There are many aspects to every application, including your GPA, standardized test score, personal statement, list of experiences, letters of recommendation, and biographical information. Some health professions schools review applications holistically, while others rely on metrics to determine eligibility. The best way to prepare is to develop ALL of the pieces in an application.
The best advice for successful application development is to stay involved in the advising process. The Health Professions Advising office is here to support you on your journey.
How do you know if you're ready to apply to health professional school?
The answer to this question should be explored in some depth well before you submit an application to a school. Our pre-medical self-assessment guide [PDF] is designed to help you address your strengths and weaknesses, put focus on items that you will want to highlight on your application and identify areas where you need to do more work.
The higher your GPA, the better your chances of being accepted into a program. A GPA of 3.0 would be barely meeting the minimum requirements for many programs. There are numerous resources on campus to assist you in achieving a higher GPA.
Online GPA Calculators
- CSULB GPA Calculator
- Iowa State University GPA Calculator
- Temple University Science/Math GPA Calculator
It is important to apply to health professions schools when your application is strong and most competitive. That may mean applying after your junior year, or it may mean applying after your senior year or later. Our pre-medical self-assessment guide [PDF] and pre-health workshops will help you determine if you are a competitive applicant.
Please note that completing the central application early will usually improve your chances of being invited to interviews and being accepted by schools. It will take the central application services time to verify your application before sending it out to the schools you designate, as the application cycle progresses this can take as long as four to six weeks.
Specific application timelines based on pre-health tracks:
- Association of American Medical Colleges timeline [PDF]
- American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine timeline
- American Dental Education Association timeline
- Physician Assistant timeline
- Pharmacy School timeline
We do not endorse any specific for-profit review course. Although many students take such courses, others prepare without them. Some applicants prepare for the standardized tests using test preparation materials and practice exams.
For-Profit Review Courses
- AAMC e-MCAT Practice
- Berkeley Review
- Exam Crackers
- Gold Standard MCAT
- Kaplan Test Prep
- Next Steps Test Prep
- Princeton Review
Open Course Materials
The following offer free open course materials for MCAT prepration.
When to Start Studying
For those taking the MCAT, DAT, OAT, & PCAT, about one year of studying prior to the exam date is recommended. For those taking the GRE, about three to six months of studying prior to exam date is recommended. In general, although study time can vary depending on the student, the earlier students study, the better the result. Depending on how much material you may need to go over, recommended study time is at least one hour per day, and for those who need more time should study at least two hours per day. Again, in addition to learning and practicing test-taking abilities and reviewing content, students should take a full-length practice exam every two weeks prior to exam date.
To determine when you should start studying and how often, ask yourself the following questions:
- How comfortable am I with the material?
- How long ago have I taken courses relevant to my exam?
- Have I taken a practice or diagnostic exam? If so, how do I feel about my performance?
Keep in mind that many test prep companies and test providers offer diagnostic and practice exams from fee to free.
How to Start Studying
There are four main ways that students study for entrance exams:
- Independent Study
- Group Study
- Private Tutor
- Commercial Course Preparation
Each method has their own pro's and con's, and it is up to you to determine which one is right for you.
This has been the most common and traditional way students prepare for their entrance exams. Students who have been successful in the past and are most comfortable with self-studying utilize this method. The main advantage of independent study is that it gives you the flexibility to study on your own time, location, and schedule. It is essential to create and follow a structured and well thought out study plan that is suited to your schedule and learning style. Although this is one of the most cost effective ways of preparation, applicants tend to get distracted, procrastinate, and fall behind their study schedule. Students typically use self-study preparatory books offered by popular commercial companies.
Applicants who are successful studying in small groups use this method to study for entrance exams. Applicants can learn many things from their peers such as new study techniques and ways of viewing concepts. Another advantage of using a study group is that students can test their peers to reinforce the knowledge that they have learned. Choose study partners that you are most comfortable studying with, not ones that can get you easily distracted.
Hiring a private tutor may be the most beneficial way of preparation. Typically, hiring private tutor provides flexibility as they can work around your schedule based on the times you are free. This method provides a personalized and focused one-on-one learning experience, although it may be the most expensive option.
Commercial Course Preparation
Another popular study method is taking a commercial preparatory course. These courses are specific to your entrance exam, and they typically provide three options: self-paced, in-person, and live online. Self-paced courses fall under individual study, as the prep company provides you material to study at your own pace and location. In-person courses provides in-class instruction taught by an instructor, and are regularly scheduled in various locations and dates offered by the prep company. Live online courses are similar to in-person courses, except the learning sessions are held online and can be taken wherever you have internet access.
Each applicant is different, and there is no single right way to prepare for an entrance exam. Choose the test date, study length, and study method that suitable for you. Be diligent, start studying early, and take practice exams to prepare.
The personal statement is one of the most important parts of the application process because it allows the readers of the selection committee to know you as an individual. You want the selection committee to become invested in you and your future.
When writing your personal statement, we suggest the following guidelines:
- Follow the guidelines.
If there is a word limit, stay as close to it as possible; do not write a novel. Use 12 point font unless directed otherwise.
- Answer the questions.
This may sound obvious but many students go around the questions without ever answering the actual questions. Try rephrasing the question in your answer.
- Proofread, proofread, proofread!
Grammar and spelling mistakes quickly turn off application reviewers. Be sure to get a second, third, and even fourth pair of eyes before you submit your personal statement.
- Ask for assistance.
Utilize the following resources on campus. They exist specifically for times like these!
- Graduate Studies Resource Center: University Library room 504. Provides graduate school related resources and events for prospective and current post-bac students related to graduate studies including writing the statement of purpose.
