Are you Ready?

Congratulations. You have reached the point in your journey where you have completed much of the required course work for medical, dental, podiatry, or optometry school. You may have even taken your standardized test at this point, and now all you have to do is apply. This is a long process with many important steps, but some good research and legwork by you on the front-end can take a lot of the worry and stress out of it on the back-end. There is no mystery to this process or secret code you need to break. In general, professional schools are concerned with: 

  • Overall and science GPA
  • Personal Statement
  • Clinical Exposure to medicine/dentistry, etc.
  • Activities and leadership, particularly related to community service and volunteerism
  • Research

Many resources exist to assist you in this process. However, the final responsibility for timelines and the quality of your application rests with you. Read through all the Applicant Cycle information and all the 

Applicant FAQs
AAMC webinar featuring: 

  • Lori Nicolaysen, MEd, Assistant Dean of Admissions, Weill Cornell Medical School
  • Steven Gay, MD, MS, Assistant Dean of Admissions, University of Michigan Medical School
  • Tanisha Price-Johnson, PhD, Executive Director of Admissions, The University of Arizona College of Medicine Tucson
  • Wendy Loughlin, MA, Director of Health Professions Advising, University of Maryland

Are You Ready? Here is What the Professional Schools will be Assessing

Are you ready for the academic rigor?

Schools will be looking for a sufficient and established record of academic achievement. There are no points for potential so a strong MCAT score and the promise to do better in the future will not take the place of strong grades and course selection. Ascending grades or overall good performance is critical. Descending grades, doing more poorly as you go along into more difficult course work is very concerning. A "C" in a science class during your application year reflects poorly on your profile. Schools must be confident that you are good enough at science (hence why they require a separate science GPA) and that you have sufficient background and basic ability. The first two years of medical school are strictly a science curriculum.

In addition, strong course selection in terms of overall academic load and electing more challenging courses even when it wasn't required, as well as being able to handle the load for which you have registered will be considered. A "W" with a good explanation is okay; a pattern of withdrawals is a problem. Fluff courses here and there do not signal a problem but too many does lighten the load. Remember that professional school is more demanding than any 17 credit semester at Maryland and if you can't do it here, there is reason to suspect that you won't be able to do it there.

Can you articulate that medicine or dentistry is the right path for you - for your own reasons?

Through your clinical experiences, have you learned what doctors, dentists, optometrists, etc., do? Is the field a fit for you? Admissions committees need to know that you have had some quality shadowing opportunities and that you have persisted to find those quality experiences. Longitudinal experiences volunteering directly with patients in a clinical setting is encouraged and required at many programs. Use your contacts if you have them but persist in getting some experiences that you pursued on your own. If you aren't secure in your reasons for entering the field and you discover in your third year of medical school that you don't like it that is a crisis for you and a lost spot in a competitive class. Schools will not take you without good clinical experience, regardless of your academic ability.


You must demonstrate that you make good and responsible choices and that you are ready to engage in privileged relationships with patients and colleagues. You must take responsibility for your own successes and especially failures. A pattern of blame when things don't go well is problematic. Never blame the instructor for your poor performance if asked about a grade during an essay or interview.

Take on leadership positions, particularly those that require you to interact with adults. Those people can write you strong letters showing that you were trusted to deliver on something and you delivered. Jobs, student organizations, Resident Assistant and Teaching Assistant positions, peer advisors - all of these, done well, demonstrate a high degree of personal responsibility. These things can make all the difference in cases where the student has an average academic profile - which is true for many, many applicants to professional schools.

Are you well-rounded or what committees like to call "multi-dimensional"?

With so many people applying who look very similar to one another in terms of quantitative measures, students who stand out are those who have taken a variety of courses for the sake of learning new things, who have gotten out of the classroom and become invested in community service, cultural exploration, language development, travel, etc. However, dabbling in a myriad of things is not as important as becoming invested in the things about which you are passionate. Become involved in things that will help you grow personally and that are meaningful to you; do not try to figure out who the medical schools want you to be. There is no answer to that.

Do you have good interpersonal skills and a capacity for empathy?

This goes back to what has already been said and can best be demonstrated through community service and your relationships with others from teachers and advisors to family, friends and the patients with whom you have interacted during clinical experiences. Your letters and interview will speak volumes about this and it is critically important.

Have you attended the HPAO workshops?

All students planning to utilize the credentials process and to seek a committee letter from the HPAO are expected to attend a session of the JR/SR Workshop: Are You Ready? in the Fall and the JR/SR Workshop: Navigating the Application Cycle in the Spring. See Workshops for more information.