Frequently Asked Questions

Academic Preparation:

Experimental Preparation:

Nuts & Bolts of Applying:


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.

 

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 (16 out of 134 MD programs in 2013), 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 (20 out of 134 MD programs require it in 2013). 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 32 of 134 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 (16 out of 134 MD programs in 2013 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  
3.
  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.

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 http://ase.tufts.edu/commhealth/ , 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 access our handout here.

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 http://uss.tufts.edu/studyabroad/ 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.

How important are extracurricular activities?

Extracurricular activities are very important for a number of reasons. First, they make your time at Tufts happier and more relaxed. Second, they show your interest in non academic pursuits. Third, they help you develop important qualities such as communication, leadership and organizational skills. Interviewers are often eager to learn how you spend your free time, and they often look for solid commitment to a few activities (quality rather than quantity). Do not sacrifice good grades for a long list of extracurricular, but do not aim for a 4.0 GPA at the expense of your personal enjoyment. Find a happy balance in between the two extremes.

Tufts has many active student organizations that relate to health professions. Among them are The Tufts Premed Society (which includes an AMSA chapter), the Tufts MAPS (undergraduate of chapter of the SNMA, minority medical student society focused on health disparities) Pre-dental Society, Pre-vet Society and Public Health at Tufts (PHAT). They offer many interesting programs and tips for their members. Click here for a list of all Tufts pre-health clubs.
 

What should I do with my summers?

You should use them to learn as much as possible about our health care delivery system and patient care. This can take the form of hospital volunteer positions, research or clinical internships, or participation in many other programs which you can find on this website, other sites or through personal contact. Interviewers and admissions committees often focus on summer experiences, as summers are a good time for in depth work, demonstrating your motivation and interest in medicine, dentistry, physical therapy, or whatever field you are choosing. If you travel or work in a non-medical setting, these experiences are good to talk about and learn from as well. For example, you could learn as much about interacting with a wide variety of people by being a waiter or waitress as you would as an ER volunteer.

In general, explore the opportunities available to you, and take advantage of what you can. Opportunities do not need to be full-time, nor do they need to be formal internships in order for you to learn and benefit from them. Often students will combine a paid job in a non-career setting (e.g. lifeguarding) with a volunteer opportunity in a local nursing home or community health clinic. There is no reason you cannot gain some further exposure and understanding of health care in your summers, even if you are working full time or taking a lab science course. Every experience builds on your fund of knowledge and overall understanding of the profession you are choosing.

Be sure to check out our listings, in particular summer camps for special needs children, and the internship listings on the Career Center website: http://career.tufts.edu/. Also be aware of the funding opportunities that Tufts offers to its undergraduates .


Do I need to do research?

Research is not a requirement for medical school or other health professions school. However, research experience can enrich your undergraduate experience and deepen your appreciation of healthcare delivery. As an intellectual enterprise it is a wonderful complement to your classroom study. All Tufts departments encourage and support their students in incorporating research into their education. Professors doing research, especially in biomedical settings, generally want students to work with them. Professors also get to know the students with whom they do research and will often write a more informative recommendation to health professions schools. For some students, research can be exciting and rewarding. Research is much more than just biomedical bench research. There is community-based public health research, social psychology research, translational research, historical research to name a few. Students may be able to work with a professor here in Medford on a volunteer basis or perhaps for credit. Some students do research on our Boston or Grafton campuses. Some apply for and receive funding through the Summer Scholars Program. Still others find research opportunities elsewhere over the summer. See the listings on the left side bar of this page and be sure to check out departmental websites and the Career Center website.

The AAMC Group on Graduate Research, Education, and Training (GREAT) Group has a list of summer undergraduate research programs affiliated with medical schools on the GREAT Group site at:
http://www.aamc.org/members/great/summerlinks.htm

Do I need to volunteer in a hospital or shadow?
 

If you want to discover more about the profession you are choosing, you should seek out clinical experience. Health professions schools will expect that you have an interest, and are motivated to spend time in health care delivery settings. Almost all hospitals, and many other health facilities, have a coordinator for volunteers. That person can tell you what is available and what the time commitment will be. Some alternatives to the common Emergency Room volunteer ship include assisting in a nursing home or in a mental health facility, at an HMO or a community clinic, at a rehab center or a birthing center. You may really enjoy these experiences and your help may be more valued. See the left sidebar of this page to find local volunteer opportunities, and look for similar organizations near your home in the summer.

Also consider broader community service work as a way of developing the important qualities of compassion, interpersonal communications skills, cultural competence, and humility that will serve you well as a health care provider. Consider joining the Leonard Carmichael Society which serves as an umbrella for close to 40 community service activities. Or look at some of the other health-related clubs on campus that do service – see the left sidebar.

Do not confuse shadowing with volunteer or service work. It is very reasonable to shadow physicians or dentists or other providers. They can share their experiences with you, and you can get a view of their work life. Try the Career Center Alumni Career Advisory Network as one way to make contacts and possibly arrange a shadowing experience. But shadowing does not allow you to do something directly for patients or others in need. Shadowing is only one component of your preparing yourself experientially for your future health profession.

Finally, if you tell schools that you want to be a doctor because you want to help people, you should be able demonstrate that in the activities in which you have participated. Volunteer work or community service activities are concrete ways of following up your interests.

What about international medical programs?

There are a plethora of opportunities for legitimate international health work, and also for “voluntourism.” Be honest with yourself about why you want to do these, and about how they impact the people they are supposed to be helping. Recent concerns about ethical issues raised by some of these experiences and activities have prompted guidelines from both the AAMC and ADEA. Please read them before proceeding: Guidelines for Premedical Students & Guidelines for Predental Students 

Tufts University is an institution with a commitment to active citizenship and global awareness and involvement. Hence you can find multiple opportunities through Tufts. We have opportunities listed on our website. In addition, you can look at the international opportunities listed on the Career Center website.


