Freshman Enrollment In `Prehealth' Has Nearly Doubled In Last Four Years

By Sandra Howe
Staff Writer

The percentage of College of Arts and Sciences freshmen enrolled in the Premedical Program is nearly double that of four years ago, highlighting a national trend toward the health services field while posing a challenge for the students and the program.

According to program director Senior Lect. Robert Wolff (Biology), 24 percent of the Class of 1999 (338 students) has enrolled in the program, compared to 13 percent in the Class of 1995 (197 students), with 21 percent of the overall A&S student body enrolled. This growth - which mirrors national trends - represents a challenge for Wolff and the 13-member Premedical/Predental Committee he chairs, but they continue striving to serve the needs not only of aspiring doctors and dentists, but veterinarians, podiatrists, optometrists and other health professionals as well. They have produced an impressive record of achievement.

The continuing influx of "prehealth" students, as Wolff refers to them, does not signal a shift away from the liberal arts, he pointed out. While almost 85 percent of prehealth students are biology majors, the remaining 15 percent include English, theology, philosophy and psychology majors, as well as undergraduates from the School of Nursing and the Carroll School of Management.

"Currently, prehealth students pursue a variety of interests and majors, so there is a balance in their academic careers," Wolff said.

These Boston College undergraduates are joining an unprecedented number of prospective medical students in an increasingly competitive environment, Wolff said. Applications to the nation's 126 medical schools have risen 25 percent over the last four years to a record high of 46,591. In 1987-88, medical schools accepted an average 65 percent of applicants, but only 37 percent were accepted in 1994-95, according to Wolff.

Premedical Program Director Robert Wolff. (Photo by Mark Morelli)

Boston College students are faring well in this competitive market. On average, 55 percent of all Boston College undergraduates who apply to medical school are accepted. Last year, 94 percent of those with a 3.1 grade point average or higher in science courses and a 9 on the Medical College Admissions Test were accepted; the national averages for accepted candidates were, respectively, 3.5 and 9.7. Also, in the last four years, all Boston College students who applied to dental, optometry, podiatry and veterinarian schools were accepted.

Wolff cites television and the media's glamorization of the medical field for part of the reason medicine is popular now, but he said students enter the field with a "willingness to help humankind, do good for society, and gain financial stability."

"Because it pays decent money and fulfills students' psychological needs to help others, a medical career is tremendously appealing to many college-age people," Dean of Enrollment Management Robert Lay added.

Most institutions require students to maintain a minimum GPA to be in a premed program, but Boston College supports the medical school application of any student. The committee gives as much personalized attention as possible to students in the program so they can be strong candidates for medical school, Wolff said. Because of the increase in prehealth majors, Wolff has joined with the Academic Development Center and the Career Center in developing various support programs which help students research health-related careers, learn interviewing techniques, prepare applications and write personal statements.

A pplying to medical school, usually done in junior year, is a time-consuming and expensive process, Wolff said, so students who don't meet the minimum requirements are urged to work on boosting their grades, especially in science, and allow themselves to mature and better their chances for the following year.

"We tell them they can and should consider ways to strengthen their candidacy," Wolff said. "Clearly activities such as research, service and volunteer work are important, but given the highly competitive environment in which medical schools are receiving record numbers of applications, their folder won't even get opened if they don't make it over that first hurdle of meeting the minimum cumulative average and MCAT requirements."

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