biology - College of Engineering & Computer Science


What are pre-med and pre-health professions?

So, you want to be a physician.  

Or a nurse. Or an epidemiologist. Or a veterinarian. Or a physical therapist. 

You can get into these careers, and many others, through the pre-health professions program at the University of Tulsa. 

What can I do with a pre-med degree? 

Now is an ideal time to consider a health care career. Employment in health care-related professions is expected to grow by 15% through 2029, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  

close-up shot of three people in hospital scrubs with arms crossedAnd while “physician” may be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a medical career and a pre-med program, there’s a lot more to health care than being a doctor. If you love working with patients, but aren’t up for four years of med school on top of four years of college (and then residency to boot), you can pursue dozens of avenues that can be just as fulfilling. 

As a student on a pre-health track, your pre-health advisor will work with you to ensure you’re taking the classes you need to reach whatever career you’re interested in. With your degree, you can go on to be a pharmacist, physician assistant, public health worker, dentist, optometrist or many more different health professions. 

Before we go on, let’s clear one thing up: If “doctor” is your dream job, you may be wondering about getting a pre-med major. But at most colleges, there’s no such thing. In fact, whether you want to be a doctor or go into another health profession, you can major in whatever you want as long as you take all the prerequisite courses you need to qualify. Because so many of those courses are science-related, students on a pre-health track often find science degrees attractive. 

If you wanted, though, you could major in accounting or chemical engineering and apply to med school. You simply need to work with your advisors to ensure you meet your degree requirements and the prerequisites for admission to your target health professions school. 

As part of the pre-med program, we’ll start advising you in your freshman year about what courses you’ll need to take. If you do want to go to medical school, our health professions committee will look at your grades to give you an idea whether you’re likely to be a good candidate. Medical schools are notoriously selective; fortunately for you, TU students have had a lot of success getting in. On average, 70% of TU students who apply to med school are accepted. 

A pre-health degree gives you a wide array of options. Some require further education; for some, you can find job opportunities right out of college.  

If you’re on a pre-health track at TU, we recommend you take: 

  • One year of chemistry 
  • One year of organic chemistry 
  • One year of physics 
  • One year of biology (Intro to Molecular and Cellular Biology, then Introduction to Organismal and Evolutionary Biology) 

If med school is your goal, you should also take classes in biochemistry, psychology and sociology; if you’re headed to a professional school, a class in genetics may also be required. Certain programs need a year of calculus. Ethics and sociology classes may also be a good idea. 

We know that’s a lot. Yet, in this competitive field, you may want to go even further. Admissions committees love to see students who really got into their work, either by taking as many relevant classes as possible, or by working on a student research project.  

Student research at TU 

At TU, you’ll get the chance to do real, meaningful work in the lab. Undergraduate research is a hallmark of our program. In the past, TU students have won Goldwater and National Science Foundation scholarships and awards. And the experience has served countless students who have gone on to grad schools and beyond. 

Some of these opportunities include: 

Experiences like these do more than round out a résumé. They lead to even bigger opportunities down the road, and give you a head start on finding the health science career that fits your goals. 

Biology abroad: ISL student realizes her full potential with TU dual degree

Biological sciences and German senior Alyssa Williams is on track to become the first student to officially complete The University of Tulsa’s new International Science and Language program. Few students take on the challenge of earning two complex degrees in just five years, but Williams is expected to graduate next spring after studying both majors.

Biology + German

The Broken Arrow native took German language courses in high school, and when the program eventually was eliminated, she focused on her other interests in science. “I had a lot of cool biology teachers in high school, so I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” she said.

international scienceShe enrolled at TU to pursue biology, but during her freshman year, she met a friend who was studying German. Williams often did homework with her and by the second year of college, she was adding German classes to her schedule. A year later, David Tingey and Victor Udwin, associate professors of German and comparative literature, told Williams about a new program launching at TU. The International Engineering and Language or International Science and Language program enables students to study an engineering or science discipline while learning a foreign language. After completing the required coursework and studying and interning abroad for one year, participants graduate with bachelor’s of science and bachelor’s of art degrees. IEL and ISL participants are empowered with the tools, knowledge and experience to establish a career in engineering or science while communicating and working effectively in a second language and culture.

“I had never considered going abroad,” Williams said. “It always sounded really cool, but I didn’t think it was something I would do.”

A year in Freiburg, Germany

The application process was simple, requiring only a language competency exam to determine her level of German-speaking skills. Williams explained Tingey and Professor of Biological Sciences Estelle Levetin were instrumental in arranging classes and an internship abroad. With additional help from the global exchange organization Cultural Vistas, she received an internship offer within a month of applying and was matched with a lab ideal for her interests and location. In just a few weeks, she joined the program and prepared to embark on the adventure of a lifetime in the city of Freiburg, Germany. Her first semester, she took five classes at the Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg. The second half of the year, she worked in a plant lab at the same institution.

international science“I had a lot of biology credits, so I spent more time studying German,” Williams said. “The second semester was more focused on science and working with a species of plant called Arabidopsis thaliana. I learned new lab techniques and basics I can use in the future, and I helped my mentor with a project that involved growing and tracking 70 plant varieties in Petri dishes.”

Every few weeks, she was responsible for tracking the root systems and applying varying concentrations of salt and drying agents to record lateral root growth. The year abroad also offered Williams the chance to experience different living environments. The first six months, she shared a flat with other college students from China, Mexico and Germany. She met other Americans too and traveled frequently with student groups to other countries such as Prague, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and France.

“In Europe, everything is so much closer together,” Williams explained. “You can take these really cheap buses and just go see everything.”

Stepping out of her comfort zone

Exploring new countries and cities, experiencing the different cultures and practicing her German gave Williams the confidence to become more independent during the second semester abroad; she went to the government office in Freiburg and registered to apply for a Student Visa. She set up her living arrangements and lived by herself. English was not commonly used in many of the European cities she visited, so by the time she returned to America in July 2019, her proficiency in German had drastically improved. Williams said she also learned a lot about how other countries function differently in society.

“There’s definitely a cultural aspect to it. Germans are much more straight-forward. In the lab, they would use sticky notes to give instructions. To us, it would be considered passive-aggressive, but to them, they think, ‘there’s an issue, so we’re going to address it.’ Also in Freiburg, everyone dresses up, no one leaves the house just wearing sweatpants,” she said with a smile.

With graduation on the horizon, Williams plans to take the GRE and maybe apply to grad school but beginning her career in the research world also is an option. Either way, she said the ISL experience helped her grow as a person and realize her potential. “Before, I was a biology major and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Now, I’m a biology and German major who is more independent. I don’t necessarily know exactly what I want to do, but I can see the roads ahead of me.”