Pre-Health Professions: FAQ - Pepperdine University - Seaver College

Pre-Health Professions: FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

The following questions are ones that are asked most frequently by students considering careers in the health professions. Although the questions below most often are asked by pre-medical students, the discussion applies to pre-dental, pre-veterinary, and other pre-health profession students as well.

General Questions

For High School Students Primarily

For Pepperdine Students Primarily

What is the best major for a pre-med student at Pepperdine University?

Medical schools do not require a specific major course of study and Pepperdine does not offer a "pre-med" major. A student should choose a major that is intellectually challenging and about which one is passionate. Genuine interest in your chosen major should motivate you to do well and will result in closer relationships with your professors from whom you might later request letters of recommendation. You may select any major offered at Seaver College (catalog link), including non-science majors, and still be a pre-med student. However, one advantage of majoring in science is that most (if not all) of the pre-med curriculum will also be required courses for your major. If you choose a non-science major, you will have to complete the pre-med courses in addition to the courses required for your major.

What courses do I take at Pepperdine to complete the pre-med curriculum?

Medical, dental, and veterinary schools have a similar list of undergraduate requirements. This list includes one year of general chemistry, one year of organic chemistry, one year of physics, and one year of biology. For more information about specific classes available at Pepperdine and other recommended classes please refer to the Medical School Course Requirements.

A listing of specific course requirements for each medical school as well as general information about each school is found in the reference book published by the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Pre-dental students should refer to "The ADEA Official Guide to Dental Schools, 44th Edition" which is available on the American Dental Education Association Website.


What percent of our applicants are accepted into medical school?

For the past several years, the usual percent of accepted applicants is between 60% to 70%.  We have about 20 to 30 Pepperdine students that apply to medical school each year. The acceptance rate for those students who have high grade point averages (GPAs) and competitive Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) scores is almost 100%. It is not difficult to understand what you need to do to get into medical school, but it is difficult to do what you need to do in order to get accepted.

The acceptance rate for applicants to dental school is close to 100% with only 0-5 applicants to dental school each year.


In the past, what medical schools have our students frequently attended?

Frequently attended schools include the University of Southern California, University of California Irvine, Northwestern, Tulane, Emory, Loma Linda, Baylor, Georgetown, Ohio State, St. Louis as well as various state schools especially when those schools are the home-state schools of the student applicant (Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Nevada, Texas, New Mexico, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Colorado, etc.).


Can I attend an international program (overseas) while pursuing pre-med at Pepperdine?

Of course! We recommend that you do so both because of the quality of the overseas programs and the invaluable experience it affords. Many of our students attend one of our International Programs while at Pepperdine. You may elect to spend an entire academic year, a semester, or a summer session abroad. Most programs do not offer science classes while overseas. Consequently, pre-med students going overseas during the school year often take science classes in summer school or wait to apply to medical school until their senior year.


What are the drawbacks of being a California resident?

When selecting a first year medical school class, admissions committees from state medical schools often consider only or mainly applicants who are residents of that state. In California, however, there is not the same kind of home-state advantage like there is in most other states. This is due to the large number of California resident-applicants compared to the number of medical school seats available in California. California has 36 million residents and only 8 medicals schools. This is approximately the same number of seats California had 30 years ago when the population was "only" 19 million. For example, each year there are approximately 4,000 applicants for 100 seats at UCLA while there may be just 400 applicants for 100 seats at the University of Arizona medical school. Consequently, California is a major exporter of medical school students to the rest of the nation. This means that if you want to go to a California school you have to have as close to a 4.0 GPA as possible and comparably high MCAT scores as well as the other factors listed below.


What factors are important to the admission committees of medical schools?

The two critically important factors are your GPA and MCAT scores. Both your GPA and MCAT scores are reliable predictors of a student's ability to succeed in medical school. Other factors include, but are not limited to, clinical experience and/or volunteer work, research experience, work experience, extracurricular activities, and personal attributes such as compassion, passion for medicine, and leadership ability.  Evidence of the ability to work with medically underserved individuals and those from other cultures is also important.


