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General Pre-Health Questions

What does it mean to be “pre-health”?

Pre-health is an all-encompassing term that describes students who are on track to pursue a career in patient-associated healthcare (i.e. not business side of healthcare including healthcare management or healthcare consulting). These include fields such as: medicine, nursing, pharmacy, optometry, veterinary, physical therapy, physician’s assistant and nurse practitioner.  It does not refer to a specific major or academic track at UCLA.

Is it too late to become a pre-health student?

It’s never too late to become a pre-health student! Even if you’re a 4th-year student who has taken nothing but music courses, there are a variety of post-baccalaureate programs to help get you up to speed with all the pre-health course requirements. Many healthcare practitioners made the decision to pursue a health career later in life, after graduating from college or even having a different career for years.  Even after you graduate from college you can still achieve the extracurricular experiences expected of pre-health students such as volunteering in hospitals, clinics, and engaging in research activities.

Is my GPA competitive for admission into a health professional school?

This is a difficult question with no straight answer given that the admissions process is a holistic one and GPA – although it plays a major role – isn’t everything. Your GPA and exam score are taken into consideration along with your extracurricular activities, achievements, personal experiences and motivations, letters of recommendation, “fit” for the program, and more.

Our best advice here is to match both your total GPA and science GPA with that of the median applicant to that particular institution.  On the prehealth.ucla.edu homepage, click on the tile that represents your profession of interest and scroll to the “Admissions Statistics” section to see relevant data.

When reviewing admissions data, be sure to bear in mind that the average admitted GPA is not a cut-off, it is the average.  Therefore, about half of successful candidates had a GPA at or below that level.  Also, bear in mind the holistic process.  If you have a lower than average GPA but an excellent profile in all of the other areas they are evaluating, you may well be a stronger candidate than someone with a high GPA but lacking in other areas.

How do I make myself a competitive applicant? What should I do during my four years at UCLA?

This question is quite broad, but we can offer a couple of encompassing statements. Applicants can expect to be evaluated holistically on matters including: GPA/test score, clinical, non-clinical and research experiences (importance of research is weighed differently by program). As such, you’ll have to be competitive across the board to ensure that you’re overall a competitive applicant. As for what “you should do,” that’s up to what you’re interested in!  Just make sure that you’ve completed all the prerequisite courses to the best of your ability, have a significant (~>100 hours) amount of clinical experiences and with the rest of your time, pursue other extracurricular experiences that you’re interested in and will help you develop personally.

In addition, you can refer to the Pre-Health at UCLA Checklist which offers a general guideline to ensure that you are prepared for the application process.

How can I get my questions answered?

First, search these FAQ’s and the pages of this website.  If you’re unable to find what you’re looking for, visit the UCLA Pre-Health Services page to determine which office can help with your particular question.  Alternatively, send a message to the Pre-Health at UCLA Facebook page.

UCLA Pre-Health Services

What services and resources does the UCLA Career Center offer for pre-health students?

Please visit UCLA Pre-Health Services page of this website for a full list of the UCLA Career Center’s pre-health services.

Where can I go for academic advising or course planning?

Please visit the Plan Your Courses page of this website.

How can I get feedback on my personal statement and/or secondary essays?

Because there is no objective “right” or “best” way to write a personal statement, it is best to get multiple opinions on these documents, including from people who know you well.  In addition to the following UCLA resources, we recommend asking for feedback from peers, relatives, mentors, professors, TA’s, and others whose opinions you trust and value.

Read some general guidance on crafting your personal statement on the Prepare to Apply page of this website.

There are many resources at UCLA for getting feedback on your personal statement and/or secondary essays:

  • The UCLA Career Center offers feedback on overall content and flow.  Please visit Handshake to schedule an appointment.
  • The Undergraduate Writing Center offers feedback on writing style, spelling, grammar, and syntax.
  • Medical students at David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA provide online feedback through the Application Essays Feedback Initiative (AEFI).  Follow us on Facebook for announcements.

Is it true that UCLA doesn’t have a Pre-Med/Pre-Health Advisor?

