Frequently Asked Questions

Academic Planning

What should I major in?

Although health professional programs identify basic pre-requisite courses required for admission to their program, these requirements do not dictate what you should major in at the undergraduate level. Schools for the health professions have no preference for what major you select, nor whether you pursue a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree, as long as you complete the necessary pre-requisites and adequately prepare for the required entrance exam. You should select a major you will enjoy! Schools look to see that you complete rigorous and challenging combinations of courses, and show a strong performance in them. They want to see that you pursued and excelled in your academic course of study.

Should I take courses during summer session?

When you take summer courses, you often have fewer responsibilities than during the school year. This may lead an admissions committee to ask, "Would this student have received this grade if they were also managing the responsibilities of a full course load?" This is important because they know you will not have the option to spread out your coursework in professional school. 

Additionally, some students choose to take coursework over the summer at other institutions. This may lead an admissions committee to ask, "Did this student take this course at another institution because there was less competition or less material covered? Was this student looking for an easy way out and would they have received the same grade at their home institution?" If an admissions committee needs to ask this question about a significant amount of your coursework, it may be a problem. 

Do your best to avoid taking multiple science courses in the summer. Try to limit your summer coursework to labs only and make sure there is enough science coursework completed in the academic year to demonstrate your abilities in a full course load.

What happens if I need to withdraw from a course?

In general, health professional schools will understand one withdrawal from a course if it is accompanied by a detailed explanation of why it was the right decision for you at the time (i.e. unexpected family obligation, an injury or illness that made you incapable of completing the work load, extreme levels of stress). That being said, if your academic record shows withdrawals occurred on a regular basis, schools may feel that you were consistently unable to manage your time or gauge your studies appropriately. 

Consult with a Pre-Health Advisor if you have questions about withdrawing from a course or explaining to a school why you chose to withdraw.

How many credit hours should I take per semester?

It is important to take as challenging a course load as you can handle to demonstrate your ability to withstand the rigors of the curriculum for your chosen health professional school. With that said, you also need to demonstrate good judgement regarding what is a manageable course load for you. If there is a semester when you make the decision to take a lighter load, we encourage you to ask yourself these questions: 

  1. Am I establishing a trend of taking fewer credits? 
  2. Can I account for how I will utilize the additional time?

Additionally, as a UVA student, you should first and foremost complete the course requirements necessary for your academic major with health professional program per-requisites as your secondary obligation.

How do I get to know my professors?

As early as your first year, you should make this a priority. First, make a positive impression by arriving on-time and regularly attending class, being alert, asking questions, and going to office hours. Even in large lecture courses, make sure to reach out and get to know your professors. You will need letters of recommendation from faculty members who taught you in the classroom and evaluated your coursework so start building meaningful relationships early and often!

How should I select elective courses?

Schools appreciate applicants whose transcripts show depth and breadth in their curriculum. Depth typically results when majoring or concentrating in a particular academic area, while breadth is achieved by exploring other disciplines. You should determine the number of courses and topics based on your personal interests.

Additionally, students who have had opportunities to apply analytical and critical thinking skills to subjects outside of math and science might feel more prepared to address verbal reasoning and writing sample sections on certain entrance exams.

How do I calculate my science GPA?

Grade Value
A+, A 4.0
A- 3.7
B+ 3.3
B 3.0
B- 2.7
C+ 2.3
C 2.0
C- 1.7
D+ 1.3
D 1.0
D- 0.7
F 0.0

Dependent upon your health profession of choice, your science GPA will include all or some of the following: Biology / Chemistry / Physics / Mathematics / Life Sciences

Credit Hours x Grade Value = Quality Points
Quality Points / Credit Hours = GPA


Clinical Experience

How do I know if/when I have enough clinical experience?

The amount of specific hours will be unique to you. You'll want to gain enough experience to demonstrate your  commitment to your chosen health profession, but also to confirm this career choice for yourself. Ideally, you should start to seek clinical experience as early as possible. You will want to engage in a variety of experiences in diverse settings. Some experiences might last for short durations (one summer or semester) while others may last longer (2-3 years). Keep in mind quality is more important than quantity!

