Other Pre-Health FAQs

The following questions are frequently asked by pre-health students. If you have additional questions, please contact the Office of Pre-Health Advising.

What are the benefits of an Oxy education?

  • The rigorous liberal arts curriculum helps students build an excellent foundation in both the humanities and sciences. Core requirements allow students to explore a wide-range of topics and help develop excellent critical reading and writing skills.
  • Oxy offers excellent research opportunities for students to work closely with faculty who are leaders in their respective fields
  • With a ratio of students to faculty of 10:1, students have ample opportunities to interact and collaborate with faculty in and out of the classroom. Through those interactions, faculty and staff get to know our students well and become advocates of the students in all their future endeavors.
  • Our focus is on educating undergraduate students. Without graduate students on campus to compete for resources and opportunities, our undergraduate students engage in high quality research with faculty and take on leadership roles.
  • Students receive individualized attention from faculty and staff.
  • There is a strong commitment from alumni who offer shadowing or volunteering opportunities to our pre-health students in a variety of medical specialties 

What kinds of extracurricular activities should I do?

Actively engage yourself in activities that you care deeply about, on and off campus. You can start by investigating what types of clubs and organizations are active on campus, and join the groups that interest you. You may even want to start a new club! You will find that Oxy has a rich tradition in community service, political activism, arts, and sports. As a pre-health student, you will also need to participate in clinical shadowing and volunteering opportunities in the medical specialty that you plan to pursue. The level of commitment and the length of your service or engagement are more important than the clubs and organizations with which you are affiliated.  When choosing activities, manage your time wisely and be careful not to over commit yourself.

What should I major in?

There is no "premed" major and no one major has an advantage over others when applying to medical school.  Medical schools do not require a specific major. We recommend that you explore the variety of courses that Oxy offers and study diverse topics during the first and second year of college and then select a major that you find intellectually challenging and interesting. You can major in any subject as long as you meet all the basic academic requirements required by the medical programs to which you plan to apply. Please learn what those required courses are and schedule your corresponding Oxy classes carefully as you will need to take some of the courses sequentially. 

How important is my GPA?

While the GPA is not the most important factor that is considered for admission, it is important to demonstrate that you are well prepared academically to handle the rigorous medical curriculum in the future. The average GPA of successful applicants to MD programs is above 3.5, however, the average GPA varies among medical specialties and professional graduate programs in health sciences. There are many other important criteria that admissions committees consider in addition to GPA.

When should I take the standardized medical school admissions test, MCAT, and how do I prepare for it?

Once you successfully complete the basic premedical academic requirements, you may be ready to take the MCAT test. There are four sections: 1) Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems, 2) Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems, 3) Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior, and 4) Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills. Please take multiple practice tests to identify your weak areas and review the material.  Simulate the real test environment as much as possible, which means that you take timed tests and not take long breaks for meals, phone calls or other distractions. Try working through the test in one sitting and see if you have the stamina to go through entire the test as you would in a real setting. Taking a commercial prep course is your own personal decision. Some students do well without it, while others feel that they need the structured environment to prepare for the test. Try to take the actual test a few months before you apply so that you will have the time to repeat the test, if necessary. You don't need to withhold the primary application (AMCAS) to wait for your MCAT scores, but we strongly recommend that you take the test before June of the application year, at the latest.  Depending on the school that you apply to, MCAT scores expire in two or three years so if you plan to apply years after graduation, you will need to take that into consideration. Please pick a date that you prefer and register for the test months in advance to secure a seat at a location that is convenient to you. For more information, please visit the official MCAT website. In addition, the AAMC Fee Assistance Program assists those who, without financial assistance, would be unable to take the MCAT, apply to medical schools that use the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS), and more. Learn about the AAMC Fee Assistance Program.

When is the best time to submit my application?

The best time is when you are 100% ready. If you need more time for any reason, for example, to decide whether the field of medicine is right for you, to build your academic credential or to work and travel, wait for the right time to apply. If you wish (and are ready) to start medical school the same year you graduate from Oxy, you will need to start the application process at the end of your junior year. The whole process will take up to a year, from the primary application to your acceptance. If you plan to have a "gap" year, you can start the process the summer after your senior year.  Some applicants wait longer than a year before applying for various reasons: fellowships, work, research, graduate programs, etc. Please consult with the pre-health advisor and the Career Development Center for academic or career opportunities for your gap year(s). Once you decide to apply, we recommend that you submit your application in the months of June or July.  The official application submission date usually starts around June 1. Please ensure that your application is error-free and well prepared before you submit. Some schools have a rolling admission, which means highly qualified applicants are offered an admission when the review process is complete thus leaving fewer spots available for applicants who apply later. Please check the deadlines of all the schools to which you plan to apply.  Please remember that your goal should not be to "beat" or meet the deadline. It would be best not to wait until August to submit your primary (AMCAS) application.

How many letters of recommendation do I need, and whom should I ask?

You will need a minimum of three letters of recommendation (L/R): Two from basic sciences faculty: biology, chemistry, biochemistry, math and physics, plus one from another source, such as a humanities or social science professor, volunteer coordinator and employer. A letter from a humanities professor is highly recommended as some schools may require it. Some schools accept more than three letters; therefore, we recommend that you ask at least 4 or 5 people who know you very well. A letter from a physician you shadowed, only if s/he got to know you well, can be helpful. If you are applying for a combined program of MD/PhD., be sure to obtain letters from your research mentors. Early in your application year, around January or February, please ask your potential letter writers if they would write a letter on your behalf.  If they agree, provide the writers with your most recent resume that includes; overall GPA, research experience, employment, extracurricular activities, honors and awards.  It is also helpful for the writers to have your autobiographical essay or, a copy of your personal statement that you are preparing for med school application. As a professional courtesy, please give the writers at least 3 to 4 weeks to write their letters. Letters of recommendation are downloaded from AMCAS and reviewed by the medical schools when you submit your secondary applications to individual schools.

What do the med school admissions committees look for?

Qualities that committees seek include, but are not limited to:

  • Interpersonal skills
  • Communication skills
  • Analytical, problem-solving skills
  • Intellectual curiosity
  • Academic ability
  • Lifelong scholarship
  • Desire to serve
  • Empathy
  • Emotional stability
  • Leadership and teamwork ability
  • Professionalism
  • Reliability
  • Motivation (for medicine)
  • Exposure to the profession
  • Integrity
  • Honesty

Download a PDF with more information about the AAMC Holistic Review