The information in the preceding sections is meant to be realistic, but not discouraging. As indicated, however, admission to graduate and professional programs in the health professions is highly competitive and requires a significant commitment both in time and money. Students who aspire to a career in one of these fields need to plan early and to work consistently. Here are some suggestions:
Choose a rigorous academic program and pursue it aggressively.
Taking the minimum number of courses needed to apply will usually not be sufficient. It is best to take as many science courses as you can, including laboratories. Actively participate in the classes rather than simply showing up. While many students may begin their education at a community college, courses taken at the university are generally given greater weight. A high GPA that is based on low-content courses at an easy school will be seen as such by the admissions committee and discounted.
Get to know your academic advisor and your faculty members.
Good advice can be very beneficial in planning your program, so that you can complete courses in the required sequence on schedule. Since you are going to need letters of recommendation, be sure that faculty members know you (in a positive way) and can accurately evaluate your strengths and abilities.
Be realistic about your time commitments.
The courses required for successful admission to a health-related professional program are hard and require a substantial effort, but they are nothing like those in a graduate or professional program. You should not expect to take a full academic load of 14-17 credits in 4-5 courses and work 30-40 hours a week at the same time. If you have family responsibilities that require a substantial time commitment, you will need to take that into account as well. It may be better to slow down your academic work and take only 2-3 courses in a term.
Find out as much as you can about your selected health profession.
Because there are so many different health professions, it is important to match your interests with those of each program. You should understand the differences between M.D. and D.O. programs, between P.A. and M.D programs, etc. One good way to do this is to make personal contact with your own health care providers and talk with them about your aspirations. Find out what they like and dislike about that profession, whether they would enter that career again, how the daily and weekly schedule works and so on. This is different than shadowing someone around and just observing their activities.
Understand the financial costs of the application process and a professional program.
The standard tests are expensive, as are the individual school applications. It would not be unreasonable to spend $1,000 as part of the application process. Some students also may find it helpful to take a preparation course for a standardized test, such as one of those offered by Kaplan or Princeton Review. The Health Professions Advisory Committee does not endorse these courses, but recognizes they may be useful to some students. These courses typically cost $1,500-$2,000. The graduate and professional programs themselves are much more expensive than the state-supported undergraduate programs at ASU’s West campus. A state-supported medical school program can easily cost $50,000 over four years and a private program two to three times that amount. Also remember that you will not be able to work while completing most graduate or professional programs. Students who graduate from these programs often have significant debt. Nevertheless, most health care professionals make a good living and can pay off this debt in a reasonable period of time. An important aspect of planning your education will be consideration of the financial element.
Match your interests, academic abilities, and career and personal goals to the graduate or professional program.
It is important for students to be realistic as they pursue a program in the health professions. If you find the undergraduate biology and chemistry courses at ASU’s West campus difficult and are able to earn only Cs or Bs in them, your prospects for certain professional programs (such as medicine, dentistry, or veterinary medicine) are limited. Likewise, if you take a standardized test and score below the mean, your prospects are not as good as if you scored well above the mean. For example, in 2006, the mean on the MCAT for all applicants was 9.0 on the Verbal Reasoning section of the MCAT, 9.1 on the Physical Sciences section, and 9.5 on the Biological Sciences section. The mean GPA for all applicants was 3.48 overall, with a mean in the sciences of 3.37 and a mean in non-science of 3.61. The admissions committees try to loo k at all of their applicants as individuals, but a strong interest or desire for a health-related career will not be able to compensate for low test scores or a low GPA. It would be preferable to find an alternative program for which you might be more competitive early on and pursue that instead.