Preparing for Health Professions Graduate School

Applying to the health professions graduate program of your choice can seem like a daunting task. There are many steps, and you must be ready to accept the responsibility of managing this process. To assist you, we have created several sections here that will explain the entire process.

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Application Process

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Application Timeline

Time of Year Benchmark
September/October Annual applicant meeting; Distribution of Checklist Calendar
November 1 Deadline: Phase I - BC Committee Application (General Information)
January 20 Deadline: Phase II - BC Committee Application (Committee Essays)
January-April Meet with assigned Premedical Advisor
March 10 Deadline: Letters of Evaluation
April 24 Deadline: Phase III - BC Committee Application (Committee Update Form)
April–mid-June Take standardized tests
June–early July Submit your applications
September–February Professional or graduate school interviews

When to Apply

Most BC applicants spread the coursework over 4 years and apply to health professions graduate schools as seniors/alumni. 76% take one or more “gap or bridge” years between graduation and health professions graduate school matriculation. The average age of matriculating medical students is 24, so taking a year or two off does not harm your chances.

To continue on to health professions graduate school directly after graduation from BC, you must complete the required courses in 3 years as well as study for and take the MCAT. Keep in mind some schools require specific coursework beyond these basic requirements. We recommend researching schools of interest to check prerequistes courses, mean GPA and mean Standardized Test scores.

Standardized Exams

MCAT

Registration

The computerized Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) will be given on various dates in January, as well as April through September. Registration information and test dates are posted on the website for the Association of American Medical Colleges. Registration is online.

Be sure to submit your application for the MCAT well before the registration due date, as there is a substantial fee for late registration. Registering early also increases the probability that you will get your first-choice test site. If you plan to apply for the Fee Assistance Program (FAP), we suggest you access the above website and closely examine the instructions and deadlines.

Important Note: The AAMC gives an excellent overview of the MCAT. The MCAT will cover additional topics (Biochemistry, Statistics, Sociology, Psychology) not previously covered in earlier versions of the exam. We therefore recommend that you take an elective in Biochemistry and Statistics. In addition, the BC Psychology and Sociology departments offer courses that can help you prepare for this exam.

When to Take the Exam

Most medical schools fill their classes on an ongoing basis ("rolling admissions"). Therefore we strongly recommend that students apply as early as possible. If you are applying to medical school during the upcoming admissions cycle (this summer), we strongly recommend you take the MCATs in the late April–July period. If you are an undergraduate, please plan your Spring term accordingly, as studying for the MCAT should take more time than an individual course. Given the importance of this exam, we do not recommend you take the MCAT unless you have had time to prepare.

Those individuals who plan to delay applying to medical school until the end of their senior year (or later) often choose to take the MCAT in August, just before they return for their final year at BC. This strategy allows them to focus on their grades during second semester of their junior year, without having to study for the MCAT. If they do poorly on the August test, they still can retake the MCAT in January of senior year, or the spring or summer just after senior year, and the scores from this exam will not delay the evaluation of their applications by medical-school admissions committees.

Exam Content

The MCAT includes the following four test sections:

  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  • Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

Preparation

The MCAT is a test for which you should study. The best method for you depends on your learning style and work habits. If you generally are well organized, you can plan a study schedule on your own or with one or two friends. Stick to it; you may have no need for a commercial course. Your texts and notes from introductory science courses provide a good basis for review.

Historically, the BC Continuing Education Office has offered a discounted MCAT and/or DAT course. Announcements about the test prep course are made at the annual Application Meeting each September/October and are posted under BC Student/Alumni/ae under the Applicant link. Though not required, students have found that electives in Biochemistry, Statistics, Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, Genetics, Physiology, Psychology and Sociology have helped them prepare for the MCATs—as well as for the first year of medical school.

In addition, you may find the following resources very helpful in guiding your study and providing practice exams:

Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC)

The AAMC has a study guide: The Official Guide to MCAT Exam. It has also created a separate website, EMCAT.com, featuring official MCAT practice tests that mirror the actual MCAT exam. The Association of American Medical Colleges has teamed up with free online education service Khan Academy and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to provide free online resources for students taking the revised MCAT, which debuts in 2015. 

