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Pre-Professional Programs: The Complete Guide

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You’ve heard of pre-med, but did you know that there are dozens of other pre-professional programs available? 

If you know which career you want to pursue after graduation, there may be an advisory program in place to help you get there. The two most common tracks are pre-med and pre-law, but there are also pre-professional programs designed to help students become veterinarians, chiropractors, dentists, architects… the list is longer than you might expect! 

In this guide, we’ll discuss how pre-professional advising programs work, which career paths they can prepare you for, and how they can help you to achieve your goals.

What is a pre-professional program?

Pre-professional programs are offered by colleges to students who know (or want to explore) which field they want to work in upon graduation. These programs give you a track to follow to help you succeed in your goals. 

Specialized faculty advisors can help you:

  • Complete all the prerequisite courses required by graduate schools
  • Access experiential learning opportunities 
  • Discover internships, study abroad programs, and volunteer work
  • Participate in summer opportunities and enrichment programs
  • Prepare for standardized tests like the MCAT or LSAT
  • Navigate the process of applying to graduate schools 
  • Obtain the necessary letters of recommendation 

Most students will meet with their advisor at least once per semester. Pre-professional programs also host events throughout the year to provide students with opportunities to expand their networks and broaden their horizons. 

Is a pre-professional program the same as a major?

No, they are not the same. You can major in whatever you like and still enroll in a pre-professional program. 

Most students will choose a major that is an obvious fit for their future career, such as Biology for pre-med. If you do this, there will be a good amount of overlap between requirements for graduation and graduate school prerequisites, which makes life a bit easier. 

Still, there are English majors and even Performance Studies majors who are accepted into medical school. You would need to take all of the required science courses and study for the MCAT in addition to fulfilling the requirements for your major, so it would be similar to the process of earning a double major.

Pre-professional advisors can help you to choose a major that works well with your career path.

What are the benefits of pre-professional programs?

Pre-professional programs give you a solid platform from which to launch your career. 

All pre-professional programs will help you to achieve your career goals by giving you access to a team of advisors who can help you meet all of your target schools’ matriculation requirements. 

Prerequisites may vary widely from one school to another; they may even include courses not offered by your school. Aspiring veterinarians often need to take online courses from other universities to meet all of the prerequisites for graduate school matriculation. If you’re in a pre-professional program, your advisor will make sure none of these prerequisites slip through the cracks.

Some pre-professional programs grant conditional acceptance to graduate schools. 

The Pre-Professional Scholars Program at Case Western Reserve University grants college applicants admission to their undergraduate program and conditional admission to Case Western Reserve’s School of Medicine or School of Dental Medicine. Their 7-year dental program has the potential to shave a year off of your schooling.

The Modular Medical/Dental Integrated Curriculum at Boston University offers aspiring dentists and doctors an early-assurance program that guarantees graduate-school admission to qualifying students. They also offer an Early Medical School Selection Program to sophomores.

Fewer than 50% of medical school applicants are accepted. The rate of acceptance for dental school applicants is around 55%. Students who participate in pre-professional programs are far more likely to matriculate into graduate schools. 

Rates vary according to school; keep this in mind as you research potential colleges.

How do I pursue a pre-professional program?

At many schools, it’s as simple as showing up at the right office for a meeting with an advisor. They’ll help you start a file and enroll in the track of your choice.

Some highly competitive schools require applicants to apply to a certain track before matriculating. You’ll need to research each school individually; Transizion can help.

How is pre-health different from pre-med?

Pre-med programs are ideal for anyone who plans to become a medical doctor. Pre-health programs are broader and well-suited to anyone who wants to work in medicine. 

Neither of these programs is a college major. Popular majors for pre-health students include:

  • Biological Sciences
  • Math and Statistics
  • Physical Sciences

Undergraduate requirements for these two programs are so similar that many schools include their pre-med program under the pre-health umbrella.

Pre-health career tracks include: 

  • Anesthesiology 
  • Audiology 
  • Chiropractic 
  • Dental Hygiene 
  • Dentistry 
  • Exercise Science
  • Forensic Science
  • Medical Laboratory Science 
  • Medicine 
  • Naturopathic Medicine
  • Nursing
  • Nutrition
  • Occupational Therapy 
  • Optometry 
  • Podiatry
  • Pharmacy 
  • Physical Therapy 
  • Physical Therapy Assistant 
  • Physician Assistant
  • Public Health
  • Radiology Tech 
  • Respiratory Therapy 
  • Speech Language Pathology 
  • Sports Medicine
  • Veterinary Science

Each of these programs helps students prepare to matriculate to graduate school and earn their Masters and/or Doctorate. We’ll take a closer look at potential career paths further on in the article. 

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What if I want to become a lawyer? 