No!  There are dozens of staff across campus who provide pre-med and pre-health advising services.  UCLA has a decentralized model, which means that different departments take on different aspects of the advising process. If you are seeking advice regarding your academic preparation for health professional school, you should meet with an academic counselor (identify the appropriate department(s) here).  For all other pre-health advising needs, the UCLA Career Center can help.  Please visit this page for a full list of the UCLA Career Center’s pre-health services.

Is there someone I can meet with who can guide me through the application process or make sure I’m “on track” to be a competitive applicant?

Yes. If you are seeking advice regarding your academic preparation for health professional school, you should meet with an academic counselor (identify the appropriate department(s) here).  For all other pre-health advising needs, the UCLA Career Center can help.  Please visit this page for a full list of the UCLA Career Center’s pre-health services.

Explore Health Careers

How do I know if healthcare is for me?

This is one of the most important questions any student can ask! Understanding whether healthcare is for you will take a myriad of experiences and can take different amounts of time depending on the person. Refer to the Pre-Health at UCLA Checklist which offers some strategies for exploring careers including taking the FOCUS-2 career assessment, attending professional panels, joining student organizations, as well as conducting informational interviews with professionals in your field(s) of interest.

Then, your best teacher will be experience. Pursue relevant volunteer and internship experiences (see ) to get a sense of what healthcare entails. Serve the patients around you and reflect on whether you can justify the time and cost of training. To supplement your own experiences, shadow practitioners in your community for 40-50 hours to ensure you understand what a typical work week entails in the field. How you get exposure to healthcare is less important; what’s most important is being honest with what you want out of your eventual professional career and whether healthcare fulfills those needs without sacrificing things that you aren’t willing to.

Where can I find a mentor?

Mentors come in all forms; it’ll be useful to have mentors at different stages in their careers so you get a strong sense of perspective. Undergraduate clubs will often have upperclassmen that can impart their wisdom on classes to take, extracurricular/research opportunities available and just in general, how to navigate through pre-health at UCLA. For pre-meds, if you can connect with a medical student (through programs such as APAMSA or the DGSOM Med Mentors program), that will also give you some insight as to what it takes to get into medical school and what the schooling is like.

Lastly, you could also consider a mentor who is in a profession of interest. Depending on how long they’ve been practicing, they can provide significant thoughts as to the state of healthcare, life as a practitioner and perhaps even offer some clinical exposure.  They will be harder to come by but most students who have mentors in the profession connect with them via their personal networks, research/scholarly endeavors, or formal organizations that can pair you with one (e.g. the Perry Initiative or the UCLA Alumni Mentor Program).

Course Planning

Which courses do I need to complete to be eligible for a pre-health profession?

Please refer to the UCLA Pre-Health Course Requirements Worksheet by clicking here for a complete list of pre-requisites for various pre-health programs.

Where can I go to receive assistance with pre-health course planning?

Academic counseling and advising services are available to support students with pre-health course planning.  Click here to learn more about available pre-health counseling and advising services.

Do you have to be a STEM major to be pre-health?

No! Contrary to many misconceptions, a specific science degree is not required in order to apply to any post-baccalaureate programs geared towards health professions. Generally, the minimum requirements, in addition to what is listed on your chosen program’s Admissions webpage, include: Bachelor’s degree; Pre-health courses in addition to your chosen area of study; and Entrance Exam score (i.e. MCAT, GRE, PCAT, etc.).

Can AP/IB credit be applied towards the pre-health requirements?

Generally, AP/IB credit are not considered college-level work by pre-health programs to fulfill requirements. While some programs/schools may accept AP/IB credit towards the pre-requisites, it is still highly recommended that you complete the total number of courses for the requirement (e.g. 3 courses for the Math requirement).

Will the Writing I and II requirements apply towards the English course requirement?

As listed on the UCLA Pre-Health Course Requirement Worksheet, one full year of coursework is required (3 courses in total)—Writing I and Writing II will apply towards the required number of courses.  If you came into UCLA with Writing I credit (AP credit), we recommend taking three Writing II classes total to fulfill this requirement for your pre-health program—you may even consider completing a course that fulfills both a GE requirement and is a Writing II course.

Can I complete a pre-health requirement for a Pass or No Pass grade?

Because the grade you earn in your pre-health courses are factored into your pre-health grade point average, any course a student completes for their pre-health requirements must be taken for a letter grade.

Can I complete pre-health requirements at a community college?

