The Application Process
Applying to a health profession program can be a daunting process. One of the best ways to allay your fears is to understand how admission works. This section will provide you with resources to help you determine whether you are ready to apply and, when you are, how to submit your application. An application cycle for many health profession schools lasts more than 18 months, so be sure to meet with your health professions adviser well in advance of your anticipated application date.
How to Get Started
- Read the recommendations in “Are You Ready to Apply?” below.
- Determine whether you will need to request a committee letter.
- For committee letter applicants, review the timeline. Applicants not requesting a committee letter should discuss their timeline with a health professions adviser.
- Use the information provided on this website to inform your process.
- Stay in touch with the Board of Health Professions Advisers. Applicants requesting a committee letter will have required contact with the board. Other applicants are encouraged to seek board advice and make use of the resources available at the Lazarus Center for Career Development.
Are You Ready to Apply?
Before you apply, it is critical to reflect on what you have achieved inside and outside the classroom and determine, in consultation with your health professions adviser, whether you are a fully qualified applicant. Simply discussing your motivation and passion for health care is not enough to create a strong application. You must have long-term, in-depth, convincing evidence that demonstrates your ability to succeed and excel in your field of choice. The following list highlights important characteristics of a successful applicant. We encourage you to consider your evidence for each of the following criteria.
Health care workers may face ethically and morally ambiguous decisions. Admission committees seek evidence of good judgment, even-handedness, integrity, and maturity. How have you developed these skills? Also evaluate your professionalism. Does your public persona raise questions? Admission officials do check social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and inappropriate or questionable content could jeopardize your chances of admission. Your email address and voicemail greeting should similarly be professional and mature.
Any academic or legal misconduct (including any violation of Smith's Honor Code, large or small) should be confidentially discussed with the Director of the Health Professions Advising Program before you decide to continue with your application. You will be required to enter this information on your professional school application, and serious infractions may disqualify you for consideration at your chosen health profession schools.
Are you financially, emotionally, and physically ready to attend a rigorous training program? The application process is expensive, time consuming, and emotionally draining. Once in school you will need money for living expenses in addition to your tuition, so think carefully about how to fund your education. Also consider whether you are mentally prepared for the stress that can accompany a fast-paced academic program. Finally, if you have any health concerns, consider how you might prepare for the physical rigors of school.
Improving your qualifications and building a "Plan B"
Building evidence of qualifications takes time. For those who need to strengthen one or more elements of their application, the wisest path is often to summon patience and apply in the following cycle. Even the most qualified individuals will need to think about what they will do over the course of the application cycle to continue improving the weaker areas of their application, while also developing a backup plan in case they are not accepted the first time.
"I will apply and see what happens"
This is a common sentiment, and it rarely serves the applicant well. In most cases, we hear this from applicants who recognize that they are not yet fully qualified. We cannot stress enough the importance of working with the Board of Health Professions Advisors to assess your qualifications and determine the optimum timeline for applying. We will be honest and inform you if we believe you need additional time for preparations. Certainly, we cannot predict who will be admitted to a health profession school, but we can predict with a good deal of accuracy who will not gain admission. We urge you to take our advice seriously.
If applying through a central application service, carefully follow the service's instructions about transcripts. After sending your transcript(s) to the application service, check on the verification process early and often. Follow up if your transcripts are not received in a timely manner. Applicants not using a central application service should follow the instructions given by individual schools.
It is a good idea to have an extra copy of your official transcript(s) sent to you so that you can check for errors.
Please note: The Board of Health Professions Advisers cannot request a transcript for you; only you can request official copies of your transcript. Follow instructions for requesting your official Smith College transcript.
Make Requests Early
It can take up to a month for a transcript request to be processed. Transcripts should be sent directly to your health profession's application service before you submit your primary application so that the service can begin verifying your courses and grades immediately after you submit.
Problems Getting a non-Smith Transcript
If an institution you attended does not provide transcripts, you may need to submit a letter from them to the application service or individual programs.
If an institution you attended is no longer operational, you may be able to procure an archived transcript through the U.S. Department of Education.
Committee Letter Applicants
You are required to submit unofficial copies of all transcripts as part of your preapplication. All transcripts should be uploaded to the preapplication in one PDF document.
Résumés & Curriculum Vitae
A résumé or a curriculum vitae (CV) is mandatory for requesting a committee letter from the Board of Health Professions Advisors, though it is recommended that non-committee letter applicants also develop one. Résumés and CVs may be helpful during an interview and can be referenced when completing centralized applications.
