Academic Preparation

Preparing for a health profession involves many steps, but at the core is a set of courses that health professions schools require. Successful applicants to medical, dental, veterinary, occupational therapy and all other clinical health professions graduate programs must demonstrate that they have a foundation in science. Your professional school curriculum will build on the biology, chemistry and physics that you learned in college. Demonstrated ability in science is critical.

But there is much more to being a health clinician than science, and therefore a broad-based curriculum is highly valued by professional schools. All will expect an applicant to read critically and write well, and most require 2 semesters of English to demonstrate that. An appreciation of people, their behavior, their beliefs, their perspectives is important and can be gained through studies in the social sciences, languages and cultures. Quantitative skills are necessary, and skills in statistics and informatics are very beneficial. Lastly but importantly, an appreciation of health and health care issues will make you a better informed and better prepared future clinician.

Overall, a strong student with broad interests and ability in the sciences is a competitive candidate in terms of academic credentials. To learn about the specific academic courses required for a given profession, please click on the link at the left. If you are uncertain about the field that interests you, visit the "Exploring Health Professions" section of this site.


Academic Preparation:

What courses are required?

The courses required for preparation for a health professions graduate program vary, depending on what specific health profession you are pursuing. Typically medicine, dentistry and veterinary medicine require a year of introductory biology (with lab), a year of general chemistry (with lab), some organic chemistry (with lab) followed by biochemistry and a year of introductory physics with lab).

• Biology (Tufts Bulletin): Biology 13 & 14, offered each fall and spring, respectively.
• General Chemistry (Tufts Bulletin): Chemistry 1 & 2, offered each fall and each spring, as well as the summer. Some students with excellent chemistry preparation may choose Chemistry 11 & 12, offered fall and spring, respectively; Chemistry 16 is another alternative for the first semester of chemistry, offered each spring.
• Organic Chemistry: Chemistry 51/53; Chem 52/54 is still required by most dental schools and some vet schools.
• Physics (Tufts Bulletin): Physics 1 & 2, offered each fall and spring respectively as well as summer. Engineering students , physics majors and students with excellent physics backgrounds may choose Physics 11 & 12, offered each fall and each spring.

Click on the profession on the left that most interests you to get more specific information.

What about Math?

A full year of calculus is no longer a requirement for health professions schools as it was many years ago. Since some still do require a semester of calculus (13 out of 140 MD programs in 2014), students should plan on taking Math 30 or Math 32 if they do not already have a prematriculation credit for calculus. Students who are seriously contemplating a major in chemistry, geology, physics or other field that requires a full year of calculus should not take Math 30 but should take Math 32 and 34.

Students with a credit in calculus should seriously consider taking a statistics course for their second Tufts math distribution requirement since health professions school increasingly emphasize the importance of a knowledge of statistics (11 out of 140 MD programs require it in 2014). The new MCAT which will be administered beginning in 2015 will assume basic knowledge of statistics. Statistics is taught in a number of departments at Tufts including Biology (Bio 132), Child Development (CD 140), Economics (Ec 15), Math (Math 21), Political Science (PS 130), Psychology (Psych 31) and Sociology (Soc 101). Students with an AP credit in statistics would be well served by an additional course.

What about English?

All health professions graduate programs expect students to be able to read critically and write effectively. Many have a two semester English requirement designed to measure this. Since Tufts has a two semester Writing Requirement for all liberal arts undergraduates, LA students fulfill that English requirement (in one of the several ways that Tufts allows it to be fulfilled.) Typically even AP credit is sufficient to fulfill this health professions school requirement.  Engineering students are required to take only one English course so those students may want to choose another writing-intensive course in the humanities or social sciences to use in fulfillment. All students are encouraged to consider taking more reading and writing courses as a way to best prepare themselves for their future health professions education.

Should I take Biochemistry?

Biochemistry has always been highly recommended and is increasingly a requirement for medical, dental and veterinary schools. Currently 28 of 140 MD programs require it and this number is increasing daily. The new MCAT which will be administered beginning in 2015 will assume basic knowledge of biochemistry. All pre-health students should plan to take a biochemistry course. The Tufts Chemistry Department has reorganized its science sequence such that much of organic chemistry that is relevant to pre-health students is covered by the end of Chem 51. Students can move directly to biochemistry – either Bio 152, offered each spring and summer by the Biology Department, or Chem 171 offered each spring by the Chemistry Department.

Should I take additional sciences?