Study Guides

Comprehensive study guides can be found in many bookstores (e.g. Barnes and Noble, Borders) as well as through the web (Amazon). Various publishers put out MCAT preparation books. Kaplan, Princeton Review, Scholarware, Arco, and Barrons are some of the more popular guides and they can be found in many good bookstores and on the web (e.g. amazon.com). Many students use “ExamKrackers”, and they provide preparation for standardized exams through books, audio CD’s, DVD’s, internet forums, and live classes. New resources are constantly being put out, so a “Google Search” titled “MCAT Preparation” may result in some additional options.
 


DAT

Registration

Register for the DAT through the American Dental Association. The DAT is administered by Thomson Prometric.

When to Take the Exam

Timing of the DAT is largely up to you; however, some dental schools state that they must have the scores one year (e.g., September/October) prior to the year of matriculation. Given this, as well as the 90-day waiting period for a retake, we recommend you plan accordingly. (In the past, students have generally scheduled the exam for June/July prior to the year of matriculation). To learn more about the DAT, we strongly encourage you to review the book Official Guide to Dental Schools. It is also on reserve in O’Neill Library (BIOL 1000.01).

Exam Content

The DAT is a computerized exam that tests students on the natural sciences (Biology, General Chemistry, and Organic Chemistry), perceptual ability, reading comprehension, and quantitative reasoning. Each section is scored on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 30 (highest) with a score of 17 indicating average performance. The exam usually takes about 4 hours and 15 minutes to complete. You will receive your scores immediately upon completing the exam; however, it usually takes about two to three weeks for the dental schools you’ve selected to receive the scores. If you are unhappy with your performance, you must wait 90 days before you can retake the exam.

Preparation

The Continuing Education Office at B.C. has, in the past, offered a discounted DAT Prep course. If offered, announcements concerning any DAT Test Prep courses are made at the annual October Application Meeting and are posted at BC Students/Alumni.
 


GRE

Registration

Veterinary schools vary in terms of their standardized test requirements, but most require the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). In the past, some schools required (or accepted) the MCAT. Information regarding the standardized test requirements for the various schools is available on the website Association of American Veterinary Medicine College.

When to Take the Exam

The best strategy is to take the GRE the year that you intend to apply. Some students prefer to take it during the fall or spring semester prior to applying so that they will have time to retake if necessary. Other students take the exam during the summer to have more time to prepare. It is strongly advised that you take the GRE before you fill out the VMCAS application so that you already have your scores. This will aid in your choice of schools to which you want to apply and help determine if you are a strong candidate.

Exam Content

Veterinary colleges typically require only the general GRE. This test is broken down into three sections; verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning and analytical writing. The verbal reasoning focuses on the ability to analyze and evaluate written material and synthesize information as well as recognizing relationships between words and concepts. The quantitative reasoning section tests the ability to understand basic concepts of algebra, geometry, and data analysis. It also requires quantitative problem solving and reasoning. The analytical writing section requires the test-taker to clearly articulate complex ideas, examine claims and evidence, support ideas with examples and sustained a focused, coherent discussion.

Preparation

The Boston College Office of Continuing Education offers GRE Test Prep Courses.
 


OAT

The OAT (Optometry Admission Test) Program is designed to measure general academic ability, comprehension of scientific information and perceptual ability. You must apply for your test with the OAT Program and receive your electronic notification prior to scheduling your testing appointment with Prometric. Tests are administered year-round at Prometric Test Centers in the United States. For further information visit the OAT website.

OAT Website

 

Pre-Health Committee Letter

Committee Letter Eligibility

You have the option to apply to medical/dental school through the Boston College Pre-Health Committee Letter Process. Since most health professions graduate schools are aware that Boston College evaluates candidates by a committee process, we recommend utilizing the Committee Letter Process. You also have the option to apply on your own with individual letters of recommendation.

