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Preparing for and Selecting a Health Program

Find out if a health career is for you

  • Shadow or interview a health care professional in the area in which you are interested
  • Volunteer at a hospital or clinic
  • Visit one of the career centers on campus to research the area(s) in which you are interested

Make yourself a competitive applicant

  • Find out how many courses/hours you need to be admitted into the program in which you are interested. You may need to complete a bachelor's degree in order to be considered for admission. Most programs that do not require a bachelor's degree are moving toward such a requirement in the near future.
  • Find out the average GPAs of students being accepted into your field to get a realistic idea of what GPA you need to earn to be competitive.
  • Take your college course work and schedules seriously, beginning with your first class. Most admissions committees will look carefully at your transcript. Try to avoid having too many withdrawals, retakes and so on. They will also look at the number of hours you took each semester. They like to see students taking full and challenging course loads.
  • Some fields, such as medicine, physical therapy, physician assistant, optometry and dentistry require an entrance examination before the application can be submitted. These include such tests as the MCAT, DAT, GRE and PSAT. Find out if your field requires such a test and what scores are expected to be competitive. Also inquire as to when you will be expected to take the test and what kinds of study and review options are available to you. These scores are critical so plan on some preparation time.
  • Work on written and oral communication skills - these will be important during the application process and interview. Participate in mock interviews to prepare yourself.
  • Shadowing/observation under a health care professional in the you field you are interested in is a MUST. A few schools even require a specific number of hours to be completed.
  • Volunteer work, community service and involvement on campus are all good activities to help you learn and practice leadership skills.
  • Get to know your instructors, particularly in the sciences. You will be asking some of them to write letters of recommendation for you.

Apply to the schools or clinical programs early

  • The earlier you apply, the better chance you have at being accepted.
  • Some fields have a centralized application service. For example, pre-med students apply through the American Medical College Application Services (AMCAS).
  • If your field does not have a centralized service, you will have to fill out an application for each specific school or program. Many applications are now available online.
  • Find out application deadlines and apply early.
  • Your essays, if part of your application process, are extremely important. Take care when writing them and really think about how to express your reasons for wanting to be part of your desired profession. Avoid using phrases that begin with "I" and be genuine.
  • When asking for letters of recommendation, provide the person writing the reference with a short "resume" of your goals, activities and achievements. Make sure you give them plenty of notice, and always provide an addressed, stamped envelope.
  • If you are invited for an interview, think about possible questions you could ask, as well as questions they might ask you.

Be realistic and have an alternative plan

  • If your grades and/or test scores are below acceptable levels, you must make a decision—either pursue a course of action that will lead to improvement or think about alternative careers.
  • There are hundreds of opportunities in healthcare. If you really want to be in healthcare, there are probably other fields that would be suitable for you. Research some alternative careers and have a back-up plan to turn to if you are not accepted into your desired program.