FAQs

  1. What do you mean, I'm not a premed major?
  2. What is the best major for a premed student?
  3. What courses are required for medical school admission?
  4. Does Willamette University offer all of the courses required for the MCAT and for admission to medical schools?
  5. Must these courses be taken in a particular sequence?
  6. Does Willamette University guarantee that all courses that premeds desire to take will be offered in a semester when the student would like/need to take them?
  7. Can I substitute AP or CLEP courses from high school for any of the premed curriculum?
  8. How can I determine whether a particular medical school requires additional courses?
  9. What if a school requires courses in "English"; do we offer those at Willamette?
  10. Should all courses required by medical schools be taken for a grade?
  11. Should I take human anatomy and human physiology as an under-graduate?
  12. What is the MCAT?
  13. What are the medical schools "looking for"?
  14. How many letters of recommendation should I have and who should write them?
  15. What if a school asks for a letter from the premedical committee or from the premedical advisor?
  16. Will Willamette University "get me into medical school"?
  17. What percentage of applicants from Willamette are admitted?
  18. What is the difference between the Pre-Health Program and the Pre-Health Club?
  19. What kinds of extracurriculars should I be involved in?
  20. Do I have to do research to get into medical school?
  21. What is a personal statement?
  22. Should I take an MCAT prep course?
  23. What is the difference with allopathic and osteopathic medical schools?

1. What do you mean, I'm not a premed major?

Although a lot of students interested in a career in medicine refer to themselves as premed majors, it should be understood that "premed" is not an actual major. Premed students must take a set of courses, commonly referred to as the premed curriculum, in order to meet the admission requirements of medical schools. However, this set of courses does not constitute a major at Willamette, or at other schools. Instead, students could say, “I’m on the Pre-Health track.”

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2. What is the best major for a premed student?

The best major is the one that you will enjoy and for which you have aptitude. You may choose any major and still be premed. Medical schools do not care what your major is, as long as you take their prerequisite courses and complete an undergraduate degree. The advantage of majoring in one of the sciences is that most of the premed curriculum will be encompassed by the courses required for your major. If you choose a non-science major, you will have to fit many of the premed courses into your schedule in addition to the courses required for your major. However, pursuing something that’s meaningful to you is the most important factor in choosing a major, as your interest and passion will be evident in medical school interviews. It is important to keep in mind, though, that no matter what you major in, your medical school application will display your GPA as calculated in two ways – cumulative GPA, or all of the courses you’ve ever taken; and science GPA, or courses in biology, chemistry, math, and physics. Therefore, if you don’t perform as well as you’d like to in your pre-requisite courses, you might want to consider taking upper level science classes to add to your science GPA, regardless of what major you are. When planning out your schedule, we suggest you leave a few open spots in case you would like to or need to take extra upper level coursework in the sciences.

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3. What courses are required for medical school admission?

Medical schools require both science and non-science courses. In general, the non-science courses that medical schools require (such as a year of humanities) are requirements that you will have to take to satisfy Willamette's general studies requirements. Some require other, upper division non-science courses (see requirements of Oregon Health & Science University and requirements for the University of Washington, for example)

The following courses are the science core of the premed curriculum and are the minimum that should be taken before taking the MCAT or entering medical school.

Two years of chemistry with laboratory:

Introductory Chemistry I (Chemistry 115) & Introductory Chemistry II (Chemistry 116)
Organic Chemistry I (Chemistry 225) & Organic Chemistry II (Chemistry 226/228)
Biochemistry (Chemistry 351) is required for most schools)

One year of physics with laboratory:

Introductory Physics I (Physics 221) and Introductory Physics II (Physics 222) - both require calculus as a prerequisite

One year of biology:

Cell Biology and Genetics (Biology 130) and Gene Structure and Function (Biology 333)

Many medical schools require additional science and non-science courses (For example, see the requirements of Oregon Health & Science University). Many require calculus and biochemistry (The University of Washington has a strong biochemistry requirement). You should determine whether the schools you plan to apply to require any additional course work. If they do, you will need to plan your academic schedule accordingly. You can find this information on school websites or in the Medical School Admissions Requirement (MSAR) publication, which is an AAMC official resource.

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4. Does Willamette University offer all of the courses required for the MCAT and for admission to medical schools?

Yes.

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5. Must these courses be taken in a particular sequence?