Students may wish to build a résumé or a CV depending on their experience and their profession of interest. Primary differences between these two documents include length, content and the document's purpose.
A résumé is typically one or two pages and summarizes your education, experiences and skills. A résumé may be used for a variety of purposes including applications to jobs, graduate schools or fellowships.
A curriculum vitae (CV) is a more detailed document which may include topics such as educational background, research, publications, presentations, posters, teaching, awards and honors, professional affiliations, conferences and other details. A CV is often used for academic, research, scientific and similar pursuits.
The Lazarus Center for Career Development offers a guide for building your CV and résumé as well as a handout with sample science and technical resumes. Career advisers and peer advisers in the center are available to provide feedback on your work.
Many health professions schools require standardized test scores as part of the application packet. These tests target academic topics that have been covered in your undergraduate studies and also measure your ability to study appropriately and do well in a test-taking scenario. The most common entrance exams required for admission to health profession schools are listed below.
Medical College Admission Test, required for admission to any medical or podiatry school within the United States. MCAT scores are also accepted by some physician assistant programs.
Graduate Record Examination general test, required or accepted for admission to veterinary medicine, public health, physical therapy, chiropractic, nursing, occupational therapy, and physician assistant programs.
Dental Admission Test, required for admission to dental schools.
Pharmacy College Admissions Test, required for some applicants to pharmacy programs.
Optometry Admission Test, required for admission to optometry schools.
Chiropractic College Aptitude Test, required for some applicants to chiropractic schools.
Please note: Schools for acupuncture and Oriental medicine and naturopathic medicine do not require an entrance exam.
Preparing For Your Entrance Examination
Studying for a standardized test should not be taken lightly. Re-taking your examination after a poor score requires time and resources that might otherwise be used to polish your application. In addition, it is not helpful to have multiple scores on file, as most admission committees review all available test results.
Take A Diagnostic Test
A good start is taking a diagnostic test to determine your baseline score. Then plan an appropriate study regimen that targets your weaker areas. Consider test prep to be like a challenging basic science course: the amount of time you would typically devote to that class is roughly the amount of time you should devote to studying. Be sure to track your progress and adjust your study habits as needed.
Research Study Materials
Many applicants consider purchasing supplementary study materials from companies or taking test preparation classes. The Board of Prehealth Advisers neither advocates nor discourages use of these resources. The best way to study is what will work most effectively for the individual learner. Free or less expensive resources do exist, including online preparation materials (be sure they are from a reputable source!) and secondhand prep books.
Your standardized test will be timed and computer-based. Many are several hours long and will test your cognitive endurance. As you prepare, practice passages or tests under the same conditions, including at the same time of day when you will take the actual exam. At a minimum, always time yourself while working through problems. Test producers offer full-length practice tests. Taking these periodically will allow you to authentically track your score while enabling you to replicate 'test day' circumstances. Limit yourself to the same break schedule that will be allowed on test day.
Be sure to prepare for the details of test day. Gather the appropriate ID and snacks, and make sure you know where the test is held. Consider developing a sleep routine that is consistent with when you need to be awake on test day.
Assess Your Financial Preparedness
Be financially prepared for your entrance exam! Registration is expensive, although fee assistance programs may be available for applicants with demonstrated financial need.
Timing of the Entrance Exam
Take it Early
We strongly recommend that you take the admission test early enough to permit you to know your test scores before you apply and, if necessary, to retake the test. The Board of Health Profession Advisors never recommends submitting an application before knowing your entrance exam score. It is also critical that you have completed, or be completing, courses covering topics included in the exam content by the time you take the test.
For applicants to medical/dental/optometry/podiatry school who will not receive a committee letter from Smith (i.e. those who will be more than four years past their Smith graduation when they submit their application), we still do not recommend taking a late test. Most of these professional schools have rolling admissions, and it will be in your best interest to submit an early application (no later than July 1) with your test score. This requires adhering to the same test schedule as we have outlined for applicants receiving a committee letter.
For applicants to other health profession schools, the timing of your test will vary depending on your application deadline(s) and whether the schools to which you are applying use a system of rolling admissions. If it is rolling, you would be wise to submit your application, with your test score, as early as possible in the admission cycle.
