Medical and Dental School Preparation

The health-care delivery system in this country is undergoing dramatic changes. These changes are having profound effects on how doctors and dentists practice their professions, and they also will undoubtedly influence the interest of undergraduate students in pursuing these professions. Also, the cost of medical and dental schools continues to rise at an extraordinary rate, affecting the ability of some students to afford professional school. The number of students applying to medical and dental schools continues to be high and, consequently, acceptance to these schools is highly competitive. For all these reasons, students should think carefully about why they wish to pursue a career in medicine, and they should plan carefully for application and possible admission.

To prepare for medical or dental school, you can enroll in a variety of University majors. Most students, because of interest, find themselves in the Eberly College of Science, majoring in such majors as Premedicine, Biology, Microbiology, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Forensic Science, or Science. A number of students also enroll in majors in the College of the Liberal Arts, including Psychology or Anthropology. In the College of Health and Human Development, majors such as Nutritional Sciences, Kinesiology, or Biobehavioral Health might be attractive choices. It is up to you to find a major that you will enjoy and that will still provide you with the courses that all medical and dental schools require. Most medical programs require the following courses:

  • Two semesters of general biology with lab (8 credits hours)
  • Two semesters of general chemistry with lab (8 credit hours)
  • Two semesters of physics with lab (8-12 credit hours)
  • Two semesters of organic chemistry with lab (8 credit hours)
  • Two semesters of English (6 credit hours)

These are only minimum requirements. Some schools also require math (including calculus), social sciences, humanities, or advanced biology and/or biochemistry. You should contact a knowledgeable health professions adviser for answers to specific questions about course work. In addition, you should familiarize yourself with the prerequisites for the individual schools of greatest interest to you. Their websites will be helpful.

Concerning grades, it is difficult to generalize, but certainly academic performance is one of the most important criteria in evaluating an application. To be a competitive applicant for medical school, you should have a grade-point average of at least 3.60; for dental school, your grade-point average should be at 3.50 or better. In addition to completing course work with good grades, you must plan to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) or the Dental Admission Test (DAT) as part of the application process. The usual time to schedule these exams is during the spring semester of, or summer after, your junior year.

As part of your application, letters of recommendation must be forwarded to the professional schools. In most cases, a Committee Letter of Evaluation, which includes individual faculty letters, is preferred. You can arrange for committee letters through the Health Professions Advising Office in the Eberly College of Science, 122 Ritenour Building.

Both medical and dental schools require that you apply for admission one full year before you plan to begin your studies. Therefore, the application process generally begins during the summer between the junior and senior years. In most cases, you can apply through a central application service rather than apply directly to each individual professional school. All materials, including applications, admission test scores, and letters of recommendation, should be submitted by no later than October of your senior year. However, the earlier the material can be completed and mailed, the better. Helpful websites include the Association of American Medical Colleges, the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, and the American Dental Education Association.

After you have submitted your application and had all appropriate records forwarded to the medical or dental schools, you might be invited for an interview. Based on the interview and the quality of your academic records, the medical or dental schools will notify you regarding acceptance or rejection. Most students know by February or March of their senior year whether or not they have been accepted.

For more information about applying to medical or dental school, contact the departments mentioned above or visit the Health Professions Advising Office, 122 Ritenour Building, 814-865-7620. Excellent summary information is available from the Premedicine Major website.

Source: Ronald A. Markle, Professor of Biology and Health Professions Adviser.