applicant for medical school, dental school or any other health professional
school takes commitment, motivation, discipline and preparation.

In this case, assuming one has taken all of the pre-requisite classes and has a competitive
GPA, one needs clinical experience.

    What is your level of awareness about medicine as a career?
    Could you carry on a meaningful conversation with an admissions officer about the
     career of medicine?
    Can you demonstrate that you understand what you are getting into, that you are
     committing to work with sick people for the rest of your life?

It usually takes some time to put together a package to demonstrate that you are convinced
of your decision about this chosen career.

Furthermore, one needs to have a folder opened with the Office of Health Professions
Advising (OHPA), participated in the folder review over time, and campus interview with the
Health Professional Evaluation Committee if required. Otherwise a letter cannot be written on
your behalf.

The truth is that one needs to develop a plan to be competitive and then exercise the plan.
Too often, there is a rush to finish and in the end the student is not competitive. The issue
here is to be competitive. Time and finishing are no longer the most important variables if
one is truly sincere about gaining admission.

Do I have to work with the OPHA to be a competitive applicant?

Medical schools and other health professional schools will want to know why you did not work
with the Director and OHPA on campus. Not to do so invites an opinion that one is not a team
player and that one looks for shortcuts to success. This reflects negatively on one's
character. The real question is, “Why would you not want to work with the OHPA?” The office
exists to promote your success. We are not gatekeepers. It is not our job to decide who gets
in and who does not get in. Our job is to promote our students. However, if the director and
other pre-health advisors do not know you, then it is difficult and almost impossible to write a
letter on your behalf.

Should I take AP credit for courses to get ahead in college?

Taking AP courses in high school is one thing, accepting the credit is another. There are
many variables to consider when answering this question.
For example, the most critical aspect of doing well in college is the ability to adapt quickly to a
college campus – making the transition period. The secret is to find ways to reduce the size
of the university and find/create a group of people with whom one can interact and to whom
one has access for moral support. If one accepts the AP credit and then steps into upper
division classes, there are few/no individuals with whom one can interact. Furthermore, these
are sophomores, they know the system, the professor, they have their own study groups; the
other students on your hall probably are not in this class, so the feelings of being an outsider
and being alone are very pervasive and detrimental to one’s development.

Secondly, there is no quality credit for an AP grade. Consider the situation where one
accepts AP credit for freshman biology and advances into Cell and Molecular Biology and
Microbiology the first semester on campus. If one makes Bs in these courses that is great! It
might have been that one could have made an A in these classes if they had taken Freshman
Biology their first year and then taken the above courses the first semester of the sophomore
year! Besides, if the AP scores were valid, then one should be able to earn A’s their first year
in the Freshman Biology course. When it comes time to complete the primary application to
medical school, the AP credit has no value and one must use the B’s in the upper division
classes. However, if one had taken freshman biology and then the upper division classes,
one could be looking at four biology classes with A’s which do have quality credit value!

In general, medical and dental schools will accept whatever the university accepts for
graduation. Hence, these professional schools will accept AP credit. However, using the AP
credit for advancement at the undergraduate level may be shortsighted in the long run in
terms of developing a competitive application.

If one does accept AP credit, the general rule is to take one or two additional courses at the
upper division level to demonstrate that the AP credit was not a fluke.

Dental schools tend to have stricter policies in some cases regarding AP credits. It is
important to check school websites for their specific policies early, in case additional
coursework is needed.

How do I open a folder with the Office Health Professions Advising?

    Visit the Office of Health Professions Advising webpage

What do I bring with me to meet the Director, OHPA the first time?

Your Pre-Health Professions Folder should be opened with the registration form. Depending
on your class standing, you should have the following items in the folder:

    Freshman: an academic course of study plan, and a photograph
    Sophomore: an academic course of study plan, a resume that highlights clinical
     experience and has been critiqued by an advisor from the Career Services, and the
     most current academic record (unofficial transcript)
    Junior: Sophomore requirements plus a personal statement outlining why one wants to
     pursue a particular health profession, taking or preparation for an admission exam,
     and information about the application process.
    Senior: Same requirements as Juniors.

