Your Major and Quality of Academic Work
Professional schools want and need diversity in their students, so their course requirements are usually kept to a minimum in order to allow you to develop your own interests. Medical school admission requirements can vary from school to school, but most medical schools expect applicants to have completed at least: one year of Biology, one year of Physics, two years of Chemistry (through Organic Chemistry), and one year of English. Be aware that a few medical schools will not accept advanced placement (AP) credits in lieu of their required courses. Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR), an annual guide from the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC), lists specific requirements for each medical school in the U.S. and Canada. The Director of Pre-Professional Health Advising (105B Albers) can also help you determine whether or not a particular medical school accepts advanced placement (AP) credits.
Most medical school applicants major in biology or chemistry because of their interest in science and because these degree requirements coincide with the courses required for admission to professional schools. At Xavier the degree in Natural Sciences was designed precisely with this in mind - it includes the courses required and recommended by most medical and dental schools as well as the areas covered in professional admissions tests. It allows the student to concentrate in biology or chemistry during the senior year, and includes a senior research project in the academic area of concentration. We strongly recommend that Biochemistry be taken as an elective, as well as Genetics and Vertebrate Physiology among others. In addition, the university core requirements ensure the broad general education desired by professional schools.
You should be aware, though, that the Natural Sciences degree is not the only possible degree for a student interested in health sciences. Professional schools are interested in quality and breadth of undergraduate work. It is generally in your own best interest to major in something in which you have a genuine interest and which may provide you with an attractive alternate career. Of course, majoring in one of the humanities will require careful scheduling to include the minimum science requirements (usually one year each of general chemistry, organic chemistry, biology, physics and math, all included in Xavier's Natural Sciences minor). Keep in mind that admissions committees at health professions schools pay particular attention to science grades, so of course, you will need to perform well in these classes.
Another important part of your academic program is your choice of electives. Remember, professional schools value diversity and a broad liberal arts background in their students, so balance your science courses with courses that interest you, that develop your communication skills and that broaden your understanding of human existence. Elective courses should also challenge you, so choose courses at the highest level for which you are qualified. Being a member of the University Scholars program is an excellent indicator of a student's desire for challenging learning experiences.
Admissions committees consider all grades important, especially science grades. They are presumed to be indicators of ability, motivation, achievement and time management skills, as well as predictors of your performance in more difficult professional programs ahead. As a general guideline, the minimum grade point average (GPA) for a freshman pre-medical or pre-dental student should be approximately 3.4 on a 4.0 scale. By the time you reach your junior year, the GPA should be at least a 3.6 for a pre-med, and for a pre-dent, at least a 3.3. In evaluating applicants grades, consideration is also given to the number and difficulty of courses and to the consistency of your grades. There aren't fixed cut-off points for GPA, but grades are often the most important criterion of evaluation. One low grade or even a poor semester does not mean that you should give up all hope, but if you have difficulty establishing that you are capable of consistent, high quality work, you should re-evaluate your goals.