Non-science majors should consider taking additional biology beyond biochemistry to strengthen their backgrounds for future study in the health professions (8 out of 140 MD programs in 2014 required more than 2 semesters of biology). Topics most often recommended by medical, dental and other schools include cell biology, molecular biology, genetics, physiology and microbiology. Other courses that interest you may be chosen but look for rigorous courses that build on Bio 13 and 14.

Should I use my AP or other prematriculation credits?

Health professions schools will want to see how you perform in college science classes. Hence if you choose to use your AP or other prematriculation credits, you will be taking additional courses in that subject. For example, if you have an AP score of 5 in Biology and use it to fulfill Bio 14, then you will be taking at least one other biology course numbered higher than Bio 13 and 14 at some point before applying to health professions school.

AP Score

Tufts Equivalent Credit

What To Take

5 in Biology

Bio 13 OR Bio 14

Take Bio 13 or 14 and one other intermediate Bio course

5 in Chemistry

Chem 1 and 2

Three options:
1. Keep Chem 1 credit and take Chem 2
2. Forfeit Chem 1 and 2 credits and take Chem 11 and 12 earning three credits  
  Keep credits and take Chem 51 and 52 plus an additional chemistry course (this is an option, but not advisable)

5 in Physics Mechanics

Physics 11

Take Physics 2 or 12

5 in Physics Electricity

Physics 12

Take Physics 1 or 11

4 or 5 in AB Calculus or 4 in BC Calculus

Math 32

Take a Statistics course unless you need calculus for your major

5 in BC Calculus

Math 32 and 34

Take a Statistics course*

4 in English

English 1

Take English 2 or Philosophy 1

5 in English

English 1 and 2

Take another writing course


When should I take all of my required courses?

It is a good idea to spread these courses out, but you should complete the requirements before you sit for any standardized test that requires knowledge of these disciplines (e.g. the MCAT or DAT.) Do not avoid requirements; take them in due course. Medical schools want you to have been challenged. However, it is best to take only one laboratory science course your first semester until you adjust to the added demands of these courses and life at Tufts.

Summer courses may or may not be the best route to pursue such requirements as organic chemistry or physics. Some medical schools feel that summer session courses are not as competitive as regular semester courses (therefore the grade may not mean as much) or that they are so compressed that you will not learn as much. Also, summer is often a time for much needed serious reflection about your chosen career as well as important experience in the field. However, sometimes scheduling demands a summer course. If so, look for a quality course. Take it at Tufts or seek transfer credit here through the on-line "Transfer of Credit" process on WebCenter.

When planning your schedule, do not overburden yourself (i.e. by taking three science lab courses at once), and keep in mind when courses are offered. For example, Biology 13 is only offered in the fall, and certain courses sometimes overlap in time blocks. Many first year premeds prefer to begin college by taking general chemistry instead of introductory biology, as a chemistry background may be desirable for Biology 13. Others come with excellent backgrounds in biology and prefer to begin with biology. Less common, but still possible, is starting with physics. In general, be flexible, but also try to plan ahead.

Can I take a pre-health requirement in the summer?

It is possible to take one of your four pre-health sequences in the summer. It is best not to do more than that.
Things to consider: what am I forfeiting (e.g. valuable health experience, income); will this course prepare me well for future courses, standardized tests, and professional school; can I get transfer credit at Tufts (use WebCenter’s Transfer of Credit process to request this)? Avoid taking a science at a much less rigorous institution if you need to build on it at Tufts. In other words, a weak chemistry course elsewhere may cause problems as you take organic chemistry at Tufts. Also, avoid splitting courses ( e.g. taking Chem 1 at home in the summer and Chem 2 it at Tufts during the year is a poor plan.)

What should I major in?

There is no "premed major" at Tufts; this is true of all selective colleges and universities. Medical and other health professions schools look for a well-balanced college program, and do not favor one major over another. Statistically, biology majors comprise at least half of the applicant pool but statistically they have a slightly lower rate of admission than many other majors, including many non-science majors. In fact, some Admissions officers may find someone who has majored in a non-science area and still done well in the premedical requirements to be more interesting.

Major in what excites you; chances are you will do your best and enjoy your time at Tufts more by concentrating in an area you enjoy. If you do choose a science major, remain well-rounded by taking a variety of courses outside your major. If you major in a non-science, be certain to demonstrate your science aptitude by performing well in your premedical courses. It is advisable to elect an additional biology course or two if you are a non-science major to allow for a smoother transition to your graduate studies. Most commonly recommended courses include biochemistry (typically Bio 152), cell biology, molecular biology. Other options include physiology, genetics, microbiology or immunology. If you are inclined to double major, be aware it will greatly reduce your freedom to take electives, and not necessarily impress admissions officers.

