How to prepare for medical, law or other Canadian professional schools

Want to be a doctor? How about a lawyer? Start preparing in high school.
Kat Tancock
(Illustration by Leeandra Cianci)
(Illustration by Leeandra Cianci)
(Illustration by Leeandra Cianci)

You might think your undergraduate degree is the first step toward medical, law or other professional schools. But preparation should start long before you pick up your high school diploma, notes Robert Astroff of Astroff Consultants. “Getting into good habits early on is the path toward professional school,” he says. “They will go back specifically to activities kids have done as early as 16.”

MORE: The Maclean’s Guide to Getting In to University

That doesn’t mean aspiring doctors should ditch all activities unrelated to medicine, though. In fact, the opposite is the case. Just as for admission to many undergraduate programs, a variety of extracurricular activities—think part-time work, volunteer positions and other means of learning and engaging in the community—are valid preparation. “A lot of skills will be transferable, so they have a wide range of options,” Astroff says. “If you’re someone who likes community work, get involved in community work. You’re building a skill set.”

When it comes to planning, Astroff encourages high school, college and university students to be realistic about their capabilities, and to pick a range of courses that will help them succeed. “Map out your schedule based on what you like and what the assignments are,” he suggests, noting that you might want to rearrange electives in the first couple of weeks if you have, say, three big papers all due at once in the middle of term. “You want to make sure you can get good marks.”

As for choosing an undergraduate program, don’t make assumptions about which degree is the best preparation for your next stage of education. Entry requirements for UBC’s faculty of medicine, for example, state that “no preference is given to any particular degree program,” and the only required prerequisite is a certain number of English credits (though biology and chemistry classes are strongly recommended). Similarly, students have entered Queen’s law with academic backgrounds as diverse as engineering, commerce, philosophy and fine art. “They don’t want you to study one particular thing,” says Andrew Arida, director of undergraduate admissions at UBC. “They want you to study what you’re interested in and passionate about.”

Curtis Michaelis, recruitment and admissions coordinator at Mount Allison University, concurs. “For us, it’s not really about volunteering at the hospital if you want to be a doctor,” he says. “Certainly that’s a good experience to tell you what that career might be like, but you may also get a good experience by doing an art class or something that gets you thinking in a different way.”