Oberlin College provides students with a strong foundation in the sciences and liberal arts, academic backgrounds that are especially helpful for those pursuing a career in medicine. Moreover, Oberlin promotes well rounded personal and professional development throughout the academic year, winter term and summer. Historically, Oberlin graduates have been extremely successful in applying to medical school and other patient directed schools such as dental medicine, veterinary medicine, nursing, physical therapy, etc. Oberlin alumni are flourishing in these career paths and often serve as valuable mentors to current students.
All of these careers require careful curricular and non-curricular planning that takes time, initiative, and continual personal reflection. Students who work closely with the premedical program director, and associated pre-med/health team members, benefit from personalized support. Becoming informed early allows students to better understand what they need to consider, how to create their personalized plan, how to best present themselves, and what steps are required during the application process. The Career Exploration and Development team is a valuable resource; they can help in finding experiential learning opportunities, preparing applications, and developing interview skills.
Since many medical professional tracks interact with patients daily, students exploring these careers should actively engage in opportunities that allow exploration of the day-to-day personal interactions of healthcare professionals. Exploration and experience outside of the classroom setting is important for developing the mindset and interpersonal attributes desired by admissions committees. The allopathic medical community’s professional association, the AAMC, summarizes these skill sets, termed competencies, here. Many of these competencies serve broadly as a guide for all patient care professions.
Medicine: There is no set path or timeline to a successful medical career. Each student is encouraged to develop a pathway that suits them best through consultation and discussion with Oberlin advisors throughout their undergraduate years (and following graduation, should they choose to apply as a recent alum). If you plan to enter after graduation, you will be very busy in your first three years of college. Because the medical school application process begins well over one year prior to matriculation, anyone who plans to enter medical school immediately after graduating should complete all required STEM coursework and study for the admissions exam, the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), mid-way through their 3rd year at Oberlin. Before beginning MCAT study it is desirable to have finished all science courses and psychology; completion of the required Biology and Chemistry courses (all 6!) is imperative.
While some students still enter their professional training directly after graduation, it has become much less common to do so. The vast majority of applicants apply following graduation, and the average age of entry nationwide is 24-25. An extended preparation period gives you the time and mental space to flourish and explore both classroom and experiential learning. Medical school admissions selection is highly competitive; evidence of readiness to handle the fast paced medical curriculum is demonstrated through coursework and an admission test. Other facets of preparation come from experiential learning opportunities, work experiences, and general life experience. This all takes time, so one must balance academic work with other activities. Allowing time to spread out STEM classes and to secure and reflect upon the desired experiential learning often results in stronger applicant profiles. Since the overall applicant pool is older and more experienced, you should expect to stand out within this pool.
Medical school requires the most lengthy and complex application process of the allied health professions. Oberlin applicants must attend a meeting the January one and a half years prior to their intended enrollment date, e.g. January 2023 for intended enrollment in summer/fall of 2024. Internal application deadlines begin in late February. In April and March interviews by the pre-health committee take place. Applicants formally apply to the common medical application sites beginning in late May/early June of 2023 for entrance in 2024. Throughout this application preparation period, various workshops and meetings provide support to Oberlin applicants. Later stages offer opportunities for peer mentorships with recently accepted Obies, and interview preparation workshops as the interview period commences in the fall. Throughout the application cycle, one-on-one meetings and advice are available through the pre-medical/health office.
Other professions: Dental and Veterinary schools’ application timelines are also lengthy and applicants should plan to complete applications mid-summer the year before entrance. Applying to PT and nursing schools should take place in mid-summer into early fall.
Post-graduate years are periods of intense growth for many individuals as they join active clinical practices, hospitals, serve their communities near and far, or delve into biomedical research projects. These rich experiences, and the added time for application and test preparation, can lead to better outcomes given the strong and experienced medical applicant pool. When you are ready to apply, the pre-medical support team fully supports alumni for several years following graduation and well beyond on a more informal basis.
For medical and dental school application a formal content-based exam is necessary. Dental schools utilize the DAT (Dental Admissions Test), and medical schools use the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test). These are both proctored, timed, multiple choice exams that cover a range of topics you should master through coursework and personal study. These exams require intense preparation that often takes individuals 200-400 hours.
