Academics (Preparing to Apply to Health Profession Schools)

This resource covers academic considerations as you prepare to apply for health professions schools, including:


Which Courses Should I Take?

Each health profession school will establish their own admissions requirements. Most require the completing of prerequisite courses, though some have moved to competency-based academic requirements. Course requirements differ by profession; it is your responsibility to research requirements for your field. 

Your Major: You can major in any area you wish. Health professions schools are interested in students who have been broadly educated. However, if you do not major in a science, consider taking additional upper-level science courses such as genetics, microbiology, immunology, and/or physiology. International students should talk with staff at Slater International Center about the ramifications of their choice of major on visas, etc.

Double Majors/Minors: Health professions schools value students who have taken courses that have expanded their knowledge of the world. Completing a double major or a minor will not necessarily make an applicant more competitive. Double majors/minors can lead to academic stress, crowded schedules, and the inability to take a variety of courses. Double major/minor only if you have a passion for both majors or major/minor and can’t imagine graduating without deeply exploring them.

Pass/No Pass and Credit/No Credit Grades: We recommend taking your courses for a grade rather than Credit/No Credit, as health professions schools will consider the rigor of your curriculum as they evaluate your application. The exception to this rule is your first semester courses which are shadow graded. When you apply, health professions schools will be given information about our Pass/No Pass policies. Our Registrar’s Office and Health Professions Advising will not reveal your “shadow grades” to health professions schools, and admissions programs to date have accepted the first semester pass/fail grades in required science courses. Your first-year Writing course is also graded mandatory Pass/No Pass in the first semester. We ask that schools count this course as satisfying an English/Writing/Composition requirement even though you will not have received a letter grade if you have taken in in your first semester. Please note: DO NOT take other courses required for admission to health professions schools Credit/No Credit. For example, if you are required to take a second English course, do not select a course that has mandatory Credit/No Credit grading.

Studying Abroad: Although you can certainly study abroad as part of your undergraduate experience, do not plan on taking required or recommended pre-health courses at international schools. The exception to this is BIOC /CHEM 223 and BIOC/CHEM 227 which are courses taught by a Wellesley professor at Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany. These courses will be placed on your Wellesley College transcript with letter grades just like any Wellesley course. For more information, visting the Studying Abroad section of this page.

Cross-Listed Courses: Many courses that meet the requirements for health professions schools are cross-listed in multiple departments at Wellesley. For example, BIOC 227 is the equivalent course to CHEM 227. We recommend that when you register for the course, you choose the course registration number that best reflects the pre-health requirement you need to satisfy. That way, health professions schools will clearly see that you have satisfied their requirement when they review your transcript. (The American Studies Department will recognize the course even though it’s labeled ENG on your transcript.) If you need to change your cross-listing on your transcript, you must do this prior to graduation through the Registrar’s Office.

New Student Course Planning: Students new to Wellesley should visit this site for course planning.

AP/IB Credits: Some schools will accept AP/IB credit for required pre-health coursework. Others will accept credit in some areas but not in others. Schools may expect to see advanced course work if AP/IB credit is used for basic required courses. Your AP credit for a course required for admission to a health professions school must be posted on your Wellesley transcript. Please note that the Wellesley Registrar’s Office will post a maximum of 4 AP/IB credits on your transcript, so be strategic about what is listed if you have more than 4. For example, if you want your AP credit to possibly count towards a calculus requirement, an English requirement, or potentially as a second inorganic chemistry course if you’ve taken CHEM 120, make sure these credits are posted to your Wellesley transcript. Check with your health professions advisor if you are thinking of using AP/IB credit for courses required for admission. More information on Wellesley AP credit.

As you think about your planning for pre-health courses, ask yourself a few questions.

  • Do I want to take a gap year or more prior to going to health professions school? If you do this, you usually will have more time to complete your pre-health coursework while you are at Wellesley.
  • Do I want to study abroad? Remember that you can study abroad during a semester, in the summer, and during wintersession.
  • How can I balance my pre-health science courses with my other requirements? Taking more than two science courses with labs can be challenging in any given semester. You must balance your major and graduation requirements, as well as your academic interests with your need to master the material in these courses and perform well. Options to spread out your course work include taking a gap year, taking pre-health courses in the summer, or completing courses after graduation.
  • Do schools mind if I take pre-health courses in the summer? Most schools do not mind this, if you take them at a four-year institution and the courses you’ve registered for are the same courses that the pre-health students at that institution typically take. You do not have to transfer the courses and grades to your Wellesley transcript. However, remember that in health professions school, you will be taking multiple science courses in a semester, so schools will want to see that you were able to accomplish this at Wellesley. You also may want to use your summers for gaining clinical, service, and research experience, so use the time in your summers wisely.

Table: Commonly Required Courses for Health Professions Schools

This important table of Commonly Required Courses for Health Professions School represents a few health professions and their general admissions requirements. Remember that each profession and institution sets its own requirements. Due to space limitations all professions are not represented. Some programs may not accept online courses.

Pre-Dental Students: ADEA AADSAS has published the Participating Dental Schools Required and Recommended Courses—a resource now available on the ADEA GoDental website.
Pre-Vet Students: AAVMC has created this Summary of Course Prerequisites.

View Commonly Required Courses for Health Professions School Table.


