FAQ for Preprofessional Advising
Who is eligible to utilize the services of the Office of Preprofessional Advising, CSA?
Our advisers serve Columbia College and Columbia Engineering undergraduates and alumni.
How do I make an appointment with a Prehealth or Prelaw Adviser?
Please go to http://studentaffairs.columbia.edu/csa/appointments to schedule an appt with any adviser.
How do I sign up for the prelaw or prehealth listserv?
Use this link and follow instructions that begin about half way down page: http://www.studentaffairs.columbia.edu/preprofessional
Do you have walk-in hours?
Yes. You may stop by with a quick question Monday through Thursday from 3:00-4:30 p.m.
When should I see a Pre-Law Adviser?
There is not a specific time, but we are here to answer any questions you might have about preparing for, or applying to, law school. You may make an appointment with a prelaw adviser as early as a few weeks in to your first year.
Should I major in History or Political Science to best prepare for law school?
Only if one of those disciplines truly interests you the most. The best preparation for going to law school is to be a good student, challenge yourself, practice and work to strengthen your critical thinking and writing abilities. Finally, do well in any discipline that you choose! For a list of further tips and resources, please see the related section of our website.
What is CAS?
The Credential Assembly Service (CAS) is the centralized application for Law Schools. You use this online system to apply to all of the 201 accredited law schools in the United States. The CAS is run by the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) which also runs the qualifying exam, the LSAT. All applicants must register with LSAC in order to take the LSAT and to apply to Law School using the CAS.
What is the LSAT?
LSAT, which stands for Law School Admission Test, is the qualifying exam you must take to apply to law school. It is a very important part of your application. You should take it when you have 2-3 months to prepare for it. The score is good for five years so you have lots of flexibility regarding when to sit for the exam.
How should I study for the LSAT?
Although applicants should be familiar with the test's content, it is not a test of a particular fund of knowledge. Rather it is what is called a “skills-based test” which means that it is testing your ability to take the test! Thus, your preparation should place particular emphasis on learning the test's format. LSAT prep courses may be helpful, but they are expensive and are not essential. Prep courses provide incentive (you paid them a steep fee, you’ll want to get your money’s worth) and structure (if you get out of bed and go to the class, someone will guide you through the process and give you practice exams). It is however completely possible to prepare on your own and many of our applicants do. The Law School Admissions Council sells an array of test prep materials, including practice exams; additionally, an extensive selection of test preparation booklets is available commercially.
What is the process for collecting recommendation letters?
Most law schools require two letters of support. Some law schools will take two to four letters. It is important that you read applications carefully and don’t send too many letters to a school that only asks for two. If you are still a student, you should get two academic recommendations from faculty who can speak in some amount of detail about your critical reading and writing abilities. If you have been out of school for a year or more, you should still get at least one academic recommendation, but you may also get a work recommendation if that feels appropriate. If you are applying within the next year, you should use CAS's Recommendation Service. If you are not planning on applying this academic year, you may have your recommendations sent to the Office of Preprofessional Advising. We will store a copy for you and then forward them to the CAS when you are ready to apply.
How do I decide where to apply?
You should speak to a prelaw adviser about your list of schools. However there are some online resources to help you get started which you may access via our website. You want to apply to a range of schools—no matter how strong your numbers, don’t apply only to the very top schools and no matter what your record, don’t leave out your dream schools. You should try to visit as many schools as possible because the best way to get a sense of a school is to actually be there!
Where can I find other resources about the law profession?
We have an extensive list on our website.
What is a Dean's Certification Form?
A Dean’s Certification is a letter which either confirms that you are or were a student in good academic and disciplinary standing OR explains any academic or disciplinary sanctions on your record. Most schools no longer require Dean’s Certifications. And some only want one for matriculants or if there is a problem with an applicant’s record. During your application year, you register with the Office of Preprofessional Advising and we automatically produce a Dean’s Certification for you and send it the relevant programs.
When should I meet with a prehealth adviser?
