Prehealth

DaVinci's Man

Frequently Asked Questions

What services do you provide for prehealth professional students?

We provide full services throughout your academic career if you are interested in doctoral-level programs in human medicine (allopathic medicine, osteopathy, dentistry, optometry, podiatry) or in veterinary medicine. These include counseling on your curriculum, advice on how best to prepare for the MCAT or other standardized exams, suggestions on how to enhance your credentials, and information about professional programs throughout the United States and Canada and some selected areas overseas. We will advise you on how to budget your time, how best to gather your credentials in a timely fashion, how to decide on your references, what you should do to present yourself in the most favorable light, and which schools you should apply to. We will also advise you on how to prepare for interviews. In addition to all of its advising functions, the Premedical and Predental Advisory Committee will also prepare a composite letter of evaluation on your behalf.

If you are interested in other health professions such as nursing, occupational therapy, physical therapy, physician assistant, public health, etc., information is available at Types of Careers.

Here is a page of useful links to health professions websites.

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Do all doctoral-level schools require a committee letter of evaluation?

Most of the medical and dental schools do. This is especially true in the Eastern U.S. and increasingly so throughout the country. As a general rule, schools require one if they know that your college has such a committee, and this information is generally available to them. Schools of veterinary medicine, optometry, and podiatry will generally accept committee letters but are also happy to receive individual evaluations instead. Because so many schools require a committee letter, our committee never denies you a letter of evaluation, but it is up to you to provide a list of the references whom you wish us to contact, a list of schools to which the letter should be sent, and a statement acknowledging your understanding that letters may contain positive or negative information. If, for any reason, e.g., you are an alum applying at a time when it is no longer possible to obtain enough meaningful references, the Committee will send a letter to the health professional schools explaining this and telling them that they should draw no negative inferences from the absence of a committee letter.

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Are all students recommended?

Yes, but not equally. A cover letter, which accompanies all Committee letters, explains how the Committee operates and the five categories into which students are placed. Those in the Superior and Highly Qualified categories are generally viable, although only those in the Superior category will make it into the most competitive schools. Those in the Qualified category may be viable at the less competitive programs, whereas those in the Present for Consideration category will generally have to do something to improve their credentials in order to be seriously considered. People in the Special Letter category may range from very good on down, but they receive a Special Letter because circumstances (e.g., age, unique problems, highly uneven records) may make it impossible to include them in one of the other categories.

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Will I be able to see my letter of evaluation?

No. We used to share letters with the candidates, but the medical schools strongly advised us to stop this practice since they felt that nonconfidential letters might be brokered. So we no longer do this if you waive your Buckley Amendment rights. We strongly advise you to sign such a waiver since many health professional schools view the nonwaiving as evidence of insecurity or worse. But we do want you to know where you stand and will tell you your level of recommendation. We will generally advise you on how supportive your letter is, but we will not provide specific details since such information has been obtained from your individual references under a pledge of confidentiality. Unless there is something dreadfully wrong with you (in which case we will strongly urge that you not apply), we want to help you achieve your career goals. Thus, our letters tend to focus on your positives. Furthermore, you are advised to check with potential references before asking us to contact them. Most will deter you from asking them for a letter if they cannot be supportive.

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When does all of this happen?

The formal evaluation process starts whenever you inform the Committee that you want to apply for admission to a health professional school. This normally is in the spring semester of your junior year if you intend to go on right after graduating, but it can be later, including well after you leave Clark. But advice on what you should be doing starts as soon as we are aware that you might be interested in coming to Clark in order to pursue a career in the health professions, continues throughout your college career, and ends when you have successfully gained admission to a professional school or have decided to pursue other alternatives.

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Just what information do you supply to me if I have not yet applied to Clark?

Well, the most important thing is to tell you (or your parents) how you can go about getting answers to your questions. We provide a list of members of the Committee, other useful academic contacts in the science or other academic departments or Career Services Office. These are the same people that can be contacted once you decide to matriculate at Clark. They are not all equally qualified to answer all your questions, but they can steer you to a proper source.

Most knowledgeable are the members of the Premedical and Predental Advisory Committee. These are four or five full-time faculty members who come from within and outside the sciences and who are likely to teach prehealth students and are interested in helping them.

They have become knowledgeable through many years of experience, by visiting many of the health professional schools, by checking useful websites, by attending national and regional meetings of advisors and medical school admissions personnel, by reading relevant publications and by participating in national and regional "restricted" listservices. If you are interested in other options, you can find out about them from the Career Services Office. And you can also contact individual faculty members in other academic departments if you have specific questions about their majors or other programs. As a general rule, members of the Biochemistry/Molecular Biology, Biology, and Chemistry Departments know what is going on, and many have served on the Committee. There are also faculty from Physics, Math, Psychology, Sociology, and English who can be very helpful.

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Which courses outside of the sciences do prehealth students generally take?