There is no particular major that prepares students for law school. There aren’t even required courses. But many colleges and universities offer pre-law programs that will help you prepare.

Aspiring lawyers are encouraged to take a broad range of challenging courses while earning their bachelor’s degree. If you declare a pre-law designation as an undergraduate student, you’ll have the opportunity to work with a pre-law advisor throughout your college years.

Schools that offer pre-law programs have resources to help their students prepare for the LSAT (that’s the Law School Admission Test). Advisors are available to help seniors apply to law schools.

Common majors for pre-law students include:

  • Communications
  • Criminal Justice
  • Economics
  • English
  • History
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science
  • Psychology
  • Sociology

The important thing is to choose a major you love and can excel in. You’ll need a GPA of at least 3.4 to be a competitive candidate for law school admission.

See our Law section below for more information on pre-law programs.

Do community colleges offer pre-professional programs?

Yes, some community colleges and technical schools can set you on track towards your career goals. You’ll earn an associate’s degree while completing required prerequisites and general education requirements. 

Some schools offer guaranteed admissions pathways to four-year universities where you can complete your baccalaureate science degree.

Many professional colleges will allow students to apply without a bachelor’s degree, so it’s possible to get your doctorate without first earning a bachelor’s — but every year more schools are requiring that students earn their baccalaureate degree before matriculating.

Community colleges offer a wide range of pre-professional programs, including:

  • Architecture 
  • Education
  • Engineering
  • Health Information Management 
  • Law 
  • Mortuary Science 
  • Public Administration 
  • Social Work 
  • Veterinary Medicine
  • All tracks mentioned in the pre-health list above

We’ll delve deeper into these options in the next section.

Which careers have pre-professional programs?

Offerings vary from one school to another. Pre-law and pre-health are by far the most common options, but some schools have a much wider range of options available. 

Actuarial Science

Actuaries determine the rates for home, car, and life insurance policies. This pre-professional program prepares students to become actuaries upon graduation from their four-year university. Some pass their exams while still in college. This program is best suited for Mathematics, Economics, and Business Administration majors.

Architecture 

Some schools offer a pre-architecture program in which undergraduate students designate pre-architecture as their second major (they must choose another discipline as their primary major). Required courses may include art history, creative drawing, and calculus. Students will also have the opportunity to study computer-aided design and drafting, architectural history, and geology.

Chiropractic

Chiropractors practice holistic medicine, focusing primarily on nervous system function. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree or otherwise meeting all prerequisites, students attend chiropractic school for three to four years to earn a Doctor of Chiropractic degree. 

Course requirements for admission include biology, math, chemistry, and psychology. Majors well suited to this program include:

  • Human Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Exercise Science
  • Chemistry
  • Nutrition & Dietetics
  • Physics

Dentistry

In 2019, the median pay for dentists was $159,200 per year. 

While you’re pursuing your bachelor’s degree, pursuing dentistry looks very similar to the pre-med track. Some schools offer 7-year dental programs, which allow you to earn your bachelor’s degree and become a dentist in a total of seven years.

You could also become a dental hygienist in three to four years by earning an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree. Some schools offer a dual-degree program in which you can simultaneously earn a Bachelors of Dental Hygiene and a Masters of Public Health.

Education

Pre-professional education programs prepare students to become teachers. Participants can select the major of their choice while also taking courses that will prepare them for a career in education, such as:

  • Foundations in Elementary Math
  • Teaching as a Career
  • Children’s Literature
  • Computer Applications for the Classroom
  • Art in Elementary School
  • Earth Science for Middle School
  • Teaching Everyday Science
  • Introduction to Special Education

Pre-teacher education programs can help you to acquire the well-rounded education that you’ll need to succeed as a teacher. Advisors help you to connect with teachers who will mentor you as you volunteer in local schools. Most of these programs interface with credential programs that will allow you to earn your master’s degree in one year.

Engineering

Some colleges and universities offer engineering programs, usually through a College of Engineering or through the Physics department. These programs prepares students to earn a master’s degree in one of the following engineering specialties:

  • Electrical engineering
  • Computer engineering
  • Mechanical engineering
  • Aerospace engineering
  • Civil engineering
  • Architectural engineering
  • Nuclear engineering 

Health

Some colleges and universities use pre-health as a department that encompasses a number of more specific programs. Other schools offer pre-health as its own program. This is a wonderful option for students who want to study medicine but have yet to decide upon a profession or specialty. 

Your studies will be augmented by clinical experience, giving you a clearer idea of which profession you want to pursue.

