The order in which you take prehealth courses is up to you. Most Trinity students will begin with Chemistry and Math, then add Biology and then Physics. Chemistry and Math are good introductions to logical thought and the development of study skills. Biology is added next, as many prehealth students will consider this a possible major. The topics covered in Biology 201L, 202L and 203L may also directly apply to clinical experiences and research. Students who are unsure of their prehealth interests may want to see how well they do in Biology before going on to Physics. However, prospective Physics, Biophysics and Chemistry majors should check websites of these majors and confer with these departments, as Physics classes should be scheduled earlier. Psychology and Sociology courses can be taken at any time.
Pratt students should follow the schedules that the Pratt School of Engineering recommends for Pratt students; refer to their Undergraduate Handbook and the sample schedules specific to your major, especially sample schedules for prehealth students. Meet with your Pratt advisor to draft a schedule for your Pratt requirements, then begin to add additional prehealth courses. When you schedule a prehealth meeting with us, bring the draft of your Pratt schedule with you so we can use it as a basis for discussion and advice on courses, requirements, and planning.
Taking all four years to prepare for medical or other health professional school is common. Currently more than 75% of Duke students will apply to medical and other health professional schools at the end of their senior year (or later), taking one or more gap years to work, travel, teach, work in health care, live independently and to take a break between schools. This is also a national observation; the median age of applicants entering medical schools is about 24 years.
If you have entered Duke with many AP credits in math and science, you may be able to finish the required courses by the end of your junior year. In this case, it is possible for you to apply in the summer between your junior and senior years and if accepted, you would go directly into medical or other school after graduation. However, this track is often not ideal. Squeezing prehealth courses into three years is difficult. Majoring in a science adds additional courses and can create demanding course loads. You also need to find time for clinical experience, shadowing, community service and research before applying. So consider all of your options, be open to using all four years to complete requirements, and realize that taking a gap year might give you many more opportunities for achievement. You will be more competitive at the end of your senior year compared to the end of your junior year. And gap years can be extraordinarily rewarding.
Here are some sample schedules for Trinity students and a Pratt BME student.
Taking Classes at Other Universities
Taking a few prehealth courses away from Duke can be useful in the right circumstances. It can give you more time at Duke for courses in your major, allow development of a second interest, lighten your course load, and allow more time for activities and experiences. We recommend the following:
- Plan to take most of your prehealth requirements at Duke so that health professions schools will know that you've received a sound foundation in the sciences. Summer school at Duke or the Duke Marine Laboratory is always acceptable.
- If you take a course or courses away, choose a four year college or university that offers rigorous classes - state universities are fine in this regard.
- Do NOT take required prehealth courses outside of the U.S.; health professions schools will routinely not accept these. You can take other science courses abroad, especially if these apply to your major. We also discourage enrollment in community college courses or on-line classes. The level of instruction is often not as rigorous and many health professions schools will not accept them. You also cannot transfer these courses to Duke.
- You may choose to transfer a course back to Duke so it appears on your Duke transcript (the course appears, but not the grade). Trinity students can transfer 2 course credits and Pratt students can transfer 4 credits. However, if a course is not necessary for your major or a requirement at Duke, you can choose NOT to transfer it to Duke. When you apply to health professions schools, you are required to send transcripts from all U.S. colleges and universities that you've enrolled in, so health professions schools will see courses and grades, regardless of whether a course is transferred or not.
- Do not take a course elsewhere and then return and repeat it at Duke. While this may seem like a good way to prepare for a difficult course, it is against Duke policy and health profession schools will see it as a lack of confidence. If you are worried about a particular course(s), talk with your Prehealth Advisor so that you can develop a workable plan.
Choosing a Major
It is possible to major in any academic discipline and still complete the science courses required for health professions schools. Schools do not have a preference for any major. You should focus in whatever area you find exciting and appealing. Some students will choose to major in the social sciences or humanities, and complete just the basic science requirements, reasoning that this will be the only time they can study a non-science area in depth. Other students choose science or math because it is their greatest interest. Many will choose to major in Biology because many pre-med courses satisfy requirements of that major.
Adding minors and/or certificate is common, but we discourage double majors. It can be difficult to work in all the courses needed for two majors, you often have to enroll in courses you are not very interested in, and a double major is not valued by health professions schools. Instead, to be a competitive applicant, take challenging courses that further your interests and talents and that allow you to see an area of interest from many different perspectives.
If you are an athlete, you may have difficulty scheduling prehealth courses because practice sessions will restrict times available for courses. It may also be challenging to carry a rigorous schedule in a semester in which you participate in your sport, or to find time for community service, clinical experience, shadowing and research. Most athletes will plan to spread their prehealth coursework over the full four years and apply to health professions schools after graduation, thus taking a gap year. Some athletes (including those who desire to play their sport professionally following college) will choose to take the majority of the required courses for health professions schools after graduation through a postbaccalaureate program.
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