Health Professions Mentoring: Guidelines for the Pre-Health Student

Many students at ASU enroll with the aspirations of pursuing a career in a healthcare profession. These careers normally require the completion of a bachelor’s degree as well as a graduate or professional degree.  The Health Professions Advisory Office at ASU’s West campus was established to assist students pursuing a career in a healthcare or related field.

This includes a variety of careers such as frontline patient care providers like physicians of allopathic medicine (MD), osteopathic medicine (DO), dentistry, veterinary medicine, optometry, pharmacy, physician assistant, physical therapist, occupational therapist or nursing, etc.  As well as providing resources and support for students interested in related fields such as public health, health education, patient advocacy and the healthcare humanities.

For more specific advice, students are encouraged to consult with a pre-professional mentor.

Sue Lafond, Assistant Director of Academic Services
New College of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences

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Mayo Clinic and Arizona State University Alliance for Health Care

Information on the various health professions

Information on the various health professions

Early in their university studies, students should begin to investigate the programs that they are interested in pursuing and to identify those which best match their interests, academic abilities, and career and personal goals. 

Most of the major health-related fields have professional organizations that can provide useful information about the unique features of each field, the steps needed to prepare for and apply to each professional program, and current career prospects. The following web sites are suggested as sources of information:

Allopathic Medicine (M.D.)
American Medical Association (AMA)
Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC)
American Medical Student Association (AMSA)
American Academy of Audiology
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
Chiropractic Medicine (D.C.M.)
American Chiropractic Association (ACA)
Dentistry (D.D.S.)
American Dental Association ( ADA )
American Dental Education Association (ADEA)
Naturopathic Medicine (N.D.)
American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP)
Occupational Therapy
American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA)
Optometry (O.D.)
The American Academy of Optometry (AAO)
The Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO)

Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.)

American Osteopathic Association (AOA)

American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM)

Pharmacy (D.Pharm.)

National Association of Boards of Pharmacy

American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP)

Arizona State Board of Pharmacy

Physician Assistant (P.A.)

American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA)

Physical Therapy

American Physical Therapy Association (APTA)

Podiatry (D.P.M.)

American Association of Colleges of Podiatric Medicine (AACPM)

Public Health (M.P.H.)

The American Public Health Association (APHA)

Association of Schools of Public Health (ASPH)

Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.)

Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC)


Preparation for a Career in the Health Professions

Preparation for a Career in the Health Professions

Students intending to apply for admission to a graduate or professional program need to complete a specific set of undergraduate courses. While there is some variation from program to program, these courses normally include:

General Biology I and II with laboratories          8 credits

General Chemistry I and II with laboratories          8 credits

Organic Chemistry I and II with laboratories          8 credits

General Physics I and II with laboratories          8 credits

The courses listed above represent the minimum exposure to the sciences that is required. Most applicants will have taken many additional courses, particularly in the areas of biology or chemistry.  These courses require completion of a mathematics sequence through Pre-calculus (MAT 170) as a prerequisite or co-requisite. Some professional programs require calculus (MAT 210 or MAT 270, 271, 272) as well.

These required courses can be completed within the context of any undergraduate major.  In addition programs often recommend or require additional exposure to upper level coursework.  These courses commonly include:


Cell Biology




Since “Pre-Med” is considered a pathway to professional school and not a major, ASU’s New College encourages students to pursue their academic passion.  While a student could major in any field and matriculate to a desired program, most students choose to major in the sciences. 

Of the typical applicants to U.S. medical schools in recent years, 59% majored in the biological or physical sciences, 13% majored in the social sciences, humanities and the arts, 9% majored in health, 7% majored in engineering, and the other 13% majored in psychology, business or other fields.

 All coursework should include laboratories if at all possible. As programs are added and the curriculum at ASU’s West campus develops, new courses suitable for students in the health professions will be offered.  In addition to courses in the sciences, many professional programs also require courses in the social and behavioral sciences and in areas of the humanities such as ethics.  Because extensive coursework in the natural and social sciences is required and because these courses usually must be taken in a particular order, it is essential that students begin taking the introductory biology, chemistry, and mathematics courses in their first year.

ASU has several healthcare related student clubs, including the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) at the West campus.  AMSA holds regular meetings, social events and sponsors periodic seminars by representatives of different professional programs.

Most professional programs also look for co-curricular activities that demonstrate an interest in and understanding of the health professions. These activities may include undergraduate seminars, internships in a hospital or professional office, volunteer work in a health care setting such as a nursing home or hospice, or other community activities. Letters from a physician with whom a student has worked are often helpful, and in particular, they may be required for D.O. programs. Participation in these activities, however, cannot substitute for a rigorous program of academic course work.  ASU’s New College offers several opportunities for experiential learning.

Applying to a Graduate or Professional Program

Applying to a Graduate or Professional Program

Admission to professional medical programs is highly competitive. 