This is up to you. We are available to meet with you whenever you have questions or concerns about preparing for health professional school. At the very latest, come to talk to us when you are ready to apply!
I’m just getting started as a premed. Is there a booklet I can read that will help me?
Yes! An updated booklet, distributed to first-year students, is available here.
When should I ask for recommendation letters?
It is best to ask for a recommendation when you are freshest in the mind of your recommender. However if your interaction with a person will be ongoing, then you should wait and get it when the person will have even more information about you. (For example, don’t ask your CC instructor after the first semester, rather wait until he/she has taught you in both semesters!)
You may download the Guidelines for Recommendation Letters and the Waiver form from our website. You should have letters sent directly to our office. Other important information regarding letters of recommendation is available here.
How do I choose which medical schools to apply to?
There are many factors you should take into consideration when making a list of schools. Because there are so many things to think about, this is a conversation that it is probably best to have with your premedical adviser. However if you just want to get started by familiarizing yourself with the accredited allopathic medical schools in the US and Canada, you should look a resource called the Medical School Admissions Requirement (referred to as the M-SAR). This resource is available online, as an ebook, and as a paperback book. Use this link to explore your options for getting access to the MSAR: https://www.aamc.org/students/applying/requirements/msar/.
What is the Medical School Admissions Requirement (MSAR)?
The AAMC's Medical School Admission Requirements guide is the only guide authorized by all U.S. and Canadian allopathic medical schools. It provides up to date information about application and admission requirements, coursework, curricula, deadline dates, average GPAs and MCAT scores, tuition and fees, and more. See above for information about getting the MSAR.
What score do I need on the MCAT to get into medical school?
There is not one number that we can give you to answer this question. The MCAT is one part of your application and we can only talk about specific numbers in the context of the rest of your application (which includes your GPA, your experiences, your recommendations, etc). Ideally, you don’t want to score less than a 10 in any one section. You should come in to talk to a premed adviser if you are concerned about your score.
Speaking of GPA, how high does my GPA have to be to get into medical school?
As with your MCAT, it is hard to give you an exact number. The national average for matriculants to allopathic medical schools is 3.67 cumulative GPA and a 3.6 science GPA (specifically your GPA in classes in Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Math). The average GPA we are seeing be successful amongst our premeds is just a hair lower at 3.59 cumulative and 3.55 science.
Besides doing well in my classes and getting a high MCAT score, what else can I do to strengthen my application to medical school?
You should get involved in activities that interest you. Don’t spread yourself too thin—it is important to find a good balance between coursework and extracurricular and community activities. The medical schools would rather see you deeply involved in two or three things than superficially involved in a half dozen or more. Although you should feel free to follow your interests, you will need to show the medical schools that you have “tested your motivation” for a career in medicine by getting “clinical exposure”—that is, exposure to doctors, nurses, and patients at the site of healthcare delivery. There are a number of ways to do this: volunteer at a hospital, train and work as an EMT, work at a doctor’s office, volunteer at a nursing home, work in clinical research, etc. Sometimes students will spend some time “shadowing” a doctor, or following him or her around during their day. This can be a good place to get started, but you should seek out a more intensive experience where you have to interact with patients.
I thought I wanted to go straight from undergraduate to medical school, but I’ve heard it’s quite common to take a year or more off before going to medical school. How should I decide when to apply to medical school?
It is definitely true that more and more applicants are taking a year or more “off” before going on to medical school. At Columbia (as well as at our peer institutions) about 70% of each year’s’ applicants take “gap time” before going to medical school (with the remaining 30% applying at the end of their junior year so that they can go straight from undergrad to med school). The rule of thumb is that if everything on your application is strong (GPA, MCAT, clinical experiences, recommendations, etc) then going straight through is fine. However medical school admissions committees favor applicants with post-graduate experience and thus taking a year or two off is a good way to strengthen an application that contains some areas of weakness. Additionally, even some of our applicants who have everything ready to go as juniors decide to take some gap time in order to get a little break from intense academics, or to pursue something that they likely won’t be able to do after medical school. You should talk about this decision with friends, family, and your premedical adviser.