"To find health should be the object of the doctor. Anyone can find disease."  —Andrew T. Still, MD, DO

"As a family physician, my job is listening to people's stories."
—Jon S. Hallberg, MD

Frequently Asked Questions


Please visit the Cal Poly Pre-Health Blog for the most up-to-date information on how the current pandemic is impacting prerequisite coursework, the application process to health professional schools, our advising services, and more.


Q: What percentage of Cal Poly graduates gain acceptance to ____ school?

A: By far this is the most common question for prospective students when they research undergraduate programs. You are probably asking this question because you want to know what your chances are of getting accepted somewhere if you attend Cal Poly. While this answer may surprise you, you are in total control of being accepted to a graduate program in healthcare! There is little chance in the game of admissions to graduate school; it is not like playing the lottery! Additionally, the majority of graduate programs in healthcare do not hold a preference for any particular undergraduate institution when considering applicants. While we calculate this percentage at Cal Poly, we like to preface it with the following caveats, so you fully understand what this number represents:

-The number only represents those students who authorized Cal Poly to see their application status. There may be students who were admitted (or not) who aren’t part of this data set.

-This data set doesn’t include one very important data point: YOU! As stated before, you are in complete control of your fate when you apply to medical or professional school. This number makes no indication of how competitive you will be when you are ready to apply. YOU actually have the opportunity to increase Cal Poly's number by being a successful applicant. How do you be a successful applicant? Check out the FAQs How do I become a competitive applicant for admission to a program? and What programs, services, classes, research and internships does Cal Poly offer for pre-health students? Ultimately, you should select an undergraduate institution based on what opportunities will be accessible, and if the learning environment will be a good fit your you to be successful, academically and personally. Our answers to these questions will help you to determine if Cal Poly is a good fit for you.

That all being said, the percentage of Cal Poly students who were accepted to medical school for the entering classes of 2013-2017 was 46%. Of those accepted, the average GPA was a 3.6 and the average MCAT was a 514. If you missed Open House, you can view the presentation on the Pre-Health services Cal Poly provides and other admissions data here.


Q: What programs, services, classes, research and internships does Cal Poly offer for pre-health students?

A: Programs & Services: The pre-health advising office offers advising to all Cal Poly students pursuing a health career, regardless of major. We operate under a dual advising model where students in their first or second year, as well as those students still completing prerequisites and gaining experiences meet with a peer advisor. We have full-time staff advisors who help students in assessing their application profile, as well as guide them throughout the application process, including application assistance, personal statement review, and interview preparation. We run and regularly post on the Cal Poly Pre-Health Blog, which provides students with the most up-to-date resources, opportunities, and services available to them. We offer workshops each quarter on various topics, held around campus and in the residence halls. We also maintain a Pre-Health Canvas page, which is an internal library of pre-health resources for current Cal Poly students. If you are a continuing or new incoming student, you can request access by emailing prehealth@calpoly.edu with your Cal Poly email address. Once enrolled, you can access the Pre-Health Canvas page via your Canvas Dashboard. Lastly, once/year we offer an Introduction to the Health Professions course, SCM 101, where students learn from various guest speakers who are local healthcare providers.

Classes: Cal Poly offers all of the prerequisite classes you will need for all 14 health careers we advise. These include courses in chemistry, biology, anatomy and physiology, physics, psychology, kinesiology, nutrition, sociology and anthropology. There are also many other courses that are not required prerequisites, but that you may find of interest, such as neuroscience, health communication, emerging infectious diseases, culture and health, chemistry of drugs and poisons, biopsychology, and trends in disease injury and prevention, just to name a few. Students are often attracted to the anatomy and physiology courses with labs that use a pre-dissected cadaver as part of instruction. Alumni who have gone on to medical and other health professional schools have stated that the high level of academic rigor at Cal Poly prepared them incredibly well for graduate programs. Check out the complete list of courses that Cal Poly offers here.

Research: Because Cal Poly is not an R-1 research university, prospective students are often concerned about access to research experiences. However, the difference between Cal Poly and R-1 research universities is that you won’t be competing with graduate students for research, because there are so few graduate students at Cal Poly. There are many opportunities to pursue research in various departments at Cal Poly. Typically you will not be able to participate in research experiences until after you’ve completed some lower-division prerequisite coursework, and/or are a 2nd or 3rd year. Many of our students who participate in research present at conferences, and most showcase their work in our annual College of Science and Math (COSAM) Student Research Conference that happens in May. To see what types of research COSAM faculty participate in, check out the department websites here. You can visit our Experiences webpage to read more on how to make connections with professors and put yourself in a position to join one of Cal Poly's many active research projects.