What kind of grades do I need to get into medical school?

You need As and Bs. The average undergraduate GPA for students accepted to medical school is about 3.6, and about 3.7 for students accepted to UC medical schools. You should also understand that making As and Bs will not guarantee you admission to medical school. Your GPA is only one of several criteria that admission committees consider in making admissions decisions.


What is the MCAT and what is an average score for students?

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a standardized test consisting of four parts: essays (one part) and three multiple-choice tests (verbal reasoning, physical sciences, and biological sciences) (one-part each). The multiple-choice tests are scored on a scale of 1-15 in whole-number increments. The national average for all students taking the MCAT is between 8 and 9 on each of the three multiple-choice portions of the test. For students admitted to medical school, the average test score is about 10 on each part, for a combined score on the multiple-choice portions of the exam of about 30. Starting in the year 2007 the MCAT was changed in several ways. It is now computerized, takes less time and is scheduled many more times during the year. For more information, visit their Website


Where do Pepperdine students participate in clinical/volunteer work?

All of our students accepted to medical school have had extensive experience as volunteers or in paid work in one or more health care settings involving contact with patients, e.g., working at a clinic, a hospital, or a doctor's office. Such experiences are usually gained off campus, although there are a few opportunities on campus, e.g., the cold clinic. Such volunteer experiences serve a myriad of purposes, not the least of which is your own exposure to what your life might be like as a physician. Some of this work should be done in an underserved and/or overseas community.


Where do Pepperdine students participate in research work?

A majority of our students accepted to medical school have participated in research under faculty supervision either at Pepperdine or at another college or research institute. Research may be done during the academic year or during the summer. Although research participation may be mandatory for certain medical schools and career goals, e.g., entrance to a M.D. /Ph.D. program, it is not always required. If you are interested in doing research at Pepperdine talk to your Pepperdine professors about their research and ask if they have any positions available in their lab. In addition, there are SURB and SURP scholarships available every summer for research projects with professors. Off campus research is available on most college campuses during the summer and many organizations such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and American Heart Association (AHA) support summer research at various sites throughout the US.


What are the benefits of going to Pepperdine University?

  • Pepperdine offers a strong liberal arts education which, especially if a student takes the Great Books sequence, provides skills that are very helpful on the verbal section of the MCAT.
  • Pepperdine has an excellent science faculty and rigorous science courses that are excellent preparation for both the MCAT and medical school.
  • Our science professors normally do not grade on the curve which creates a non-competitive atmosphere and promotes cooperation among students and faculty.
  • Pepperdine's emphasis on undergraduate education and the absence of graduate students results in many excellent research opportunities being available for undergraduates with Natural Science faculty. If you pursue this early in your career at Pepperdine you may be able to present your work at scientific meetings and may receive publication credit. Biology, chemistry, and sports medicine all have honors research programs.
  • Pepperdine offers a summer research program in biology (SURB) as well as in other areas (SURP). There are scholarships available to spend the summer at Pepperdine and participate in research with Natural Science faculty.
  • There are two courses specifically for pre-health professions students: "Introduction to the Health Sciences" for freshmen or sophomores and "The Application Process" for juniors or seniors who are or will be applying to professional schools. Both are one (1) unit courses taught by the pre-med advisor.
  • There are outside speakers from the health professions to help guide you in your choice of career. Our graduates who are presently in medical school also return to speak and mentor our undergraduates.
  • There is a volunteer coordinator who can aid you in finding volunteer work in a clinical setting.
  • There is a letter of recommendation service wherein we collect your letters from various faculty and outside sources, create a file for you, and then send them electronically to medical schools as part of the secondary application process.
  • There is a pre-health club and a chapter of Phi Delta Epsilon, an international medical fraternity at Pepperdine.
  • There are overseas programs through international programs and mission trips to Mexico and other countries though the volunteer center. Through Project Serve, held during Spring Break, students may travel to regions of the United States, Mexico, or South America to serve underserved populations.
  • Pepperdine offers a Washington, D.C. internship program for all students. This is an excellent opportunity for pre-health students to get experience at various agencies, hospitals, or clinics in the D.C. area at the same time as they are able to take needed science classes. As examples, students have worked at Healthy Baby, Healthy Mothers, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Amgen, and the National Institutes of Health.


