Frequently Asked Questions
Nuts & Bolts of Applying:
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, a year of general
chemistry, a year of organic chemistry and a year of
introductory physics, all with laboratory.
• Biology (Tufts
Bulletin): Biology 13 & 14, offered each fall and
• 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 & 52/54,
offered each fall and spring respectively as well as the
• 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,
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. 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
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 extra sciences,
Non-science majors should consider taking one or more
additional biology courses to strengthen their
backgrounds for future study in the health professions.
Biochemistry is most often recommended and is a
requirement at all vet schools, a handful of med
schools, and our own dental school. The new MCAT
which will be administered beginning in 2015 will assume
basic knowledge of biochemistry. Biology 152 is
the one semester biochemistry course based in the
biology department and offered each spring that serves
prehealth students well. Chemistry 171-172 (cross-listed
with biology) is required for biochemistry majors and
those who want a full year biochemistry course, but the
first half alone may be taken in the fall.
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
Bio 13 OR
13 or 14 and one other intermediate Bio course
Chem 1 and
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)
Physics 2 or 12
Physics 1 or 11
4 or 5 in
AB Calculus or 4 in BC
Statistics course unless you need calculus for
5 in BC
English 2 or Philosophy 1
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 Services website:
http://career.tufts.edu/. Also be aware of the
funding opportunities that Tufts offers to its
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 Services 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:
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
Career Services 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
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
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.
In the near future, a new site will be launched by Tufts
that will attempt to pull all these together and will be
a good starting point for you. In
addition, you can look at the international
opportunities listed on the left sidebar of this page.
has a section under their job listings for
short-term opportunities that are often international
and health or service oriented.
All of these have the potential of being wonderful
experiences for you while still truly helping those in
the places where you go. But remember that there is
great need in this country as well, and that
understanding our own health care delivery system (the
one in which you are most likely going to train and then
work) is important. You should be sure to have some
domestic experiences as well.
What about standardized tests?
The MCAT, Medical College Admission Test, is a one day,
standardized exam, required by all allopathic and
osteopathic medical schools and podiatry schools. The
MCAT is designed to test material covered in
introductory undergraduate courses in general biology,
general chemistry, organic chemistry, and general non-
calculus physics. It also assesses your ability to
organize your thoughts and write essays. For the most
part, the required premed courses cover the material
tested on the MCAT.
Dental schools have their own exam called the DAT;
optometry schools have the OCAT; pharmacy schools have
the PCAT Veterinary schools require the GRE. You can
find detailed information about all of these tests in
the Resource Library or on their association's websites.
Keep in mind that questions on the MCAT are geared
towards both concepts and some pure factual
memorization. The test is now computerized and given
multiple times per year. Ideally you should take the
test no later than June, the year before your
anticipated matriculation into medical school. If you
are planning to enter medical school directly following
your graduation from Tufts, you should take the MCAT in
April, May or June of your junior year for two reasons.
First, medical admissions committees will not consider
your application until it is complete; if you do not
take the MCAT until later, the schools will not receive
the scores for 30 days and your folder will not be
complete until later than many other applicants. With
rolling admissions, you will be at a disadvantage.
Second, if by chance you do not do well in a spring test
you will have the opportunity to retake the test in the
summer. Admissions committees will pay close attention
to the subsequent higher scores. If your first MCAT is
later in the year, you will not have another chance that
year to retake it.
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.
Registration information for all of these standardized
tests can be found on-line at the various associations
(see appendix.) While admissions committees differ
widely in their use of test scores, many feel the test
provides a standardized comparison between students with
different scholastic backgrounds. Most admissions
committees seem to understand that the test is only a
one day exam, and this can be taken into consideration
when comparing the score to the entire college record. A
poor performance does, however, predict difficulty on
other standardized exams, and all health professionals
must pass multiple tests throughout their training and
Your test is an important part of your candidacy, so
take it seriously, plan for it and study for it.
Do I have to apply to medical school at the end of my
Absolutely not; you can apply earlier or later. The
early acceptance program is described above.
The average age of an entering medical class is not 22
but closer to 24-25. Many applicants do not apply at the
end of their junior year but after graduation, sometimes
a number of years later. At Tufts this is true for
approximately two-thirds of our applicants. 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.
The trend towards older or "nontraditional" applicants
is true for virtually all the health professions, where
admissions committees are frequently seeing applicants
with significant work experience, and maturity applying
to their programs.
Can I decide to become "premed" if I did not start out
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
How do I go about getting recommendations for medical
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
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
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.