Internships: Cal Poly offers two classes that are internship/experience-based: Bio 253 and SCM 363. Bio 253 is a course where students are matched with a healthcare provider in the county to shadow for 21 hours during the quarter (3 hours/week). SCM 363 is geared for students interested in Public Health, as it is an internship with our local Public Health Department. We also offer a wide range of health-related, leadership and mentorship opportunities on campus, such as PULSE (Peer Health Education), the Center for Health Research, PolyFit (Fitness assessment testing), Supplemental Workshops in Science facilitators, peer advising, and many others. 

Because of the rural nature of San Luis Obispo and the lack of a teaching hospital in our area, students will sometimes feel frustrated with the limited number of opportunities available compared to somewhere more metropolitan. Our hospitals are limited in the number of volunteers they can accept, but many students do gain experience that way. The Scribe America program often hires scribes to take notes for physicians in the ER or private practice settings, and many of our students participate. Due to liability concerns, the local hospitals do not allow students to shadow physicians informally, so most students gain shadowing experience in private practice settings through Bio 253 or on their own. Despite the rural area, students who are diligent about finding experiences do find meaningful ones. In addition to the above experiences, we have students who work in many community programs such as the SLO Noor Clinic, AIDS Support Network, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Growing Grounds Nursery, Community Action Partnership, Hospice, and many others. For a more comprehensive list of the various opportunities available in SLO county, visit our Experiences webpage.


Q: Can I study abroad? When?

A: Yes! International experiences are another great way to develop and grow into a professional, as it will test your ability to be adaptable and require you to be receptive to learning about people who are different from you. There are many ways to gain international experience, study abroad being one of them. We do not recommend that you complete any of your pre-health prerequisite courses abroad. Typically, a good time to study abroad is fall quarter of your 3rd year. Check out the Cal Poly study abroad website for more information on programs. In addition to taking classes abroad, some programs and countries offer internships, even in health-related domains! Once you get to Cal Poly, meet with the pre-health peer advisors or the study abroad office to learn more about these opportunities. If you plan to study abroad in your 3rd year, start talking to advisors at the end of your first year or the beginning of your second year.

Another way to gain international experience is to participate in one of the many health-related experiences that exist abroad. You do need to be careful when participating in such experiences, however. Many programs may seem very attractive at first glance, because you will be providing healthcare to people who need it most—what could be more rewarding, right? However, this is a violation of ethical standards within healthcare. Because you (likely) are not a licensed healthcare provider, you should not be administering any form of healthcare beyond your scope of practice—do not participate in any program where you will be administering shots/vaccines, pulling teeth, or assisting in surgery (you can shadow/observe licensed professionals doing these things). Think about if you would like someone who isn’t trained to pull teeth to extract one of yours. If you do participate in some of these activities, you could very well compromise your admission to any program, as they will see that you are not mature enough to understand and follow a code of ethics. You may certainly shadow licensed professionals doing all of these things, and these experiences can be a great way to develop your understanding of healthcare perspectives and needs in other countries and rural areas, as well as your understanding of different cultural perspectives in health and healthcare. Our workshop, Choosing an International Health-Related Experience, gives more information about selecting an ethical international experience that will be a valuable learning experience.


Q: Do I need to be a science major?

A: NO! Your major choice should reflect your interests, strengths and personality. Many students choose to major in the sciences because there is a lot of overlap in the course prerequisites and the graduation requirements. However, this is not a wise choice if you don't have a genuine interest in the coursework. College is a time of personal growth and discovery, and many students change their minds about their career path throughout their time in college. Sometimes students may use their major as an alternate career path if they change their mind during this time of personal growth. Additionally, many students don’t realize that while science majors cover many of the prerequisite classes, they also require additional science classes. As a whole, your major should consist of classes that you are excited to take and that you find personally meaningful (at least most of the time). Check out the list of classes for every major at Cal Poly here.

While it’s true that many students who are pre-health select a major in science, that selection should be because they feel interested in the sciences beyond just healthcare, and want to study other areas of science, such as evolution, physical chemistry, or marine biology, which are all classes you may take as a science major. When selecting a major, think about what subjects you feel excited by and drawn to—whether it’s philosophy, chemistry, or anthropology. The prerequisites can be completed alongside all of your major requirements, and with most majors, you will still be able to graduate in 4 years.


Q: How do I become a competitive applicant for admission to a program?