These credentials provide concrete information that we can review together. In subsequent
meetings, we can discuss accomplishment of goals and establish the next level of

I am a “non-traditional” student in that I graduated some years ago from Virginia Tech
(or I graduated from another university and I am in Blacksburg working at Company
XYZ) and I want to go to apply to health professional school. What do I need to do to
begin the journey?

To start on this journey, one needs to schedule an appointment with the OHPA and initiate
opening a Pre-Health Professions Folder. If the latter is already open, the contents must be
updated. What needs to be demonstrated is evidence that the sudden interest in a medical
career is not a fanciful decision. There needs to be evidence that this decision is based on
accumulated experiences. Too often, non-traditional students become tired or bored with
their present job and are looking about for a new career area – and so why not medicine? But
how long will it be before the person is bored with medicine and is off looking for yet another

The pathway to health professional school is very clear, but it is not easy. One of the tasks is
to demonstrate commitment and it takes time to build a record that says a career in the
health profession is what one really wants to do with his or her life.

Frequent Questions about Experiences
What if my parents are physicians or dentists?

Professional schools want assurance that your motivation to have such a career is your own
and you have not been pressured to do so. Consequently, you must demonstrate through
your experiences that you have confirmed that this career path is for you and no-one else.

Is it important to do undergraduate research?

It is important to do undergraduate research if participating in research is important to you.
Having undergraduate research on one's transcript is not an issue UNLESS one is thinking
about an MD/PhD program. In this case, undergraduate research would be essential. If you
do decide to pursue interests in undergraduate research, do not be surprised if one is asked
about the research that one did and why.

How do I gain access to medical facilities for clinical experience?
Gaining clinical experience (through shadowing, volunteering, missions, or actual
employment) is critical not only to show a thorough understanding of selected healthcare
areas but to also reassure the applicant of their suitability for their chosen field. The first thing
to do is present oneself professionally.

    Cover all the tattoos,
    Get rid of the extra body jewelry/armor (in the nose, tongue, lips, eyebrows, the six or
     so pins in the ears, and cover the belly button),
    Get the smell of cigarette smoke off your breath and clothes, and
    Make sure that you are well groomed and hygienically presentable (take a bath and
     put on some deodorant!).

You are seeking admission to a profession where public perception is very important. You are
not the center of the universe any longer; it is about one's patients and what they think about
one's professional ability. If one wants to be a professional, dress like one. This idea seems
to be self-evident, but it is not apparent to many students.

Secondly, seek volunteer offices at local hospitals, free clinics, nursing homes, retirement
homes, shelters, etc. Again, do not call and ask about volunteering or send emails. Show up
in person and present yourself as a young professional. Be prepared to be able to converse
with the volunteer coordinator and explain why the position is important to you; fill out the
application legibly, especially so they can get in touch with you should a position materialize.
Many hospitals have training programs that you will have to go through in order for you to
have credentials and be able to work in the medical environment. But one's first impression
will go a long way in paving the way for an invitation to participate in the training program.

Thirdly, consider taking a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) class or complete a radiology
certification program (the latter is an excellent way to gain a presence in dentist offices).
These programs are often offered at the high school level or in community colleges. Most
medical clinics have strict guidelines about who can be in the environment and around
patients for liability reasons. These guidelines limit students gaining access to the clinical
environment, and hence the much-needed clinical experience. Certification in a medically-
related field, such as CNA. or radiology, ensures that you have credentials to work in a
medical environment and be around patients. Many physicians are reluctant to allow you to
shadow them for the same reasons.

Regardless of the way you chose – the key is to diversify your clinical experiences and if
possible attempt to gain experience in different areas of health care from a private care
setting (primary and specialty care), emergency medicine, indigent care, international health
care, etc.

