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Is a pre-professional or professional program right for me?

What do you want to be when you grow up? For some, a childhood aspiration or a desire to follow in their parent’s footsteps will carry into young adulthood. For others, a calling toward a particular vocation will emerge in high school. Still, others are looking toward economic trends before determining that they want to follow a particular professional path.

Admission to pre-professional or professional undergraduate programs will differ greatly depending on the program and the university or college. Remember, you don’t always have to follow a specific path toward a career…(music majors can become doctors too!).

Here are some pointers about a few of the most common professional programs:

1. Pre-Med, Pre-Vet and Combined Baccalaureate/MD programs:

  • Pre-Medicine (Pre-Med) is not a major, rather it is a series of classes designed to prepare students to take the MCAT (Medical School Admissions Test) and apply for Medical School. Students interested in medicine may major in biology, biochemistry, or chemistry.

  • Pre-Veterinarian (Pre-Vet) — If you love animals and science, you might be on your way to becoming a Veterinarian. Many majors can lead you on this path. You are likely seeking an undergraduate major in biology or Animal Science. Molecular and Cellular Biology will be important classes to take. Pre-Vet will help you complete the necessary courses to apply to Vet School for graduate studies.

  • Baccalaureate/MD combined programs: These programs are ultra-competitive on admission. They typically guarantee that a student can finish both an undergraduate degree and a medical degree in seven years. The student will be required to maintain good standing and achieve strong grades in the undergraduate program to make it through. Often these programs take only around 15 students per year and may involve a rigorous interview process.

In addition, specializations in Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy or Speech Therapy also exist at the undergraduate level

2. Professional Engineering:

If you are seeking a degree in Engineering, you may want to consider the options within a university or consider a specialized technical college. Either way, you’ll want to seek a program that has been accredited by ABET.

An engineering college offering a degree in Bachelor of Engineering or Bachelor of Science in Engineering will often prescribe a rigid and demanding curriculum to its students. This is excellent for students who love the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects. Often if applying to an engineering college, a student will be asked to select a specific major of interest, (i.e. Mechanical Engineering, Civil Engineering, etc…)

Beginning your studies in general engineering is ok too - if the college offers it.

Larger universities may support an engineering college on their campus. They may also allow for engineering studies in other schools. For example, Computer Science can be in both an Engineering college and an Arts & Sciences College at a particular university.  

Engineering programs for undergraduate study are extremely competitive to get into. Students should have a strong foundation in math (Calculus or beyond), Chemistry, Physics, and other STEM coursework.  Many colleges with strong engineering programs will require SAT or ACT scores for admission.

3. Professional Nursing:

If you are curious about the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program (BSN), you are not alone. There is a massive need for more trained nurses in the United States and around the world. Many institutions of higher education are starting or enhancing their nursing programs. Students who have a calling for this profession are generally strong in the STEM fields in high school including biology and chemistry. The top programs will again be very competitive on admission. The good news is that there are a multitude of programs, and students who do not qualify for nursing or accelerated nursing programs, can often pursue pre-nursing coursework and then move into the more rigorous programs.  Pre-nursing allows a student to take the classes they will need to apply to a full nursing program and it helps folks decide if nursing is right for them.

4. Architecture:

If you love to draw and design and you have a penchant for mathematics, architecture may be an interesting field for you to pursue. Undergraduate Architecture programs consist of 5-year, Bachelor of Architecture degrees, and/or 4-year Bachelor of Science in Architecture (a pre-professional program). The four-year degree will require some graduate studies in order for students to become certified as architects.

5. Business:

There are many different ways to prepare to work in the field of business. Students do not have to be business majors to work in the field. In fact, undergraduate business programs often require students to complete a liberal arts core in addition to their more specific classes. However, if students are interested in accounting, finance, or entrepreneurship, they may be very excited about an undergraduate business program. Students should have strong grades in mathematics in high school to look at a business program. Many colleges will offer direct entry into their business program for a student applying from high school, but they will also keep open opportunities for students to transfer in if they learn later that business is their path.

Final Thought:

 While many colleges will offer statistics about what a student’s salary will be right out of a professional degree program, this college counselor would strongly urge students to follow their passions alongside salary scale data. If your answer to why you want to study in a professional field is the salary you can make right out of college, this author suggests doing a deep dive into the curriculum in the field of study, the licensure or certificate process, and the hours of practicum or apprenticeship that might be required. These professions can be wonderful and rewarding but they often require grueling hours in order to be successful. Seek a mentor in the field who can help to guide you. That can make all the difference.

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