Choosing Majors for Pre-Health Freshmen

By Ann C. Trail, M.Ed.

 

exx454_20141120_052One of the questions most frequently asked by pre-health freshmen is, “What should I major in?”  The answer, to the surprise of many, is “Whatever you want to major in.”  Health professions schools have no preference as to a student’s major.  No major gives applicants an edge.  No majors raise admissions committees’ eyebrows.  There are courses students must complete in order to do well on the admissions exams, and to be prepared for the professional coursework, but these taken together are roughly the equivalent of a minor in terms of credit load.  Professional schools view undergraduate education as an opportunity for students to pursue intellectual interests and develop analytical reasoning skills.  If a student is truly interested in biochemistry, she should major in biochemistry.  But if he is drawn to history, now is the time to delve into it.  It is not offered in medical or dental school.  And according to the American Association of Medical Colleges, there is no discernable difference in MCAT scores, or admission rates, between students who majored in sciences and students who majored in other disciplines.  The analytical reasoning skills needed in a complex field like medicine can be learned in any field.  For these reasons, among others, we recommend students choose as majors subjects they enjoy and excel in.

[NOTE:  The professional majors (business and engineering) are not designed to accommodate the extra load needed to prepare for health professions schools.  Students choosing these programs may need to take summer courses and/or finish their pre-health preparation after graduation.]

Of course, choosing a major comes more easily for some students than others.  Some apply directly to their majors as part of their application.  Others arrive on campus with majors in mind, and declare after taking an introductory course or two.  Still others are less certain.  At Villanova, students must declare a major by the end of sophomore year.  But students are not without guidance in this endeavor.  They have ample advising resources in the form of faculty and staff available to help them navigate these decisions. And herein lies another benefit of the liberal arts education:  while students are fulfilling the Core requirement, they are simultaneously being exposed to subjects they may never otherwise have considered exploring.  In the process many find new areas of interest; some, occasionally, find majors. Some may follow a second interest into completion of a minor.

 

This leads to a second fact about majors (and minors) that surprises some students.  The accumulation of extra majors and minors is not something that impresses admissions committees.  All learning, whether intellectual, spiritual, social, or service-oriented, should provide growth and be meaningful to the student.  The only reason to major in two subjects is because the student is absolutely passionate about the two, and is driven to pursue them to the extent of completing both majors.  The double major itself will garner no points in the professional school admissions process.

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The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences offers a rich array of majors to suit the intellectual appetites of a student body with diverse intellectual passions.  Students should choose majors they enjoy, find courses that challenge them, explore new areas of interest, complete the particular prerequisites for their intended professions, engage in their communities, and do their best.  That is the way to become strong candidates for graduate school, and to have a fulfilling undergraduate experience.

Ann C. Trail, M.Ed., is a Health Professions Advisor at Villanova University in the Office of Undergraduate Students.

Homecoming: A Lasting Legacy

Homecoming Weekend. In high school, students look forward to sporting their bright school colors, cheering on classmates during a football or soccer game, and celebrating what makes their school so special. For the many students who enjoy Homecoming, the good news is that the experiences at Villanova University are no different.

Villanova’s Homecoming Weekend not only welcomed the crisp fall weather, but it also welcomed hundreds of families and friends to campus, coming together to celebrate what makes our university so special. Saturday morning began with an open men’s basketball scrimmage in our Pavilion, introducing an amazing new team to spectators. The Homecoming Festival on Saturday afternoon spanned across our main campus and included performances from several a cappella and dance groups and an appearance from our very own mascot, Will D. Cat. Later, fans flooded the football stadium to watch our Wildcats obtain victory. On both Friday and Saturday evenings, alumni events welcomed members of organizations like the Engineering Alumni Society and the Black Alumni Society back to campus. At Villanova’s Homecoming, there is something for everyone to enjoy!

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The Villanova Band gave a great performance Saturday morning at the Oreo!

