Applying to Professional Schools

Most PPHS students choose to prepare applications during their final year of college or after one or several bridge years. There is no universal timeline for applying—every applicant is unique. How will you know when you are ready to apply? In addition to meeting explicit admissions criteria such as coursework and test scores, you must be sure that all aspects of your application are competitive, and you must be confident about your decision-making process. Be sure that you have met the following goals:

  • You have developed the kind of rapport with professors and other mentors that will result in strong, detailed letters of recommendation.
  • You have demonstrated a commitment to community service.
  • You have been exposed to clinical settings so that you have a realistic understanding of the day-to-day demands of your chosen profession.
  • You can clearly answer the basic question “Why do you want to be a ____?”

Your ability to write a multilayered personal statement is a key piece of your application. This essay should explain your interest in pursuing a professional career; it should summarize your preparation; and it should describe why you are suited for that career. Review your journal or portfolio to identify your most relevant accomplishments, experiences, and insights. Tell stories that illustrate your professional characteristics (requires SPU login). In addition, the essay must demonstrate your ability to organize and clearly communicate ideas with vivid details and thoughtful reflection. This is not something that you can put together in a day! For more advice, see the Personal Statement page (requires SPU login).

Most professional schools use a Centralized Application Service, which allows you to fill out a single application to be forwarded to a list of schools that you specify. Well before you plan to apply, find the website for the application service associated with your type of professional school and become familiar with the instructions, deadlines, and advice provided there. Subscribe to a newsletter for prospective applicants. Solicit letters of recommendation from mentors who know you well (requires SPU login). If you plan to apply to medical school, dental school, or veterinary medical school, you are eligible to participate in the PPHS committee process.

If you have not already done so, prepare for and take the entrance exam required for your type of professional school. In general, it is best to have your test score in hand before you fill out the application, because the score may affect which schools you apply to. A low test score may force you to postpone your application for at least another year. If you plan to take (or retake) the test after you submit your application, check the dates carefully. Most schools—except for veterinary medical schools—do rolling admissions, so a late-arriving test score may delay a review of your application and decrease your chances of admittance.

Choose appropriate schools. Check the admissions guidelines for each school to verify that you have met the minimum requirements, including coursework, shadowing hours, GPA, and test scores. For state schools, read the fine print about applying as an in-state resident. The rules are quite strict, and—in most states—you need to establish residency long before you apply.

Most application services offer fee-assistance programs to help cover the costs of submitting an application and taking the entrance exam. If you qualify, enroll in the program as soon as possible, because the funds may be allocated to the first applicants who request them. Be aware that your parents may be asked to share financial information, even if you are currently living independently.

Finally, be sure that you can handle the demands of completing primary and secondary application materials and being interviewed by admissions committees. (See more interview advice. Requires SPU login) You must be able to follow instructions, communicate clearly, and meet deadlines—all while attending classes, working, meeting family responsibilities, and so on. Applying to professional schools is expensive and time-consuming. Ideally, you should apply only once—when you are fully prepared. Your ability to meet (or exceed) the expectations of admissions committees says a lot about your ability to meet the challenges of professional training and the intense career that follows.