You can major in anything along the way towards a career in health and health care. Health professional schools don't consider an applicants major in the admissions process. There are specific requirements that each graduate and professional school may look for however which is covered in the prepare section.
Keep in mind that choosing a career in health care is not one decision but a series of decisions based on exploration, investigation and reflection. Just completing a major is not enough to be successfully prepared for a health care program. You should continually assess your academic readiness, motivation, and skills in sciences as well as humanities and social sciences. Getting involved in health care (volunteering and shadowing) as well as community service are essential elements to exploring what the profession is really about and if it is a good match for you.
While you can major in anything on your path to a healthcare career or graduate health program, below are a few health and health science undergraduate programs. You can contact those departmental advisers directly.
UW Medicine ranks among the top academic research institutions. Nearly 50 different graduate and professional programs and specialties are among the top 10 in the nation according to U.S. News & World Report.
Studying at the UW as an undergraduate student means you have access and opportunities to collaborate with UW Medicine and their programs. You can prepare for your graduate school applications by volunteering or conducting research with hospitals and clinics in the greater Seattle region. However, it does not mean you will have an advantage to getting into UW Medicine by attending UW as an undergraduate student.
Most health professional schools do not consider an applicant’s major in their admissions process. Non-science majors are just as successful as science majors in admissions as long as they have comparable science GPAs. However, majoring in a non-science just for the sake of “standing out" does not give a student an advantage because professional health schools are interested not in a student’s specific major, but in the overall rigor and quality of a student’s undergraduate work.
Applicants to health professional schools are not necessarily more competitive if they have multiple majors or degrees. Far more critical are the types of courses they have taken, the rigor of the courses, the number of credit hours per semester, and academic performance.
Students choose their course of study, and health professional schools do not factor in this choice when reviewing an applicant’s academic performance. A “hard” major does not excuse poor grades in the eyes of admissions officials.
Students can explore a wide range of undergraduate majors at UW here. They are also encouraged to view our short videos on “Pre-Health Course and Major Planning” and “Connecting Pre-Health Coursework to Co-Curricular Activities”.
Double majoring can be beneficial if there is more than one subject area that a student is interested in, have room in their schedule, and will not hurt their GPA. We strongly encourage students to think about the opportunity cost of pursuing another major or minor. Meaning, what other opportunities is a student giving up if they decide to use their time to pursue another major and/or minor? This can mean less time to commit to clinical experiences, RSO involvement, and/or study abroad. Double majoring and/or minoring is not a requirement of any health program and will not make a student a more competitive applicant unless it is an intentional choice, compliments their interest, and does not impact their GPA and well-being.
Here is a list of some enrichment and research programs offered to UW students.
Center for Health Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (CEDI)- programs and collaborations are aligned to further its goal of promoting diversity and inclusiveness throughout the School of Medicine including the WWAMI region.
Chicanos/Latinos for Community Medicine (CCM)- a pre-health Registered Student Organization striving to increase the number of under-represented minorities in healthcare.
Health Sciences Center Minority Students Program (HSCMSP)- supports underrepresented minority and disadvantaged students interested in health science, biomedical, or behavioral graduate or professional opportunities at every stage of their university career.
Minority Association of Pre-Health Students (MAPS)- a national association dedicated to helping undergraduate students from under-represented backgrounds realize their potential in healthcare fields.
Health Professions Academy (HPA)- a comprehensive professional development program for University of Washington undergraduate students from disadvantaged backgrounds who are aspiring to become physicians and dentists.
UPREP- a collaborative project of the five CEDI registered student organizations and AFERM. UPREP offers monthly workshops to underrepresented minority undergraduates, community college students and other aspiring future applicants interested in pursuing a career in medicine
Students are encouraged to complement their coursework with clinical exposure every quarter. We encourage students to think about clinical experience in two categories of professional-facing (shadowing) and patient-facing. It is recommended to get a good balance of both and this can be done in many different ways. Here is a link to volunteer programs around the region. The UW School of Medicine also provides some helpful guidelines for shadowing on their website here. Students are also encouraged to view our short video on “Getting Great Clinical Exposure”.