A: There is no one-size-fits-all answer! While you do need strong grades and test scores, you also need to demonstrate an honest desire to pursue that field, as well as a sound knowledge of the field and your fit with it. You will need strong letters of recommendation from both faculty who have taught you, and those who have supervised you. Find mentors who you will be able to develop a strong rapport with, and you will get strong letters. You also need a strong resume and well-developed personal qualities, which come from the experiences and challenges you face as you prepare to apply to health professional school. However, what is on the resume and how much of each component will vary from person to person. Your resume should reflect activities where you found your passion. The key to your experiences is quality over quantity. The quality will increase with how much you put into the experience, which will be directly related to your interest in that experience. Don’t participate in an experience simply to “check a box” on the to-do list of being competitive. If you explore an experience and it’s not what you thought, find another one that you will find more fulfilling. The quality of the experience will also allow you to develop the following inter- and intra-personal competencies, which you should be developing during your time in college as a pre-health student: service orientation, social skills, cultural competence, teamwork, oral communication, ethical responsibility, reliability and dependability, resilience and adaptability, and capacity for improvement. To see the full list of competencies that you should strive to develop during your time as a pre-health student, visit our Experiences webpage.


Q: What classes do I need to take to go to _____ school?

A: The health career you are looking at pursuing will determine what classes you need to take as prerequisites. You can look at the profiles for each profession under the Pre-Health Careers section of our website (on the right sidebar), but we also recommend that you come in to talk to one of the pre-health peer advisors to go into more detail and to make a plan.


Q: What order should I take my classes, and what series should I start first?

A: This varies for each professional school and what prerequisites each specific school requires. Typically students start the general chemistry series (Chem 127-129) during their first year as well as Biology 161 and Biology 162. The second year is when most students take the organic chemistry and physics series (if needed). We recommend that you come in to talk to one of the pre-health peer advisors to go into more detail and to make an individualized plan.


Q: Can I take credit/no credit classes?

A: Most schools require that you take the prerequisites for a grade and obtain a C or better. If the school does not require the class then you can take it credit/no credit. Be sure to also check with your college/major advisors on the credit/no credit policy for your major department. 

Note: Policies around credit/no credit grading for prerequisite coursework have changed for many health professional schools in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Please view our COVID-19 FAQs blog post to learn more about our office's recommendations for taking prerequisite coursework CR/NC in quarters impacted by COVID-19. 


Q: What classes can I use AP credit for?

A: This will vary from school to school, so you should check with each individual program to ensure that you are well informed. Many schools will allow AP credit for classes that meet general education requirements that aren’t prerequisites. Many schools will not accept AP credit for classes that are a prerequisite for that program. However, some schools will accept your AP credit if you take an advanced, upper-division course in the same subject area (i.e. you have AP credit for Bio 161, you're a Bio major so you plan to take Bio 452, thus you do not need to repeat Bio 161). However, there are also many schools that require that you take a specific set of courses and will still not accept the AP credit. The answer to this question is very much dependent upon not only the AP credit in question, but also the career you will be applying to and even which schools you will apply to. Once you get to Cal Poly, come speak to a peer advisor to get some individualized information and clarity on what may be best for you and how to proceed.


Q: Which classes can I take at community college?

A: For students who start as freshmen, it is advised that you take the science coursework at the four-year institution, but many of the general education classes needed for a degree at Cal Poly may be completed at a community college (typically over the summer). You should also check to make sure that the credits will transfer from the community college to Cal Poly by using Assist.org or talking to your college academic advisor.

For students who start at Cal Poly as transfer students, prerequisite classes taken at the community college before beginning at Cal Poly are totally okay. However, once you start your career at a 4-year university, you should complete all remaining science prerequisites there.


Q: How do I know what classes are being offered in the summer?

A: Cal Poly will typically post the course offerings for the summer term in mid to late spring. Other colleges and universities will also post their classes around that same time. We do not recommend taking science courses or other prerequisites at a community college during your summers off from Cal Poly.


Q: What about international health-related experiences?

A: Another way to gain international experience is to participate in one of the many health-related experiences that exist abroad. You do need to be careful when participating in such experiences, however. Many programs may seem very attractive at first glance, because you will be providing healthcare to people who need it most—what could be more rewarding, right? However, this is a violation of ethical standards within healthcare. Because you (likely) are not a licensed healthcare provider, you should not be administering any form of healthcare beyond your scope of practice—do not participate in any program where you will be administering shots/vaccines, pulling teeth, or assisting in surgery (you can shadow/observe licensed professionals doing these things). Think about if you would like someone who isn’t trained to pull teeth to extract one of yours. If you do participate in some of these activities, you could very well compromise your chances of admission to any program, as they will see that you are not mature enough to understand and follow a code of ethics. You may certainly shadow licensed professionals doing all of these things, and these experiences can be a great way to develop your understanding of the circumstances and needs of other countries and rural areas, as well as your understanding of different cultural perspectives in health and healthcare. Our workshop, Choosing an International Health-Related Experience, gives more information about selecting an ethical international experience that will be a valuable learning experience.