Studying Abroad

With careful planning, it is quite possible for someone who wants to eventually attend a health professions school to take time to study abroad as an undergraduate. Health professions schools are interested in individuals who are broadly educated. Experiences such as studying abroad may be particularly useful if you learn about and immerse yourself in the culture and people of the country in which you study. Make the opportunity to educate yourself about health care systems abroad and to interact with patients and healthcare professionals while you are there. You can also seek out research and service opportunities while you are abroad. Check with the Wellesley Office of International Study to learn about study abroad programs tailored for students with an interest in health-related careers. Here is a list of programs they have indicated might be particularly interesting to pre-health students

We do not recommend taking prerequisite courses for health professions schools abroad. Prerequisite courses for medical, dental and veterinary schools must be taken at US institutions. (One exception is Wellesley’s biochemistry course, which will be offered at Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany, taught by a Wellesley professor, and placed with a grade on the Wellesley transcript.) However, some health professions schools may allow prerequisite courses to be taken outside the US. If you decide to take a required course abroad, please review our information on evaluation of foreign transcripts.

If you are thinking about studying abroad, consider these options:

  • Studying abroad in the summer
  • Studying abroad during Wintersession
  • Studying abroad in the fall or spring, and taking some of your pre-health coursework in the summer
  • Studying abroad in the fall or spring, and delaying your application so that you can take your prerequisite courses in your senior year
  • Studying abroad and completing your prerequisite requirements after you’ve graduted


What if my grades aren’t strong?

First and foremost, you do not need to have all A grades to be accepted into a health professions school. But schools will want to see evidence of ability in the sciences and strong study skills that will allow you to succeed in a graduate academic environment.

Different health professional schools have different academic standards for admission. It is important for you to research the expectations of the fields in which you are interested. Visit the Learn about Careers in the Health Professions Career portion of this website and look up individual school websites to find this information.

There are many reasons why your grades may be lower than you were hoping. Students face many stressful situations in life, including:

  • Illness during the semester
  • Absence of high school background necessary for courses
  • Undeveloped study skills
  • Difficulty balancing other activities and responsibilities such as sports, jobs, clubs, relationships, etc.
  • Pressing family issues
  • English as a second language
  • Cultural issues
  • Difficulty with seeking help from others
  • Homesickness

There are a variety of ways to get help and support so that you can reach your academic potential, including:

  1. Ask your professors for help. They are here at Wellesley to help you learn. Look for posted office hours, and discuss your situation openly.
  2. Find out about class resources. Are their tutors or study groups available?
  3. Visit the Pforzheimer Learning and Teaching Center (PLTC). The PLTC is located at Clapp Library, and can help you in a variety of ways.
  4. Talk with your academic dean. Your dean can provide you with options and resources for dealing with challenging and stressful life events.
  5. Visit the Stone Center Counseling Service. They can provide you with confidential counseling.
  6. Make an appointment at the Wellesley College Health Service if you are concerned about your health.
  7. Join a student-run pre-health organization. Chances are your peers have gone through similar struggles and can give you advice and perspective.
  8. Meet with a Health Professions Advisor to discuss your strategy for planning out your pre-health coursework and whether it would be a good idea to repeat a course. There are many ways to approach your pre-health planning, such as:
  • Consider spreading out your pre-health courses over eight semesters and plan a break between completing your undergraduate studies and entering health professions school
  • Consider taking pre-health courses in the summer
  • Consider taking pre-health courses after graduation
  • Consider taking courses that fit your background and interests better (for example, take Physics 104 instead of Physics 107, or take an algebra-based physics course at a different institution instead of a calculus-based course at Wellesley)
  • Consider repeating a course, especially if there is a sequential course that builds on the knowledge gained in the first course
  • Consider choosing a major that you enjoy that allows you to balance your semester schedule more comfortably
  • Remember, you only need one major to graduate. Take courses that appeal to you, but don’t feel that you MUST have a second major or a minor completed by graduation to be competitive (you don’t)
  • Consider health professions that are appealing but that have less demanding requirements
  • Consider alternative careers

The bottom line is, everyone needs help and support. As a future health professional, you will always need to rely on the assistance of others. Don’t be reluctant to find the resources you need to do your best.

Joint/Combined/Dual/Double Degree Programs

Do your academic and career interests span more than one type of graduate or professional school? Many universities and health professions schools now offer the opportunity to earn more than one degree in joint/combined/dual/double degree programs. Individual institutions use these terms in different ways, so read the descriptions and outcomes on individual websites carefully as you compare programs. Work closely with your advisors, mentors, and faculty to decide if a dual degree program is necessary to meet your career goals.

Make sure you fully understand the admissions requirements that are necessary to apply for each degree program, as they can vary greatly and lead to confusion or missed deadlines. Some schools will require admission into both programs prior to matriculation, while others may require/allow application to the second program after matriculation into the first program.

Here are some pros of completing more than one degree in a combined program:

  1. It may take a shorter amount of time to complete both degrees 
  2. The cost may be less to complete both degrees
  3. Some joint degree programs are funded (e.g., MD/PhD through the National Institutes of Health Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP))
  4. Joint programs may integrate learning across domains
  5. There may be unique access to faculty, resources, and experiences
  6. There may be enhanced employment opportunities after graduation

Here are some cons of completing more than one degree in one program:

  1. Entry may require gaining admission to both degree programs and may be more competitive
  2. It may take longer time to graduate and begin earning an income
  3. It may be more expensive than the cost of a single degree program
  4. Education in one degree area may be disrupted by responsibilities in the other
  5. There may be less time for elective courses, rotations, and other opportunities for exploration
  6. Participants may be separated from peers when moving between degree programs
  7. Stress and time management skills are important factors in accelerated programs