Students are encouraged to build a schedule each quarter that includes coursework for their major, general education requirements, and health professional school, as well as co-curricular activities including clubs, clinical exposure, and research. Community service is a great opportunity to get involved on campus/greater community, practice leadership skills, and complement coursework. We encourage students to get started as soon as they can and to be mindful of what their schedule allows them to do.
To start, students can get involved with The Center for Experiential Learning and Diversity, Undergraduate Community Based Internships (UCBI), Service Learning, and Registered Student Organizations (RSOs).
Here is a list of pre-health related RSOs (under ‘Health-related organizations and opportunities’ tab) that students can explore.
Other opportunities can also include volunteering in your local community in causes students are interested/passionate about or working part-time to build soft and professional skills.
Students are encouraged to explore this list of clinical volunteer opportunities as a great way to get started. Students should also reach out to their networks to identify other opportunities for clinical exposure. The Career & Internship Center website has a host of helpful resources, including job and internship postings on Handshake as well as templates for conducting a career conversation with a health professional.
Students can also check Northwest Health Career Path (a site and map search tool) to find other opportunities in the area.
We encourage students to think creatively and take initiative in all of their volunteering work. Volunteering in a hospital can be a valuable and exciting experience when a student embraces the opportunity as so. In addition to hospitals, there are many other places that students can volunteer at and we encourage them to explore them here.
If their schedule allows, students can take balance working part-time to gain clinical experience. Some of these jobs include Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), Medical Assistant, Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), Medical Scribe and Phlebotomist.
Students can also get experience through Health related Registered Student Organizations such as UW Healthcare Alternative Spring Break where students spend their spring break in rural or underserved areas of Washington State shadowing healthcare professionals. We also encourage students to subscribe to the ‘News & Events’ section of the UW Pre-Health website to stay updated on various opportunities.
For more information, please visit the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) webpage on Getting Experience.
Common jobs that students get while in school or after graduating during gap years include (and are not limited to): Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), Medical Assistant, Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), Medical Scribe, Phlebotomist, Dental Assistant, Dental Hygienist, Physical Therapy Assistant/Aide, and Pharmacy Technician to name a few.
Scribing Opportunities: Handshake & Indeed
Bellevue College Allied Health Certificate Options
Certified Nursing Assistant Classes and Training Programs in Seattle
Emergency Medical Technician Courses offered in King County
Dental Hygiene Schools in Washington State
Physical Therapy Aide Programs in Washington State
Pharmacy Technician Schools and Programs in Washington State
While research experience is not a requirement for most health professional schools, they provide students the opportunity to explore the intersection of research and medicine, to confirm which career is the best fit with their skills and interests. Research experience may add an extra layer to a student’s application if the institutions where they are applying have a research focus, or if the student is particularly interested in research. While many students think that lab research is most important, experience with social science research is just as fascinating and valuable.
Even though an applicant’s GPA is important to health professional schools, admissions committees consider many factors in their selection processes.
Admissions committees look for upward trends in applicants’ grades during their college career, as it is expected that a student’s performance improve as they build their skills and knowledge in the classroom. Inconsistent academic performance (variable grades, frequent withdrawals) may indicate to admissions officials that an applicant may not be able to handle the rigors of health professional school.
Students should be sure to prioritize self-care along with their studies and co-curricular activities – their academic success should not determine their self-worth.
The importance of GPA varies from school to school so we encourage students to do their research by attending information sessions and getting to know a school’s admission process. GPA is one of many factors in the admission process. We encourage students to research schools they are interested in and take note of not only the average GPA, but the range (10th -- 90th percentiles) in which students are accepted.
Students should review the course planning guidelines here and meet with an academic adviser to identify next steps in terms of coursework for their intended major(s) and general education requirements. Students are encouraged to contact the admissions office at their target schools to learn more about their specific expectations regarding prerequisite coursework.
If you are considering retaking a class, we encourage you to first consider:
1). What will change (study habits, time management) if you do retake the course again?
2). Do you understand that you will be expected to do better the second time around?
3). What are the opportunity cost(s) of retaking the class? (ie. student cannot take other classes or does not have time for gaining clinical experience).
4). How much will your grade go up by? And, will this make a significant impact on your GPA?
This is a case-by-case situation and we advise students to discuss this with their adviser and career coach to assess if it will be beneficial for a student to retake a class.
Regardless of where a student takes their prerequisite classes, we encourage students to complete the entire series at one institution. Starting and finishing a series (chemistry, biology, physics) at different institutions can present many problems as these courses are taught differently.
