Pre-Professional Health Programs

Student-to-Student Advice

After starting professional school we asked these CSU alum to offer advice to CSU pre-professional students.

Peter LaRossa
Post-bacc Pre-Med, 2010
Nida Degesys
Post bacc Pre-Med, 2009
Lubaina Presswala
B.S. Pre-Med, 2008
Julie Akens
Pre-Pharmacy, 2008

General Advice on being a successful pre-professional student

…Medical school demands a lot of science classes as pre-reqs! Be smart! Don't take a load of science classes in undergrad all in one semester! This has a great chance of lowering your SCIENCE GPA. When science classes are balanced with other general courses.your science GPA looks excellent in the end!  It is our tendency to take all science classes together and be done with them...but its not the smartest thing to do.

…Think about your entire college experience as part of your application to medical school.  Some of this is obvious.  Your grades are important, as are your volunteer experiences and clinical/shadowing experiences.  In a sense, your college years function as a time of building a medical school resume.  However, there are some more subtle aspects to your college experience that function as part of your medical school application.  You will meet your letter writers in your college years, and your letters of reference are a very important part of your application.  While it may feel awkward at first, get to know your professors!  Most of them will be interested to hear about you and your goals, and if you can muster it up, they will certainly be interested to hear about YOUR interest in their area.  Ask them questions, talk to them about your coursework, get to know them.  Doing well in their class is only enough to get a generic letter, and you want and need better than that.

The upper-level classes that I feel helped in giving me a good footing for future professional school classes were Genetics, Psychopharmacology, and Biochemistry.  It is not a requirement of my school, but I would have taken Anatomy and/or Physiology in undergrad so I could have had better basic knowledge in those subjects for professional school Physiology.

…Be a well-rounded person; good grades are an obvious strong point, but so is community and group involvement.  Also, show that you have taken some action to expose yourself to the workings of the profession either through job experience, shadowing, or volunteering.  While it isn’t a requirement  I feel that it shows you have some genuine interest in the profession..  Know why – and be able to explain clearly why – you chose the profession as a career.

…Keep the end result in mind:  to be accepted and, get your professional degree.  There are many times when I would rather have done something fun instead of study, but by reminding myself that there is an ultimate goal to achieve that will only come with hard work, I was able to stay focused.  Also, learning time management skills in undergrad will do wonders to help you succeed later in professional school.

Tips for a successful Application…Get in touch with schools that are your highest priority. Keep in touch with administrators from that school. Take a trip and introduce yourself, so that they can put a face to your name. Do a summer program (pre-med) at that school. Keep in touch with students of that school and get more in-depth knowledge of the school. Don't be afraid to name these students in your secondary applications and talk about how they inspired you to become a student of the same school.

…Have a good personal statement. I worked on mine for a few months.
…Be realistic with the mental, physical, and financial costs of applying to medical school.  It is truly exhausting!
…Start early! Try to wait and see your MCAT score before you click on that submit button! That can be realistic and apply to schools within your MCAT range. Also, that saves application money!
 …Using your personal statement and some of the additional essays you will get in your secondaries, you can tell medical schools your story.  For me as a non-traditional student, this was easier than it may be for some students.  Ultimately though, remember that thousands and thousands of people apply to medical school.  Figure out what makes you different from them, and use that as the basis of your narrative.  With thousands and thousands of people applying to medical school, separating yourself from the crowd with just your numbers is probably not possible, so use your personal statement and essays to separate yourself with your story.

Find something unique about yourself and use it to your advantage.  Do not write a story about how your grandma was sick and that is how you knew you wanted to be a doctor... that happens to a lot of students and thus does not help you stand out. Do something unique, travel or volunteer in a third world country... get involved!

…Be happy with where you are accepted!

Preparing for the Entrance Exam

I would have taken a better MCAT prep course (and not at the same time as OChem, applying to school, and working 20-plus hours a week).  I should have devoted more time, solely for MCAT preparation.

Some people will suggest a class, while others will warn against it.  I took a class from Kaplan, and found the actual in-class time to be only marginally useful.  However, I did find the resources they provide their students to be exceptional.  Even if I had spent an unreasonable amount of time preparing for the MCAT, I still don't think I would have been able to exhaust the question banks, subject notes and practice tests made available to me.  For me, the class was most valuable in the way it planned my time for me.  I knew what topics and subjects I would need under my fingers by what dates which is useful for somebody who is prone to procrastination.  Outside of doing my homework for the class, I ultimately felt doing lots and lots of practice MCAT questions and tests to be more valuable than content studying.  I would be lying badly if I said I had mastered all of the content on the MCAT by the time I took it, but being familiar with the style of questions that will come at you can go a long way to fill that knowledge gap.

I studied for probably two months, sections at a time from a Kaplan study book.  I recommend taking the practice tests in those PCAT study books so you can determine if there is a particular test area that needs more focus and to make sure you can get through each test area in the allotted time.   I did not find the online sample PCAT to be helpful at all—it seemed much easier than the actual test.  To help with testing efficiency, practice efficient reading comprehension and word association skills, as well as  working math problems without a calculator.