Grade Point Average (GPA)
Having a strong GPA is essential in undergraduate coursework. GPA makes up nearly 60 percent of one's application. There are two types of GPA: overall and science. Overall GPA is a cumulative grade point average of all classes you have taken during your undergraduate experience. Science GPA is the grade point average of both math and science classes. Graduate schools emphasize science GPA because of the science-based curriculum that is presented in graduate schools. In a sense, having a strong science GPA (3.5 and higher) is a way of proving that a student can handle the rigorous science course load of graduate schools.
There is always the case of students who start off poorly and underachieve in classes early on. That may not be as bad as it seems. Undergraduate is a marathon, so it is not about how you start; it is about how you finish. To prove this, a friend of mine finished his freshmen year with an overall 2.5 GPA, gradually improved over time, and is now in medical school. Admission committees view consistent improvement in grades as a plus.
In presentations on campuses, members of admissions committees stress how they want the "well-rounded" student. They don't want the bookworm who is in the library from open to close; rather, they want the student who has done well in classes and is involved a great deal in organizations on and off campus. It is critical for students who plan on going into a healthcare profession to have hands-on experience in the field they desire to go into. For example, students who intend to go to medical school should consider shadowing a doctor or volunteering at a hospital. Pre-pharmacy students should consider working at a pharmacy to develop patient care skills. Admission committees look for such hands-on activities because they want future students who enter their programs to have some type of experience already under their belt.
Relationships with Professors
This may seem as an odd topic of discussion, but it is one that is underrated. Most, if not all, graduate schools require a minimum of two letters of recommendations from science professors. It is important to make sure your relationship with professors are firm, because you may have to go back one day and ask for a letter of recommendation for graduate school.
Graduate School Admissions Exams
I notice a trend around campus about entrance exams such as the MCAT, DAT, GRE, and PCAT. Students view themselves as David and these entrance exams as Goliath. The only difference is they feel that they really have no chance of slaying the giant like David did. First and foremost before preparing for such exams, it is crucial to be optimistic. Having the mindset that what seems impossible can be done goes a long way into doing well on such exams. Secondly, it is important to give yourself some time to study. I notice that students who take longer time to study for such exams tend do better than students who take a month or two to study. Lastly, companies such as Kaplan and Princeton Review offer preparation classes for these exams. Granted, these classes run for around two thousand dollars, but they are worth every penny. When taking such classes, you are provided with study tools that would not be available if you were to study by yourself. Essentially, these classes grab the hands of students and teach them everything that they need to know to ace admissions exams. These companies go as far as offering students a money-back guarantee if they do not reach a certain score.
Acceptance into graduate healthcare programs can be challenging, but it is certainly doable. Undergraduate is a marathon that has multiple bumps along the way. How students overcome those bumps foreshadows future success. Having a positive outlook goes a long way in determining whether or not students get that letter of acceptance or not. Remember, it is never too early to begin preparing!