Academic and Experiential Preparation
Preparing for a formal education in any form of medicine or a graduate program in the health professions is more than a matter of taking the right set of courses. Admissions committees will look for things like exposure to the profession, direct contact with patients, and evidence of important personal qualities such as reliability, integrity, leadership, professionalism and resilience in your application.
Preparing for a health profession involves many steps, but at the core is a set of courses that you’ll need to progress in your education. Simply put, demonstrated ability in science is a must. Your professional school curriculum will build on the biology, chemistry and physics that you learned in college.
But there is much more to being a health clinician than science. Professional schools value broad-based curricula. All will expect you to read critically and write well, and most require two semesters of English (or the equivalent) to demonstrate that. An appreciation of people, their behavior, their beliefs, their perspectives is important -- you can gain these through studies in the social sciences, languages and cultures. Quantitative skills are necessary, and skills in statistics and informatics are very beneficial.
Overall, a strong student with broad interests and ability in the sciences is a competitive candidate in terms of academic credentials. Different professions may have variations in their course requirements.
Choosing a Major/Minor
There is no premed major at Tufts; this is true of all selective colleges and universities. Medical schools look for a well-balanced college program without favoring one major over another. Statistically, biology majors comprise at least half of the applicant pool but have a slightly lower rate of admission than many other majors, including many non-science majors. In fact, some admissions officers may be more interested in candidates with a non-science major who have done well in the premedical requirements.
The best advice is to major in an area that excites you but pursue a well-rounded transcript. If you major in one of the sciences, be sure to take a variety of courses outside your major. If you major in a non-science, take the time to perform well in your premedical courses. An additional biology course or two could also make the transition to your graduate studies smoother.
In addition to biochemistry (either BIO 152 or CHEM 171), which all premeds will take, most commonly recommended courses are cell biology, genetics, and molecular biology. Other options include physiology, microbiology, endocrinology, or immunology.
If you are considering a double major, be aware it will greatly reduce your freedom to take electives and not necessarily impress admissions officers.
Medical schools (MD and DO) require Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) scores as part of their standard application. The MCAT is a computer-based test and given multiple times per year. If you will be completing your coursework in the spring semester and plan to apply in the summer, we strongly encourage you to take MCATs by April of that year.
The MCAT tests your knowledge of the premed sciences, including biochemistry. It also includes a section on the behavioral sciences and tests critical thinking skills, not just memorization.
You can, and should, study for the MCAT. The MCAT staff provides a number of useful resources. You can also take a commercial review course. The established courses in this area are Kaplan 800-KAP-TEST, Princeton Review 866-TPR-PREP and ExamKrackers.
When you sit for the MCAT please specify that you will release your score to your advisor. You will be able to access your scores, as will the medical schools, approximately 30 days after the test date.
Other Standardized Tests
Dental schools require your Dental Aptitude Test (DAT) score. The test is given via computer virtually every day of the year. A good time to take the DAT is when you have completed the chemistry and biology course requirements (it does not test physics). We encourage you to prepare for the test and take it no later than the first half of the summer of the year you plan to apply.
Veterinary schools generally require Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores. The GRE is computerized and administered throughout the year. Many other clinical health professions graduate programs require the GRE.
Optometry and Pharmacy Schools
Graduate schools expect that by the time you send in your application, you will have taken the initiative to gain first-hand experience through volunteer work, an internship, or a job in a healthcare setting. Patient contact is critical for you to decide if you are comfortable working with sick people. It also helps you develop the critical interpersonal skills you’ll need to be a clinician.
Other activities such as community service, athletics, and campus clubs can demonstrate your ability to work with others on a team, deal with problems, plan and promote events, among many other life skills.
Extracurricular activities are important for a number of reasons:
- They make your time at Tufts happier and more relaxed
- They show your interest in non-academic pursuits
- They help you develop important qualities such as communication, leadership, and organizational skills
Interviewers are often eager to know how you spend your free time, and often look for solid commitment to a few activities. Do not sacrifice good grades for a long list of extracurriculars, but do not aim for a 4.0 GPA at the expense of your personal enjoyment. Find a happy balance between the two extremes, for your own wellbeing and the strength of your transcript.
Tufts has many active student organizations that relate to health professions. These include:
- Tufts Premed Society includes an American Medical Student Association (AMSA) chapter
- Tufts Minority Association of Pre-Health Students (MAPS) is the undergraduate of chapter of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA)
- Pre-Dental Society
- Pre-Vet Society
- Public Health Society
Volunteer and Service Opportunities
We strongly encourage you to seek out clinical experience so you can learn more about the profession you are choosing. Health professions schools expect applicants to be motivated enough to spend time in health care delivery settings.