What about standardized tests?

In order to prepare for any of these tests, you will need to study the information from your introductory science courses and take practice tests beginning at least a couple of months before the test date. Various study aids exist, including guide books and preparatory courses. Many Tufts students enroll in commercial review courses. Their primary value is to set up a schedule of review and outwardly imposed discipline. They provide good review materials and practice tests (for a high fee). If you are sufficiently motivated to do so, you can achieve the same thing on your own. The tests themselves and the associations that sponsor them have excellent material on their own websites, for example; the AAMC offers The Official Guide to the MCAT Exam review book. Your end result will depend on the amount of preparation you do, regardless of whether or not you take a review course.

The MCAT, DAT and OCAT test the sciences that you will learn in your preheatlh 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. 

Your test is an important part of your candidacy, so take it seriously, plan for it and study for it.

When and How is the MCAT changing?

Visit the official MCAT site and click here for our handout. 

Do I have to apply to medical school at the end of my junior year?

Absolutely not; you can apply earlier or later. The early acceptance program is described above.

It might be helpful to consider that half of the people matriculating into US medical schools last year were over the age of 23.5. Click here to find FACTS: Applicants, Matriculants and Graduates of US Medical Schools which provides data about students who apply and are accepted to medical school.  Medical school admissions committees look very favorably on older applicants, and close to 70% of Tufts applicants take time between college graduation and medical school to work, volunteer or do a service program. A pause of a year or more between graduation and matriculation at medical school can be a very good idea for a number of reasons. Many students feel that after four years of college they need a break before starting four more years of studies. It also gives you a chance to do something you may not have the chance to do after you become a physician and/or to earn some money for your future education. Applying later may also significantly help your chances of admission. When you apply, medical schools will see four years of grades instead of three and students generally do better their last two years. In addition, both your recommenders and admissions committees frequently see you as a more interesting and mature candidate. Every Tufts student should give serious consideration to this timeline.

Can I decide to become "premed" if I did not start out that way?

Of course. As described above, there is no one timeline for admissions to health professions school and the "non-traditional" applicant is becoming more and more common. Post-baccalaureate Programs that allow college graduates to complete premed requirements exist throughout the country - one of the oldest is at Tufts. You can discuss this course of action with the health professions advisor.


How do I go about getting recommendations for medical school?

Recommendations are an important part of the application process, and all health professions schools require them. Medical and dental schools generally require a committee evaluation, provided by the student's undergraduate college. Some other health professions schools, such as podiatry, optometry and veterinary medicine may accept but not require it. Tufts offers an organized committee, the Tufts Health Professions Recommendations Committee, which provides this critical service.

If you are planning to enter medical school just after graduating Tufts, then you should register with the HPRC in Dowling Hall in spring of your junior year. The health professions advisor will hold numerous workshops on the medical, dental and veterinary school application process during that spring as well.
 
The HPRC requires you to submit four to five letters of recommendation prior to application and work with the Committee. The letters of recommendation should be sent directly to the office on the form(s) provided (they can be obtained at Dowling Hall or on the Student Services website). Recommenders and admissions committees may prefer that you waive your right to read these recommendation letters. This action shows that you have confidence in yourself and in the people you have chosen to write on your behalf; also, admissions committees tend to regard confidential letters as more candid.

Since you are eventually going to need letters of recommendation, think about getting to know at least some of your professors, including your advisor. If they only know you as a face in a large lecture course they will not be able to write much of a letter. Letters of recommendation should be from people who know you well, and can assess your qualifications with objectivity and insight. When considering who will write letters on your behalf, choose people who can discuss you from various viewpoints. Be certain to include at least one recommendation from a professor; they need not be from the sciences but if you can approach a science professor for a letter, do so. Ideally, you can ask a variety of faculty members from different departments. It is also wise to have a letter from your major department.

You should also obtain letters from people who know you in a professional manner, including, for example, employers, summer internship coordinators, and physicians or researchers with whom you have worked. Coaches also often write very good letters. You should avoid letters of recommendation from your personal physicians, family friends, relatives, clergy and politicians; these letters tend to be seen as highly subjective and biased. Admissions committees do not find such letters useful.

The current chair of the Health Professions Recommendation Committee is Professor Harry Bernheim from the Biology Department. Other committee members represent the departments of Biology, Psychology, Classics, Economics and Physics, as well as the School of Engineering. You will work with the committee once you begin the application process to medical school. However you can submit letters of recommendation prior to that time - forms are available in the Dowling Hall lobby.


Who gets into school?

It is extremely difficult to get into all health professions schools with medical school being the most competitive. Without a doubt, students who have been successful have been good students, who have worked hard, developed good study skills and performed well in their courses. But it is not the 4.0 student who is most likely to gain admission. Students who complement their studies with involvement in their campus community, significant exposure to their chosen profession, and contribution to the larger community are the most attractive applicants. They may have a 3.5 GPA rather than a 4.0. These students can usually clearly and sincerely articulate their motivation for this career and provide a strong, well-balanced application.

What if I am an International Student?

International students/applicants are those who have neither US citizenship nor Permanent Residency. It is far more difficult for these applicants to gain admission to US schools, particularly medical schools. You can find a current list of MD, DO and DMD schools and their policies regarding International applicants. Even those that admit International applicants do so in very small numbers.  Click here to international accepatances to US MD programs. According to the data, 174 International applicants matriculated into medical schools out of 18,000 overall matriculants in 2012.

 

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