Planning for a Career in the Health Professions

If you are interested in pursuing a career in the health professions, then you’ve come to the right place! As you already know, Mount Holyoke College offers top-notch academic preparation, research, and internship opportunities. A liberal arts education is highly valued by health professions schools, and MHC has a well-deserved, excellent reputation. This page gives you an introduction to some of the things you should be considering as you plan for a career in the health professions, as well as outline for you the resources that are available to you.

General Rules

In preparing for a career in the health professions, follow these general rules:

  • Major in what you want to. If you love it, you’ll be good at it. A liberal arts background will serve you well.
  • Understand what courses are required and have a plan for fulfilling them in a timely manner.
  • Understand the timetable for preparation and have a plan for fitting that timetable with your goals.
  • Do a research project. It doesn’t have to be in a medical field. But it does speak to your problem-solving and analysis skills.
  • Get clinical experience. This is important. Really important.
  • Be critical/patient/honest/optimistic with yourself. There will be ups and downs, successes and disappointments. Use them to evaluate your intentions and adjust your planning.
  • Stand out, though honors work, study abroad, summer study, internships, community service, leadership, athletics, campus involvement--wherever your strengths and interests lie.

Chronological Overview for Planning Pre-Health Studies

  • As soon as you know you have an interest in health professions, begin a collaboration between you, the Office of Pre-Health Programs (Clapp 125), and your academic advisor. Learn what you need to accomplish, and design a plan for doing so.  Use our list of suggested courses to get started on planning.  Feel free to contact our office by calling (413) 538-3389 or emailing (prehealth@mtholyoke.edu) to arrange to speak with a pre-health advisor even before you sign up for your first semester classes.
  • Second year:
  • Investigate internship and research opportunities. Evidence of both is essential to a strong application.  
  • Third year:
  • Identify programs and begin applications
  • Formally request assignment to a pre-health advisor.
  • Complete prerequisite courses
  • Take standardized exams
  • Complete a pre-application packet
  • Request individual reference letters
  • Request a committee recommendation letter
  • Fourth Year
  • Complete secondary applications
  • Schedule a practice interview
  • Interviews

Note that this sequence can begin at any point during or even after your college career. In some cases, the sequence can be compressed—but don’t cut corners! Some programs such as medical school have a lengthy application process that can take as much as 15-18 months. Plan accordingly.

Programs and Resources

  • The Committee on the Health Professions and Pre-Health Programs sponsor a number of programs each year for students interested in the various fields of health. We urge you to take advantage of these programs. Students from all classes, first years through seniors, are welcome at all events. These are listed on the MHC Event Calendar.
  • Sign-up for the Health Professions email list -- receive information on workshops, programs, internships/jobs, and graduate school visits.
  • The Office of Pre-Health Programs' Health Professions Web site includes information about specific programs and resources, as well as links to relevant Web sites related to careers in health.
  • The Office of Pre-Health Programs maintains a library of valuable information, including:
  • directories of medical/health programs
  • books that help you to learn about a variety of health professions
  • test preparation materials
  • Pre-Health advising is available to you beginning your first semester, primarily through the Office of Pre-Health Programs.  Faculty members from the Committee on the Health Professions are also available to help you with aspects of identifying and preparing for a career in the health professions that is right for you.  Often, you will find that you have Committee members as professors in your prerequisite science courses.  As you enter the application process, typically in the spring of your junior or senior year, you should plan to ask a member of the Committee, or any other faculty member who knows you well enough, to serve as the author of your Committee letter of Recommendation.
  • All students who are applying to postgraduate programs in the health professions should formally declare their intentions to the committee no later than March 31 of the year in which they are planning to begin their application. Students declare their intent by completing a pre-application packet, available online and at the Office of Pre-Health Programs. This packet is intended to help optimize the student’s efforts in completing an application that will be successful and to aid the committee in supporting the student’s application. Students who fail to submit a pre-application packet by the deadline may not receive the full support of the committee.
  • Standardized Exams: Most schools require you to submit results from a standardized exam as part of your application. The most commonly required exams are the MCAT and GRE, but certain programs will require different exams. Normally, you should plan to take standardized exams in the spring of your junior year. However, don't take any test until you have taken the necessary prerequisites. Wait until you have the courses under your belt. Mount Holyoke College sponsors Kaplan prep courses for the GRE and MCAT.

Other Tips

  • Spending your junior year abroad is possible and requires planning. It will also extend your timeline for applying to med school, because you’ll be away during the year that you’d apply if you wanted to begin medical school the fall after you graduate from MHC. Most students do not begin med school right after they graduate, anyway, so you’d be in good company. The vast majority begin med school after one, two, or more years out of college. Keep your long-term goals in view but follow your dreams in the meantime, even if they aren't on the “premed requirements” list.
  • Advanced Placement (AP) credit may enable you to exempt out of an introductory Mount Holyoke course (departmental requirements differ). But medical schools usually do not accept AP credit to fulfill a premedical requirement. It’s best to take the AP credit and use it to get into more advanced courses. For instance, if my AP score exempts me from Bio 145/150, I may ask to take Bio 200 in the spring and then Bio 210, a more advanced course, the following fall to complete my two required semesters of bio.
  • MCAT and GRE Testing: Allow time in your schedule during junior or senior year for MCAT or GRE preparation, whether you prepare by self-study or take a commercial prep course. The MCAT should be taken in the spring of your junior year (if you wish to begin medical school the fall after graduating from MHC) or spring of your senior year (if you wish to begin 1.5 years after graduating from MHC). GREs can be aligned more closely with application deadlines.
  • International students face a special set of challenges in gaining entrance to a U.S. medical school.  In the health professions application process, non-U.S. citizens holding permanent residency in the U.S. (i.e., green card holders) are generally treated in the same way as U.S. citizens.  Opportunities for medical education in the U.S. are not as available for international applicants, that is, non-U.S. citizens and non-permanent residents.  While some medical schools do allow applications from international students, the numbers admitted yearly are quite small.  Most acceptances are offered by private health professions schools.  Many American students finance their medical education, at least in part, through government loans. U.S. government loans are not available to international students who are not permanent residents.  Therefore, many medical schools will require international students to document their ability to independently pay for a medical education.  In some cases, students may be required to demonstrate adequate funds in an escrow account prior to enrollment. If you are an international student, contact either Pam Matheson or David Gardner to discuss your options.
  • Course work is only a piece of preparing for a career in health. Get involved in extracurricular activities, athletics, community service, leadership, research; go wherever your strengths and interests lead you. Admission to graduate training in the health professions is highly competitive, but also does not follow a set formula. Admission committees review an applicant’s entire package, and while GPA and scores on standardized tests (GRE or MCAT, depending on the program) are very important, so are your essays, clinical experience, and extracurricular involvement.