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Your Education in Health Care

While "pre-health" is not a specific undergraduate major at the University of Washington, we do offer undergraduate degrees in a variety of health sciences (e.g. Environmental Health, Medical Laboratory Science, Nursing, Public Health, Speech and Hearing Sciences) as well as preparation for graduate health professional programs.  

Choosing a career in health care is not one decision but a series of decisions based on exploration, investigation and reflection.  To successfully prepare for a health care program, students will need to continually assess their 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.   

Advisers are excited to be your resource and partner as you explore, plan your academic coursework, reflect on your health care experiences, and go through the application process. There's not one right way to prepare for these programs; working with a pre-professional adviser can help you to individualize the pre-health information in this web site to your situation. You can also visit our blog, where we post about information and activities that are of interest to students considering or preparing for a career in the Health Sciences.

If you are not yet a UW student

Health programs are available at the UW at the undergraduate and the graduate level. If you are interested in dentistry, health administration, medicine, optometry, pharmacy, public health or veterinary medicine, then you will complete a major in something else and then apply to these programs. We don't offer every graduate program at UW, but students can take their prerequisites and prepare to apply to these programs while completing their undergraduate degree at the University of Washington.

If your career destination requires a graduate degree, a diversity of academic paths can take you there. While many pre-health students major in biology, biochemistry, or microbiology, professional schools seek well-rounded applicants who excel in the humanities and social sciences as well. Why? Because the practice of health care is an art as well as a science, calling on a clinician's ability to work sensitively with people and understand them emotionally and socially as well as physically. You'll find future health care providers majoring in everything from art history to psychology to comparative literature. Learn more and explore your options by reading through the other pages available on this website.

What are my chances of getting into my program if I come to the UW?

Many prospective students are curious about what percentages of applicants are admitted to health graduate programs. It is important to know that these numbers generally cannot be compared across undergraduate institutions. This is because many schools have a Pre-Health Committee and these schools often only count the applicants who apply through this committee in their acceptance percentages.

At the University of Washington, we do not use the committee process and allow any student to self-identify as being "prehealth." This means that all students can apply to health graduate programs, regardless of whether they use our services. Every year, UW undergraduate students apply to and are accepted at top schools nationwide across various health care fields. It is up to the student to take advantage of the many opportunities available to help her or him to become the best applicant she or he can be.

In addition, University of Washington health graduate programs do not give preference to UW undergraduates, nor do they have reservations about our students. You can complete your undergraduate degree at any institution and be considered for admission by these programs. Pick the school where you will shine! If that is a smaller liberal arts school, then that is where you will become the best candidate for a health care program. If you will excel in a larger, research institution, then the University of Washington should garner your consideration.

State residency and admissions

UW health graduate programs do not give preference to a student's undergraduate institution; however, many of them do consider a student's state residency. For example, it is extremely difficult to be admitted to the UW School of Medicine, unless you are a resident of a WWAMI state. This is very common with public medical schools, and applicants will typically apply to the public school in their state of residency and private institutions.

The Dental and Pharmacy schools participate in the WICHE program to determine an applicant's residency. Other programs vary in their applicant priority, so you should always check with the department directly. You can review the Understanding Washington State Residency page to get more information on what is required to establish Washington State residency.

What should I do now to prepare?

Students who plan to study the health sciences at the University Washington are encouraged to complete a challenging curriculum of math, English, and biological, physical, and social sciences. Math through precalculus and at least three years of science are strongly recommended. Since UW's programs in these areas are com¬petitive and rigorous, students may also benefit from the preparation provided by advanced classes (honors, AP, IB). In addition, it is recommended that you volunteer in a health professions area to clarify your goals. Health professionals are expected to be leaders, show commitment to the community and be able to work with a diverse group of people; therefore, undertake activities which will give you experience in these areas.

Services for pre-health students

Due to the number of matriculated students that our office serves, we are unable to meet with prospective students. If you come to the University of Washington, you will be able to work with a prehealth adviser to help you explore your options, prepare and apply to programs.

If you are a transfer student

If you are interested in applying to a health related graduate program, you must complete a number of science courses as part of your undergraduate education, including chemistry, biology, and physics. Many programs also require a year of English, usually a combination of composition and literature.

Start taking science courses as soon as you are ready.

If you are a prehealth student, start the required math and chemistry courses in your freshman and sophomore years. Don't postpone them until you transfer. The required sciences are sequential at the UW, which means they have prerequisites and must be taken in order. For example, we recommend that you don't start chemistry until you are taking at least precalculus, and postponing it until you are taking calculus is even better. In addition, you must take general chemistry before you can take the UW biology sequence.

If you postpone your science coursework until after you transfer to the UW, you could easily find yourself with three years of prerequisite coursework and thus at least four years before you would be able to start your graduate program.

Complete science series at the same school.