Different ones, but most medical schools require two semesters of English, one of psychology, and some math. Students also take courses in Medical Ethics, Sociology of Medicine, Environmental Policy, and Spanish, to name a few. You have plenty of room to take courses that interest you.

(See Academic Catalog for course listings.)

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Which courses are actually required?

There is no simple answer since each school sets its own requirements. There are some differences between professions and even among different institutions within each profession. But medicine and virtually all of the others require two semesters each of Introductory (General) Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Introductory Biology, and Introductory Physics (all with labs). Almost all require one or two semesters of English and one semester of Psychology, and about half require Calculus.

During your first few days on campus, you will attend "Academic Orientation" where you will be advised on how best to get started. These sessions are for both first-year students and transfers.

Three programs are outlined for those who might want to major in Biochemistry/ Molecular Biology, Biology, Chemistry or Physics, or the nonsciences. (Links to requirements for each health professional school are found at the bottom of the Choosing Your Courses page.)

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Can I major in something other than premed?

You not only can, you must. At most good liberal arts institutions, including Clark, there is no premed major. Instead, you may major in whatever discipline you like provided that you fulfill all of the requirements for entrance into your chosen professional program.

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Are you better off majoring in the sciences?

In a way, yes, because you can then simultaneously fulfill your professional school requirements along with your graduation requirements. However, some of the better medical schools go for students who are "more than just another biology or chemistry major," for students who will add some diversity to the student body. Thus, if you have a really good record

in the required subjects so that the schools are confident of your ability to handle the workload, you may actually have a better shot if you've majored in something like English, Music, Comparative Literature, or History, to name a few.

Incidentally, you may hear that certain kinds of majors do better than others. You may hear that physics majors do better than biology majors. That's true but not because they're physics majors! They're probably stronger students overall since they need higher mathematical skills and may be more adept at abstract reasoning as well.

The same goes for double majors, especially if the two fields are far apart so that the double major conveys breadth of interests. But don't do a double major or a physics major unless that's what really interests you. Let's face it, if you do something that interests you, you are more likely to do well and, more importantly, enjoy college more.

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Do I need to knock off a straight-A record?

No, but you need better than a straight B for the more competitive disciplines, especially medicine and veterinary medicine. Just do the best you can and see what options are available to you. Clark students with GPAs of 3.4 and higher are generally viable for any of the professions, but not for all of the schools, provided the rest of their credentials are good.

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How well do Clark students do?

Over the years, the first-time acceptance rate has generally run 50% better than the national average. It should be emphasized that virtually all applicants who excel academically, demonstrate appropriate strengths of character, and work with our Committee throughout the application process will be accepted.

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Do people get into one of their top choices?

That depends on how realistic those choices are. Good students get into Harvard, Yale, Johns Hopkins, Columbia, University of Chicago, and Rochester. Some prefer for financial reasons to go to state schools such as University of Massachusetts and University of Connecticut. Other solid students go to excellent schools such as Tufts, Boston University, Albany, Albert Einstein, Mount Sinai, University of Pittsburgh, and George Washington University as well as some schools on the West Coast such as California-Irvine, California-San Diego and Oregon.

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You've focused mostly on medicine. What about the other professions?

The reason we focused mostly on medicine is because it is the most competitive, and virtually all of our students interested in dentistry, osteopathy, optometry, and podiatry get accepted on their first try. The situation with veterinary medicine is in-between. We have had good success at Tufts with other students also going to Cornell, University of Pennsylvania, and a number of midwestern state institutions.

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What specific mechanisms are there to keep me on the right track?

Formally, you will receive curricular advising each semester aimed at making sure that you will be ready to take standardized exams at the ideal time, which is in the spring of your junior year. Students have a tendency to try to fulfill their Clark "perspectives." This is not necessarily a good idea for premeds since they not only need to prepare for the MCAT and get good grades in the required subjects but also would be well advised to lighten their sixth-semester load so as to leave more time to study for the MCAT.

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Does Clark run its own MCAT preparation course?

No. There's really no need for it since commercial outfits run programs right in Worcester.

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Do you recommend that people take prep courses?

Generally, yes, because it often encourages students to study for the exam seriously and effectively. Some of the courses also provide good guidance on how to take the exams, which is more fundamental than actually learning the material. The Committee takes no stand either on the efficiency of individual courses or study guides since student feedback on them is variable. (See Standardized Exams.)

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Will I get any other help besides planning my program?

Yes, and I'm glad you asked the question. In no particular order, one or more of the following can be very useful to you. The Premedical and Predental Society holds informal meetings to which speakers from the various health professional schools and organizations and funding agencies are invited. Also, recent alums and other health professionals in the community speak. There are also important sessions at which students are advised on how best to enhance their credentials, solicit letters of reference, write their personal statement, and prepare for interviews.

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Does Clark provide any funds for students to go on to health professional school?

