Students who have their eyes on medical school have to be choosy about their undergraduate institution as well, according to officials of three Twin Cities' area colleges.

Jodi Goldberg, assistant professor of biology and a pre-health academic advisor at Hamline University in St. Paul, suggests that prospective pre-med students ask the following questions:

Does the college have dedicated pre-med or pre-health advisors?

How frequently do students meet with advisors to discuss completion of requirements?

Are there internship, research and volunteer opportunities?

Is the academic climate collaborative or competitive?

Does the college offer assistance with the medical school application process?

Will the advisor or advisory committee write a letter of recommendation for the student?

How accessible is the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) preparation course?

What is the college's acceptance rate of graduates to medical school and which schools accepted them?

What schools expect

"Medical schools do not require you to be a pre-med major," adds Paul T. White, assistant dean of admissions at the University of Minnesota Medical School. As long as the student has taken all the prerequisites for getting into medical school, it doesn't matter what major is chosen, he says.

White also has advice for nontraditional students, whether they want to change careers or begin working right after high school. He says medical schools value a student's commitment to service as well as scholarship. "If you're working for a few years, you won't have much time for volunteer activities, so what you do have has to be meaningful," White offers. He also suggests that undergraduates get some sort of exposure to medicine, whether it is through internships, work or volunteer activity.

Seek out opportunities

Lin Aanonsen, chair of Macalester College's biology department and director of health profession advising, agrees with White on the last count. "One thing that's absolutely critical is that they ask if there are resources to help students gain access to internships both medical and non-medical," Aanonsen says. "Being in an urban setting offers a huge number of opportunities that students can take advantage of during the academic year as well as during the summer and breaks."

She also says that students should demonstrate an ability to conduct research, but it doesn't necessarily have to be medical research. Being able to think critically and work independently in another subject area is just as good, she says.

Nancy Crotti is a freelance writer who lives in St. Paul.