Make sure to reflect on your experiences as you go. Is it valuable to you? Do you actually enjoy what you're doing and the environment in which you're working? One way to evaluate whether you've had sufficient exploration in your chosen field is whether or not you can speak knowledgeably about it in your personal statement or in a mock interview. We recommend using a reflective journal to help collect and reflect on your experiences for the present and future.
*Some health professional programs (such as PA and PT) stipulate a specific number of required clinical hours to apply.

Is there a difference between working/volunteering/shadowing/research? Will they count towards clinical experience?

First and foremost, your involvement in relevant clinical experiences (regardless of whether they are paid or unpaid) is to gain knowledge and understanding of your chosen field of interest. Research is not always categorized as a clinical experience, but it can be dependent upon the type of research project you are involved with. Shadowing allows you to observe a health professional and learn more about the daily responsibilities of a practitioner. Many volunteering or work opportunities allow you to experience direct patient contact, which help determine how your personality and interests fit within the field. It goes one step beyond shadowing and allows you to develop rapport with those who seek the type of care you hope to eventually provide. Ultimately, it is important to gain both clinical observation and patient interaction experiences.

What type of experiences involve patient interaction?

Examples include: Rescue Squad / Emergency Medical Technician, Hospital Volunteer, Certified Nursing Assistant, Dental Assistant, Physical Therapy Assistant, Free Clinic Volunteer, Rehabilitation or Nursing Center Assistant, Athletic Trainer Assistant, Hospice Volunteer, Medical Mission Trip Participant, Medical Administrative Assistant, Clinical Research Assistant, Patient Transporter, Veterinary or Pharmacy Technician.

I'm having a hard time getting shadowing experience. What should I do?

If you have tried the suggestions from our Seek Shadowing Opportunities page and are still experiencing difficulties, we recommend working with organized processes that already exist. For instance, here at UVA, you might consider opportunities through student organizations like Alpha Epsilon Delta, Pre-Pharmacy Club, Future Physicians Assistants Society, or opportunities through Madison House, Martha Jefferson Hospital, and the Kluge Rehabilitation Center. There are also for-credit opportunities through the UVA Internship Placement Program (IPP) to consider. You are also always welcome to speak with a Pre-Health Advisor about strategies for identifying practitioners whom you can shadow.

Are there any programs for people who want to do overseas/cultural/language immersion?

There are a number of programs abroad that allow for cultural/language or medically related experiences. We suggest starting your search by using the resources on the Clinical Opportunities page. Make sure to carefully research all opportunities by asking to speak with previous participants and identifying all expenses involved.

What is the difference between allopathic and osteopathic medicine (a M.D. vs. a D.O.) and the admissions process for both?

Both allopathic (M.D.) and osteopathic (D.O.) physicians diagnose and treat injuries or illnesses who may work as general practitioners or choose to specialize in any number of specialties or sub-specialties. The primary difference between M.D.'s and D.O.'s is that osteopathic medical schools and physicians take a more "holistic" approach to the practice of medicine. In addition to using all forms of standard medical treatment, D.O.'s are trained to use osteopathic manipulative treatment to help diagnose injury and illness, alleviate pain, and promote a person's well-being. They work in partnership with each person to promote health on physical, emotional, and spiritual levels. Allopathic medical schools grant M.D. degrees and Osteopathic medical schools grant D.O. degrees.

1 in 5 medical students in the United States attends an osteopathic medical school. As of January 1, 2015, graduates of allopathic and osteopathic medical schools may complete their residency and/or fellowship education in programs accredited by the same agency. More information regarding Allopathic and Osteopathic medicine

Can you be a D.O. and practice medicine internationally?

D.O.'s can, and do, practice internationally. However, you will need to do your research because not all countries recognize the D.O. degree in the same way they do in the U.S. and therefore may not have the same practicing opportunities in some countries.

Application Process

Should I take a standardized exam preparation course?

We encourage you to reflect on your learning style. Are you most successful when you study alone or work in groups? Do you prefer to learn by reading from a book or by someone teaching you material through lectures? Think about ways you have been successful in the past.

