Okay, you have decided that a health professions career is your goal in life. You’ve begun your last years of high school and are looking for colleges that will support this goal. Right? Because where you attend college will have a huge impact on your ability to navigate the pre-med pathway.
What should you be looking for? One, the colleges you should be considering must have advisors dedicated to pre-med students; often schools will have an entire team of pre-professional advisors for students looking for pre-med, pre-law, and pre-engineering. There is no point looking at schools that do not provide these resources—you will need these specialists as you traverse the competitive road to medical, dental or other health professions programs. Two, you should explore these pre-professional offices and determine WHEN they begin to see students; will they see you as a freshman or do you have to wait until you’ve earned a certain number of credits? If you have to wait until later, are there other advisors in place to walk you through the college experience? Will you need a certain GPA before you can enter their hallowed offices? These are important questions and you may need to ask them directly…do not assume that this information will be readily available on a website. What else should you consider?
Finances! While your dream school may be College X, College Y may offer you a better financial aid package. Since health professions schools cost upwards of $200,000 and better, saving money at the undergraduate level is important! Does that mean you should not go to the more expensive school? Absolutely not! But you should plan on applying to many scholarship sources and applying to schools early enough to capture some of their financial aid. Look for scholarships through Apple, MacDonald’s, Clairol, and other scholarship sources. Find out how much your parents are willing and able to pay. While much of this will require a lot of effort on your part, the potential rewards are extraordinary!
Kinship! As you look at colleges you want to know that there are kindred spirits there on campus with you. Are there students who come from a similar community, from your ethnicity and culture, from your religious background? Whatever is important for you socially is what you want to be sure is available at your chosen college campus! Does this mean you should only go where all your friends are going? Of course not; but you do want to know that there are others there who will “get you”. There is no point going to a school in a small rural area with lots of kids who grew up on farms if you are someone who loves the sound of car horns, bright lights, and constant movement and noise. That said, you also do not want to attend a college that presents you with so many distractions you never truly feel able to relax and take in the intellectual challenges and opportunities presented. You have to know what is important to you and what you believe will give you the best chance of doing well academically.
Speaking of academics, what are you interested in studying? If you want to be a nurse, attend a college with a solid pre-nursing curriculum. If you want to be an engineer, make sure you apply to schools with such programs. If you want pre-med, check that the school has all of the science courses you will need—can you be a biology or chemistry major? Will you be able to take classes in public health? In health economics or business? Are there free tutoring services for students, especially for those in the sciences? Are you able to find research on campus? Is there an active pre-health club at your chosen college? Whatever your interests, make sure they are there at the school you wish to attend!
Also, do you want to be a big fish in a little pond, or would you rather be a small fish in a big pond? Do you like the idea that everyone on campus, including faculty and staff, will have a chance to know you personally? Or do you think that some anonymity would make you more comfortable? Would you like to be in a large lecture with several hundred other students, or would you prefer that after week two your faculty will know who you are and when you are in class? There is no wrong answer, but it is important that you know yourself well enough to answer these questions accurately and honestly.
Finally—remember that college is for learning; learning about yourself, learning about the world, and learning how to live and manage life away from your family and friends. It will be your responsibility to do well in your classes, to be able to discuss your unique situation with advisors and faculty, to make time for studying and for developing personal characteristics that will make you a better person. And most importantly, college is NOT a placeholder until professional school. This is a time to expand your intellectual interests, to develop critical thinking and writing skills, to master complex and sometimes uninteresting material. It is also a time to train yourself to be organized, to be better at prioritizing your time, and at making friends and acquaintances whose values and world outlook differ vastly from your own. Make good use of this time and you will see the rewards as you enter your career training!
Learn and enjoy life—be prepared to work hard and play little. Take time to constantly reevaluate your goals and your outlook. And always, always reach out to others; make use of all the resources your college will offer and take advantage of opportunities to make a positive impact on others.
About the Author
Lolita Wood-Hill has been in Pre-Health Advising for over 20 years. She was the premed advisor at City College of New York for many year, retired from Hunter College in 2010 and has been the Director of Pre-Health Advising at Yeshiva College since 2010. Ms. Wood-Hill has a BA in History from Boston College and a Masters in Urban Affairs from Hunter College.
She has received local and national acclaim. received both local and national acclaim. Special recognition for my work has come from several organizations, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the Associated Medical Schools of NY (AMSNY) and the National Association of Medical Minority Educators, Inc (NAMME). I have also served on the governing boards of several local and national pre-health advising organizations, National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions (NAAHP and NEAAHP) and NAMME. Additionally, she has been a consultant to several non-profit organizations dedicated to making health professions careers more accessible to disadvantaged students.
The MIM Team would like to thank Ms. Wood-Hill for sharing her words of wisdom!