Your application to any health professional program will have a number of components. No two programs will require the same information. Be knowledgeable about what is required for application well before you apply to any program.
Use this list as a way to learn about the general process, knowing that you will need to research each program you are applying to for their specific details and information.
Parts of an Application
The application itself is a starting point for applying to any health professional program. It is a document that will include personal information about you (such as name, address, academics, and experience), as well as which program you are applying to. An application may require different documents to be attached. The form itself may be one that is to be completed online, downloaded and mailed in, or one that is part of a centralized application service. Supplemental applications may be required as part of the process, which would be a 'second step' application.
Deadlines, as well as other relevant information about the process, are usually on the application or on the websites with links to the application. Obtain a copy of the application or review the online application as soon as possible, so that you are able to identify what you need to do to be a viable candidate for the program.
Know that most health professional programs receive more applications than they have spots in their programs, so pay attention to all of the details in the application, so that you do not miss any critical information that would disqualify your application.
Prerequisite courses, also referred to as "requisite" or "required" courses, are typically defined as college-level courses needed for entry into a health professional program. Each health professional program will specify the prerequisite courses that are required for that program and when those courses need to be completed.
Look here for more information: Prerequisites
Grade Point Average (GPA)
Grade Point Average (GPA) is often an important element in your application to a health program. There are many ways to look at a GPA. For example, you might consider your GPA for prerequisite courses, your GPA for your cumulative (overall) courses, or your GPA to measure science courses. (This last GPA calculation is referred to as “BCPM”, which is used by some medical schools and is a way to calculate your grades in Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Math courses.)
Each program will specify whether or not they have a minimum GPA requirement and the scale that the GPA is based on (such as a 4.0 system), if required. Keep in mind that the most applicants will want to exceed the minimum to be a competitive candidate. Additionally, some programs may consider other elements in an application in lieu of GPA or not have minimum GPA threshold at all.
Here are some examples from the University of Minnesota's programs:
- A minimum cumulative and science GPA of 2.5 (based on a 4.0 scale) is required for consideration when applying to the Clinical Laboratory Sciences program. However, due to limited space, applicants usually need GPAs of 3.0 or higher to be competitive for admission.
- The Pharm.D. program in the College of Pharmacy currently requires applicants to meet ONE of the following minimum requirements: 3.0 overall PharmCAS GPA - OR - 3.2 GPA in most recent 60 semester credits - OR - 70% composite PCAT.
- The University of Minnesota Medical School does not require a specific GPA. However, the average GPA for students admitted to the Medical School (Twin Cities) in Fall 2011 was 3.73 (based on a 4.0 scale). Look here for details.
Remember, check with each of the programs you are applying to, as the requirements may be different across programs. Ask what the minimum GPAs are for application, what competitive GPAs look like based on past admitted students, and what was the range of applicants' GPAs for those who were admitted. Remember that looking at past data is not a full indicator of the future, but it can give you some trending information to help you gain a clearer understanding of where you stand based on historical data.
Also, know that while GPA is often an important factor in admission committee decisions, there are also often other factors that are weighed into the decision of whether or not to admit a candidate to a health professional program.
Applicants to health professional programs will often have to take an admissions test. Admissions tests are a standardized way to compare applicants, who may have vastly different profiles.
Some admissions tests are general, like the Graduate Records Exam (GRE), while others are more specific based on professional area, like the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT).
Each school will have its own requirements, allowances for how old test scores can be, advice on how many times an applicant can take a test, etc. Look here for specifics on Admissions Tests.
Gaining experience before you apply to a health professional program - whether volunteering, work, or both - can be a critical part of helping you to be a competitive candidate. Some programs will require a minimum amount of hours; others may require a certain kind of experience. Programs may even recommend (or require) shadowing experiences.
Look here for more information: Volunteering and Work Experience
Check with the program(s) you are applying to for details on what kinds of experiences are required to make you a competitve applicant.
Personal Statements & Essays
The personal statement consists of a short essay (or more) required as part of the primary application or supplemental application to an academic program. It may be referred to as the admissions essay, statement of purpose, or letter of intent.
The personal statement serves an important role in the application process for both the student and the admissions committee.
For you, the student:
The personal statement is an opportunity to provide information that supports or enhances other parts of your application. It helps the committee know and understand you beyond what is in the rest of your application, and it allows you to highlight your practical knowledge of the field. It also provides an additional demonstration of your writing skills.
For the admissions committee:
The personal statement helps determine if you are a good fit for the school. It provides additional information about you and your experiences related to the field, and it helps the committee understand your motivation for pursuing the career.
The personal statement is typically one page in length, but length limitations of essays are often provided (e.g. 4,500 to 5,300 characters, including spaces). Please refer to the application instructions for directions and plan accordingly. The instructions generally ask applicants to write about their goals, how they decided on the profession, their motivation and aptitude, and how they have overcome challenges, but may have additional questions for applicants to respond to.
Get help with your personal essay with this online workshop and follow-up appointment, designed to take you through the steps of writing the essay(s) and give you feedback on your writing: Personal Statements for a Health Program (online workshop)
Letters of Recommendation
Letters of recommendation are letters you request from professionals who know you well and who you feel can confidently recommend you for application to a particular school or program.
Letters of recommendation are required for students applying to most, but not all, health profession programs. These letters are also sometimes called letters of evaluation. It is important to check with any school to which you intend to apply and find out their specific requirements regarding letters of recommendation.
Look here for more information on Letters of Recommendation.
Schools often use interviews to determine the applicant’s suitability for the profession and school, as well as evaluate the applicant’s interpersonal skills and professional conduct. Your application and personal statement only tell part of your story. Your interview will give admission committee members the opportunity to meet you personally.
The interview also provides a chance for the admissions committee members to ask you about what you’ve said in your application and personal statement and explore who you are at a deeper level. Some health programs are using performance based interviews (think: role playing) for admission criteria as well.
Multiple Mini Interview (MMI)
One up-and-coming interview format is the Multiple Mini Interview (MMI). The University of Minnesota Medical School uses the MMI format on interview day. To learn more about the format of the MMI, check out this presentation from the UMN Medical School.