Yes and no. It does not matter, for example, whether you take organic chemistry or physics in your sophomore year, as long as you have the prerequisite courses for each. If you plan to take the MCAT in the spring of your junior year, however, it is important to have finished (or nearly finished) the majority of the required courses before you take it. There is a suggested course sequence for each year, but it is only a suggested sequence that will not fit the needs of all students. Keep in mind that medical schools require two and a half years of chemistry, so plan accordingly when mapping out your schedule.

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6. Does Willamette University guarantee that all courses that premeds desire to take will be offered in a semester when the student would like/need to take them?

No, and neither do other colleges. Courses required for majors are usually offered more frequently than those that are not required for any given major, like IDS courses. Therefore, there is no guarantee that, in any particular semester that is convenient for the student, either the desired course will be offered and/or that seats will be available in the course if it is offered. Careful planning can often prevent disappointment. If you would like a particular course to be offered, see the professor who teaches it and let him/her know well in advance that you would like to take the course. There are still no guarantees, but this can increase your chances of being given a seat in the course.

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7. Can I substitute AP or CLEP courses from high school for any of the premed curriculum?

Some medical schools accept these credits, and some do not. Some medical schools require a letter from the teacher of an AP course detailing the course content, how examinations were given, etc. If in doubt, don't try to substitute these credits. Work taken at community colleges may also be viewed differently than work done at 4-year colleges and universities.

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8. How can I determine whether a particular medical school requires additional courses?

An excellent source is:

"Medical School Admissions Requirements - United States and Canada" published by the Association of American Medical Colleges.

It can be ordered from: http://www.aamc.org or found in the Career Office and from the Premed Advisor. This book also profiles the students admitted to the previous year's class so that you can find those medical schools that best fit your profile and increase your chances of an interview!

AAMC also publishes books on minority student opportunities in the U.S. medical schools, an MCAT student manual, practice MCAT tests, and an AAMC curriculum directory with data about instructional programs at each U.S. and Canadian medical school and matriculating students during the current academic year.

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9. What if a school requires courses in "English"; do we offer those at Willamette?

Our writing-centered curriculum incorporates these courses into your four-year program of study. At your request, your pre-health advisor will send a letter to any medical school that requires standard English courses explaining the nature of Willamette's writing program (see a copy of this letter).

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10. Should all courses required by medical schools be taken for a grade?

Yes.

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11. Should I take human anatomy and human physiology as an under-graduate?

In general, medical schools discourage students from taking courses as an undergraduate that overlap with those offered by the medical schools. However, some knowledge of physiology is tested on the MCAT and a physiology course of some type (animal physiology, human physiology, etc.) can be very helpful.

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12. What is the MCAT?

The MCAT is a standardized exam (Medical College Admission Test) required by virtually all medical schools for admission. You need to prepare for this exam and do as well as possible. However, simply taking the pre-requisite classes is not enough preparation – you should dedicate at least 20 hours a week for 3 months to studying and preparing for the MCAT.

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13. What are the medical schools "looking for"?

For the initial evaluation of candidates:

  1. A strong grade point average
  2. Strong performance on the MCAT

If these two are not strong, you will not receive an interview. The MCAT is heavily considered because:

  1. It is the single best predictor of whether a student has the aptitude to pass the medical board examinations at the end of the second year of medical school
  2. It is a measure of whether the student's grades are inflated.

For further evaluation and movement into the interview process:

Strong recommendations, evidence of service and/or leadership, volunteer experience in which the student had contact with sick people (list of volunteer sites in the Salem area), undergraduate research (especially for M.D./Ph.D. candidates), athleticism, musical ability, foreign travel, an unusual family history or circumstance, experience in the military or the Peace Corps....in short, anything that would make your application "stand out".

Evidence of maturity is very important. Remember, your professors can testify to  your maturity (or lack thereof) when they write your letters of recommendation. These are marks of immaturity that also come out in medical school interviews. Medical schools want students who have made medicine their priority and who are disciplined and willing to "pay the price." If you earn poor grades or are lukewarm about your career goals, you may be limiting your future opportunities. For students who are uncertain, we usually recommend that they do as well as possible academically so that their options are open should they eventually decide that they want to apply to medical school. Of course, you can always finish a degree at Willamette and then take the required courses elsewhere later in life should you decide you want to go to medical school.

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14. How many letters of recommendation should I have and who should write them?