Retaking the Test
You should not retake the admission test unless it is necessary to be competitive for your schools and you are absolutely positive that you can improve. Retaking the test and not improving may cause health profession schools to question your judgment and time management skills. If you are unsure whether re-taking the test is in your best interest, please arrange an appointment with a health professions adviser.
A strong application essay is an interview on paper. Above all, an essay must effectively respond to the prompt provided. Application essays may also express who you are and how you see yourself contributing to your field; give insight into your personality, motivation and passions; discuss how you are unique; highlight your values; and/or show your capacities to make a difference.
Personal Statements and Other Primary Application Essays
Most health profession schools require that you complete a personal statement. This essay not only shows your ability to communicate effectively but also helps distinguish you from the competition. Applicants to dual-degree programs (e.g., M.D.-Ph.D.) may be expected to complete additional essays on their primary application.
Secondary Application Essays
Some health profession schools that use a central application service will require applicants to complete a secondary application. These secondary applications often include additional essay prompts, offering you the opportunity to share more about yourself and personalize your interest in an individual school. School-specific prompts vary only slightly from year to year and are sometimes found online. While waiting for your primary application to be verified, you may wish to draft secondary essays. Note that some institutions only ask certain applicants to submit a secondary.
- Understand your audience.
- Coordinate your personal statement and primary application to avoid redundancy.
- Use an 'active' voice.
- Answer the question that was asked.
- Support your statements with concrete, detailed examples.
- Avoid clichés and generalities.
- Ask different people (professors, family, friends, people who don't know you that well) to read your essay and provide feedback.
- If you struggle to describe yourself, ask the opinion of someone who knows you well.
- Explore how the qualities you describe translate to your future self as a healthcare provider.
- If you get stuck, put the essay aside and come back to it later.
Letters of Recommendation
We are providing general information about letters of recommendation for health profession school applicants. Keep in mind that specific requirements will vary. Carefully read all application instructions, both for individual institutions and application services.
Types of Letters
Individual letters are written by a single letter writer and are either sent individually or compiled by your health profession advisor into a letter packet or committee letter. A letter packet includes a brief cover letter, while a committee letter is a lengthy, narrative evaluation of your qualifications. Most applicants to medical, dental, optometry and podiatry schools will request a committee letter from the Board of Health Professions Advisers. All applicants to all health profession schools will request individual letters.
A Note On Confidentiality
You have the option to choose confidential or open letters of recommendation; however, health profession schools prefer confidential letters.
All applicants receiving a committee letter must create an Interfolio account where individual letters of reference will be held. Your account must be affiliated with the "Smith College Pre-Health" institutional account; this requires that you use a specially generated link to create your account. If you have already submitted your preapplication, you should have received that link in the email you received. If you have not yet completed the preapplication, please contact us to request the link.
Number of Letters
You will need to include four to six individual letters of reference, which will be appended to the committee letter.
Letter to Recommenders
You must provide letter writers with the Letter to Recommenders (PDF) handout.
Interfolio Document Request Form
You will need to grant your letter writers the ability to upload letters to your Interfolio account by sending them the Interfolio Document Request Form. Your recommenders must attach their letter to the form and either mail or e-mail it to Interfolio. It is not necessary to send a request form for the committee letter.
No Committee Letter
If you are not receiving a committee letter, consult the application instructions of your programs to determine the letter collection criteria. Programs that do not receive letters of recommendation through a centralized application service will have explicit instructions about requesting letters of reference, and may have instructions or questionnaires for letter writers. It is your responsibility to ensure that your programs of interest correctly receive letters of reference.
Some applicants may find it useful to create an Interfolio account for the confidential storing of individual letters of recommendation.
Whom You Should Ask
Unless explicitly indicated otherwise, letters are written by professors, employers, supervisors and those who have a working relationship with you. Letters should not be written by family, friends or acquaintances.
A strong letter is written by those who have known you a long time, think highly of you and have supervised you in the classroom, laboratory or a clinical setting. The writer should know details about your major accomplishments. A strong letter of recommendation is dated no more than three years prior to your application to a health profession school, but ideally will be more recent to reflect your current capabilities.
Applicants receiving a committee letter will discuss the selection of their individual letters of reference with Elly Mons during the preapplication meeting. Applicants who will not receive a committee letter are also encouraged to seek advice from members of the Board of Health Professions Advisors if they are unsure of the best collection of letters.
When to Ask
Request letters of reference at least two to three months before you will need them. It is a good idea to request a letter relatively soon after you've taken a class or finished an internship, as that is the time that your writer will most clearly remember what you achieved.
