How should I prepare for the Admissions Test?
don't take real tests for practice,
do take practice tests.
We recommend finishing courses that cover test topics before taking an admissions test, however, it's fine to be finishing the last of those courses as you prepare for the test. Additional biology courses can be helpful, but aren't necessary. Hour-for-hour, reviewing all the topics that could be sampled and taking practice exams is more helpful than taking upper-level biology courses, which may or may not help for a few items on an actual test.
If you finish all the core courses by the end of your sophomore year, you could take the admissions test early, perhaps in August before your junior year. Most people take the test in May or June at the end of their junior year. If you don't do as well as you need to in May, you can do more reviewing and practicing over the summer, and retake in August or September.
Whether you decide to review and practice on your own, with friends, or through a commercial preparation course, give yourself at least 300 hours over five months months for the MCAT, 200 hours over four months for the DAT or OAT, or 100 hours over two months for the GRE to work all the way through a comprehensive review guide or series, and to take at least five full-length, computerized practice exams.
Do take lots of practice tests, but don't take a real test for practice! All of your scores are released, and can be considered for admission.
Should I retake the Admissions Test?
In general, if you scored lower than average for admission, you have indications you can do significantly better, and you are motivated to thoroughly review and practice, then signs point to re-taking.
Here are some further considerations:
- Looking at your past history, how have you tended to perform on standardized tests?
- How well did you prepare? Did you thoroughly review and take practice tests?
- How did you score on practice tests?
- How did you feel the actual test went for you? Were you sick? Were you overly anxious? Did you run out of time before answering all the questions?, etc.
- Do you feel your scores accurately represent your ability?
- How competitive are the other aspects of your candidacy? Grades, activities, recommendations, etc.
- Are there important contexts for interpreting your scores? Are you disadvantaged, learning disabled, a first-generation college student, was English your second language?, etc.
- Where would you like to go to school? Admissions guides usually list average test scores for accepted candidates. Schools also have different policies for how they will use the scores from multiple tests.
- What was your overall performance? Dental schools usually use the academic average, but differ in how they use the perceptual ability score. Optometry schools usually use the academic average. And, medical schools usually use the total of the section scores.
- Are there individual scores which might be seen as significant weaknesses?
- What happened to other people who re-took the test with similar initial scores? In general, those who scored lower than average tend to improve, while those who scored higher than average, often score lower on a re-take.
- How thoroughly would you prepare for a retake?
- What opportunities would you miss out on by re-taking the test? Would your time, effort and money be better spent strengthening other aspects of your candidacy, or do you really need an improved score to be competitive?
- Do you want to retake the test? Are you energized enough to do the preparation and practice necessary to improve your scores?
- And, if you do decide to take the test again, don't fall into the trap of studying just for the test you already took. It's important to re-review for all the topics that could be sampled!
Who should I ask for Evaluation Letters?
Most professional schools require at least three letters, and many medical schools have a limit of five.
Many require two letters from faculty, including at least one from the natural sciences.
Many dental, optometry and osteopathic medical schools require at least one letter from someone in the profession.
Aim for both depth, substantial letters from people who know you well, and breadth, people who've supervised you in different kinds of courses and activities. One might, for medical schools, get two letters from faculty, including at least one from natural sciences, one letter from a healthcare experience supervisor, and additional letters from a physician or surgeon who mentored you, supervisors of other research, social service, leadership, internships, tutoring, study abroad, or employment activities. A few medical schools want three faculty letters, including two from natural science subjects.
Many schools prohibit letters from family, friends, neighbors, relatives, your elected representatives, or people who cannot speak for your abilities after high school.
Most schools ask for a letter from a health sciences committee or advisor, because they want to make sure you don't go around a central evaluation system, if it exists. Like most large, public universities, there are far too many candidates at KU for a central evaluation by a single advisor or committee. So, you should seek letters from people who've directly supervised you in the classroom and profession-related activities.
How should I ask for Evaluation Letters?
1. Make appointments to meet with potential evaluators at least one-month before you need their letters.
2. Explain why you would like to become a health professional, and how your activities have informed and prepared you for this profession. Then ask if they are willing to write a supportive letter for you.
3. Give each writer a folder with a copy of your Academic Advising Report, a resume listing relevant activities, admission test scores and percentile values (if you have them), a draft of your personal comments essay, photo (optional) and specific directions for sending their letters to an application service. If your writers will send a letter through the mail, rather than electronically, please provide them with a pre-addressed and stamped envelope.
4. Put a reasonable deadline on the outside of the folder. It depends on the timing of the rest of your application, however, August 1st works well with most application timelines, with about a one-month cushion before most schools start interviewing candidates.
5. Check to make sure all of your letters arrive, and gently remind writers if they miss your initial deadline.
6. Thank your evaluators in writing for their help, and let them know if you are accepted!
How should I write the Personal Statement?
Your statement should show who you are, and how and why you've prepared yourself to become a member of this profession. You'll have other places in your application to list courses, grades, test scores, volunteer and paid experiences, extracurricular activities, awards and honors, etc.
Think of stories that show 1. Who you are:
- How have you changed over time?
- Who are the most influential people in your life, and how did they affect your development?
- What are the most important events in your life?
- What are your core values - what is most important to you?
- How are you different from other applicants?
2. Why you want to become a doctor:
- What other careers have you considered?
- How have you learned what it is to be a patient?
- How have you learned what it is to be a health care provider?
- What can you do as a physician that you could not do in other professions?
- How do you feel about the possibility of becoming a physician?
- How could you use a medical education to help people who are underserved?
Here are some tips:
- Use your own words. Don't derive your statement from a friend's essay, or an example from a website, and don't use quotes, clichés or platitudes.