If you start a science series at the community college, try to complete it at the same school. Although the credits transfer as a similar course number at UW, the series will often cover information in a slightly different order than the same course at UW. Therefore, if you complete part of a series at one institution, and take the rest elsewhere, you may be missing some class material. If you have questions about this, it is a good idea to ask your adviser.

Is it OK to take pre-health requirements at community college?

How do graduate programs feel about prerequisite courses taken at community colleges? The answer isn't black and white. The level of the coursework at community colleges is certainly comparable; you'll cover the same topics in the same depth as you would in the equivalent courses at the UW. However, graduate programs also want to see how you do in science coursework at a 4-year school. Therefore, we recommend that you take additional sciences after you transfer to the UW.

If you plan to complete a science major, you will have some advanced science coursework completed at a four-year school and the graduate schools can also use those grades to evaluate your performance in science courses. However, this does not mean that you must choose a science major! You could also take additional science electives and complete a non-science major.

The bottom line is that you should take the prehealth courses where ever it is best for you to take them. This doesn't mean where you can get the highest grades, but where you will learn the material as well as possible. If community college is the best place for you now, take the courses there. Once you transfer to the UW, however, it is generally not a good idea to return to the community college to take additional science classes.

Start planning your major before you transfer.

Pre-med, Pre-dent, Pre-pharm etc. are not majors at the University of Washington. Virtually all successful applicants to health graduate programs have completed a bachelor's degree, which means you will need to choose and complete a major. Science majors are not required or even preferred by these programs. Major in a subject you enjoy studying and will do well in.

Getting help and finding more information

Start by viewing our information presentations. Visit the other sections of this page to get more information about how to explore health care options, how to prepare for your area of interest and how to apply successfully.

Consider attending Transfer Thursday at UW. By attending this program you can learn about Admissions to UW, academic areas of study, and other topics of interest to transfer students. During the Transfer Thursday program you can also have a brief meeting with a general advisor, during the hours of 2:30pm to 4:00pm in 141 Mary Gates Hall, the Center for Undergraduate Advising, Diversity and Student Success, which houses Pre-Health Advising at the UW.

To determine which courses at your community college are equivalent to UW courses, visit the UW Equivalency Guide for Washington Community and Technical Colleges.

Your community college adviser can also help you explore your options, plan your coursework, prepare for a major, and find information on transferring to the UW. Once you have transferred to the UW, you will be able to work with a prehealth adviser at UW.

If you are a post-baccalaureate student

A pre-health postbaccalaureate (postbac) student is someone who has already earned an undergraduate degree and would like to return to school to complete prerequisites for admission to a prehealth graduate program (ie: medical school, dental school, pharmacy school or veterinary school). It is more common than you might think to graduate and decide to apply to a health graduate program later. You are not alone!

Motivation for applying to a health graduate program.

It is not unusual for people to decide after they graduate from an undergraduate institution (or even from a master’s or PhD program!) that they want to pursue a health related program. In fact, there can be some advantages to taking this path, as postbac students often have considerable life experience, demonstrated maturity and dedication that graduate programs value in applicants.

However, schools are going to be very interested in your motivation for taking an indirect route to health care. They want to make sure that your decision is based on realistic knowledge of the health field and basically ‘makes sense’. Therefore, you should be thinking now about how you will explain your process to the graduate programs. In addition, it is imperative that you are able to demonstrate your rationale through the activities that you undertake. Therefore, if your stated motivation includes wanting to serve people in a health care setting, you should be seeking out activities that show this is true.

When do you have to retake prerequisites?

If you have taken some of the prerequisite courses as a part of your undergraduate education, it can be difficult to ascertain whether you need to retake them or not. As a general rule, if it has been more than 5 years since you have taken a prerequisite course, you are best served to repeat it. If you did not do well in the prerequisites, you should certainly retake the courses. However, if you graduated recently or if you majored in a science, you generally do not need to repeat all of the classes. You may decide to take some advanced electives in the same field to show that your knowledge is up to date.

You should always check with the schools that you are applying to if you have questions about meeting prerequisites!

How do you take prerequisite courses at UW?

There are two ways to take courses at UW as a postbac student. You can either apply for admission as a postbaccalaureate student, or you can take classes as a nonmatriculated student through the Extension Office.

Postbaccalaureate admission

If you are interested in applying to the University of Washington to complete your coursework as a postbaccalaureate student, you will apply online through the Admissions Office. Be certain that you are mindful of the application deadlines, which are posted on their website. If accepted, then you will be able to use resources available to matriculated students, including prehealth advising, the mock interview program, and the writing center. You will also have registration priority for your prerequisite coursework.

Postbaccalaureate admission is very competitive as space is quite limited for postbacs! The Admissions Office will want to see that you have taken some science coursework already to gauge your preparation for the sciences at UW. You should also have course plan that you can share with the Admissions Office so that they determine how long you will need to complete your prerequisites.

