Preparing your application for health graduate programs is a tedious and detailed process. It includes everything from academic course planning to having a well-rounded resume to thinking about letters of recommendation, standardized exam prep and more!
Below are some aspects to consider when preparing to apply. Schedule a pre-health advising appointment to discuss the various nuances for preparing to apply.
Committee Letters or Letter Packets: The University of Oregon does not offer committee letters or letter packets, so UO students will need to request individual letters of recommendation for their Health Graduate School applications. Not having a committee letter or letter packet will does not make your application less competitive than students who do have one. In fact, using individual letters of recommendation will gives you the autonomy to choose letter writers who can best communicate your strengths as a candidate. This process does require a bit of early planning in order to ensure you are meeting minimum letter requirements for programs. We recommend getting informed on program requirements and developing an early plan with a Pre-Health advisor.
Minimum requirements: Every school will have their own minimum qualifications. You should research the specific programs you are interested in applying to and check for the items below:
- Do they require academic letters of recommendation? How many? You may need letters from science faculty, non-science faculty, or both.
- Do they require letters from an employer who has observed you providing patient care, can speak upon your work ethic, and/or transferable skills? How many?
- Do they require a letter of recommendation from a licensed practitioner? (i.e., physician, dentist, physical therapist, etc.,)
- Are there any other required letters of recommendation?
How many letters of recommendation should I request?
The answer to this question will vary by profession and program. Generally speaking, it is common for schools to require three - two faculty and one experiential. For some health graduate programs, you can submit more than three letters of recommendation. For example, to encompass all aspects of a medical school candidate, we advise submitting 5-6 letters of recommendation – two from science faculty, one from non-science faculty, one from a former supervisor in a healthcare setting, one from a licensed practitioner, and others from experiential activities such as research, volunteerism, and non-healthcare- related experiences. Of course, this number may vary depending on how long you have been out of school and other life circumstances and experiences.
How do I select who should write me a letter of recommendation?
Quality over quantity is important. A great letter of recommendation will be able to speak to your accomplishments, contributions, motivation to pursue the health profession, aptitude for the field, reliability, consistency, and other transferable skills. You will want to ensure you have breadth and depth in your letter writers.
For example, one letter writer could speak about research skills and leadership, another about academics, another about transferable skills observed in patient care, etc. Alongside this breadth, you should also consider collecting letters of recommendation from writers who have worked with you for a long period of time (1+ years) and who can comment on your work in depth.
Timeline for Requesting Letters of Recommendation:
Now that you have done all this prep work, it is time to begin developing a plan for requesting letters of recommendations. We recommend you request the letters well in advance, as professors may be limited in how many letters they have the capacity to write. By requesting your letters early, it will not only give the letter writers ample time to write them, but will also allow you to finalize your list of letter writers ahead of time. It is important to be mindful that professors may be busy teaching or doing research and may take some time to reply to your email request. If you do not receive a response within a couple of week, it is okay to respectfully send a follow- up email or attend their office hours.
If you are planning to take a gap year and are feeling unsure about how to navigate this process, we have a couple of suggestions for you:
- Request letter of recommendations prior to graduating UO or very soon after graduation.
- Work with your letter writer to determine how they would like to approach the gap year. Some professors may want to write it soon after the request and then save it for when you invite them to submit the letter. Medical and dental applicants – please note that you may use Interfolio (link to website) to save letters of recommendations. Others will want to write the letter closer to when you plan to apply, in which case it may be helpful to connect with them throughout the gap year to maintain the rapport you have established.
- Medical and dental applicants – please note that you may use Interfolio (link to website) to save letters of recommendations. This service will allow you to collect letters of recommendation while maintaining confidentiality of the letter. When you are ready to apply, you can then upload the letter to your centralized application portal.
Everyone’s plan and timeline will look different. We recommend you connect with a Pre-Health advisor to solidify your letters of recommendation plan and discuss any other nuances that are specific to you.
What is the best way to study for the MCAT? I also heard there are other standardized exams I need to take called CASper and PREview, is this true?
Studies show there is no “best way” to study for the MCAT. We suggest thinking about your study habits and identifying test prep resources that align with those study habits. There are dozens of test prep resources that range from no cost to upwards of $5,000. The format of these resources will vary. Some may be an in-person class you attend, others a live online class. Some may be a self-paced online or a physical/digital book. Aside from the format of the test prep resource, think about what it is you need to feel prepared. Do you need a refresher on the content you will be tested on? Do you want to focus your time studying the types of questions you will be presented with? We do recommend you take a few practice tests so you can familiarize yourself with the format of the exam and physically/mentally prepare for a 7 ½ hour exam.
