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School of Medicine Columbia

Frequently Asked Questions

USC PREP is an NIH-funded one year program for minority, disabled and financially disadvantaged students who wish to embark on a research and academic career in the biomedical sciences. Below are frequently asked questions for those interested in applying to the PREP program.

The Program

First of all, we seek applicants who have a passion for research and who wish to follow a career in biomedical research. They may be aspiring to a PhD or an MD/PhD degree in Biomedical Sciences. We consider the whole file and a low GPA may be offset by an excellent research record. Of particular importance is your past research. Successful candidates may have carried out research away from their home university such as in a summer program at NIH, a research institute or another educational institution. However, we realize that this is not always possible and excellent research at the applicant’s home university is also important.

As noted above, the whole file is important. We wish to help students who need to improve deficiencies in their education (e.g. low GPA) or who have not had the opportunity to carry out extensive biomedical research while an undergraduate. Nevertheless, our admitted PREP Scholars need to be close to being competitive for graduate school. Thus, it is unlikely that we would consider someone with a GPA lower than 2.7 but we may if the research experience is extensive and there are extenuating circumstances such as being financially self-supporting while an undergraduate. We have applicants who have worked a 40 hour week while carrying a heavy undergraduate course load and we take this into consideration if they have a low GPA.

No. NIH-funded PREPs were set up to encourage minority and other underrepresented students to enter the biomedical research workforce and not to help them enter medical school. However, people wishing to obtain an M.D./Ph.D. degree are eligible to participate in USC PREP. 

USC PREP starts in the last week of June. The program lasts one year and PREP Scholars usually move on to their graduate studentships between June and August.

Yes. Before you come to USC or shortly thereafter, you should have selected a mentor. After you have taken the mandatory summer course, you will have a committee meeting. Your committee consists of your mentor, the two PREP co-directors and YOU. We will discuss your progress in the summer course and determine a three credit course for you in the fall. You can tell us what you think would be a good course. We will do the same for the spring semester. At the fall meeting, we will develop your IDP.

Since USC PREP is a one year program, we hope that you will stay in the same laboratory. We realize, however, that after a while you (or you mentor) might feel that your chosen laboratory is not, in fact, right for you. We will then arrange for you to work in another laboratory.

Since NIH-funded PREPs are one year, there is not much time for rotations. Therefore, we hope that a mentor can be settled before you arrive. You are welcome to contact any of the mentors on the list on this website or others who may not yet be on the list. If you are interested in the laboratory of a mentor not on the list, it is advisable to first discuss this with the PREP directors.  If you do not have a mentor before you arrive in Columbia, the directors will discuss potential mentors with you after you join USC PREP.

Some PREPs are heavily research-oriented with little coursework. Some require courses but they are audited rather than taken for credit. In USC PREP, you will take three graduate-level courses for credit during the PREP year and you also will carry out research with a well-funded mentor. In the last half of the summer session you will take a mandatory course at the graduate level. In the fall and spring semesters you will take one graduate level course that will be decided by you and your program committee. These courses are taken for credit and will appear on an official USC transcript. You will also take a Medical Research Ethics course in the fall semester. Having succeeded in graduate level courses taken for credit, with an accompanying transcript, is a great addition to your application to graduate school.

Since our program is funded by the NIH in order to increase the number of under-represented communities in biomedical research careers, we have to abide by the NIH-definition of under-represented communities:

These are:

  • African Americans

  • Hispanic Americans

  • Native Americans

  • Pacific Islanders and Inuits

  • Individuals with disabilities 

  • Individuals with a financially-deprived background

You must also be an American citizen, permanent resident or non-citizen national. International students may not apply to USC PREP.

In compliance with NIH regulations, you cannot have been out of school more than three years after obtaining a baccalaureate degree.

No. If you have a Master’s degree, NIH considers that you have already participated in a post-baccalaureate program and therefore you are ineligible for PREP.

All PREP Scholars are hired as full-time temporary employees. You will be expected to work in the laboratory full-time, although you will be allowed time to participate in your graduate courses and to study for exams.

Yes, we will add funds above the basic stipend to cover tuition costs. As a full-time temporary employee, you will qualify for in-state tuition. We also supplement the stipend with funds for a basic health insurance policy if you need one.

Applying to PREP

Once you have submitted an initial application on our website, we need the following for your application to be complete:

  • A personal statement saying why you think you need a PREP and describing the research that you have done. We would also like to know about your future career aspirations.

  • A curriculum vitae

  • Your undergraduate transcripts. You may send us your unofficial transcripts as part of your application. Only if you are admitted will the Graduate School require official transcripts.

  • Three letters of recommendation

All supporting documents should be sent to

Letters of recommendation, of which we need three, should come from academic advisors. Your most important referees are those with whom you have carried out biomedical research. Important, though less so, are faculty with whom you have taken biomedical or other science courses. Letters from post-docs may be considered but those from family friends, supervisors at a store in which you have worked etc. should not be solicited.

Letters of recommendation should be sent by email directly by your referees as .pdf or .docx files to the co-director of the program, Dr Richard Hunt at  

At present no. You are welcome to email Dr. Hunt to ask about your status. In addition, when your application file is close to being complete, we will write to you to tell you what is missing. In most cases, it will be one or more recommendation letters. You should also check with your referees to ensure that they have sent their letters.

No. We do rolling admission starting in mid-February and continuing until the class is full. Thus, to have the best chance of admission, it is advisable to get all of your documents to us by mid-February. However, we interview and accept/decline through the beginning of April. After that, you are still welcome to apply and you will be placed on a wait list in case a spot opens up. 

No. It is not necessary to have taken the GRE or any other test. If you have a GRE score, you are welcome to submit it. Many schools are now not requiring GRE scores as part of an application to graduate school.

Life at the University of South Carolina 

A car is not mandatory but is very useful, as public transportation is limited in Columbia. There is a shuttle that runs around the main campus and parking lots. However, the shuttle between the main campus and the medical school runs only during the term time and is infrequent. Many apartment complexes run a shuttle to the main campus.

Since you will be a temporary employee, you do not usually qualify for student housing. However, there are many affordable apartments near the main campus and medical school. Many of our PREP Scholars share a two bedroom/two bathroom apartment. If you are accepted into our program, before you arrive in Columbia we will send the emails of all of the accepted PREP Scholars. You may wish to arrange shared accommodation with a colleague.

Yes, especially if you share an apartment with another PREP Scholar or other student. Since the stipend is quite sufficient, we do not permit PREP Scholars to take any other form of employment.


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