Getting into competitive health programs like medical school, nursing school, physical therapy, etc. can be challenging for any student, but especially so for those without a strong science background. Many health professions schools have strict course prerequisites in biology, chemistry, physics, and math that can be intimidating barriers for non-traditional applicants.
However, there are ways for non-science majors to meet health program requirements through careful planning, post-baccalaureate programs, and highlighting transferable skills gained through their undergraduate education and experiences. This article will provide an overview of common entry requirements for medical, nursing, PA, PT, and other health programs, as well as strategies and resources for non-science majors to prepare competitive applications.
While specific prerequisites vary by school and program, there are general course requirements common across most health professions:
- 1 year biology + labs
- 1 year general chemistry + labs
- 1 year organic chemistry + labs
- 1 year physics + labs
- 1 year English
- Other humanities and social science courses
- Human anatomy + lab
- Human physiology + lab
- Microbiology + lab
- General chemistry
- Developmental psychology
- English composition
Physician Assistant Programs
- Human anatomy + lab
- Human physiology + lab
- Microbiology + lab
- General chemistry + lab
Physical Therapy Programs
- Human anatomy + lab
- Human physiology + lab
- Biology + lab
- Chemistry + lab
- Physics + lab
As demonstrated, health programs want applicants to have a strong science foundation in order to succeed in their rigorous curriculums. Classes like anatomy, physiology, chemistry, and microbiology introduce the scientific concepts and terminology critical for clinical practice.
Math and statistics courses develop the quantitative analysis skills needed for research and evidence-based care. Psychology helps provide the foundations for patient behavior and communication. Overall, these prerequisites ensure incoming students are academically prepared before beginning their professional studies.
Challenges for Non-Science Majors
For non-science majors without significant previous science coursework, meeting health program prerequisites poses several challenges:
- Need to complete multiple science courses from scratch
- Can take 1-2+ years of additional coursework
Retaining Science Info
- Struggle remembering concepts between pre-req courses and health program
- Gap between taking pre-reqs and starting program may be 2+ years
Strengthening Science Foundation
- Harder to get high grades in fast-paced science classes
- More difficult to do well on entrance exams like the MCAT
Less Exposure to Healthcare
- Have not volunteered/worked in healthcare settings
- Lack clinical experiences compared to biology majors
Appearing Less Committed
- Switching from unrelated major signals lack of focus to admissions committees
- Weaker articulation of motivation for pursuing healthcare
These obstacles make it essential for non-science majors to strategically address prerequisites and bolster their credentials when applying to competitive health programs.
Strategies and Resources for Non-Science Majors
Despite the challenges, many outstanding health professionals started as non-science majors. With careful planning and dedication, humanities and social science graduates can transition successfully into medical, nursing, therapy, public health, and other science-heavy careers.
Here are some tips:
1. Take Pre-Reqs at a Community College
Completing prerequisites at a community college can be an affordable option to check off required science courses. Make sure credits transfer to your undergraduate institution first.
2. Enroll in a Formal Post-Baccalaureate Program
Structured post-bacc programs help non-science graduates take pre-med requirements while preparing for entrance exams. Linkage partnerships with medical schools provide admissions advantages.
3. Become a Part-Time Student After Graduation
Some colleges allow alumni to take additional courses after graduating. This enables supplementing your transcript with any outstanding pre-reqs.
4. Find Late Entry Pathways
A small number of medical and other health programs expressly admit non-science majors and provide pre-matriculation prep. These include focused career-changer post-bacc options.
5. Get Relevant Healthcare Exposure
Seek clinical volunteering, medical scribing, clinical research, health policy, or patient navigator roles to demonstrate interest and aptitude. Highlight transferable skills from your background.
6. Take a Year for Pre-Reqs and MCAT/Entrance Exams
Gap years to focus on outstanding prerequisites and thoroughly prepare for entrance exams like the MCAT can greatly improve one’s competitiveness.
7. Emphasize Passion and Communication Skills
Leverage writing and interpersonal strengths from non-science backgrounds in application essays and interviews to stand out. Articulate clearly why you want to transition into a clinical career.
8. Consider Related Health Fields
Fields like health administration, informatics, public health, clinical research, etc. offer additional paths to healthcare careers that welcome diverse academic backgrounds.With early planning and dedicating time to check all the boxes, a non-science major can successfully change course to enter an array of health professions. Post-baccalaureate and career-changing programs also provide vital on-ramps. It is certainly possible with determination and resourcefulness!