Q: How can I get shadowing experience?

A: Shadowing a professional in your field of interest is one of the best ways to help you decide if a particular health profession is right for you. One of the easiest ways to find out where to shadow is by simply looking up health professionals in your local area and calling their office. Trying to shadow in hospitals can be difficult due to liability and red tape. Instead, try shadowing in an outpatient center or with a specialist.

There are varying degrees of value in a shadowing experience. If you only shadow once and don’t really get to know the person you are shadowing, you aren’t getting a depth of information on the career, nor are you learning about that person's path to their career and their perception of the career. The most valuable shadowing experience will include shadowing 2-3 hours/week over the course of 5-10 weeks, and will allow you to ask informational interview questions of the provider to glean additional career information that can help you assess your fit with the career. Additionally, we recommend that you journal about your experiences to reflect on your journey towards your career. These reflections can end up being great material for a future personal statement!

Cal Poly also offers a shadowing class, Bio 253, where you are required to shadow a health care provider in SLO County for a total of 21 hours throughout the quarter. It is a 1 unit credit/no credit class. Check PASS for availability. Offered fall and winter quarters, you must apply in advance to be selected. This course is only open to students in their second year or later, and it is extremely helpful if you have access to a car, as many placements are outside of the city of San Luis Obispo. 


Q: How do I get leadership and community service experience?

A: The best way to get leadership or community service experience is to get involved. There are a myriad of leadership positions available on-campus. Clubs, Greek Life, and ASI are just some options. Community service hours can be fulfilled by volunteering at any local organization and is about giving back to the community. The service does not have to be health-related and can be anything from volunteering in the AIDS support network to being a Big Brother or Big Sister. What you choose to be involved in should be something you are genuinely passionate about. Following a formula for what admissions committees are looking for will not get you into your school/program of choice. Admissions committees are looking for mature students who can articulate their interests and demonstrate them through their extracurricular involvement. For more information on pre-health experiences and how to get involved, visit our Experiences webpage. Or, come talk to a pre-health peer advisor for more options and pick up a brochure of different ways to get involved. 


Q: How can I get 1,000 hours for PA schools?

A: Many students who need thousands of hours of direct patient care experience for PA school will obtain some kind of license, and may even take a gap year to work full time to obtain those hours. Some of the more common positions include: EMT, Back Office Medical Assistant, Phlebotomy, and CRNA. For a more complete list of the various careers that can fulfill the direct patient care hours requirement, visit our Physician Assistant career webpage.


Q: How can I find extracurricular experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic?

A: Please view our "Virtual Pre-Health Experiences" blog post for more information on virtual extracurricular opportunities, including shadowing, volunteering, scribing, and more. 


Q: When do I need to take the entrance exams?

A: You should plan to take the entrance exams when you will be most prepared for them. For the MCAT, DAT, OAT, and PCAT, that will be upon completion of all prerequisite coursework in biology, physics, psychology, sociology and general, organic chemistry, and biochemistry. For the general GRE, we recommend that you have completed courses in math, reading, and writing and be at least in your 3rd year. See our Applying webpage for more information on exams and when to register.


Q: When should I apply?

A: You should apply when you’re most competitive. Applying is a long process and can be very expensive. Your goal should be to do this once! Being competitive means you’ve completed your pre-requisites (or will complete them in the next academic year), you have done well in the prerequisites, you have taken the entrance exam and scored well, you’ve gained a variety of experiences that had value and meaning to you, you can clearly articulate your understanding of the field you’re pursuing, and you have a strong rapport with individuals writing you letters of recommendation. Typically, all of this will be during your 3rd or 4th year of college. But it doesn’t have to be! Sometimes students apply after they graduate. The entire application process takes 1-2 years to complete. Application services usually open in the spring, summer, or fall of the year prior to matriculation (i.e spring 2021 to start school in fall 2022). Please review the application timeline for your health profession of interest for more information. When you think you are ready to apply (or if you are unsure if you are ready), you should meet with one of the staff advisors to discuss and assess your application readiness. We also offer workshops during winter and spring quarters that cover developing your personal statement and the application process. For more information on how to assess your readiness to apply, please visit our Applying webpage


Q: How do I send my transcripts to application services?