For High School Students Primarily

What can I do in high school to prepare myself for pre-med in college and medical school?

In the same way that the pre-med curriculum helps to prepare you for the academic rigors of medical school, you can use high school classes to prepare for college. You should take as much English, math, physics, chemistry, and biology as your high school offers, as well as any courses that involve extensive reading and writing. You need to be able to read with comprehension, and understand concepts well enough to apply them. You also need to develop efficient study habits and self-discipline. Courses should be taken at the highest level available. As an example, advanced placement or AP courses should be taken when available.

In addition to your academic preparation, there are other activities that are helpful.  It is a good idea, for example, to develop the habit of reading the newspaper and/or a weekly news magazine on a regular basis. Besides building your vocabulary, it will also help keep you informed of what is going on around the world, which is part of your education outside of the classroom.

Clinical and volunteer work done in a medical setting during high school is valuable in order to help you determine whether medicine is the right career for you. In addition if you continue that same volunteer work in college you can list it on your application to medical school.


Which AP (Advanced Placement) classes taken in high school give me credit for pre-med classes at Pepperdine?

Calculus (for MATH 150 and possibly MATH 151) will count for our pre-medical course requirements if you achieve the appropriate scores. Other AP science classes count as general education courses. We do recommend taking AP chemistry and biology in high school because they will make first year science classes at Pepperdine easier.

For details about the usefulness of AP scores refer to the Pepperdine Handout on AP class credit.

Be forewarned that some medical schools will not give credit for AP courses even though we do so at Pepperdine.


For Pepperdine Students Primarily

What happens if my grades are lower than they should be?

No one individual grade or even series of grades will keep you out of medical school. Often freshman year grades are the lowest due to the difficulty of adjusting to the college environment. It is important for grades to improve over time.

If your GPA is too low at graduation you may go back to school as a post baccalaureate student and take upper division or graduate level science classes to demonstrate command of those subjects. Other options include making application to off-shore, foreign, or osteopathic medical schools.


Is it advisable to withdraw from a course?

Medical schools do not like to see a "W" on a transcript.  They assume that you were failing or receiving a D in the class and that is why you had to drop it.  Therefore, only drop it if you are getting a D or an F and there is no way to bring your grade up.  Do not withdraw from a class because you no longer need it for graduation or are changing your major.  When you apply to medical school you will have to explain why you dropped the class. 

What a medical school would like to know is that when faced with adverse circumstances (bad grades, troubled relationships, crowded schedules, etc.) you were able to make the adjustments necessary to succeed.  If you are doing poorly in a class, talk with the professor, get tutoring, seek help from your classmates, or talk to the pre-med advisor.


Is it advisable to repeat a pre-med course?

Not unless your grade is below a C- or you feel that you do not understand the subject matter.  If you do retake a class both grades will appear on your transcript.  Medical schools recommend that instead of repeating a course you take upper division science courses in the same area to increase your knowledge and boost your GPA.


If I am a non-science major will I have any extra problems?

Sometimes your major classes can conflict with your science classes. However this is usually not a problem with the possible exception of art classes.


What classes count in the "science" GPA on AMCAS, (the application form for medical school)?

The science GPA on your application for medical school (AMCAS) is called BCPM.  The initials stand for biology, chemistry, physics, and math.  However, many of our science classes fit into their designation.  Sports medicine and psychology classes that have a lab and are hard science classes also count.  Your major GPA is very similar to your science GPA if you are a biology, chemistry, or sports medicine major.