In order for a committee letter to be written for an applicant, the following criteria must be met:

  • The applicant must have taken at least half of the pre-requisite science courses at Boston College in the past seven years.
  • The applicant must secure at minimum 3 individual letters of recommendation, with one letter of recommendation being from a faculty member who taught you in a science course.
  • The applicant must meet all Committee Letter Process Deadlines

One year each of the following basic Pre-Health courses must be taken:

  • Biology (plus labs)
  • General Chemistry (plus labs)
  • Organic Chemistry (plus labs)
  • Physics (plus labs)

If you have not completed the above four (4) courses by the end of the Spring semester in the year you wish to apply, you will not qualify for a Spring Evaluation.

Committee Letter Process

The Committee will prepare a comprehensive letter for each eligible Boston College applicant to medical and dental school. This 5–7 page letter reviews the student's academic, extracurricular, and personal characteristics. The general form of the Committee Letter is as follows:

  • Academic performance (overall G.P.A., science G.P.A., course selections, programs of study, etc.)
  • Significant extracurricular, volunteer, research and leatership experience
  • Motivation for medicine/dentistry by citing your health related and volunteer experiences, service, personal attributes, and accomplishments shared during committee advisor meetings 
  • It concludes with unedited, letters from faculty and other recommenders (3-5 letters)

Committee Letter Process Deadlines

  • November 1st: Phase I - General Information
  • January 20th: Phase II - Essays
  • March 10th: Letters of Evaluation Due
  • March 20th: Deadline to Meet with Assigned Advisor
  • April 24th: Phase III - Update Form

Application Services

For each of the health professions graduate programs you may choose to apply for, a substantial process must be followed. For each, though, there is at least one centralized non-profit organization to help you manage your application. We have specific information and advice for each of the various application processes in hopes to aid in your steps toward graduate school education.


Medical School

Allopathic (MD) Medical Schools

The centralized, non-profit application service for allopathic schools is called the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS), which is a program of the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Osteopathic (DO) Medical Schools

The centralized, non-profit application service for osteopathic schools is called American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS). The organization that processes applications for osteopathic medical schools is called the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM).

Applying to AMCAS/AACOMAS Schools

All students applying to AMCAS and/or AACOMAS-participating schools must submit their application materials to those schools through the respective centralized application service(s). You will, therefore, submit only one set of application materials and official transcripts for each type of medical school, regardless of the number of participating AMCAS or AACOMAS schools to which you apply. The major goal of the centralized application services is to simplify and standardize the application process and to provide the participating medical schools with uniform, readable information on their candidates.

Medical schools fill their classes on a rolling admissions basis, so the sooner you submit your application, the better your chances are at getting accepted. Medical schools receive the majority of their applications in August, just before school begins. 

The AMCAS application will ask you whether or not you plan to retake the MCAT in August. You should receive results for the spring exam by mid-June. Therefore, we strongly recommend that you submit your application as soon as you receive your MCAT scores, and no later than June 30th. 

Applying to Non-AMCAS Schools

Write to these schools in the late spring and request an application and a catalogue. Addresses are located on each school's web page and may also be found in the Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR).

Each non-AMCAS school requires you to submit transcripts from any college and summer school you have attended. Have the Registrar's Office send your transcript to each school individually. Simultaneously, order a transcript for yourself to make sure that the correct transcript was sent to AMCAS and/or AACOMAS. If you have been granted a fee waiver from AMCAS, inform the non-AMCAS schools, and they will probably waive the fee as well.
 


Dental School

If you are considering dentistry as a career option, you should consult the book Admissions Requirements of U.S. and Canadian Dental Schools, which is on reserve in O'Neill Library (and may be purchased through the American Dental Education Association). See the tables in the front of the book for a good comparative overview of dental schools, which includes GPAs, science GPAs, and DAT scores for all schools. 

As with medical schools, dental schools have a centralized, non-profit organization called American Association of Dental Schools Application Service (AADSAS), which most U.S. dental schools use for the processing of preliminary applications. The AADSAS application has very thorough instructions. For DAT preparation, as well as information about the field of dentistry and links to individual dental schools, please visit American Dental Education Association.
 