Yes, any student can complete some and/or all of the pre-health requirements at a community college. The only exceptions are if the requirement is considered an “upper division course” (e.g., Biochemistry), in which case it would need to be taken at a four-year institution (i.e. UCLA).

With this in mind, it is recommended that if a student plans to complete a series of courses at one institution that they plan to finish it there – rather than starting some at one institution and attempting to complete it at another. The reason for this is because institutions operate on different academic calendars (quarter vs. semester) and there may be difficulty assessing which courses would need to be completed. In addition, there may be inconsistencies with regard to the material covered in a class – particularly when courses are split into a series.

Can courses completed through a study abroad program be applied towards the pre-health requirements?

Yes, certain courses taken through study abroad programs may be applied towards pre-health requirements. For example, students have the option to complete the Physics requirement (1 year) via a UCEAP program. With this in mind, we highly recommend students reach out to the Schools they will be applying to prior to completing the requirement in a study abroad program.

Can I complete the pre-health requirements after I finish my studies at UCLA?

Yes, many students complete all and/or the remainder of their pre-health requirements after they complete their studies at UCLA – this might be done through a post-baccalaureate program, a special master’s program (SMP) or by taking courses at a local community college or Extension program.

What if there are certain courses that I am unable to complete or enroll in while at UCLA? Are there alternative ways to register for required classes at other institutions?

Yes, you can take classes at another institution if you are unable to complete them while at UCLA. However, please consult with your major department and College Counseling unit if the course you are taking for pre-health requirements is also fulfilling a requirement for your UCLA degree (i.e. major requirement, GE’s, College requirement), prior to enrolling in any courses.

With this in mind, it is recommended that if a student plans to complete a series of courses at one institution that they plan to finish it there – rather than starting some at one institution and attempting to complete it at another. The reason for this is because institutions operate on different academic calendars (quarter vs. semester) and there may be difficulty assessing which courses would need to be completed. In addition, there may be inconsistencies with regard to the material covered in a class – particularly when courses are split into a series.

What if you change your mind and do not want to do a pre-health program? How do you make the most of the courses you have already taken?

There are many other professions that may call for the transferable skills earned in your pre-health courses. We recommend that you consider visiting with a Career Educator to discuss other career pathways, or enrolling in Life Science 110: Career Exploration in the Life Sciences to learn about other health-related opportunities.

I heard that psychology and sociology courses are recommended. Do I need to take both courses and can I just take one of them?

The UCLA Pre-Health Requirements Worksheet outlines any additional courses, beyond the general pre-requisites, that are recommended. For example, if a course is listed under “the requirements by field” section, then it is recommended that you take these additional courses. Generally, Psychology and Sociology are recommended because they can help with your preparation for your entrance exams (e.g., MCAT, GRE, PCAT).

Preparing to Apply

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Gain Experience

What is considered "clinical experience?"

Clinical experience is a broad term but typically entails 1) direct patient exposure (i.e. you can see, hear, touch the patients) and/or 2) clinical volunteering, which is work in a clinical setting without necessarily having direct patient contact (e.g. volunteering at a hospital floor’s directory/information desk). A common activity that falls in the grey area is working as a clinical scribe. Scribing is more active than shadowing but is less active than other experiences, such as an emergency medical technician (EMT), where you have direct patient experiences.

How do I get into research?

Visit the Gain Experience page of this website for resources and information.

I looked on Undergraduate Research Portal and I couldn’t find any clinical research opportunities. What should I do?

Clinical research opportunities won’t typically be posted on the undergraduate research portal; feel free to ask upperclassmen who are involved with clinical projects if there is an arm of the project you can help with. Otherwise, most students get engaged in clinical research by seeking out faculty physicians at UCLA Health to get a sense of what they’re working on and how they, as an undergraduate, can help.

What are the various pre-health clubs offered at UCLA and their specialty?

There are hundreds of pre-health clubs offered at UCLA and there are changes and additions every year.  Check out the UCLA Student Organizations Database for an accurate and up-to-date listing.  Search by category such as Health & Wellness, Medical, Dental, Community Service, or anything else that aligns with your interests and passions.  Be sure to choose “Undergraduate” as the Member type.  If you have a niche interest area, just type it in the keyword search field.