Why is community service essential?

Community service demonstrates that you have the personal attributes desired in a health
care professional. By placing yourself in situations where you are serving people in need, it
shows that you are caring, compassionate, responsive, etc. The kind of community service
you pursue can vary widely; ideally, you should be intensely involved with people in need
over a period of time long enough so that you may have an impact.
Is it favorable to be involved in campus organizations?

Significant and substantiated involvement in campus organizations signifies an investment in
your community. Acquiring leadership roles in this way is seen favorably by admissions

Frequent Questions about Application
When do I apply?

You should apply when you are the most competitive which can be your either your junior, or
senior year or even after you graduate from Virginia Tech! Most students apply to their
chosen health professional programs during the summer of their junior year for admission the
following year. The OHPA will host Application Information Sessions during the Spring where
interested applicants will be given information about timelines for applying to their programs.

When are the application services open?

Most of the application services open their electronic submission services between May and
July for input of data. AMCAS, AACOMAS and AADSAS typically open the first of May for
keying data and for submission by the first of June. Applicants are encouraged to submit
their transcripts to these services as soon as spring grades are posted. Applications should
be submitted no later than July 15th and between June 1 and 15th if at all possible (based on
school requirements or early acceptance applicants). The other application services open
from July through August.

What documents/information do I need to fill out the application?

   1. Personal history of accomplishments (supporting your academic record with a listing of
      clinical, service and social/community service work), and finally
   2. A personal statement which highlights an applicant's strengths and personality
   3. Official transcripts from all institutions of study,
   4. Admission test scores,
   5. Letters of recommendation and review committee evaluation (depending on the
      graduate program),

What is meant by rolling versus non-rolling admissions?

Most health professions schools use a rolling admissions procedure. Applications are
screened in the order in which they are completed. Interviews are offered and conducted,
decisions are made at weekly or bi-monthly meetings of the admission committee, and
notices mailed, beginning as early as October 15th. Thus, successful applicants interviewed in
September and October may have already received letters of acceptance by a November
15th deadline for receipt of applications.
Experience has shown that as the class builds in size, the committee is more likely to offer a
wait list position rather than an acceptance. A few medical schools use non-rolling
admissions. Examples include Harvard, Columbia, Cornell, Penn and Duke, offer
acceptances only after completing interviews with all candidates and send out their first
acceptance letters in late February or early March. However, even for non-rolling admissions
schools, an early application may give you a better chance at acceptance.

What if I am not accepted?

Realize that competition for acceptance to health care graduate programs is extremely fierce,
and that depending on the overall strength of your application, you need to consider your
options if you are not accepted in your first attempt. The primary question is to address your
willingness to reapply with the understanding that although rejection can be painful it should
also be viewed as simply a year out of your life compared with the rest of your career. “Gap
years” can provide an excellent opportunity to address any weaknesses in applications, to
simply bolster your application, take a break from academics, or to even save for your
continued education.

If you find yourself facing a re-application year, seriously review your folder with respect to
addressing your greatest areas of weakness. For instance,

    If your overall GPA is weak, then consider post-baccalaureate coursework at the
     300/400 or graduate course level. These grades will provide a separate post-
     baccalaureate GPA in the application.
    Consider repeating science and pre-requisite courses where Ds and C minuses were
    If you have limited science background (i.e. non-science undergraduate major), you
     might want to consider a post- baccalaureate program for medical pre-requisites.
    If your clinical areas are weak consider obtaining a licensure as an emergency medical
     technician, a CNA, a phlebotomist, etc and securing employment or even volunteering
     after the certification.
    Expand and diversify your clinical experiences.
    Although it is often harder to acquire service experience after graduation, if you are
     weak in the service and leadership area, use the internet as well as the many
     resources online through OHPA to discover and participate in community and
     international service work.