Continue to meet regularly with your faculty advisor and update your four-year plan each quarter. Show excellence in all your academic work, particularly in upper-division courses. Professional schools favor applicants who have built a strong scientific foundation and have the knowledge and skills to integrate new discoveries into their clinical practice throughout their careers.
Note that you can demonstrate mastery of science without taking every possible science course! In fact, professional schools may be wary of candidates who focus exclusively on the hard sciences and neglect the humanities and social sciences. To be an attractive applicant, you should demonstrate that you are inquisitive and that you will be able to communicate effectively (orally and in writing) with your future colleagues and patients. Furthermore, you will need to understand yourself and other people as well as the psychological, social, and cultural forces that influence health. Make room in your schedule for electives that give you more opportunities to read, discuss, write, and reflect on the human condition so that you will be well positioned to approach your patients with compassion and respect.
Obviously, there is much more to your education than coursework. Thorough preparation for a health care career requires attention to growth in nonacademic areas, which can be accomplished in infinite ways. To evaluate your pre-professional growth (requires SPU login), reflect on your participation in community service, health care, research, jobs, clubs, family responsibilities, sports, hobbies, and so on. What have you learned from these experiences and how have they prepared you for a career as a health care provider?
Your final college years are a time to solidify your understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses. You should work on refining your career goals. By clearly articulating your vocation, you will be equipped to select the appropriate mentoring, receive useful feedback, and ultimately present an accurate and authentic application to a specific type of professional school.
Plan to enroll in PPHS 3400 (the Application Workshop) in the fall of your final year. This two-credit pass-fail course is required for applicants to medical, dental, and veterinary medical schools who will later participate in the committee process. The Application Workshop is also highly recommended for applicants to other types of programs. PPHS 3400 addresses topics that are relevant to admission to all types of professional schools and provides practical guidance, even if a student does not plan to apply to graduate programs for several more years. Course topics include composing a personal statement and other essays, studying for entrance exams, requesting letters of recommendation, paying for professional training, preparing for interviews, and exploring current issues in health care.
In describing your desire to attend professional school, you will be asked to do more than summarize what you have seen and done. You must explain who you are, what motivates you, and why you are prepared for a health care career. This kind of deep insight does not necessarily come easily or quickly, so you should not feel frustrated if this step takes longer than you expected. You may be ready to apply to professional school right away, or you may want to delay your application. Regardless of how long it takes, you will want to present an application that reflects your confidence in your abilities and your readiness for professional school. See the information about applying to professional school.
During your third and fourth years, continue volunteering and job shadowing, with the goal of accruing at least 20 hours of each per year. See these resources on community service and shadowing (links require SPU login).. Seek opportunities to demonstrate your leadership skills within service organizations, clubs, and other groups. You don’t need to run for president of every club, but you can use your mentoring skills to advise younger students and you can participate in planning and decision-making for the group as a whole. Teamwork, reliability, and adaptability are highly valued in applicants to professional schools, so look for ways to develop these characteristics.
The Biology department sponsors four scholarships for PPHS students. Applications are available in early spring and are open to all PPHS students, not just Biology majors.
You can augment your pre-professional credentials by making an effort to follow current events and be informed about the issues relevant to your chosen profession. For example, you can subscribe to newsletters, journals, blogs, and other forms of communication. Pay attention to news reports and editorials so that you can participate in conversations around the controversies and challenges of your field. Immersing yourself in professional language and culture will help you be more comfortable when interacting with your future colleagues throughout the application process.
Develop meaningful, long-term relationships with professors, supervisors, and other mentors. When you apply to a professional school, you will ask these people for confidential letters of recommendation (requires SPU login). Letter-writers need to be able to describe your interest in health care, your personal integrity, your leadership skills, and your willingness to serve others. When you meet with a potential letter-writer, be prepared to summarize your professional journey so far (providing a resume or curriculum vitae is a good idea). Be open to their suggestions for additional ways you can prepare for your future. The Center for Career and Calling can help you prepare a resume.
Maintain your log, journal, or e-portfolio for your professional development. In addition to recording basic data (names, places, hours), focus on writing in-depth reflections on your experiences, coursework, readings, and so on. This material will be useful when you write your personal statement, fill out applications, and prepare for interviews. Your portfolio is a good place to keep an updated resume and a draft of your personal statement.
Look for a job or internship for the summer after your third year. Professional schools seek applicants who can handle being busy and have made an effort to engage in enriching educational experiences. You can still take vacations, but use your break time wisely.
Investigate the admissions requirements of the schools where you are likely to apply and ensure that you can complete all pre-requisites. In preparing a list of schools, consider their locations, their mission statements, and the unique features of their programs. Most importantly, record the reasons why those school would be a good fit for you.
Depending on your academic progress, the profession you are pursuing, and your timeline, you may want to use school breaks to study for the entrance examination for your type of graduate program. Dozens of test-prep companies provide highly structured study sessions, but if you are motivated and organized, you can also take advantage of free self-study resources. Educate yourself about the process of registering for and taking the entrance exam for your field. Plan to take the test just once—when you are ready for it.
As you approach graduation, finalize your post-college plans. Many students choose to use one or more years between college and professional school to pursue other interests or to further prepare for their application. There is no reason to be in a hurry to apply to professional school, and there are many compelling reasons to be patient and deliberate about applying. Even if you do apply to professional school the same year you graduate, you will have a “gap” year before matriculating. Make sure that your bridge career is personally satisfying—it must be more than just a way to kill time. In the event that your application is not successful, you’ll want to be comfortable for at least another year in your bridge career. For more information, see The Bridge Years.