The first step in your preparation begins in the Oberlin classroom: learning course content deeply will pay off later. If you strive to fully understand your STEM classes and to test your learning in a variety of ways, you will not need to review the materials as extensively later. One is not “done” with a pre-medical/dental content area once the class is over if you intend to build on this material in your future career. Consider taking additional classes in areas that are highlighted on the DAT and MCAT, such as an upper level class that requires a class whose content was difficult for you. Seeing the material in a new context could help you to move towards content mastery in a setting supported by Oberlin’s academic support system. Serving as a peer tutor, TA, or CLEAR mentor for one of these content areas provides you with the opportunity to deepen your understanding and to support peers’ learning.
The DAT and MCAT are best completed well prior to the summer of application submission for two main reasons. First, your score on the required exam is a major factor in application review. Therefore knowing your score will inform your school selection, application timeline, etc. Second, the application process itself requires serious effort, and solely focusing on writing your application essays, securing transcripts, letters of recommendation, etc. gives you the time necessary to produce your best application.
The prerequisites for each health profession vary somewhat, yet a core knowledge base focused on biology and chemistry is very common. This is often expected to be combined with strong writing and communication skills, and knowledge of human behavior and social determinants of health. Students pursuing any career besides becoming a physician should consult with the pre-medical/health office and all appropriate professional organizations and schools to learn about specific requirements. The non-physician pathways often include many specific courses and sometimes extensive documented clinical experiences.
The following courses allow students to complete the most common medical school requirements and to have a firm foundation to begin preparations for the MCAT or DAT. Importantly, students should understand that there is not one agreed upon set of classes for “medical school,” as each school chooses its own academic requirements and there is considerable variation. Often the most selective schools are the least prescribed in terms of class requirements; they instead rely on the MCAT alone to demonstrate the required aptitude for successful medical training. A recent compilation of many schools’ requirements and recommendations can be found here and is worth reviewing.
As students progress in their planning it becomes critical that each individual reviews the requirements for their particular target schools. Everyone should carefully review their home state medical schools as these often provide favorable review of in state residents. This review should take place towards the end of their second or third year so that they can adjust their final years’ course planning if desired.
1-1.5 year of Biology with associated labs depending on your major. Everyone should complete Biology 100 and Biology 213. For those who do not major in Biology, Neuroscience or Biochemistry, you should take another Biology or life science class.
2 years of Chemistry with associated labs: introductory (sometimes called inorganic by health schools) chemistry, organic, and bioorganic chemistry. At Oberlin this equates to Chemistry 101, 102, 205 and 254. Most medical schools accept evidence of A.P./I.B. credit in place of 100-level Chemistry provided that this is listed on your Oberlin transcript. Other health graduate schools may have different policies on using A.P. credit.
1 year of Physics with lab: Physics 103 and 104 are typically taken by pre-health students though 110/111 are fine options for those who prefer calculus-based physics.
College math: Competency in college level math is often required but each medical school defines this in different ways. Statistics seems to be the most commonly agreed upon class. Statistics classes such as Stats 113, 114, or Psychology 200 are all good options. Combining statistics with introductory (or advanced) math would serve most students well. Computer science, as an alternative to calculus, is beginning to be suggested more regularly.
Biochemistry: the content called “biochemistry” by the medical community can be covered by the combination of Biology 213 and Bioorganic Chemistry 254. If you are not a life science major, you should take one additional biology class, if you intend to “use” Biology 213 as your biochemistry class.
Other STEM recommendations: The following classes are sometimes recommended (generally not required): cell biology, genetics, immunology, microbiology and physiology. It behooves you to check the requirements of your home state’s medical school(s) as residents often have higher admittance rates and a few state schools may require a particular class, usually in Biology.