A: If you are completing a centralized application, you likely will need to print out or save a PDF of a transcript matching form with your application ID on it. You will need to request your transcripts through the Cal Poly portal, and email the PDF to transcripts@calpoly.edu or drop them off at the Cal Poly Registrar’s Office in building 1, room 222. If the application you are completing does not have a form to match your transcript with your application, you can simply follow the Registrar’s instructions for requesting transcripts. For more information on how to send transcripts to schools and/or application services, please see the "Courses and Transcripts" tab of our Applying webpage.


Q: What should I include in a personal statement?

A: Typically your personal statement will be some variation of the prompt, “Why do you want to attend ____ professional school?” In your personal statement, you’ll want to write about what experiences have led you to the desire to pursue this profession. The personal statement should not read like a resume and list what you did in each experience, but what you learned from each experience. You’ll want to include anecdotal examples of how you’ve tested and confirmed your commitment to this field, while also showing your personal values and character. We recommend you attend the personal statement workshop to read some samples and brainstorm ideas for your own personal statement. For further advice and information on how to develop your personal statement, please view the "Personal Statement" tab on our Applying webpage.


Q: I’m worried that I’m not a competitive applicant. Now what?

A: Not all hope is lost, but you’ll want to address any application deficiencies ASAP, as that is the best way to be in a position to be competitive in the future. If you are a 3rd- or 4th-year student, will be graduating soon, and are concerned about your GPA, there are programs called post-baccalaureate programs where you take additional coursework to help augment your GPA, these are called "academic record enhancing" programs. There are also programs for students who didn’t take the prerequisites as an undergraduate and decided later in college that they wanted to pursue a health career. These are called "career changer" programs. There are a lot of different types of programs, including undergraduate and master’s degree-granting programs, as well as programs focused on research. There are programs with a lot of advising and support and also those with very little. The programs are all so different because each applicant has had a different situation and needs to build their application in different ways. There is no “best” post-bacc program, only the one that is best for you! You can search post-bacc programs on the Association of American Medical Colleges' website. However, there are other ways to enhance your application, so we also encourage you to attend our post-baccalaureate programs workshop in the winter or spring, and to meet with a staff advisor to assess your competitiveness. If there are true deficiencies in your application, we can help you identify them, as well as ways to improve in those areas. We’ll also suggest a timeline for when you should apply in the future at your most competitive. Check out this post from the Cal Poly Pre-Health Blog for more information on the various types of post-bacc programs, and how you can find the program that's right for you. 


Q: I already graduated from Cal Poly, and I want to apply to a health professional program. Am I still able to meet with an advisor to get assistance with the application process and/or my personal statement?

A: Yes! Any Cal Poly alumni that would like assistance with the application process and/or their personal statement are welcome and encouraged to meet with one of our pre-health staff advisors. You can schedule an appointment to meet with a specific advisor or the next available advisor here


Q: I'm getting close to graduation (or I already graduated), and I just decided that I want to be pre-health. Now what?

A: For students who decide later on in their academic careers (late in their third year or during their fourth year) to pursue a career in healthcare, the best course of action is usually for them to complete their undergraduate degree and then enroll in a post-baccalaureate program. Post-baccalaureate or "post-bacc" programs allow students to complete the necessary prerequisite courses if they haven't already, and often assist students in preparing for both the admissions test (if required) and the application process. To learn more about post-baccalaureate programs and the various types, click here to read our "Overview of Post-baccalaureate Programs" article on the Cal Poly Pre-Health Blog.

If you have any other questions about post-bacc programs or your unique situation, please feel free to stop by our office (Bldg. 53, room 211)* during pre-health peer advising drop-in hours, or to schedule an appointment with a pre-health staff advisor. (*Please note that these services are currently being offered virtually due to COVID-19. Visit the Contact Us page for more information on how to meet with an advisor.)


Q: I applied to health professional school, and I got in! Now what?

A: Congratulations! After taking the time to celebrate your accomplishment and all of your hard work, feel free to reach out to our advising office and let us know! We're always excited to hear about the success of our students and recent graduates. If you're willing to share any information about your experience with the application and interview processes, please email prehealth@calpoly.edu with your name, graduation year, college major, and health career, and we will send you a questionnaire for you to complete at your convenience. This information is a great resource for current undergraduate students who are interested in the same health profession, as they can get a glimpse into what they should expect when the time comes for them to apply. 


Q: I applied to health professional school, but I didn't get in. Now what?

A: See our Applying webpage for an outline of how to bounce back from rejection, and ways to enrich your application for the next cycle.

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