What other courses should I take?

Health professions schools value broadly-educated applicants. They understand the importance of understanding other people and cultures gained by courses such as psychology, anthropology and sociology. Students who have studied literature, art and music have insight into the human condition and human emotion. And those who speak another language have an excellent additional communication skill. Explore all that Tufts has to offer and develop your own interests and passions.

Tufts also has a rich array of classes aimed at providing a broad understanding of health. Most notably, the Community Health Program , a second major for students who choose it, offers a wonderful list of courses that can heighten your awareness of health issues.

What Standardized Test do I have to take?

All health professions graduate programs require a standardized test. Medical schools (MD and DO) and Podiatric Medical schools require the MCAT; dental schools require the DAT; optometry schools require the OCAT and most others require the GRE.

The MCAT, DAT and OCAT test the sciences that you will learn in your pre-heatlh requirements so students typically do not take the test until they are completing their last requirements.

The MCAT is changing in March of 2015. Click here to get information about the new exam and click here to access our handout. 

Can I study abroad?

Students are strongly encouraged to investigate study abroad options if they are so inclined. This experience will enrich your education and your application. Many students take time away from their science requirements to study language, history, art, etc. while abroad. If you do want to take sciences abroad, it is important to check with the appropriate science department here to insure that a given course is comparable and therefore covers the material you need to know.

All Tufts students considering study abroad should attend a General Information Session (offered by the Programs Abroad Office throughout the year at different times and places), and should consult the publications Explore the World with Tufts (Tufts programs) and/or Tufts Guidelines for Study Abroad (non-Tufts programs). Subsequent to that, there is information on the Program Abroad website and binders and books in the Dowling Resource Library that provides information on many programs.

What if I do poorly in a course? 

A "C" or "D" is not going to keep you out of medical school but multiple ones may. The average successful premed at Tufts has an overall and science GPA of at least a 3.5. While an average reflects both higher and lower GPAs, very few medical schools seriously consider applicants with less than a B+ average unless there are significant disadvantages that the applicant has overcome. Programs leading to an MD degree are currently the most competitive; students interested in most of the other health professions could be competitive with a slightly lower GPA.

You do not have to have a 4.0GPA to gain admission. Attributes other than grades are also important. However, if you are getting a "D" or an "F" in a course, talk to your instructor early to find out how you can turn around your performance. If it is clear that your final grade is going to be that poor, talk to your advisor (and your parents) about dropping or withdrawing from the course. A '"W" will always be on your transcript but it is still better than a ''D" or an "F" in a single incident. Multiple "W"'s are not ideal either, but again they are generally preferable to a very low grade.

If you do earn a poor, but passing, final grade in a course, it is sometimes difficult to determine whether or not it is best to retake the course. At that point, you should discuss this with one of the health professions advisors. Students who do not perform well in their early science courses, but still wish to pursue a medical degree, can take additional science courses to strengthen their academic records and become competitive candidates.

Should I remain premed if I am unhappy? 

Keep in mind that being premed is not directly related to medical school or the practice of medicine. If you are frustrated by the long hours of study and your requirements are not stimulating, do not just give up. Determine for yourself whether you really want to become a physician. This takes more than just saying you have always wanted to be a doctor. Speak to doctors, work in a health care setting, and if you really have your heart set on medicine go for it! But be prepared for sacrifices.

On the other hand, remember that medical students and physicians work extremely hard (much harder than premeds) and the first two years of medical school are primarily very rigorous science courses. The lesson to be learned is that if you want to be a physician, and you can tolerate hard work, pressure and time constraints, and can do the sciences, then you should pursue your goal.

Remember that there are many other health professions that may offer what you are seeking without some of the drawbacks you are experiencing. Do yourself a favor and seriously investigate the other health professions.

What if I am not a competitive applicant?

For the student who truly wants to pursue a medical or other health professions career, there is always opportunity to strengthen a record and become competitive. It is first important to do an honest assessment of your candidacy along with one of the health professions advisors. Then a plan can be developed to address any gaps or weaknesses. If the weakness is the academic record there are numerous ways to strengthen it even after college graduation. One way is to pursue a Special Master’s Program. Click here to find a list of such programs.

  Health Professions Advising, Dowling Hall, Medford, MA, 02155  |  Tel: (617) 627-2000