Impressing admissions committees

As you may have heard, admissions committees are always looking for well-rounded candidates. In other words, they’re not looking for any one thing—they want the whole package. Although grades are very important, admission is not solely about grades. Some things that committees will look for are as follows:

Grades and test scores: This is the obvious one. Programs almost always look for candidates with GPAs over a 3.0, and many often see incoming cohorts with minimum GPAs of 3.5, 3.7, or even 3.8. Test scores are important, too, so make sure you’re studying up for that MCAT, DAT, OAT, GRE, or PCAT.

Relevant background and experiences: In addition to having awesome grades and test scores, committees expect candidates to have awesome life experience, too. This experience can include volunteering, participation in student or professional organizations, studying abroad, research experience, and other relevant activities and hobbies.

Balance: Just working hard in your math and science classes won’t cut it. Search committees are looking for candidates with a broad knowledge base. This can include proficiency in oral and written communication, excellence in humanities and social science courses, thoughtful consideration of the ethical issues in your chosen profession, an awareness of current events in the profession, valuing lifelong learning, and integrity and strength of character.

A kind, ethical, interesting colleague: Professional school is a little different than college because a professional school student is both a student and a colleague to their professors and advisors. Keep that in mind when you are applying (and hopefully interviewing)—be yourself and let your personality come through.

Application additions

In addition to the regular application that you have to complete and the transcripts and test scores that you have to submit, you will submit other materials, too. If documents like transcripts, resumes, and test results give cold, hard facts about you, these other materials are warm—they give the committee a chance to see the real you, the you that grades and majors can’t capture. Here is a list of those warm documents and activities you may see during your application process:

Personal statement: Don’t be deceived by a personal statement’s short length. This is one of the most important things you will ever write. This is your chance to elaborate on your transcripts and resume, let the search committee hear your voice, and show the committee what makes you tick. Here, you can address how you became interested in your intended profession, what you’ve done to prepare for it, and why you are a great candidate. You should start working on this statement months in advance and should show it to as many people as you can. Tutors at the Writing Center, your family and friends, your advisor, the chair of your major department, and your recommenders are all great places to start.

Letters of recommendation: Admittedly, you can’t control these very much, but letters of recommendation from professionals who really know you and your work ethic are crucial for search committees. Make sure that you choose professionals you are close to, such as professors who know you personally and can vouch for the quality of your work (especially if you’ve done research or other projects with them). Professionals in the field that you’ve shadowed or volunteered for are especially effective. Make sure you choose recommenders who can talk about different aspects of your life—if one or two letter writers discuss your academic skills, maybe another can talk about your leadership skills.

Interview: If you’ve made it to the interview stage, you’ve probably survived through one, two, or even three cuts! Congratulations! An interview is the committee’s chance to get to know you better. They will ask you the standard questions (Why are you interested in being an X? Can you tell me more about X experience?) as well as more specific things, like your intended specialty, which kind of setting you’d like to work in, or your physical skills. Do practice interviews with professionals in your field if you can!

Non-science majors

As long as you’ve completed the required prerequisite courses for your intended field of study, you can choose any undergraduate major you would like. In the Health and Life Sciences Advising Center, we help business students applying to dental school, journalism majors applying to medical school, and everything in between. The most important thing is to choose a major that you love and that you will excel at; this will not only ensure a better GPA for you but also it will allow you to speak about your experiences with passion and enthusiasm and to stand out from the crowd—all crucial elements when applying to professional schools.