Where should I get started if I don’t have any research or clinical experience?

See the Gain Experience page of this website for a variety of options.

Gap Year & Post-Bac

What types of activities should I do during my gap year?

Your gap year should be used to shore up weaknesses on your application and highlight strengths. If your GPA or exam scores are the biggest pain points on your application, then your gap year should be dedicated to raising those academic metrics. If you have a large deficit in shadowing/clinical experiences, then spend time in your gap year pursuing and excelling in those domains.  What you do during your gap year should depend upon what area of your application you need to enhance.  Some common gap year activities UCLA graduates pursue (depending upon their unique needs and interests) include:

  • Studying for and/or (re-)taking the entrance exam (MCAT, PCAT, DAT, OAT, GRE, etc.)
  • Taking or re-taking required courses (at community college, university extension programs, or post-baccalaureate programs)
  • Shadowing
  • Deepening involvement in leadership or community service commitments
  • Gaining more clinical experience (either by volunteering or working as a Medical Assistant, EMT, Medical Scribe, or other type of healthcare technician)
  • Continuing or gaining a new research experience
  • Other ideas can be found here

How do I get recommendation letters if I’m taking two gap years?

We’d recommend getting letters from faculty before you graduate and storing them in a service such as Interfolio (not affiliated with or officially endorsed by UCLA); this way, the professor won’t have to rack his/her brain to remember you and subsequently write a generic letter.  Ideally you will also be cultivating additional relationships with people after graduation who will be able to write letters of recommendation closer to the time of application (healthcare professionals, supervisors, research supervisors, etc.).

See the Prepare to Apply page of this website for additional consideration regarding asking for letters of recommendation.

How early is too early to be looking into post-bac programs? Or when should we start looking into them?

It’s never too early to look into post-bacc programs but only if you know why you want to pursue one. There are different types of post-bacc programs tailored toward applicants with different needs:

  • Career changers (e.g., worked in film for 5 years and now wants to transition into medicine)
  • Academic record-enhancers (i.e., undergrad GPA is too low to be competitive).
  • Underrepresented minority students
  • Economically or educationally disadvantaged students
  • Accommodates students interested in health professions other than medicine

If you know you fall into one or more of these camps, it’s never too early to look into them. If you haven’t graduated yet, note that your GPA can change drastically over the course of years here at UCLA; a freshman who received a 2.5 GPA during his/her first quarter shouldn’t decide on the post-bacc route yet.

Visit the AAMC Postbaccalaureate Programs page for extensive information and guidance regarding post-bacc programs.  Utilize the AAMC Postbaccalaureate Premedical Programs database to research programs.

Medicine (MD)

What is the average gpa of UCLA med school applicants?

You can find extensive data on UCLA applicants to medical school here.  This data includes how UCLA applicants compare to the national averages in terms of admission rates, demographics, GPA, and MCAT score.

You can also find admissions data for each medical school on the AAMC’s MSAR (you’ll have to purchase access).

Is research required to get into medical school?

Technically, no, but you can find data on how many matriculants to a particular medical school actually conducted research on the AAMC’s MSAR (you’ll have to purchase access). Do note the correlation/causation issue here though; just because many matriculants did research doesn’t necessarily infer that research was the reason they were accepted into medical school.

With that being said, research is an excellent avenue to become intimately acquainted with the scientific process. Developing the critical thinking skills inherent to research will prove useful as a physician that must exercise sound clinical reasoning daily. Students who conduct research are also able to read and communicate in the language of science, which can be difficult due to extensive jargon. If you are able to develop the same skills through an alternate activity, you don’t necessarily need to conduct research.

The emphasis placed on research also varies by medical school.  If you are interested in conducting research during medical school and are applying to research institutions, it is more important to have engaged in research as an undergraduate.  If you want to focus on clinical practice and are applying to programs that do not emphasize research, then it is not as critical to participate in research.  However, if you have the time to gain research experience, it is never a bad idea to do so, as it demonstrates that you have explored this option and have learned from your own personal experience whether or not you want to pursue research any further in your graduate education and beyond.

What’s the best major for pre-med students?