The Pre-Health Core Studies Program at The University of Pennsylvania takes students through the introductory science courses required for admission to most medical, dental, nursing, and veterinary schools. You’ll study chemistry, biology, physics, and more. Students have the opportunity to explore more specialized studies such as:

  • Advanced Cell Biology
  • Essentials of Molecular Biology and Genetics
  • Clinical Psychopharmacology
  • Cancer Cell Biology
  • Histology
  • Immunobiology
  • Essentials of Vertebrate Physiology
  • Essentials of Biochemistry
  • Human Anatomy
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Human Biome 

Health Information Management

This field is a good fit for students who love numbers and computer work. Health information management specialists keep track of vital medical records and protect patients’ privacy. This can be obtained as a two-year associate’s degree.

Law

If you intend to apply to law school, a pre-law program can help you achieve your goals.

Pre-law advisors will help you to design your course schedule for a successful college experience. They’re available to help you study for the LSAT, find the right internships, and obtain the letters of recommendation you’ll need to apply to law schools.

The University of Iowa (which has one of the best law schools in the country) offers its pre-law undergraduates specialized, individual instruction in legal writing. They have full-time staff dedicated to teaching students how to compose legal documents. Qualifying students can begin law school at the start of their senior year, enabling them to earn both their bachelor’s degree and law degree in a total of six years.

Some law schools require applicants to submit the Dean’s Letter of Recommendation. At Boston University, the Pre-Professional Advising Office is responsible for these letters.

This can be a good track even for students who don’t plan on attending law school. If you’re considering work as a paralegal or a patent agent, you could benefit from a pre-law program.

Library Science

This program prepares students for a master’s degree in Library Science. It can be paired with any major, generally one of the liberal arts. Graduates go on to work in libraries, museum archives, law firms, and more.

Medical Laboratory Science

Students of medical laboratory science study chemistry, immunology, hematology, transfusion medicine, and microbiology. They go on to provide the information that allows doctors to make informed decisions on behalf of their patients. This pre-professional program includes clinical skills, research skills, and more. 

This path opens up a wide variety of careers within the medical field. Students who choose this track may go on to run routine blood work or cancer screenings. They could work in a variety of settings, including:

  • Education
  • Environmental Health
  • Fertility Clinics
  • Forensic Labs
  • Public Health
  • Research Labs
  • Sales

Some pre-health programs, including the one offered by The Ohio State University, offer medical laboratory science tracks that guarantee placement in clinical internships.

Medicine

Getting into medical school is no small task. The average GPA for students accepted to medical school is over 3.7. For the big-name schools, it’s over 3.9. A pre-med program can help you to balance your course load and do well on your MCAT.

For more information on pre-med programs, check out these articles:

Ministry

Some colleges and universities have programs to help their students prepare for a  graduate-level seminary or divinity school. At Elmhurst University, the Department of Religious Studies and the Chaplain’s Office work closely with students who feel called to serve in ministry.

Mortuary Service

This program exists to prepare students for a career in funeral services. Studies include interpersonal relations, public speaking, psychology, anatomy, chemistry, and biology. Students also prepare to run their own business by studying accounting, business ethics, and more.

Naturopathic Medicine

Naturopaths are physicians who focus on holistic health as opposed to pathology. Like medical doctors, NDs must complete a four-year program after earning their bachelor’s degree.

Naturopaths often run lab work to determine the root causes of symptoms. They then work with their patients to improve their health through nutrition, supplementation, herbal medicine, and lifestyle changes such as exercise.

There are six schools of naturopathic medicine in the United States:

  • Bastyr University in San Diego, California
  • Bastyr University in Seattle, Washington
  • National University of Health Sciences in Chicago, Illinois
  • National University of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon
  • Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine & Health Sciences in Phoenix, Arizona 
  • University of Bridgeport School of Natural Medicine in Bridgeport, Connecticut

There are also two options in Canada: one in Vancouver, and one in Toronto. 

Purdue University offers a pre-professional program for students interested in pursuing Naturopathic Medicine. Their advisors will help you to attain the clinical hours that you will need to spend shadowing a naturopath or other holistic healer.

Prerequisite courses for naturopathic medical school usually include:

  • Anatomy  
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomedical ethics
  • Botany
  • Developmental psychology
  • Physiology 
  • Philosophy of science
  • Public speaking

Nursing

Registered nurses earn an average of $73,000 per year. The median salary for nurse practitioners is $115,800 per year. The job outlook for nurses is slightly higher than average, whereas the job outlook for nurse practitioners is phenomenal, with a projected growth of 45 percent from 2019 to 2029.

Nurse practitioners must complete a master’s or doctoral degree program that includes advanced clinical training. There are also dual degree programs available that allow students to earn a Master’s of Business Administration, Master’s of Health Administration, or Master’s of Public Health.

Nutrition

Beginning in 2024, you must have a master’s degree to become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. These professionals work for health care institutions and government agencies, or run their own businesses in which they consult with clients and help them to improve their health.