Committee Letter Deadline
All individual letters of reference for a committee letter are due in Interfolio no later than May 25. See Committee Letter Timeline and Key Deadlines.
How to Ask
Don't Be Presumptuous
Make your request for a letter in person before sending any official requests through a third party letter organzier (such as Interfolio), central application service or individual schools' online application systems.
Do Be Formal
Writing a letter of reference is hard work and time consuming, so make your request carefully and respectfully. Don't request a letter of reference while passing in the hallway or by sending a quick email. Instead, stop by during a professor's office hours or request a meeting with a current supervisor.
If you are geographically distant from a potential recommender, a professional email may be an acceptable first contact, but always offer to follow up with a phone call.
Provide Résumé and Goals
You will want to provide potential letter writers with a short explanation of your goals, and offer a personal statement and a résumé.
All individual letters of recommendation should be written in a formal style. They should be written on letterhead from the letter writer's place of employment and should be signed before submitting. Ensure that your recommenders understand this, and if necessary, direct them to their department's administrative assistant (if at Smith) for technical support in this area. Letters that do not follow the format described above will not be accepted.
Your selection of schools should be based on your interests and qualifications as well as the location and curriculum of individual programs. We recommend applying to a range of schools, from private to public, large to small, and more to less competitive.
Be sure a school matches your interests. Look at the philosophies of schools where you may be a qualified applicant. Read mission statements. Investigate what the school's current students and alumni/ae are doing. Ascertain the general campus climate around any religious, political or social issues about which you feel strongly. Does what you find resonate with your values and career goals?
At the same time, be flexible! Your choices may change dramatically as you interview. Most students report feeling the right fit—or not!—after they have visited a school.
Selecting both public and private schools is usually in the best interest of most applicants. Above all, do include schools in your home state or region. Many schools give preference to in-state residents, and tuition for in-state residents is often much less than that for private school.
Do not apply to any school that you would not be happy attending if it is the only school that makes an offer of admission.
The following resources provide concise overviews of admission requirements for individual schools based on profession.
- AANMC Member Schools (naturopathic medicine)
- ACA Chiropractic Colleges
- ACAOM Find http://acaom.org/directory/A School (acupuncture and Oriental medicine)
- ADEA Official Guide to Dental Schools
- Discover Nursing List of Schools
- Medical School Admission Requirements (allopathic medical schools, including Canadian schools)
- OptomCAS Information About Schools and Colleges (optometry)
- Osteopathic Medical College Information Book
- OTCAS Participating Programs (occupational therapy)
- PAEA Program Directory (physician assistant)
- PharmCAS Directory (pharmacy)
- Podiatric Medical College Information Book
- PTCAS Programs Directory (physical therapy)
- SOPHAS Participating Institutions and Program Search (public health)
- Veterinary Medical School Admissions Requirements
Congratulations! Your primary and secondary applications have been received well by schools, and you have been offered an interview. This is a good sign; it means that the admission committee believes your technical abilities are sufficient for you to succeed within that program. For most admission committees, an interview is an opportunity for you to show that you are the person you have conveyed in your admission packet. For applicants, the interview is a chance to assess whether the institution is the right match and to demonstrate your interest.
In Advance of Your Interview
Interviewing is stressful, and you will be most relaxed and 'yourself' if you feel well prepared. Make sure to book flights as soon as possible to avoid rising fares and consider student hosts if your school offers them. You can also contact Smith alumnae in that area using the Alumnae Directory.
A note about contacting alumnae: Please use good judgment when reaching out to alumnae who you do not know, and avoid putting them on the spot. For example, it would not be appropriate to ask an alumna if she could provide you with accommodation. She may, however, be able to offer advice on local accommodation and transportation options. Smith Women Connect on LinkedIn is another good resource for this type of information.
Research the interview format of the school so you can prepare for the types of questions that may be asked. Read through commonly asked interview questions and practice articulating your answers. Prepare to discuss emerging issues in health care by reading current journal articles and forming your own questions and opinions. Above all, practice, practice, practice! You can practice interviewing with friends, family, co-workers, professors...anyone who is willing. We strongly recommend using Interview Stream and to schedule a mock interview via your Handshake account with either Elly Mons or Daryl Gehman at the Lazarus Center for Career Development.