For example, a common course that students take at community college is the combined anatomy & physiology Course.
There is no need for students to rush complete all of their prerequisite coursework before graduation. Whereas in the past it was common for students to apply to health professional school before their senior year, it is increasingly common for applicants to take multiple “gap years” after graduation to gain more clinical experience, prepare for exams, travel and prepare for application.
Health professional schools are looking for evidence of maturity in a strong application, and older applicants have more life experience which usually translates into more maturity. Taking extra time to finish college will not negatively affect an application, and may even strengthen it.
Students who want to complete all of their prerequisite coursework before they graduate are encouraged to work closely with general and departmental advisers to ensure that they are completing all of their graduation requirements along the way. Finishing all requirements before graduating will require a relentless focus on time management to ensure balance in completing coursework, gaining clinical/research/leadership experience and prioritizing self-care.
There is no need to rush and try to get all requirements completed in the first two years. Students have four years to complete them and can even take some or all of the requirements after graduating college. Although traditionally students begin applying to health graduate schools during junior year, many applicants in recent years have waited until senior year and beyond.
We understand that it is hard to balance academics, co-curricular, gaining clinical experience, and self-care all at once. We are here to help! Whether students are struggling with classes, time management, pressure, finding community, their mental health, or balancing their academic and personal lives, there are many resources available on campus to help.
Besides seeing an advisor (UAA/departmental/OMA&D) or a career coach at the C&IC, students can also:
Visit the Husky Health & Well-Being Website
Make an appointment with an Academic Success Coach with UW Academic Support Programs
Access CLUE drop-in tutoring and writing center
Come in for a drop-in counseling session with Let’s Talk
Visit the UW Counseling Center and explore their services
Visit the UW Hall Health Center and explore their services
Enroll in EDUC 215: Wellness & Resilience for College & Beyond (5 credit class)
We encourage students to enroll in Applying to Health Professional School offered winter and spring quarters. The course is designed for and most beneficial to UW students and alumni who are planning to apply in the current year to graduate-level health professional programs, including dental, medical, occupational therapy, optometry, pharmacy, physical therapy, physician assistant and veterinary schools. To locate the class, please look under General Studies (GEN ST) 297.
A good place to start is to look in the Explore section of the UW Pre-Health website under ‘Career-Specific Planning Guides’. A helpful tool is to also look at the ‘UW Specific Planning Guides’ (bottom of the page).
Because every health graduate program is different, we encourage students to research specifically into the schools they are interested in and start gathering information on what their prerequisites are.
This all depends on the professional school you are applying to, their application timeline, and process. We suggest looking at the Career Specific Planning Guides in the Explore section as well as looking up the professionals school you wish to apply to and better understand their application timeline and process.
Recommended classes are not required, and students do not have to take them before application. They may want to consider taking them before matriculation, and most of these courses are available at Community Colleges where students can take them while they are preparing to matriculate. Students are encouraged to research their target schools to learn more about their required and recommended coursework.
Letters of recommendations are a vital part of a health professional school application. Professional schools vary in terms of how many letters they require and from whom. Establishing relationships with faculty, professors, TAs, mentors, principal investigators, and supervisors early on can help with creating a strong letter of recommendation.
It can be challenging to develop these relationships at a large public university like UW. Students should work to identify potential letter writers during their first two years at UW and seek to build and maintain relationships with these people. Consider the following strategies:
- Visit their office hours.
- Learn more about their research and inquire about work in their labs.
- Participate frequently in their classes and ask intelligent questions.
- Take additional courses that they offer, especially ones with fewer students.
Students are encouraged to view our short video on “Getting Great Letters of Recommendation”.
Make a 30 minute appointment with a career coach on Handshake to go over materials. If possible, send your materials at least two days in advance via email to give the pre-health career coach enough time to review.
Workshops and videos are available that cover this topic. Please see C&IC website events calendar to see when these workshops are happening and the C&IC videos page to hear from current medical students on their application experience.
Also, you can access departmental advisers, professors, and/or mentors to help with the writing process. Make an appointment with tutors at the Odegaard Writing and Research Center (OWRC), CLUE Writing Center, Instructional Center (IC), and other departmental writing centers.