Over one hundred schools now offer nutrition as a major, and many other colleges and universities include a nutrition track under their pre-health program. They help students to prepare for graduate school by giving them a solid education in biology, chemistry, and nutrition. Advisors will help you to prepare for the GRE and meet all application deadlines.

Occupational Therapy

Becoming an occupational therapist requires two to three years of training — that’s after you’ve earned your undergraduate degree. Once you’ve earned your master’s degree (to become an Occupational Therapist Registered) or your doctorate (to become a Doctor of Occupational Therapy), you’ll work with patients to help them (re)gain the skills they need to live independently. 

Programs are competitive. The average acceptance rate to programs that offer a master’s degree is 16 percent. The average acceptance rate of doctoral programs is under 18 percent. 

Most schools require at least 40 hours of clinical observation time. Pre-professional programs will help you to find opportunities for observation and also connect you with potential research experiences that will strengthen your application. Common prerequisites include:

  • Anatomy & Physiology
  • Behavioral Science
  • Biology
  • Communication 
  • Kinesiology 
  • Medical Terminology
  • Physics
  • Psychology
  • Statistics

Occupational therapists earn an average of $85,000 a year. Employment of occupational therapists is projected to grow 16 percent from 2019 to 2029, which is significantly higher than the 4 percent average for all occupations.

Optometry

Optometrists diagnose and treat visual problems. They earn an average of $115,000 per year. Some colleges and universities have pre-optometry programs that will help prepare you for a career in optometry while you pursue the undergraduate major of your choice.

Pharmacy

Pharmacists fill prescriptions and ensure that they won’t interact with the patient’s other prescriptions in a dangerous way. The average starting salary for pharmacists is six figures, and the average pharmacist makes over $120,000 each year.

You’ll need a Doctor of Pharmacy degree to work as a pharmacist. Most pharmacy schools require applicants to maintain a GPA above 3.0 and take the Pharmacy College Admission Test. You’ll also need clinical experience and letters of recommendation. 

Physical Therapy

Physical therapists help people to recover from accidents and surgeries. If you become a physical therapist, you will learn how to help patients regain mobility, restore function, and prevent pain. Once you’ve earned your bachelor’s degree, it takes about three more years of schooling to earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree.

Before you can begin a DPT program, you’ll need to spend at least 40 hours shadowing a professional. The GRE is usually required as well. Common prerequisites include:

  • Anatomy & Physiology
  • Chemistry
  • Medical Terminology
  • Physics
  • Psychology
  • Statistics

Physical therapists earn an average of $90,000 a year. Employment of occupational therapists is projected to grow 18 percent from 2019 to 2029.

Physician Assistant

The median annual wage for physician assistants in 2019 was $112,260. Job outlook is excellent, with a projected employment growth of 31 percent over the next decade.

Physician Assistant programs take about three years and award master’s degrees. Application to PA school is highly competitive. Many programs require applicants to maintain a GPA of 3.5 or higher. Prerequisite courses include:

  • Human Anatomy 
  • Human Physiology
  • Microbiology 
  • General Chemistry
  • Statistics or Biostatistics 
  • Upper-level Human Biology
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Medical Terminology
  • Psychology

Enrolling in a pre-health track will help you to accrue the prerequisite courses and health experience that you’ll need to apply. As a PA student, you’ll study a wide range of subjects relating to medical science and complete at least 2,000 hours of clinical rotations before becoming certified and obtaining a state license.

Radiology 

Radiologic technologists — or rad techs — are in charge of X-rays, MRI machines, radiation therapies, mammograms, and more. Most rad techs don’t have a graduate degree; they complete a two- to four-year program before entering the healthcare industry.

Radiation therapists earn over $85,000 per year on average.

Respiratory Therapy

Respiratory therapists work with people who are dealing with chronic respiratory issues like asthma, bronchitis, or sleep apnea. Some provide emergency care to patients who have experienced heart attacks or nearly drowned. Respiratory therapists study biomedical engineering, cardiopulmonary physiology, and cardiopulmonary pathophysiology.

Veterinary Medicine

Getting into veterinary school is no easier than being admitted to medical school. 

Prerequisites vary widely from one school to another, and a pre-veterinary program will help you keep track of your target schools’ requirements. In addition to maintaining a high GPA with a heavy course load, you’ll need to rack up 200 hours of experience in clinics and laboratories. College advisors can help you find these valuable internships.

Most veterinarians earn over $95,000 each year. The job outlook is very good, with a projected growth rate of 16 percent over the next ten years.

Conclusion: Pre-Professional Programs

Whatever your career goals, Transizion can help you get there. Our team will create a personalized list of schools that match your strengths and goals, and then guide you through the application process.

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