University of California, Riverside

Health Professions Advising Center

Frequently Asked Questions

Below is a list of frequently asked questions. Although many of the questions and answers concern medical school, many of the answers apply to a variety of health professions. If you have any additional questions, or would like clarification, feel free to email HPAC at or drop by the main office in Pierce 1114.

Choosing A Major

Contrary to popular belief, a student does not have to be a science major in order to one day attend a health professions school. In fact, all of the health professions schools - including medicine, pharmacy, and dentistry - admit students who receive a variety of science and non-science majors each year. Although you do not have to major in the sciences, health professions schools typically have a list of prerequisite courses that they require students to take before applying to their programs. For more information about prerequisite courses, please refer to our "Health Prerequisite Courses at UCR" page or to specific health professional school websites. Students who apply are evaluated based on their science and non-science academic record.

You Don't Have to Major in Biology

  • Although biology majors make up about 55% of the students who apply to medical school, they do not matriculate at a higher rate than students who come from other majors.
  • Applicants to other health professions come from a variety of academic backgrounds as well, including humanities, math and statistics, physical sciences, social sciences and specialized health studies.

What successful applicants have in common is a strong foundation in the sciences and academic excellence. Regardless of your major, schools and programs look for applicants who consistently show academic excellence or trends of improvement throughout their undergraduate career. Typically, competitive students complete their undergraduate degree with a mean science, non-science and overall GPA of 3.5 or above* (this figure is for medical school). The average composite MCAT score is about 30. Other health professions may have slightly lower GPA requirements, but students are only competitive with average GPAs and test scores far above the minimum undergraduate requirements.

Regardless of your major and the order in which you take your prerequisite classes, you should meet with your department's academic advisor and the HPAC staff to develop a plan that makes sense for you. You want to make sure that you are able to complete both your major requirements as well as any prerequisite requirements you might have for your health profession of interest.


What is so hard about being pre-med?

For many students, the most difficult task is to acquire the study skills and self-discipline necessary to attain academic excellence. The success of your transition to college level work depends not only on ability, but also upon preparation, motivation, organization and how well you learn how to learn. It is important that you really learn the material, not just memorize it, as it is crucial to develop your critical thinking skills. The rigorous curriculum of a pre-medical student demands tenacity and stamina. There will be "star" students in your classes and for the first time in your academic career, you may have to work harder than some students. This can be discouraging.


What is a D.O.?

A D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) is a licensed, board certified physician, who has attended medical school and has completed a residency in a medical specialty. Osteopathic physicians are known to approach diagnosis and medical treatment in a holistic manner. Many D.O.'s specialize in primary care. 


What is the MCAT?

The Medical College Admission Test is a standardized test that measures aptitude and achievement in science, critical thinking and other areas related to the study of medicine. Medical schools require that you take the MCAT prior to admission, as do podiatry schools. We suggest familiarizing yourself with the MCAT as early as your freshman year so that you can plan for the test. Understanding the test can positively affect what you learn in class and how you choose to retain that knowledge. 

The MCAT is adopting a new format in 2015. The 2015 MCAT will have four sections: 1. Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems Section, 2. Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems Section, 3. Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior Section, and 4. Critical Analysis of Reasoning Skills Section.

For more information on the MCAT and how to prepare to take it, please visit our MCAT page HERE. For more information on other standardized tests such as the PCAT, OAT, and DAT, please refer to the information on our Applying Students page HERE.


What do health profession schools consider when evaluating applicants?

The criteria for admission varies from school to school, but usually includes academic record (GPA), admissions tests (MCAT, PCAT,  etc.), letters of recommendation, demonstrated knowledge and commitment to the profession and a personal interview. Personal characteristics such as integrity and maturity are considered. Early in your college career you should consider exploring the health field through volunteering, employment, shadowing and research for credit. Staying active in non-health related activities can also be very beneficial.


What GPA do I have to have to get into medical school? 

This varies from school to school. However, the majority of students accepted to medical school have a GPA of approximately 3.5 or higher. It is particularly important that you perform well in your science courses. It is important for those considering professional school to be realistic about the extent to which performance meets admissions expectations. Remember, health profession schools are looking at your entire application and not just your test scores. There is no GPA that will guarantee getting accepted or rejected from a program.


Is it all over if I have a bad quarter?

Admission committees look at the "big picture" as they evaluate applicants. They realize that every student does not hit the ground running when they enter college. Admission committees expect an excellent academic record, but will make some allowances for a problem quarter, slow start, or rough spot. Use resources such as professor and T.A. office hours and the Academic Resource Center to help bounce back.


Will I need letters of recommendation? 

Yes. Most schools require two letters from science professors that have had you in class and one letter from a non-science professor. Some D.O. programs require a letter of recommendation from an osteopathic physician. Some medical schools allow you to have additional letters.


Is financial aid available?

Amounts and types of aid vary from school to school, as does the cost of your education. You should investigate the costs early in your undergraduate career. Knowing that you are probably going to incur a substantial loan debt for medical school may affect the way that you borrow for your undergraduate education. Most applicants are eligible for government originated aid; apply during January of your application cycle, even if you are still waiting to find out whether or not you have been accepted. Apply for aid at For more information on financing your medical education, visit the AAMC and the AACOM.

Health Professions Scholarship Program is offered via the US Air Force; US Army; and US Navy. These programs typically cover 100% of medical school tuition and fees, along with a bonus or stipend.

If you are a low-income applicant you may be eligible for the AAMC Fee Assistance Program or an AACOM Fee Waiver. This will help offset costs of taking the MCAT and applying to medical school.


Question Submissions

If you have a general question you would like added to our FAQs, please email

More Information 

General Campus Information

University of California, Riverside
900 University Ave.
Riverside, CA 92521
Tel: (951) 827-1012

Department Information

Health Professions Advising Center
Rivera Library B03

Tel: (951) 827-6233

Related Links