Plan for the Day
Prepare for interview day by fulfilling any requests of the admission office. Plan professional attire for that day. At a minimum, applicants should wear dress pants and a blazer, or a dress or skirt with an appropriate jacket. Jewelry and makeup should be unremarkable. Conservative colors, such as grey, blue, or black are safe choices. Be sure to arrange enough time for a non-rushed arrival and departure, and know where to go. A pocket-sized notebook is useful for writing down names of people you will meet. A padfolio can be useful and professional.
‘Open File'’ Interviews
The interviewer has access to your application information.
'Blind' or 'Closed File' Interviews
The interviewer has limited information about you and, at a minimum, does not know your test scores.
Multiple Mini Interviews (MMI)
A series of short, timed, sequential, scenario-based questions that assess a candidate's communication, logic, judgment, and interpersonal abilities. These are increasingly common among medical schools in the United States and Canada. If you get this type of interview, it is strongly advised that you review the process (more here) and practice a few scenarios.
Behavioral Event Interviewing
A series of open-ended questions that require you to give evidence-based answers about how you work, communicate, and make decisions.
Questions that are increasing in difficulty, or that are uncomfortable, personal, or otherwise distressing. The purpose of this type of interview is to evaluate how you function under stress.
The Day of the Interview
Arrive a few minutes early. Be friendly, professional and nice to everyone, including the other applicants! Do a brief review of your itinerary.
Listen and ask thoughtful questions. Take time to reflect on the school's values as the day progresses. What is the school proud of? Do their values fit your professional goals? Write down the names of everyone you meet. Use down time to note small details that you thought were interesting or unique. Maybe you witnessed a student helping someone who had dropped their books, or you connected with a faculty member over a shared interest.
M.D.-Ph.D. candidates should be prepared for at least one in-depth conversation about their research, with a faculty member who works in a similar field. Be confident but not presumptuous. Recognize that you do not have all of the answers. Practice for this portion of your interview with a current PI or other research mentor. Read current peer-reviewed publications in your area of research.
Do not be thrown off if an interview is not what you expect. Some faculty will ask formal questions, while others may simply wish to talk about the future of health care. If you have a group interview or exercise, you will be evaluated for your ability to work in a team. Respond thoughtfully to the ideas of others, and do not monopolize the conversation. Try to avoid the mindset that all questions have 'right' answers. Often, questions are asked to assess your ability to think logically and communicate clearly.
Be formal. Unless instructed otherwise, address faculty formally, using professor, doctor, Ms., Mr., etc. Thank your interviewers, tour guides, and admissions office for inviting you to interview.
Turn off your phone. Your cell phone should be off or stowed throughout the day. Nothing conveys disinterest faster than consulting your cell phone during any part of the interview, including what you may perceive as 'down time.'
Smile! You will get far by showing enthusiasm for the school and a passion for health care.
After the Interview
Send thank-you notes to those who interviewed you. Handwritten may be appreciated (provided your penmanship is legible), though an emailed note can be easier to add to your file. Be sure to include anything that you particularly liked or noticed throughout the day. Some schools have policies against applicants contacting interviewers directly. When this is the case, it is acceptable to send a thank-you to the general office address.
Letter of Interest
You may also send a letter of interest (LOI). A letter of interest (LOI) is any letter sent to an admission committee that is not required as part of your application. The purpose of an LOI is to convey your continued interest in a particular school. There are no hard rules about submitting an LOI, but you should do your homework and send LOIs judiciously. Some admission committees discourage LOIs, while others welcome them. In almost all cases, an LOI is appropriate following an interview, but be aware of schools that have policies against contacting interviewers directly.
Notes About Difficult Experiences
Though rare, negative interview experiences do take place. If you encounter a bad experience, remember to keep your cool. You can report a poor experience and, if you choose, withdraw your application. Many schools ask for anonymous feedback. It may also be beneficial to discuss a poor, uncomfortable or confusing interview experience with your prehealth adviser.
InterviewStream allows you to practice your interview skills any time. Record and review your responses to premade interviews, or build a personalized interview from a library of over 7,000 industry and subject-specific questions. Use the built-in self-evaluation to discover your interviewing strengths and ways to improve. Share your recorded interview with Lazarus Center career staff or others for further feedback. Access InterviewStream via Handshake: Click Career Center Resources to find the InterviewStream link.
Lazarus Center advisers are happy to meet with you for interview practice. Schedule an appointment via Handshake or call 413-585-2582.