The Dr. Kenneth A. Senter '43 Endowed Award for Premed Undergraduates provides an award to a premedical undergraduate student who is of high academic standing and deserving of financial assistance. The Edward N. Trachtenberg Endowed Prize provides an award to a health professions applicant based on such factors as academic record, suitability for the profession, and financial need. (See Awards and Prizes.)

The Financing Medical School Web page provides information about obtaining fee waivers for applications and standardized exams. It also provides links to financial aid resources such as scholarships, loans, and fellowships. There is a link to the Worcester District Medical Society Scholarship Fund, which awards loans and grants to Worcester County residents entering medical school. There are also links to Armed Forces scholarships for health professions applicants. There is also information for noncitizens who are not eligible for federal funding programs but who can sometimes obtain loans to help finance their education (see also International Applicants.)

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I know that Clark has a junior year abroad program. Can a premed take advantage of this?

Yes, but it takes more careful planning or delaying application to medical school for a year. You still need to get ready for the MCAT, and you also do not want to spend your time abroad studying organic chemistry or physics. A number of schools are not happy with required courses taken abroad, and, let's face it, the purpose of studying abroad is to learn something about another culture and language.

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Does Clark provide any special opportunities for students to enhance their credentials?

Yes, indeed. First, there are numerous opportunities for you to engage in research both during the academic year and during the summer (when you also can receive financial support through merit-based scholarships or through the research funds of your faculty advisor). These projects provide an opportunity for you to become very well known by faculty who can then write more meaningful recommendations for you. And, although research is not normally a requirement except for students applying to joint MD/PhD-type programs, it is generally a plus. It is also very often a rewarding experience. Second, there are a number of impressive opportunities in the Worcester area for you either to do research or to become knowledgeable about the health-care profession. These include University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester Foundation for Biomedical Research, Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Biotechnology Park, and Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine (whose main clinical facility is in Grafton, a Worcester suburb). Third, there are numerous opportunities, both on and off campus, for you to express your caring instincts. These include Mustard Seed (a soup kitchen), AIDS and suicide prevention hotlines, Clark University Brothers and Sisters (CUBS) program, Special Olympics, CHOICES (a Clark peer sexual awareness counseling group), along with a number of church-related activities. One of the more interesting opportunities is the Clark Emergency Medical Squad whose members, once trained as EMTs, cooperate with the Clark Health Services in providing 24-hour emergency medical services on campus. (See Research Opportunities and Extracurricular Activities.)

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Do medical schools require that you have had experiences involving patient contact?

An increasing number do, but others are just as impressed with nonmedical activities which indicate that you are a caring person, that you have good interpersonal skills, that you are ready to assume responsibility for helping or taking care of others, e.g., being a camp counselor, a lifeguard, an aide in a nursing home, a tutor--you've got the idea. Interestingly, some of these are things that you can do even before you get to college, and they not only enhance your credentials, but they may give you good insights as to whether you have a stomach for medicine and for taking responsibility for others.

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What about medical activities that do not involve patient contact?

These can be useful, too, if they put you into a hospital environment and give you some idea of what to expect. But some medical schools actually stipulate that they want clinical contact and not just candy-striping or doing laboratory research.

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Are there particular activities that are more helpful in enhancing your credentials than others?

Yes. Medical schools tend to be impressed with those activities that demonstrate time management skills (student government, involvement in school publications, athletics). They are also impressed with students who have been selected to be resident advisors (dorm assistants) or teaching assistants since your selection correctly implies that your school feels that you would command the respect of your peers.

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Are all activities useful?

The medical schools are just as aware as we are that a long list of club involvements may not mean much, and over-involvement can actually be a detriment if your academic record is not good.

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What happens after you have already applied?

Lots. You are counseled on how to prepare for interviews and will be given a videotaped practice interview if you wish. You are given specific information to enable you to respond intelligently on secondary (supplemental) applications that you receive from individual schools. Specific advice on the various medical schools is also provided. The Health Careers Office maintains a list of alums who are attending these medical schools who can provide helpful insights into the various institutions. The Committee can also provide information on what you can expect when you go for your interviews and how to interpret communications from the health professional schools. For example, what significance, if any, is there to receiving a secondary? What are your chances if you make a wait list, and when are you likely to hear? Are there special considerations that make you more viable at some schools than at others?

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What happens if you do not get in?

The Committee can offer advice on what you need to do to make yourself more viable. It can provide contacts at the various health professional schools who can also give you specific information about their institution. It can suggest more realistic alternatives such as less-competitive programs or nonacademic involvements, e.g., Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Teach for America. Most often the problem is in MCAT performance, and it can counsel you on how to improve your score. (See What if I'm not accepted?)

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Will the Committee help you once you graduate?

Yes, but it may have difficulty generating a composite Committee letter if you have been out more than a few years or if you do most of your premed work after graduating.

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Is there anything else I should have asked?

Not obviously, but, if you think of something, by all means contact us. Also, follow this link for specific information about other departments and programs at Clark.

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