The most important thing about the application process is that it does not begin your junior or senior year when the application is submitted to a health professions school. Rather, the process requires that you hit the ground running as a freshman and begin to acquire the experiences, relationships and tools needed to be a competitive applicant. Once you begin to become serious about applying, there are several things to consider.
Schools that receive state funding are required to limit all but a few positions to residents of the state, and only outstanding out-of-state residents have a chance. To qualify as a Texas resident, you must reside in Texas for one year and establish a domicile in Texas prior to enrollment. Requirements for other states vary. You should inquire about residency status before you apply if there is even the slightest question about your status. Private colleges and universities generally have no state residency requirements, although there may be geographical quotas or agreements.
Although your GPA indicates performance in an academic setting, you will be required to take some form of standardized test to be considered for admission to most health professions programs. Among the best known is the MCAT, the standardized test that measures achievement in the biological and physical sciences and verbal reasoning for applicants to medical and podiatry schools (a competitive MCAT score is a 30 or above). The GRE is accepted for veterinary, physical therapy and physician assistant programs (a competitive GRE score is above a 700 quantitative, 500 verbal). Pharmacy schools require the PCAT (a competitive PCAT score is 75th percentile or above), dental schools require the DAT (18 or higher is competitive) and optometry schools may require the OAT (360 or above is competitive). There are many test preparatory programs and review courses that prepare students for the standardized tests. These review courses can be costly, but score improvement is more likely for those students who take the courses seriously and use them primarily to improve test-taking strategy rather than learning the material the first time.
Prior to initiating your application, you should declare your intent to apply for a health professions program by submitting a Self-Assessment Form to the pre-health advisers. This self-assessment allows you to describe yourself to the pre-health advisers and provide important information they may need in writing a letter of recommendation. This self-assessment process also asks you to describe why you have decided on a career in the health professions and allows you to inventory your previous experience, academic development, extracurricular activities and honors. In today’s application process, most applications are now done online and should not be completed on paper and mailed to the school. Completed online applications are typically sent through a routing system and distributed to the schools you wish to consider. It is highly recommended that you submit your application during the early part of the summer after your junior year, as many schools begin to offer interviews to applicants during July and August for students who plan to enroll in a health professions program immediately after graduation.
Applications require an essay or personal statement describing why you chose the health professions. In your essay, write clearly and concisely and provide details that will help the admissions committee get to know you more personally. In your application essay, it is most effective to use real experiences and concrete examples that demonstrate how much you want to go into the field and why you are a qualified applicant. It is a good idea to start writing the essay early and have a few readers look at your essay to provide a critical outside view of your writing and offer constructive revisions.
The strength of your application rests not only on your academic record but also on your letters of recommendation. You should request letters from individuals knowledgeable about you and the program to which you are applying. Cultivating good recommendations starts early in your academic career by getting to know faculty and having them get to know you and your academic and personal strengths. Application to some health professions programs will require a committee letter comprised of recommendations from several different people. Typically this letter is constructed by the pre-health adviser based on individual letters of recommendation sent by your recommenders. You must notify the pre-health adviser if you need a committee letter so that the adviser may compile the individual letters of recommendation for you.
If your application clears the first part of evaluation by your preferred pre-health program, you will be invited for an interview. At some schools, all applicants are considered to be on a level playing field once they are invited to interview, so the final decision to admit or reject is based solely on the results of the interview. When you are invited to interview, it is a good idea to research the program and the school beforehand so that you will be able to ask knowledgeable and pertinent questions. Additionally, it is highly recommended that you practice by conducting mock interviews to hone your interview skills and know what might be expected.
In the event you are not accepted on your first try, you may still reapply for the next year. Although it can seem discouraging, reapplication provides you the opportunity to improve aspects of your overall application package to increase your future chances. You may wish to retake certain courses or the standardized test, or perhaps add to your health care background and experience. In order to develop a strategy for success, be sure to talk to your pre-health adviser if you plan to reapply.