Local and Domestic Volunteer Opportunities
Almost all hospitals, and many other health facilities, have a volunteer office. You can also perform broader community service work to develop the important qualities of compassion, interpersonal communications skills, cultural competence, and humility that will serve you well as a health care provider.
Do not confuse shadowing with volunteer or service work. It is very reasonable to shadow physicians or dentists or other providers who can share their experiences with you, and you can get a view of their work life. Try the Tufts Career Networking Group as one way to make contacts. But shadowing does not allow you to do something directly for patients or others in need.
International Volunteer Opportunities
While there are ample opportunities in the United States to interact with patients, be involved in broad healthcare delivery issues, and learn to understand the inequities in health care delivery, many students seek global health opportunities as part of their preparation for future health professions studies. The most helpful experiences are ones that you engage in over a length of time rather than a week or two. They should be well structured and supervised and allow you to do those things for which you are trained and qualified.
There are legal, practical and ethical considerations when you choose an international health experience. Growing concern about some of these global health programs and “voluntourism” has prompted two prominent associations to develop guidelines for premedical and predental students. Please review these before embarking on an international health experience. And be honest with yourself about your motivations and about how a program may impact the people it is supposed to be helping.
While not required by medical school or other health professions schools, research experience can enrich your undergraduate experience and deepen your appreciation of healthcare delivery. As an intellectual enterprise it is a wonderful complement to your classroom study.
All Tufts departments encourage and support their students in incorporating research into their education. Professors doing research, especially in biomedical settings, are often looking for students to work with them. Because they have a chance to get to know the students with whom they do research, these professors can write a more informative recommendation to health professions schools.
Research is much more than just biomedical bench research. There is community-based public health research, social psychology research, translational research and historical research -- to name a few. You may be able to work with a professor here in Medford on a volunteer basis or perhaps for credit.
Some students do research on our Boston or Grafton campuses. Some apply for and receive funding through the Summer Scholars Program or the Undergraduate Research Fund. Still others find research opportunities elsewhere over the summer. Tufts offers several options for funding for unpaid summer internships, individual research, and projects abroad. Also, be sure to check out departmental websites and the Career Center website.
Summers are a good time for in-depth work, demonstrating your motivation and interest in your chosen field. We urge you to use your summers to learn as much as possible about the health care delivery system and patient care. This can take the form of hospital volunteer positions, research or clinical internships, or participation in many other programs described on this website. Interviewers and admissions committees often focus on summer experiences.
Travel or work in a non-medical setting offer plenty of learning opportunities as well. For example, you could interact with as wide a variety of people as a waiter as you would as an ER volunteer.
In general, explore the opportunities available to you and take advantage of what you can. Opportunities do not need to be full-time, nor do they need to be formal internships in order for you to learn them. Many students combine a paid job in a non-career setting (e.g. lifeguarding) with a volunteer opportunity in a local nursing home or community health clinic.
- Summer Opportunities
- Special Needs and Illness Summer Camps
- Training Opportunities for Certified Nursing Assistant
- Training Opportunities for Emergency Medical Technician
- Internship Listing from the Career Center
- Funding Opportunities at Tufts
- 2020 Summer Funding Opportunities
Maybe you want to go to medical school, but not right away. More than half of the people matriculating into US medical schools have taken one or more growth years between college and medical school. Close to 70% of Tufts applicants take time between college graduation and medical school to work, volunteer or do a service program.
Why Wait to Apply?
Medical school admissions committees look very favorably on older applicants. A pause between graduation and matriculation at medical school can be a very good idea for a number of reasons:
- It gives you a chance to do something you may not have the chance to do after you become a physician -- maybe while earning money for your future education
- When you apply, medical schools will see four years of grades instead of three and students generally do better in their final two years
- Many students feel that after four years of college they need a break before starting four more years of intense study
- Both your recommenders and admissions committees frequently see you as a more interesting and mature candidate
Common Growth Year Activities for Tufts Alums
Participants engage in intensive service opportunities at nonprofits and organizations around the country.
National Health Corps
The largest, health-related AmeriCorps program facilitates access to healthcare for underserved populations.
The National Institutes of Health
The NIH provides training programs for all degree levels.
Career Center Resources
Handshake is the Tufts recruiting platform and is a great resource for finding growth year opportunities. Check out their website to learn more.
Tufts Medical Center (TMC) offers a training program that prepares you to work as a Clinical Care Technician at TMC and gain the patient experience you need for your applications to health professions schools.