Common Searches

Becoming a Competitive Applicant

Creating the big picture.

Professional Health Schools assess many different factors when looking at applicants. Strong GPAs and test scores are important, but are only part of the application. What school admission boards look for can vary from school to school, and to get an idea of what they're looking for, prospective applicants should read the mission statements of the institutions they are considering. Below are some of areas pre-health students should consider while preparing for application.

Don't be left behind!

Many professional health schools use centralized application services (CAS), but not all. As always, when interested in the a certain school it is important to learn their specific admission requirements and process for applying. Specific dates may change year to year, but the months in which enrollment opens usually remain consistent.

It is important to apply as soon as possible the year before one plans on starting professional school.


AMCAS/ AACOMAS  - Medicine
AACPMAS - Podiatry
AADSAS - Dentistry
CASPA - Physician Assistant
OptomCAS - Optometry
OTCAS - Occupational Therapy
PharmCAS - Pharmacy
PTCAS - Physical Therapy
TMDSAS - Texas Medical, Dental & Veterinary
VMCAS - Veterinary Medicine

How is the GPA Assessed?

Grade point average is a good starting point to see if an applicant is ready for the academic rigor of professional school, which is often compared to drinking water from a fire house. Depending on the professional school, a competitive GPA can vary as does the entrance exam score. Generally, a GPA in the mid to upper "3's" is expected of applicants.

Insitutions tend to look at how a student arrived at their GPA and may take into consideration the following when reviewing a transcipt:

  • The number of credit hours taken in a semester.
  • The difficulty of classes.
  • Whether students were able to recover from a difficult semester.

In short, GPA is very important, but given the strength of an overall application, may not be a deal breaker.

Calculating GPA

Start by multiplying your grade (see chart below) by the number of credit hours of the class. These are your points.

Add up your total number of points, and your total number of credit hours.

Divide your total points by you total hours (points/hours).

A 4.0
A- 3.7
B+ 3.3
B 3.0
B- 2.7
C+ 2.3
C 2.0
C- 1.7
D+ 1.3
D 1.0
D- 0.7
F 0.0

Be Prepared

Admissions tests are generally taken the spring or summer before a student submits their application. The organizations that administer the tests offer test preparation materials, and there are also several companies that offer materials and classes. It is advised that students consult others who have taken the test and to consider their options when preparing to take the test.

Admission Tests

Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)

Dental Admission Test (DAT)

Optometry Admission Test (OAT)

Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT)

Graduate Record Examination (GRE)

Third Party Test Preparation Companies

Altius MCAT Prep

CE Webinar

Exam Krackers



Khan Academy (Free MCAT 2015 Videos)


Princeton Review

A variety of experiences is best.

In today's healthcare environment, each member of a care team plays a certain role, and has a unique interaction with their patients. Shadowing a professional in their desired career field helps a student understand how they will be caring for patients, which in turn helps with a student's decision to pursue a certain career-path. The amount of hours that is competitive will vary by profession; however, students that regularly integrate clinical experience into their schedules should have no problem being competitive.

While shadowing is incredibly helpful for pre-health students, it is not the only way to gain experience in healthcare. Volunteering and working at a hospital and even experiences as a patient can count as healthcare exposure. Scribing is also a popular way to gain experience.

For pre-med students, experiences in three different specialties is ideal.

How can I get started?

Some hospitals offer shadowing programs, which can be competitive themselves. Ask people that you know that work in the field, or if all else fails, look up practitioners in your area and contact them. Remember to be polite, use proper phone and email etiquette, and dress professionally.

What about Physician Assistants?

Physician Assistant applicatiions generally require a substantial amount of direct patient care. Generally, 600 - 1000 hours are required (sometimes more), so students should consult the programs they are interested in.

Why do you want to be a ________?

The personal statement is a great way for students to separate themselves from other applicant. There are many different ways to approach the personal statement, and students are encouraged to begin working on it as soon as possible as it can be used to help a student understand their own motivations. As the student continues through their pre-health activities, their statement will change as they gain a greater understanding of the field.

In addition to the initial statement, supplementary applications often request additional statements. While these might not always be mandatory, applicants should answer or at the least acknowledge these statements.

Where can I go for help?

Family members, faculty, and the prehealth advisor are all good resources to help review your statements. The Math and Writing Center in 222 SSB can also be a good resource to have an impartial person give you feedback.

Show that helping others is important to you.

A common answer when ask why students want to join a health profession is to "help others." Altruism is an important part in becoming a healthcare professional and a good way to demonstrate commitment to the common good is through volunteering. Volunteering does not need to be in a healthcare field. Students should seek out opportunities and organizations they identify and care about, which can include a wide range of volunteer activities.

Looking for a place to start?

Children's Advocacy Service of Greater St. Louis

Office of Student Life

Apply your knowledge!

In healthcare research is constantly improving the quality of care that professionals are able to give their patients. Because of this, it is important that students learn how to analyze information presented by research and be able to apply it to their practices. Research also helps students apply the knowledge they've gained in the classroom in real life, and gives them an opportunity to add to existing knowledge. When assisting in a research lab or working on their own research, it is important that students understand the purpose of the research, the question the lab is working on, and their role in it.

Where can you start to find research opportunities on campus?

Meet with and get to know your faculty advisor.

Participate in Undergraduate Research.

Don't forget your hobbies!

An applicant is much more than academics and social engagement. Application often leave room for student interests of all types. Many healthcare professionals are also artists, musicians, poets, and athletes (among other things). Students are encouraged to continue to pursue their passions, whatever they may be. Preparing to apply can be incredibly stressful, and hobbies can be a good break mentally and physically from the demands of academics.

Want to meet with others who share your passions?

Office of Student Life

Campus Recreation

Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center

The U

This is a very simple outline to give you a quick glance at what you should be doing. This is by no means a comprehensive list.


Adjust to campus life

Start being involved

Get good grades!


Stay involved

Start studying for your entrance exam

Get good grades!


Seek out leadership opportunities

Stay involved

Request letters of recommendation

Finalize your personal statement

Take your entrance exam

Apply to programs

Get good grades!


Stay involved

Go on interviews

Get accepted

Finish school

Get good grades!