While MCAT preparation should not be your only goal as a pre-medical undergraduate student, after you finish your basic “requirements” you should take the time to review the many topics outlined in the MCAT preparation content for each section of the test here. The list of content topics, particularly for the Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems and Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems sections, is quite extensive and does not exactly parallel what is presented in the “required” classes. You should expect to supplement the courses you take with your own personal studying and preparation. Another approach is to use your academic schedule as a means to deepen or augment some of these content areas. For example, taking classes that build on (require as a prerequisite) Biology 213 and/or Bioorganic Chemistry 254 is one way to strengthen your facility with this important area and help with MCAT preparation. Finding classes, or other opportunities, to enhance your ability to understand experimental design, analyze data, and interpret graphics from scientific research articles could also be helpful.
Many schools suggest a background in social and behavioral sciences, typically the equivalent of at least two full classes. Introductory psychology should be taken to prepare for the MCAT, but many other classes in the social sciences and humanities are great choices to expand your knowledge of different cultural, social, spiritual and religious backgrounds. Classes, experiential learning opportunities, and independent reading can also help you to better appreciate how social determinants of medicine influence health access and outcomes.
Most schools will require “English composition or writing” with one year being common. Some schools will accept writing intensive courses but not all. Therefore Oberlin students generally take one class within the following areas: English, Creative Writing, Writing and Communication, or Comparative Literature (if class is in English) and a first year seminar with a writing intensive designation.
Humanities classes are often listed as a broad recommendation for pre-health students and sometimes ethics is specifically recommended. Either learning a new language, or enhancing your existing language skills, will permit you to communicate better with patients while in practice as a medical professional. The two “HU” classes used for Oberlin distribution requirements should be sufficient but feel free to consider more!
Some general advice and specific links for common non-physician career paths can be found below.
Dentistry: You should plan to take some additional 300-level Biology classes, such as microbiology and physiology, for many schools. For school specific requirements, use this link.
Manual dexterity and spatial visualization skills are expected and even tested on the dental admissions exam. Like medical schools, dental schools expect shadowing or clinical experience in the dental field. Aim for about 100 hours or a little more if you can. To learn more about the dental school application process refer to this page of the ADEA site.
Veterinary Medicine: Take all of the required STEM classes, as well as one year of math (including stats), “English” and psychology. Additional upper level biology classes are expected; take genetics/genetic analysis, microbiology (with lab is best), physiology and then look through the requirements and recommendations of specific schools of interest. Some schools may also want speaking skills. There is no specific entrance exam, but a couple of schools may require the GRE. You must also find time to get substantial clinical experience for this profession, on the order of 400-800 hours.
To learn more, see the AAVMC’s summary of prerequisites chart here.
Physical Therapy: There is general overlap with the pre-medical school requirements with some notable exceptions. The organic chemistry classes are less commonly required whereas classes in Anatomy and Physiology are typically required. For the “math” requirement, statistics is very often required. You may also need some specific courses like exercise physiology but it really depends on the school; you should review individual schools’ requirements when you have finished your basic STEM course requirements. Please become highly familiar with this resource site.
Clinical hours in multiple settings, under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist, are expected. Look for opportunities in both inpatient and outpatient settings, the more the better. Three different shadowing settings is ideal. Aim for at least 50 hours, though some schools may prefer closer to 100 hours. Signed documentation by the supervising PT may be needed. Plan to complete the GRE. Applicants are encouraged to carefully review individual schools’ requirements once they are finished with their basic STEM classes.
Physician Assistant: Students should plan to take all of the pre-medical school suggested courses, with several additional classes that overlap with the Veterinary Medicine track described above. Common additional Biology classes include microbiology, anatomy and physiology, and genetics/genetic analysis. Statistics is also a common requirement. Extensive hands on patient care experience, about 1,000 hours, is expected. Aspiring applicants should pay careful attention to each school’s requirements for what constitutes acceptable patient care experience. The program directory from the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) is a helpful resource for pre-PA planning. For additional resources, please visit the PAEA pre-PA student page.
Nursing: to be added soon. There are many different pathways into nursing. Most Oberlin graduates join accelerated B.S.N. or M.S.N./M.N. graduate entry programs such as those offered by Yale University or Case Western Reserve University. The general recommendation is to follow the pre-medical suggestions, and to add in microbiology, anatomy and physiology.