In the spring semester of your junior year you should ask for letters of recommendation. If you ask for the following, you should be able to meet the requirements of most schools when they ask for letters as part of the secondary application process.

  • Ask for three from faculty who have had you in science courses or with whom you have done research;
  • Ask for one from a faculty member outside of the sciences;
  • Many osteopathic medical schools require that you have a letter of recommendation from a DO whom you have worked with or shadowed.

The best letters come from faculty members/supervisors that know you personally and can write of things of interest to an admission committee, e.g. motivation, perseverance, leadership, compassion, etc. - that is, personal characteristics that cannot be gleaned from your grades and MCAT scores. Admission committees already know the applicant's academic abilities, so recommendations from professors who can only discuss how well you did academically in their classes are of little value. Unless you are applying to osteopathic medical schools, as mentioned above, it is not considered necessary to obtain a letter of recommendation from someone who has supervised you in a medical setting, especially if your only contact was minimal, but if you know someone who can provide a strong letter testifying to your clinical strengths, that would be a great letter to include as well.

Remember, it is not ethical or permitted to obtain any letters of recommendation from family members, friends, or significant others. It would be wise to avoid including letters from clergymen or politicians, as well.

The Willamette chemistry page has helpful tips on looking for letter writers, what information to provide them with, and additional advice for successful applications.

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15. What if a school asks for a letter from the premedical committee or from the premedical advisor?

See the letter to such schools. Willamette University does not have a premedical committee and, thus, we do not provide such letters. Instead, for any school that requests committee letters or a composite letter from the premedical advisor, we send the attached letter of explanation.

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16. Will Willamette University "get me into medical school"?

We would like to say that you will get yourself into medical school with Willamette’s support. You will be admitted based on evidence of strong aptitude (GPA and MCAT), a well-written personal statement, recommendations that point out your unusual strengths, and your maturity. Willamette can provide all of these opportunities to you, but ultimately, it is up to you to follow through and become a successful applicant.

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17. What percentage of applicants from Willamette are admitted?

We do not keep track of or rely on admission statistics due to the amount of students applying after gap years. Admission really depends on you (see our previous paragraph!), so don’t let statistics encourage or dissuade you! BE ORGANIZED, METHODICAL, DISCIPLINED, AND OPTIMISTIC. Many Willamette alums are now physicians, dentists, or workers in allied health professions. Thus, your chances of being admitted from Willamette are at least as good as they would be from any other college, if not better. Enjoy the challenge of the experience and educate yourself to the process. We wish you the best and stand prepared to help!

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18. What is the difference between the Pre-Health Program and the Pre-Health Club?

The Pre-Health Program is an academic department run out of the Career Center. It creates resources and databases of pre-health opportunities, updates the Pre-Health website, networks with alumni and healthcare professionals, and provides basic pre-health resume review and advising to all pre-health students. The Pre-Health Program is comprised of the Pre-Health advisors; the administrative assistant to the sciences; staff members from the Office of Community and Service Learning; Pre-Health Interns, who are student staff; and the director of Career Services. The Pre-Health Club, on the other hand, is a student organization on campus. It hosts community activities such as volunteering, study breaks, movie marathons, and potlucks. The Pre-Health Club is comprised of student leaders and members, and is always looking for pre-health students to get involved.

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19. What kinds of extracurriculars should I be involved in?

No matter what activities you pursue, it is important that you can speak passionately about them and the experiences you gained in the process. If you really enjoy a particular sport or really want to get involved with a hobby, that is great! Being positive and excited about what you’re doing is really important to medical schools – almost more so than the actual content of your activity!

That being said, there are a few categories of activities that medical schools really look for when assessing applications. The main ones are clinical experience, like volunteering at a hospital or working at a nursing home – anything where you interact with patients and healthcare professionals regularly; shadowing, where you spend time following a doctor around and observing his/her daily work responsibilities and activities; leadership, where you are in a position of authority and responsibility over your peers; non-clinical volunteering, where you show altruism by spending time helping the community; and teaching/tutoring, either as a job or a volunteer opportunity helping others learn about something. Another important activity is research, where you actively engage with scientific inquiry.

Don’t think of these as just items on a checklist, however; try to think about why medical schools find these particular activities important and how you can gain the best experience possible while being involved with them.

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20. Do I have to do research to get into medical school?

No, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Spending time during the school year or over summer break getting used to a lab environment and experiencing scientific inquiry/discovery is viewed positively by medical schools, but it is by no means a necessity. If you are interested in research, whether that be basic or clinical, then it would be great to get involved with a lab. If research does not interest you, however, don’t fret – medical schools understand that research is not for everybody, and will not disqualify you from consideration without this experience.

Keep in mind, however, that “top medical schools” are typically very research focused. These schools are looking for candidates who are interested in academic medicine and pursuing research both in medical school and as a physician. These institutions will be much harder to get considered at without research experience, but these are a minority of schools. Many more schools value other aspects of your application much more, so keep that in mind when selecting which schools to apply to.

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21. What is a personal statement?

The personal statement is a very important piece of your application. It is an essay in which you talk about your desire to become a physician – what led to your decision, how you know that it is the path you want to pursue, what your goals for your career are, etc. Your personal statement allows you to showcase your creativity, eloquence, and passion – so it should not be taken lightly! It is one of the only aspects of your application in which you can capture your reader’s attention with your drive, ambition, personality, or whatever other traits about yourself that you most value.

It is recommended and encouraged that you begin working on your personal statement in the fall before you plan to apply, so around 9-10 months before your application will be submitted. This will give you time to reflect on the important qualities you want to emphasize, figure out the best way to phrase your ideas, and get it reviewed by as many people as you can. This would be a great time to utilize The Writing Center. Professors and peers can also help you review and edit your personal statement.

Additionally, it is a good idea to attach a draft of your personal statement along with your resume when you ask for letters of recommendation. This way, your letter writers can understand your perspective about medical school a little better, and help emphasize points that you find important about yourself and your story. Having a working draft of your personal statement ready for letter writers will enable your application to be more cohesive over all, so use that as motivation for working on that personal statement early!

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22. Should I take an MCAT prep course?

If you want extra help in preparing for the MCAT and have the money to pay for a prep course, go for it. If you don’t think you need one or can’t afford it, you can study very effectively without a course as well. One great thing about prep courses is that they keep you on track by proving a schedule and assigning homework. If you are not taking a prep course, it would be a good idea to create a specific schedule for yourself by outlining which chapters of which books you plan to review on any given day. Stick with this schedule, too! It will help in the face of a seemingly overwhelming amount of information.

There are several companies and product lines that create MCAT prep materials and books, and each cater to different strengths. It will be up to you to research these products and determine which styles work best for your learning needs. For example, some books are extremely detailed and thorough, while others provide a brief overview and lots of practice problems. Some materials are known for being considerably more difficult than the actual test to help prepare you, while some think that it’s better to simply prepare in the same difficulty level as will be tested on.

One thing that is important to do, regardless of whether you take a class or not, is to take practice tests and practice problems. Official practice tests are available through AMCAS to purchase, and it is a really good idea to take these tests in an environment like you will have on test day – the correct allotted amount of time for each section, breaks as they are offered, and without distractions or extra materials like cheat sheets or cell phones. This will give you the best possible sense for what the actual MCAT will be like, and give you a preview of what you can expect your scores to end up as. 

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23. What is the difference with allopathic and osteopathic medical schools?

Allopathic medical schools grant an M.D. degree, and osteopathic medical schools grant a D.O. degree. These degrees are identical and equivalent – they mean that the person in question is a physician. Both M.D.s and D.O.s can go into any specialty and can practice in any environment.

The main difference between allopathic medical schools and osteopathic medical schools is that osteopathic schools teach something called “osteopathic manipulative medicine”, or OMM. This is basically healing and diagnosing through touch and massage of the patient. The reason for this additional method of treatment comes from the philosophy of osteopathic medicine: that structure and function are very much connected, and that holistic healing is the best approach to treating patients. Other than that, the curriculums, length, and structure of osteopathic and allopathic schools are nearly identical.

The two schools have slightly different application processes. To apply to allopathic medical schools, you must fill out the AMCAS. To apply to osteopathic schools, you must fill out the AACOMAS. These forms are very similar, but are sent to the different types of schools. An important thing to know and keep in mind about applying to osteopathic schools is that AACOMAS calculates your GPA with grade replacement in mind. This means that if you retake a course and get a higher grade, your GPA will be calculated without the lower grade and with only the higher one. AMCAS does not recalculate your GPA in this way.

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