Whether you’re listening to an a cappella group at the Oreo, tailgating with friends and family, or watching our football team secure a 24-13 win over Albany, the Nova Nation’s spirit winds through campus during Homecoming Weekend. Our blue and white pride was evident everywhere you looked, and while this is the norm for our school, Homecoming Weekend further exemplified how tight knit of a community Villanova University is. As members of Greek life, musical groups, family, friends, and alumni celebrated together, it was clear that events like Homecoming keep Villanova alumni and families coming back for more.

The spirit of Villanova runs through the veins of hundreds of students, faculty, alumni, and families, and celebrations like Homecoming allow for those veins to join together, forming the true body of Villanova University. What is most exciting, however, is how many students are actually the children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews of Villanova alumni, and families often come to Homecoming Weekend to reconnect and celebrate the sense of community that leaves a lasting impression for generations.

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Kathleen Wroblewski, James Wroblewski ’19, and Henry Wroblewski ’77

James Wroblewski ’19 is a third generation Villanovan, as his grandfather, father, uncle, and sister graduated from the university. James spoke at Villanova’s Legacy Day on Sunday, telling alumni and their children about the impact Villanova has left both on his family and on him as an individual. During his college search, James visited many schools, but constantly told himself, “It’s not Villanova.” He described our university as “a warm, open, inviting and friendly community of individuals.” James considers Villanova to be “an emotional topic” for his family, and Villanova’s principles of truth, unity, and love are what have been bringing his family back for more than 70 years.

 Another speaker, Elizabeth Buonomo ’18, is the daughter of two Villanova alumni whose wedding actually took place in our beautiful St. Thomas of Villanova Church. Elizabeth stated that the school felt like home and she felt very proud to be a legacy student. She advised students of alumni to “celebrate the stories that make you a Villanova legacy, but don’t be afraid to write your own.” Though she did follow her parents to our Augustinian university, Elizabeth was able to shape her own journey here, and it is that ability to make the most of your experience at Villanova that encourages more and more people to visit.

Whether you’re the child of a Villanova alumni, a current student at the university, or a prospective student, the community, academics, and endless school spirit can be found almost anywhere you look. While the Nova Nation’s pep is maintained throughout the entire year, events like Homecoming Weekend truly bring people together in a way that reminds alumni why they chose Villanova and encourages hopeful high school students to become Wildcats too.

The Medical School Admission Experience

By Ann C. Trail, M.Ed.

adm595_20140428-13518Health Professions Advisors are often asked, “How many of your students are accepted into Medical School?”  It is easy to provide the answer to that question.  The answer to that question is a number.  It fluctuates somewhat from year to year, but it is a number.  A few syllables that don’t require much thought, and that actually don’t reveal much about either the institution or about the experience the student will have.

Admissions to health professions schools is no longer based simply on transcripts and test scores.  Professional schools expect students to have spent time in health care environments, to ensure they are making an informed decision about their career choices.  They expect students to spend time in service activities, to ensure that a career putting other people’s needs ahead of their own is something that meshes with their priorities.  They are also expecting students to spend time developing the personal skills that will prepare them to serve and work as team members with the diverse population that makes up the United States.  Given the amount of time, effort, and money that students will be investing in their training, it is to their benefit as well to ensure that they have chosen a career that is truly a good fit.

So what should a prospective student be looking for besides admissions statistics to professional school?  While we health professions advisors would like to take all the credit when our students receive their acceptance letters, our role is advice and support.  The students do the work.  Every college in the country offers pre-health coursework.  Students can build the extracurricular portfolio they need to be a strong candidate from anywhere in the nation.  Students are admitted to medical schools from everywhere, and they are denied from everywhere.  Most advisors will tell you that what makes the difference is the “fit” between the student and their undergraduate institution.  Students who find a good fit thrive.  Students who thrive reach out for challenge.  They grow and excel.  For some students, the “fit” will be a large research institution.  For some it will be a small liberal arts college.  Still others will start at community college.  Some students will need to be close to home, others will chafe unless they go far away.  The answer will be different for everyone.  This is why it is so important to visit campuses.