For example, according to the American Association of Medical Colleges (, for the 2016-2017 application cycle, there were 53,042 applicants for 21,030 positions in different U.S. allopathic (M.D.) medical programs. Note that this ratio only reflects the number of students who actually apply to M.D. programs. It does not include all of those students who entered a college or university with aspirations of a career in medicine but who subsequently did not apply.

For students admitted to M.D. programs in 2016, the mean overall GPA was 3.70, with a mean GPA for science courses of 3.64. For students admitted to M.D. programs in 2016, the mean scores for the MCAT by section were:

Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (126.7)

Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems (127.1)

Biochemical and Biological Foundations of Living Systems (127.4)

Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behaviors (127.4)                     

Total    508.7

While allopathic schools are among the most competitive programs, other programs are competitive. According to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (, for students admitted to osteopathic (D.O.) medical programs in 2016, the overall GPA for baccalaureates was 3.47. For students admitted to D.O. programs in 2016, the mean scores for the MCAT by section were:

Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (124.53)

Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems (124.78)

Biochemical and Biological Foundations of Living Systems (124.95)

Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behaviors (125.05)                     

Total    499.32

As an example, according to information located on the website for Midwestern University, for the D.O. program Class of 2020 the average overall GPA for admitted students was higher than the national average at 3.50, with an average science GPA for courses of 3.45.  The average score for the MCAT was also higher than the national average for D.O. schools at 505. 

Additional data can be usually be located on the respective school’s website. 

Although many students intend to apply to programs outside of the state of Arizona, students in Arizona are at a advantage because of the number of opportunities provided through private and state-supported professional medical programs located here. There are three M.D. programs; two through the University of Arizona and one through Mayo Clinic.  In addition there are two D.O. programs; Midwestern University and A.T. Stills University.  As well as many public and/or private opportunities to attend professional programs for dentistry, pharmacy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, physician assistant and more.

Being a Successful Applicant

Being a Successful Applicant

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 difficult and are able to earn grades of 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. The admissions committees try to look at all of their applicants as individuals, but it’s important to be academically prepared and 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 may be preferable to find an alternative program for which you might be more competitive early on and pursue that instead. 

Make regular appointments with your faculty, advisors and the pre-health office!

Suggested Course Sequence

Suggested Course Sequence

The courses needed to apply to graduate or professional programs in health-related fields and to prepare for the standardized admissions tests must be taken in a particular sequence. Unlike some curricula in the humanities or social sciences, curricula in the natural sciences are very hierarchical, with one tier of courses serving as prerequisites for the next tier of courses. The following is a list of the science and math courses most often taken by pre-professional students, using the current course numbers at ASU’s West campus.

First Tier Courses

Biology BIO 181 (4) - General Biology I (with lab) BIO 182 (4) - General Biology II (with lab)
Chemistry CHM 113 (4) - General Chemistry I (with lab) CHM 116 (4) - General Chemistry II (with lab)
Math MAT 170 (3) - Pre Calculus

Second Tier Courses

Biology LSC 347 (3) - Fundamentals of Genetics Lecture LSC 348 (1) - Fundamentals of Genetics Lab BIO 353 (3) - Cell Biology Lecture BIO 354 (1) - Cell Biology Lab
Chemistry CHM 233 (3) - General Organic Chemistry Lecture I CHM 237 (1) - General Organic Chemistry Lab I CHM 234 (3) - General Organic Chemistry Lecture II CHM 238 (1) - General Organic Chemistry Lab II
Math MAT 210 (3) - Brief Calculus  OR  MAT 270 (3) - Calculus I

Third Tier Courses

Biology: BIO 360 (3) - Animal Physiology Lecture LSC 359 (1) - Animal Physiology Lab BIO 361 (3) - Principles of Biochemistry BCH 367 (1) - Principles of Biochemistry Lab
BIO 370 (4) - Vertebrate Zoology (with lab) BIO 443 (3) - Applied Molecular Genetics    
Mathematics: BIO 415 (4) - Biometry  OR  MAT 271 (3) - Calculus II
Physics: PHY 111 (3) - General Physics I PHY 113 (1) - General Physics II Lab PHY 112 (3) - General Physics II PHY 114 (1) - General Physics II Lab

Depending on whether a student starts at ASU’s West campus or transfers to ASU’s West campus from another university or community college, s/he may enter these tiers at different points. How rapidly a student progresses through these tiers also will depend on the number of credits s/he takes each semester. The following is a suggested course sequence for four years, assuming that a student is attending the university full time and takes 14-16 credits each semester. By taking the courses in this sequence, all of the essential courses will have been completed before a student takes the standardized admissions tests such as the MCAT, DAT, or GRE. Note that this sequence does not specify a particular major and does not include all of the university general education courses. In general, science classes beyond the first tier are not available during the summer session.