- Center for Scholarship Information: USU-238. Contact the Coordinator of University Scholarships to schedule an appointment
- Writer's Resource Lab: LAB-212. You will need to make an appointment in advance
- Career Development Center: BH-250.
Letters of recommendation are key pieces to your professional school application. Choose your recommenders wisely! You cannot control what they write, but you CAN control who you ask. Take the time to build the relationships before you request; recommenders who know you well will write stronger and more favorable letters. What makes them even more valuable is their ability to show that someone else believes in your capabilities as a future healthcare provider. The support of your letter writers can help you stand out further from the other applicants.
Please make sure you ask your letter writer if they can ask for a strong letter of support. In addition, provide them with:
- Copy of your resume
- Copy of your personal statement
- Deadline for letter
- Instructions on where the letter should be sent
- Reminder that the letter must be typed on letterhead, with their signature
Remember to send a thank you note to letter writer. For more tips about letters of recommendation, check out:
- Connecting with Faculty (video)
- Letter of Recommendation Guidelines for Medical School Applicants (AAMC) [PDF]
Letters of Recommendation Services
Students can request letters to be sent directly to each application service (AMCAS, AADSAS, CASPA) or students can use Interfolio. Interfolio is a secure fee-based service for the collection, storage, management and distribution of letters of recommendation. Letter writers may submit their letters of recommendation electronically or by hard copy. You can monitor the status of your documents and delivery requests at any time.
Each application has its own way of collecting letters; number and type of letters vary from school to school. Check with the application service you are using for additional details and guidelines.
Following an initial review of your primary application, secondary application, and entrance exam score, health professions schools invite select students for an admissions interview. An interview is an opportunity to present yourself in the best light possible. This is your chance to shine. An invitation for an interview means that, on paper, you are a viable candidate for admission, and that now the school wants to get to know you better. Be prepared to discuss anything in your application, your reasons for pursuing the field, your strengths (striking a balance between confidence and humility), your weaknesses (in a honest though positive way), as well as current issues in the profession.
For more interview tips, please see:
- Interviewing for the Health Professions [PDF]
- CSULB Career Center Interview Tips
- Medical School Interviews
- MMI (Multiple Mini Interview) Information [PDF]
Acceptance into any professional school is both a dream and a challenge for many students. However, the reality is that getting into any professional school is extremely competitive and therefore, not all students will get into the school to which they applied on their first try. For those who were not able to gain admission, your next step should be deciding how to move forward.
Sometimes people reapply without considering other career paths or changing their application, which can lead to two or three years of going through the application process unsuccessfully. If you want to be a doctor because you have never thought about doing something else, this is a good time to think of alternatives if only to reconfirm your commitment to becoming a physician. It could be that medical school is not the best fit for you. Not infrequently, we have alumni tell us that they hadn't thought of being anything but a doctor when they came to CSULB, but have found their niche in another field that they never knew existed.
Re-applying is your second chance at becoming a more competitive applicant and it also provides you a reality check of who your competition is. In order to take advantage of the situation, it is important to take action through the following steps.
Step 1: Ask for Feedback
Contact all the schools to which you were not accepted and ask for any feedback, specifically about which areas of your application that you need to strengthen.
Step 2: Review Your Application
Review your application both holistically and in the following components:
- Academic Record: If your GPA is not competitive, it is highly recommended to take post-baccalaureate classes or to pursue a master's degree to obtain more education. This way, you are showing the professional school that you are able to compete at a graduate level.
- Entrance Exam Score: Learn more about entrance exam preparations.
- Personal Statement
- When re-applying, it is extremely important to change your personal statement to show that you have changed/grown since your last application.
- Answer the question: "How am I a better candidate than the last time I applied?"
- Write about specific events that shaped your decision for your selected field. Don't list all your extra-curriculars (that's what the application is for).
- Learn more about personal statement development.
- Experience (volunteering, research, etc.)
- Think about which area of your experiences is lacking the most and work on that specific area.
- Learn more about how to obtain different experiences.
- Letters of Recommendation
- Did you submit quality, updated letters of recommendation? Just because you get a good grade from a professor doesn't mean they have the ability to write you a good letter of recommendation.
- The importance of building relationships with your professors, research PI's, advisors, and other people that influence your life. Letters should be from individuals that really know your abilities and character as it relates to your future goals.
- A mediocre letter of recommendation can be just as detrimental as a negative letter. If you do ask a professor that submitted for you the first time, make sure they submit an updated letter.
- Many health profession programs admissions are on a rolling bases which means the earlier that you apply the higher statistical chance you have for admission.
- It's also important to return ALL secondary applications within two weeks.
- If you did not receive any interview invites you need to focus on the previous aspects of your application that can be improved. If you attended a few interviews this is a clue that your application may be satisfactory but your interview skills need improvement.
- The HPAO and Career Center provides interview workshops as well as one-on-one interview practice.
- Learn more about improving interview skills.
- School Choice
- Re-evaluate the schools that you have selected and examine whether your application is competitive enough for the school's expectations of the student.
- How many applications did you send out (the average per applicant is 14)? Did you apply only to the most selective programs (only schools on the west coast or not including DO schools)? In the latter case, make sure the majority of your target schools have average MCAT and GPA numbers that you either match or exceed, with some "reach" and "safety" schools making up the rest. California schools are very competitive so cast your net wide with out of state options.
Your main goal as a re-applicant should be to show admissions committees how you have improved. However, do consider giving yourself enough time to improve and to confirm that you are ready to take on the challenges of professional school education.