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Villanova University is a wonderful place for students who are interested in health professions.  It is small enough that science classes (including labs) are taught by faculty.  It is large enough to provide a wealth of research opportunities to undergraduate students.  Service opportunities abound, allowing students to explore service and the role they would like it to play in their professional lives.  Coursework in ethics, peace and justice, gender and women’s studies, global health, all allow students avenues for exploration of current health care issues as well as the philosophical underpinnings of these issues.  Villanova’s Augustinian Catholic approach to education challenges students to look at different perspectives and thoughts through  coursework and themed learning opportunities on campus, as well as community service and mission trips away.

But back to the number.  For the curious, about 70-75% of Villanovans who apply are admitted to medical schools.  Nationally, the average is 40-45%.  But don’t base your decision on numbers.  Visit the school.  Ask yourself:  is this school a fit?  Is this the environment where my son or daughter will thrive?   Because that is what you really need to know.

Ann C. Trail, M.Ed., is a Health Professions Advisor at Villanova University in the Office of Undergraduate Students. 

Undecided: The Opportunity to Explore

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” We’ve all heard it before. In kindergarten, I wanted to be a nurse, a teacher, and, at one point, an acrobat. The sky’s the limit when you’re a little kid. Careers seem like something so far away. They’re exciting. They exude potential. When college rolls around, however, the idea of declaring a course of study can seem more overwhelming than ever before. How can you know exactly what you want to do? How can you channel all of your passions and desires into one selected major? At Villanova University, students are not expected to have their entire futures planned out from day one, which is one of the reasons to choose our liberal arts-based curriculum. Villanova looks for students who are passionate and eager to learn, and many students do not declare their majors until the end of sophomore year. If you have an idea of what you want to major in, that’s great! If you find yourself struggling, however, remember that there are many students who probably feel the same way.

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Two Physics students were so excited to answer questions at the Majors Fair!

Plenty of students enter Villanova undecided, and here are what a couple of them had to say:

“Coming to college undeclared allows for the necessary personal and academic growth that shapes a student in a robust way—it allows you to put superficial judgments based on factors like salaries aside and guides you to what truly sparks your interest… And this is the beauty of being undecided at Villanova—we are given all of these tools to discover what we love, and we have two full years to take classes until we make our decision. Forming genuine relationships with professors and dabbling in many different fields has helped me feel ready to make an informed decision about what my major will be.” – Emily DiMatteo ’19
“Being undecided about my major did worry me because I felt like everybody else around me had it all figured out. Once I realized that not everyone had it figured out, I was okay with being undecided. It is a big life choice that you have to make at such a young age, and I wanted the time to explore my options and really figure it out…You may take a course that was never offered in high school that you may end up falling in love with. That was definitely something that altered my decision-making. The majors fair is a huge help in the decision making process.” – Juliana Sanabria ’19

Certainly, there are exceptions. If you are set on becoming an engineer or a nurse, you probably need to make the decision early in the process in order to complete all your requirements on time, but don’t worry, because every student at Villanova will take thought-provoking classes outside of their major. For the rest of us, there’s time to explore, attend the Majors Fair or an advising course for undeclared students and, most of all, take some time to figure out the best fit for you. The Majors Fair, which takes place every fall, allows students to speak with professors and students in several academic fields to gain more information about classes, requirements, and even the chance to study abroad!

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Work toward an Irish Studies minor by spending 6 weeks in Galway this summer!

I have always been confident in my decision to study communication. Our core curriculum, however, has allowed me to learn within my major while exploring fields that once felt foreign, like sociology, ethics, Italian and psychology. I might even add a history minor because that’s something I have found a passion for, too. At Villanova, students are encouraged to thrive in a variety of subjects, which prevents them from limiting themselves. They are encouraged to explore numerous areas of study in hopes that something will ignite a spark within each and every one of them. It’s an option not every university offers, but it’s a valuable one for those who need a little more time to figure it all out.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Villanova University hopes students will see this question not as a burden, but as an opportunity to explore their education, take risks, and ultimately find a passion that ignites change.