Veterinary School

The Preveterinary Planning Guide and the Veterinary Medical School Admissions Requirements, both on reserve at O'Neill Library, have excellent information about veterinary medicine. Applications to veterinary schools have increased significantly over the past few years. Recently, the national average exam score for accepted students has been approximately 3.5.

There is a national application service, the Veterinary Medical College Application Service, to which some, but not all, of the veterinary schools subscribe. For further information and a link to the individual schools, visit the website of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC).

Interviewing

Interviews at health professions graduate schools are an opportunity for the admissions committee to get to know you and to understand your commitments and goals. There are several formats that admission committees employ: Group, Traditional, Multi Mini. Before the day of your interview, review both your primary and secondary applications for that school. Additionally, you should look closely at the school's website, review any material the school may have sent you and be prepared to discuss why you are specifically interested in their program. You should also know what interview format the school utilizes and practice, practice, practice

Pre-Health Resources

The Pre-Health Program offers the following resources:

  • Simulated mock interviews to juniors, seniors, and alumni who have received interview invitations
  • Interview Reports from students/alumni who have interviewed at various health professions graduate schools. These reports may help you know what to expect.
  • General advising - feel free to stop by our office before you interview at a specific school

Additional On-Campus Resources

  • A pamphlet entitled “The Medical School Interview” is available on reserve (BIOL1000.01) at the O'Neill Library
  • The Career Center (617-552-3430) runs an Interviewing Workshop that helps prepare students for health professions graduate school interviews. Feel free to call the Center to sign up for a workshop. The Career Center also offers Big Interview for alumni.

Financial Planning

The process of applying for financial aid to health professions graduate schools vary by school. It is always best to check with the specific health professions schools' financial aid office for specific instructions. Below are steps to help you begin the process:

  1. Complete the institutions' financial aid application (if they have one) 
  2. Complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and know the school code
  3. Investigate funding resources
  4. Apply Early - Pay Attention to Deadlines

For additional resources, please contact the Pre-Health Program.

Growth/Gap Year

You could delay your application so that you have time to take science courses that will hopefully bring your cumulative averages into the range of accepted candidates. Increasing numbers of students have waited until the spring of their senior year (or later) to be evaluated by our Premedical Committee. (Our Committee advises and writes letters for a significant number of alumni every year.) The schools then have senior-year and/or post-baccalaureate grades to evaluate. This would mean that the student would potentially begin graduate school one year after graduating from Boston College.

Many students/alumni are opting to apply to health professions graduate schools in their senior year or beyond. It is important that you assess your candidacy for health professions graduate school so that you can use the gap year(s) to strengthen your candidacy by either strenghtening your clinical/volunteer experience or your academic credentials.

We recommend that students whose academic credentials are not competitive consider waiting at least until the summer after their senior year to apply. You can avoid wasting significant time and money (application fees), which hopefully will free you up to concentrate on improving your academic performance in the classroom. An excellent senior year and/or strong post-baccalaureate coursework can greatly improve chances for admission.

Fellowships and Service Programs

  • American Public Health Association Internship and Fellowships
  • AmeriCorps
  • BC Career Center - Professional Work Fellowships
  • Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Fellowship
  • Citizen School Teaching Fellowship
  • City Year
  • Emerson National Hunger Fellowship
  • Fulbright - US Student Programs
  • Health For America Fellowship
  • Health Corps
  • Jesuit Volunteer Corps.
  • NIH Postbaccalaureate Intramural Research Program 
  • Peace Corps 
  • Teach For America
  • Samuel Huntington Public Service Fellowship Award

Full-Time Work

  • ScribeAmerica

Post-Baccalaureate Programs

It can be very advantageous for a student with a modest science GPA to consider enrolling either full or part-time in a post-graduate program. There are several options:

  • Premedical Post-Baccalaureate Programs
  • Post-Baccalaureate Master's Programs
  • Post-Baccalaureate Non-Master's Programs
  • Traditional Master's Programs
  • Public Health Programs

The Pre-Health team can provide additional options or resources if you are considering post-graduate work.