If you decide a formal preparation course is the right choice for you, we encourage you to choose a program based on your assessment of how well that program matches your learning style, schedule, and perceived concerns regarding your entrance exam.

How many credit hours should I take during the semester I'm preparing for my entrance exam?

Studying for an entrance exam such as the MCAT, DAT, OAT, PCAT, etc. is comparable to taking a 3 credit hour course. If you are accustomed to taking 15-16 credit hours, you might take 13 or 14 hours during the semester you are studying for your exam.

How many times should I take my entrance exam?

Unlike the SAT and ACT college admission exams that students often take multiple times, you'll only want to take your health profession entrance exam once. We understand there are circumstances which might lead you to take an exam again to be a viable applicant. In most cases, the decision to retake an exam is a difficult one. Consult with a Pre-Health Advisor before you decide to do so!

What types of recommendation letters do I need?

In general, most schools require:

  • 2 Letters from Professors who taught you in a Science course
  • 1 Letter from a Professor who taught you in a Non-Science course

It is preferable that your 2 science letters come from faculty in two different departments. Additionally, research professors should not be included unless they awarded you a grade or you received a grade for credit.

Each health professional program typically stipulates specific letter of recommendation requirements. More information regarding recommendation letters

Can a professor or T.A. write the letter of recommendation?

Your professor and T.A. can collaborate on a letter for you. In many cases the T.A.'s get to know students better but it is important that the faculty member also signs the letter. Having a T.A. only letter could be okay in some cases, but it is not recommended.

Does UVA send committee letters?

No. Health Professional Schools that require committee letters do so only if your undergraduate institution provides them. Thus, you should submit individual letters of recommendation gathered from faculty and/or clinicians.

How important is it to apply early?

You will want to apply as early as possible within the application cycle, when your candidacy is at its peak. While application cycle timelines vary across different health professions, they each typically involve an application verification process of 4-6 weeks. Additionally, most schools use a rolling admissions process which means that schools begin to evaluate, interview, and accept students as soon as applications begin arriving. 

Make sure to review the application timeline for your health profession of choice. Then ensure to prepare your entire primary application as early as you can submit it (ranges from April-July), including your entrance exam scores. 

What does it mean to apply early decision?

The early decision option allows you to apply to your first choice school early in the application process and be considered for admission before the majority of applications are reviewed. The advantage is that you can save time, effort, and money if you only apply to your preferred school. On the other hand, you can only apply to one school and you must attend that school if accepted. In most cases, you are not allowed to apply to other schools during the regular application process until your school's early decision process is complete. Please consult with a Pre-Health Advisor before applying early decision!

How do I request an official copy of my transcript?

Visit the Office of the Registrar website to order your transcript and find details regarding transcript delivery options.

If I completed college level coursework at another institution and the credit transferred back to UVA, do I still need to submit a transcript from the other institution?

Yes. Even if you only completed one course at another institution, you still need to submit the original transcript. This includes dual enrollment courses completed in high school.

Will a bridge year hurt my chances of admission to a health professional program?

No. The average age of matriculants to many health professional schools ranges from age 24-28, which is older than a traditional-aged college graduate. There are a variety of reasons to take a bridge year: time to strengthen your application, time to complete the application without enrollment as a full-time student, time to travel or complete other activities. Applicants are not penalized for taking time between their undergraduate degree and starting professional school. In fact, it can often be beneficial to spread your pre-requisite coursework out over four years or beyond. Find out more about bridge year options.

How do I handle being waitlisted?

If you applied to schools for the health professions this past summer and you are on the wait list at one or more schools, make sure they continue to hear from you. We advise you to provide schools with an updated transcript for the fall semester (if applicable) with a short note declaring your continued interest in the school. If you have any relevant experiences to report since the last time you had contact with the school (for your interview, previous email, etc.) you should update them at this time. Some examples would be new extracurricular experiences, job accomplishments, or publications.

After you send an update, there isn't much you can do but wait. Calling the school to check on your wait list status more than once can be viewed as pestering, and we don't advise it. While you may feel like you have to do something more than sending an email expressing your continued interest, when schools go to the wait list to pull a name and send another acceptance, the applicants who notified schools of their continued interest have an advantage over those who did not.

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