Nonmatriculated enrollment

You also have the option of taking courses as a nonmatriculated student through the Extension Office. Nonmatriculated enrollment is not competitive, and you can take courses from any department on a space available basis. Nonmatriculated students do not have access to all University services, and it can be quite difficult to register for popular science sequences – especially Chemistry, Organic Chemistry and Biology. If you are thinking about applying as a nonmatriculated student, it can be a good idea to contact the departments in which you want to take classes to see how difficult it will be to register.

As postbaccalaureate admission is competitive, and nonmatriculated students sometimes have difficulty registering for classes, you should also look at your other options. Seattle University has a postbac program as does Portland State University. Programs vary widely in regards to length and services available, so it is a good idea to look at several and compare them to see what will best meet your needs.

Sample schedule

If you take your courses at UW, it will typically take you two and a half years to complete the coursework if you are starting from scratch. Students generally apply to the graduate programs after the second year and take the remaining coursework before they begin.

The following is a sample course schedule for postbac students. Note: This schedule only includes the most common science courses required by prehealth graduate programs. You should always research individual programs to be certain you have met all of the prerequisites for admission.


CHEM 142
PHYS 114/121

CHEM 152
PHYS 115/122

CHEM 162
PHYS 116/123


CHEM 237
BIOL 180

CHEM 238
CHEM 241
BIOL 200 

CHEM 239
CHEM 242 
BIOL 220 

YEAR 3BIOC 405BIOC 406 (3) 

Is it OK to take pre-health requirements at community college?

How do graduate programs feel about prerequisite courses taken at community colleges? The answer isn't black and white. The level of the coursework at community colleges is certainly comparable; you'll cover the same topics in the same depth as you would in the equivalent courses at the UW. However, graduate programs also want to see how you do in science coursework at a 4-year school.

The biochemistry sequence required by many health graduate programs is offered by some community colleges. Check the UW Equivalency Guide for Washington Community and Technical Colleges to see if it is offered at a Washington State community college near you. You should plan to take as many science courses as possible at a four-year school, so that programs can use those grades to further evaluate your performance.

Getting help and finding more information

Visit the other sections of this website to get more information about how to explore health care options, how to prepare for your area of interest and how to apply successfully. There are links to other websites that you will find helpful on the other pages as well.

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) has searchable information on postbac programs across the nation.

If your undergraduate institution has a prehealth committee, it is worthwhile to contact them about their services. Oftentimes, they will assist alums in the application process.

Advising for postbacs

Unfortunately, due to the volume of current students that we see in our office, we are unable to make appointments with non-UW students. If you are an alumnus of the University of Washington or if you are accepted as a matriculated postbaccalaureate student, then you will be able to work with a prehealth adviser at UW. See our Advising Services page for more information. If your undergraduate institution has a prehealth committee, it is worthwhile to contact them about their services. Oftentimes, they will assist alums in the application process. Non-UW students are welcome to watch the our information presentations.

If you are an international student

Each year American universities welcome thousands of international students to their campuses. These students enrich the academic and social environment with their diversity of perspective and experience and with their richness of linguistic and cultural heritage. The students, in turn, are usually excited about the academic opportunities that drew them to American campuses and may have been led to believe that their offers of admission mean that the full panoply of American educational opportunity is available to them. Many are dismayed, consequently, when they discover that while that is largely true, there is one major exception, and that is in the area of medical education. American medical schools (and this includes dental, osteopathic, veterinary and most graduate schools in the health professions), for the most part, will not accept applications from anyone other than American citizens or permanent residents ("green cards").

Why is this?

The first reason is that medical education is very expensive. The tuition is expensive, but the tuition is actually only a fraction of what it costs to educate a doctor. There is a tremendous shortage of medical doctors in the United States right now, and a corresponding emphasis on training students who can practice within this country. If you are planning to stay in the US after your medical training, you can work on applying for citizenship first, in order to indicate your intentions. Secondly, as part of your medical education, you will need to work in hospitals. An F-1 visa specifically prohibits employment.

Also, unlike for undergraduate education, private scholarships are virtually nonexistent for medical school. American students finance their medical education largely through government-sponsored loans, which are only available to citizens and permanent residents. International students are often required to place in escrow a sum equivalent to two to four years’ tuition and fees, which currently can run to over US$300,000.

But I heard that some schools accept international students.

Some do. In this year’s issue of the MSAR, 58 medical schools are listed as accepting international applicants (the University of Washington is not one of them). However, of those 58, twelve will only accept applications from citizens of Canada. Of the remaining 46, fourteen did not take any international applicants during the last application cycle. Typically international students are admitted at one-quarter the rate of American students, and that "international" figure includes Canadian students, international students who are in the last stages of getting their citizenship, and students who are applying for MD/PhD programs (which are more open to international students, but much more competitive).

I’m really interested in medicine. What can I do?

Our office will support your efforts if you decide to apply for medical school but we encourage you to also think about creating a backup plan. We recommend investigating the following:

Photo by UW Admissions