Post-Baccalaureate Programs for Career Changers
For non-science graduates seeking a structured pathway into medicine, nursing, PA school, or other health careers, post-baccalaureate programs tailored specifically for career changers can prove highly effective stepping stones. These programs understand that switching from an unrelated degree like English, history, business, etc. to a science-heavy health field is challenging.
By thoughtfully designing their curriculum, career-changer post-bacc programs help non-science majors tackle prerequisites while cultivating the academic abilities and experiences needed to be strong applicants.Here are some of the top career-changer post-baccalaureate options:
Goucher College Post-Baccalaureate Premedical Program
Goucher College offers an acclaimed 1-year intensive post-bacc premed program for recent grads and career-changing students lacking the core science courses for medical school. Students take upper level biology, chemistry, physics, and calculus alongside other pre-med requirements. Robust academic support includes mentoring, MCAT prep, and medical school advising. Link: Goucher Post-Bac Program
Bryn Mawr’s post-bacc allows non-science majors to complete pre-med prerequisites in an encouraging environment with other career changers. Students enroll in year-long advanced science courses mirroring medical school rigor. The program provides health volunteering, MCAT prep, and dedicated medical school application guidance. Link: Bryn Mawr Post-Bac Program
Oregon Health & Science University MEDPREP
OHSU’s MEDPREP helps college graduates with non-science backgrounds prep for medical careers through a 1-year curriculum focused on pre-med prerequisites. There is also a linkage agreement providing guaranteed interviews at OHSU’s medical school.
Link: OHSU MEDPREP
Harvard Extension Post-Bac Health Careers Program
Harvard Extension School has a part-time post-bacc program allowing enrollees to take necessary pre-med courses at their own pace. There is access to Harvard professors and health advising. Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree with minimum 3.0 GPA.
Johns Hopkins Post-Bac Health Careers Program
John Hopkins’ full-time post-bacc offers a pre-med curriculum for non-science majors through advanced science courses modeled after their medical school. There is dedicated health advising and opportunities for clinical exposure during the program.
Link: Johns Hopkins Post-Bac
These are just a sample of career-changing post-bacc programs helping non-traditional students transition successfully into healthcare. The structured environment, academic rigor, and application support equip enrollees to overcome obstacles facing those without science backgrounds.
How Non-Science Majors Can Stand Out
While meeting basic prerequisites is essential, non-science majors must go above and beyond to stand out to health professions admissions committees. Here are some key strategies:
1. Secure Strong Letters of RecommendationAsk science professors from post-bacc or pre-req courses to highlight your academic abilities. Letters from healthcare supervisors also affirm your clinical fit.
2. Pursue Meaningful ExperiencesSeek substantive clinical, research, or leadership experiences that provide compelling examples of your skills and motivation for entering healthcare.
3. Demonstrate Interpersonal SkillsLeverage communication, critical thinking, and empathy strengths from your background through volunteering and patient interactions.
4. Convey Clear CommitmentArticulate your personal motivations and interest in healthcare. Overcome doubts about switching from an unrelated major.
5. Excel on Entrance ExamsStrong MCAT, GRE, or other entrance exam scores help confirm you can handle the academic rigors of health professions training.
6. Highlight Unique Assets
Emphasize how your nontraditional degree and holistic experiences enhance team-based care, cultural competence, creative problem-solving, and leadership abilities valued by health systems. By maximizing these opportunities, non-science applicants demonstrate key ingredients – academic ability, motivation, interpersonal skills, maturity, and professionalism – that underscore their potential as future clinicians. Combined with checked prerequisite boxes, these assets grab the attention of admissions committees.
While strict science prerequisites and academic demands of health professions schools present undeniable obstacles to non-science majors, pathways do exist for determined career-changers. Careful planning, post-baccalaureate programs, and showcasing one’s experiential strengths enable those without science backgrounds to transition successfully into a variety of clinical fields.
The rewards of helping patients and making a difference through healthcare careers remain open to humanities and social science grads willing to put in the work. With creativity and perseverance, non-traditional applicants can achieve their goals of becoming physicians, nurses, PAs, physical therapists, pharmacists, and other critical roles advancing human health.
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