Pre-Med students need not study a particular major; they only have to complete the necessary pre-requisite courses, which makes Life Sciences majors the most efficient and, therefore, popular. In our opinion, the best major is one that you’re interested in and perform well in. This interest carries over into your performance in all courses and will do wonders in maintaining a high GPA. Yes, you’ll have to take extra courses outside your major to fulfill your prerequisites so it may elongate your degree or (in some cases) require that you take some of the pre-requisite courses after graduation through an Extension program, community college, or post-baccalaureate program.

What are options for financing medical school?

Primarily loans with a small percentage of grants mixed in, however there are a slew of medical school financing options including programs with the U.S. Army and partnerships with rural/under served areas. There are also a variety of scholarships that will apply based on your specific demographics and interests.

How many hours should I get for clinical vs. shadowing?

There is no specific ‘number’ to hit for both clinical and shadowing exposure, but aim to earn as many clinical hours as you can (100+ hours is an average benchmark) and around 50-100 hours total of shadowing 2-4 physicians across multiple specialties and medical contexts.

Osteopathic Medicine (DO)

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Physician Assistant

Do I have to be a specific major to be able to apply to PA school?

No, PA programs do not give preference to any major. The most common majors are biology, and chemistry.

Do I need to shadow a PA?

Shadowing PAs is preferred in the admissions application process. Shadowing is defined as observing a physician assistant in the care of patients. Working with a PA is not considered shadowing, but can be counted towards health care experience. The average applicant has 1-2 shadowing experiences. This experience not only gives the applicant an insight into the profession on an intimate level, but also affords the applicant an opportunity to see if she or he is a ‘good-fit’ for the profession.  See Gain Experience for guidance on finding shadowing opportunities.

What is considered direct patient care experience?

Patient care is ‘hands-on’ in nature. Successful applicants have worked as one of the following: emergency medical technician, licensed vocational nurse, medical assistant (back office), medical scribe, medical technologist, military medical corpsman, nursing assistant, paramedic, psychiatric technician, radiologic technician, respiratory therapist, chiropractor, registered nurse, etc. Paid patient care clinical experience might be required by some programs.

Do I need volunteer experience?

Many Physician Assistant Programs are dedicated to the advancement of physician assistant education, and emphasizes service to the medically underserved. Volunteering in both health-related, and non-health related settings is highly recommended.

Nursing

What types of programs are available to me if I am a non-stem major looking to become a nurse?

If you are a non-stem major thinking of becoming a nurse you have the following options:

Dentistry

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Pharmacy

Do I have to be a specific major to be able to apply to Pharmacy school?

NO. You are not required to select a specific major in college to be eligible for admission to a pharmacy degree program. Chemistry is a common major for pharmacy applicants because many of the course prerequisites for pharmacy are often incorporated into the standard chemistry curriculum. Student pharmacists, however, come from a wide variety of educational backgrounds, including majors like English, business, communications, biology, etc. If the pharmacy prerequisite courses are not required as part of your undergraduate major, you will need to complete these courses as electives. Contact your designated pharmacy programs directly to determine whether the admissions office distinguishes between classes taken at a community college versus a four-year institution.

Optometry

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Physical Therapy & Occupational Therapy

Do I have to be a specific major to be able to apply to OT or PT school?

NO. Examples of what other students have majored in at the undergraduate level include biology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, liberal arts, and anatomy. It is important that you contact the educational programs to which you are interested in applying and make sure you have taken the necessary prerequisites for admission into their programs.

Public Health

Are there any public health student orgs on campus?

Yes!  Search the UCLA Student Organizations database using keywords: public health.

How do I find Public Health internships?

  • Search for listings on Handshake (use keywords like “public health”, “community health”, “environmental health”, “epidemiology”, “family health”, etc.)
  • Check government websites such as the Department of Public Health: http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/
  • Look up and contact MPH professionals (also UCLA Alumni) through LinkedIn or UCLA One (https://uclaone.com/) to solicit advice regarding the career and finding meaningful experiences
  • Contact College Academic Mentors (CAMs) in Murphy Hall to discuss finding public health related internships since many of them are current MPH graduate students: https://cac.ucla.edu/about-cac/college-academic-mentors/
  • Get involved in public health-related student organizations to learn about opportunities from your peers: https://sa.ucla.edu/RCO/public/search

How do I find research related to public health?

Can’t find what you’re looking for?  Let us know here.