"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

Prospective Students

Current Students

General

Classes

Experiences

Applying


 

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 of a campus for you.

That all being said, the percentage of Cal Poly students who were accepted to medical school for the entering classes of 2012-2016 was 49%. Of those accepted, the average GPA was a 3.6 and the average MCAT was a 31, and a 514 on the current MCAT which started in 2015. 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 exploring 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, and interviews. During the academic year, we put out a newsletter twice/quarter which lists various opportunities on campus, in the community, or nationally, as well as articles on current events in healthcare, an ever changing field. We offer workshops each quarter on various topics, held around campus and in the residence halls. One of the residence halls in the Connections program is specifically for pre-health students. We also offer a pre-health Polylearn site, 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 alias. You will find access through your portal on the main page under “Other Polylearn access.” 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 13 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 faculty participate in COSAM, check out the department websites here.

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 in our local Public Health Department. We also offer a wide range of heath related, leadership and mentorship opportunities on campus, such as PULSE (Peer Health Education), STRIDE (Research in Diet and Exercise), PolyFit (Fitness assessment testing), Supplemental Workshops in Science facilitators, peer advising, and many more.

Because of the rural nature of San Luis Obispo, and the lack of a teaching hospital in our area, sometimes students will feel frustrated at the accessibility of opportunities available in the area 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 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.

 

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 strong rapport with, and you will get strong letters. You also need a strong resume and personal qualities. However, what is on the resume and how much of it all will vary from each 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 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.

 

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. 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, the set of classes for your major should be something where you are excited about taking and learning from the majority of the classes. 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 possible other 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: What classes can I use AP credit for?

A: This will vary for each school and you should check back with the individual schools to make sure 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 and you are 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 on 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: 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 receptiveness 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 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, check with the 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 during the end of your first year or 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. 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, the set of classes for your major should be something where you are excited about taking and learning from the majority of the classes. 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 possible other 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 strong rapport with, and you will get strong letters. You also need a strong resume and personal qualities. However, what is on the resume and how much of it all will vary from each 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 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.

 

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

A: What health career you are looking at pursuing will determine what classes you need to take as pre-requisites. You can look at the profiles for each profession under the careers section of our website, 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 pre-requisites 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 pre-requisites 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.

 

Q: What classes can I use AP credit for?

A: This will vary for each school and you should check back with the individual schools to make sure 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 and you are 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 on not only the AP credit in question, but also the career you will be applying to and even which schools you will apply to. 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, taking science classes at community college is 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 offering 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 at a community college during your summers off from Cal Poly.

 

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 receptiveness 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 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, check with the 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 during the end of your first year or beginning of your second year.

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 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: How can I get shadowing experience?

A: Shadowing is one of the most quintessential experiences that you can get to help pursue the profession of your choice. One of the easiest ways to find out where to shadow is by simply looking up physicians in your local area on Google 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 varied 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 someone’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 [link to page] of the provider to glean additional career information so you can 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 21 hours over a quarter with a health care provider in SLO County. 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. It is recommended that you are a second year or higher student and 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 have a genuine interest for. 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 know their own passions. Come talk to a Pre-Health Peer Advisor to talk about 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: A lot of students who need thousands of hours for PA schools typically 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 licensing include: EMT, Back office Medical Assistant, Phlebotomy, and CRNA.

 

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 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 the exam page 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 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 2016 to start school in fall 2017). See the application timeline 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, and go through the process of applying. We also offer workshops during winter and spring quarters that cover the application process and experience.

 

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 (directions), 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.

 

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 personal statement.

 

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 application deficiencies ASAP, as that is the best way to be in a position in the future to be competitive. 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” postbacc program, only the one that is best for you! You can search postbacc programs on the American Association of Medical College’s website here. 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 meet with a staff advisor to assess your competitiveness, and if there are true deficiencies in your application, identify them, and ways to improve in those areas. We’ll also suggest a timeline by when you should apply in the future at your most competitive.

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