You may view this excel sheet to learn about various MCAT prep resources.
Once you have identified your resources, you should consider your timeline. This may require thinking about when you want to apply, your graduation plan, extracurricular commitments, and how that aligns with your test prep plan. You are welcome to connect with a pre-health advisor to brainstorm and finalize your test prep timeline.
The CASPer exam is a situational judgement test. Administered by Altus Assessment Inc., this psychological test will present you with realistic hypothetical scenarios and ask what you would do when faced with a particular situation, and why. Similar to Multiple Mini Interviews, this test is used to determine behavioral tendencies. This is an open-ended, verbal and typed exam. We do recommend preparing for this exam, just as you would prepare for an interview or other standardized exams. Take some time to familiarize yourself with the structure of the exam and practice typing and verbally responding to scenario-based questions.
Not all medical school programs will require the CASPer exam. Please research programs you plan to apply to, to determine if you need to take the exam.
For more information please visit CASPer.
The Professional Readiness Exam (PREview) is a new 2023 standardized exam for medical school applicants. This exam is administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). It is designed to assess examinees’ understanding of effective pre-professional behavior across eight core competencies for entering medical school. The exam includes closed-ended, scenario-based questions. Not all medical school programs will require the PREview exam. Please research programs you plan to apply to, to determine if you need to take the exam.
For more information please visit PREview.
Should I retake classes to boost my GPA?
The answer to this questions depends on your program of interest and the classes you are thinking about retaking. Make an appointment with a pre-health advisor to discuss and get advice about your individual situation. Questions to consider asking your pre-health advisor:
- Is there a minimum GPA or grade requirement for a specific school or program?
- Do programs have a point-based review process or holistic review process?
- What is holistic review? How could that benefit me if I have a term with low grades?
- What factors are included when looking at academics holistically?
How do I calculate my cumulative GPA/Science GPA?
GPA is calculated by using quality points and GPA hours, which can be found on your unofficial transcript in DuckWeb. Add up all of the GPA hours and quality points and enter them into the GPA Calculator. You can use this process to identify your overall cumulative GPA or your science GPA by simply adding only the GPA hours and quality points for your science courses.
Alternatively, you can use this excel sheet to calculate your GPA/Science GPA.
Please note that GPA is calculated differently for graduate school. We recommend checking in with a pre-health advisor to learn more about the nuances of GPA and graduate school admission.
Post Baccalaureate (post-bacc) programs are a great option for pre-health students who have already completed their bachelor's degree and would like to return to undergraduate school to take additional courses for health graduate school admission. It is a great option to:
- Repeat courses to improve cumulative and/or science GPA.
- Complete any final prerequisite courses.
- Possibly earn a second bachelor’s degree (or certificate) along with completing health graduate school prerequisites.
When exploring post-bacc options, there are a couple key things to look out for.
- Determine if the program is structured or unstructured. A structured post-bacc program is one in which the curriculum is highly defined and generally inflexible. Students in a structured program are typically part of a cohort with other pre-health post-bacc students taking the same set of courses. Unstructured post-bacc programs are more flexible with how students begin and end the program. UO is an example of an unstructured post-bacc program. Read information about this option here (link to page).
- Determine if the program is for career changers or record enhancers. Career changer programs are for those who have not taken any prerequisites for health graduate school. Record enhancer programs are for those who are pursuing post-bacc to improve their cumulative and/or science GPA.
There are also programs for students who identify as belonging to a group that has been underrepresented in medicine or who come from economically and/or educationally disadvantaged background.
Please note that while pre-health post-bacc options are available for all health graduate schools, many structured post-bacc programs may be specific to certain health professions.
For medical school post-bacc you may use this database to explore programs: Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).
The resources available to students within a post-bacc program vary substantially. We recommend taking the time to learn about the program and its resources. These are some questions to consider when exploring programs:
- Does the program offer committee letters or letter packets?
- What resources are available to students as they prepare to apply to health graduate school? Is there mock interview support? Personal statement writing support? MCAT test prep support?
- Are there linkage opportunities? (i.e., is the post-bacc program affiliated with a health graduate program that offers some kind of advantage to graduates of the post-bacc, such as guaranteed interviews, conditional acceptance, etc.)
- Do participants receive a second bachelor's degree or certificate upon completion of the program?
- Is financial aid available?
- What are the acceptance rates for those who have graduated from the program and have applied to health graduate school?
Similarly, the admissions requirements for post-bacc programs vary. We suggest checking the admissions requirements on the program's website and connecting with an admission representative to discuss your individual circumstances to determine if the program is a good fit for you.
Considering post-bacc at UO? Visit the Explore page to learn more about Post-Bacc at UO!