- Go deeper than just saying you want to help people with science. What can you do as a member of this profession that you can you cannot do in other professions?
- Show with true stories. Rather than telling your readers you're compassionate, use a story that shows you in action, being compassionate.
- A story can be meaningful without being dramatic.
- Provide details, examples and explanations. Name the people (except the patients) and places (towns, schools, etc.), Describe how you were involved in research projects, What you did as a health care volunteer; etc. Who, what, when, where, how, and why.
- Think of your audience, mostly PhD and MD medical school faculty.
- Introduce your acronyms (IYA).
- Don’t try to impress Selection Committee Members with how much you already know about medicine.
- Avoid criticizing members of the profession. Some candidates argue they want to become doctors, because they think they could do a better job than some professionals they've encountered. Perhaps this is true, but it sets a negative tone, and invites a defensive reaction.
- Support your assertions. Give examples before you make assertions - inductive logic is more persuasive than deductive logic. If space is tight, it's usually better to give examples, and let your readers draw their own conclusions.
- Show integrity and consistency.
- Write with feeling! Admission committee members are looking for a passion for the profession. One way to convey your passion, is to use emotional language. Write and talk about your feelings!
- Offer explanations for significant weaknesses. Take responsibility for your decisions, especially regarding the use of your time. How have you overcome problems, and what have you learned from these experiences?
- Avoid overusing "I," "that," "have," or other words. It's easy to fall into the trap of using too many "I's," especially at the beginning of sentences. Some strategies for reducing I's include focusing more on other people, using other personal pronouns (e.g., we), chaining (e.g., I did this. I did that. I did the other = I did this, that and the other.), and removing unnecessary double I's (e.g., I believe I want = I want). "That's" should always be checked to see if they're grammatically necessary.
- Focus more on your experiential preparation than on your personal career decision process.
- Use one space between sentences, not two.
- Use commas after a setting in place in time, and to break out clauses in longer sentences.
- At the end of a sentence, “Most punctuation goes within quotation marks.”
- Use an active voice. I have been shadowing Dr. Xavier = I shadowed Dr. Xavier.
- It’s okay to use contractions, however, keep the level of formality consistent. If applying to schools in the northeast, you might want to write more formally.
- Focus on patients, not just procedures or illnesses.
- Keep a positive balance, tempered by realism.
- Keep a spirit of gratitude for the opportunities you’ve been given.
- It’s fine to include a story about an illness or personal struggle, however, please avoid listing a lot of problems and illnesses.
- Show you would be a good choice for the profession, not just that you feel the profession is a good career choice for you.
- Show respect for research, not just, “I tried it, and would rather work with people.”
- Write well, however, don't get over-the-top creative.
- Constructively fill most of the space you're given. This isn't a ten-page English essay, so you don't need to fluff up your sentences, or repeat what you've already written. Keep your essay moving forward, and usefully fill most of the space for the statement.
- Organize your statement. Let your structure flow from the content you have chosen. Many essays use both time and another type of element, e.g., a chronology of personal stories, life changing events, places you've lived, important activities, influential people, or recurring themes.
- Have readers review your statement. Make full use of the KU Writing Center, and have English instructors, friends, parents, recommendation writers, and a member of the profession review your statement.
- Don’t get too attached to your words. Don't tell a reviewer you don't have the space to improve your essay.
- Your essay will never be perfect, however, there’ll come a time, usually ~July 1st, when you’ll have to set it free.
How should I prepare for the Interview?
When you go for an interview, you usually participate in a day's worth of activities designed to help familiarize you with a particular school. This typically involves a tour, an overview of the curriculum, lunch with students or faculty, and a financial aid meeting.
As part of the day, you'll have an interview or interviews with representatives from the admissions committee. Your interviewers will likely include faculty, and may include admissions staff, a member of the profession, and/or a student at the school.
Prepare: Be sure to re-read your personal comments essay, and supplemental question answers. Research the schools where you are interviewing. What do they list as their accomplishments? What kinds of research programs do they emphasize? Do they have an honor code for students?
Practice: Don't rehearse answers for particular questions, but do practice the general art of answering questions. If you're a KU student or alum, call 785-864-3624 to schedule a practice interview at the University Career Center.
Act Professionally: Dress appropriately, as you would if you were working in a professional environment. Most men wear suits, and most women wear a professional looking suit or dress. Turn your cell phone off, or, better yet, leave it in your car. Include titles, like "Dr.," when addressing people. Make sure you arrive on time. If you're delayed, call the Admissions Office to explain.
Present yourself openly and honestly. Professional schools have room for different kinds of people. Some candidates come across as more passionate, while others are more calm. Some are more decisive, others more thoughtful. Above all, try to stay in the moment, and actively attend to your interviewers and their questions.
It's normal to feel nervous, especially at the beginning. Some questions may throw you for a moment, but most candidates recover. If you're stumped, it's fine to say, "I don't know;" and it's also okay to thoughtfully pause and gather your thoughts before answering questions.
Don't try to be someone you're not, but do try to put your best qualities forward. Interviewers look for experience and understanding, a passion for the profession, sincerity and honesty, the ability to communicate clearly, warmth and compassion, confidence (not arrogance), down-to-earthness, a positive and enthusiastic outlook, ethical integrity, the ability to reason through challenging problems, awareness of current events and social issues, a respect for other people and their opinions, a willingness to work hard, a love for learning, maturity, professionalism, and a sense of social responsibility and commitment to service.
It's not as common practice as it is for job interviews, however, it's okay to send a thank you card to interviewers. Just be sure the note you write is both professional (check spellings, and include the interviewer's title) and personal, referencing the specific conversation you had during the interview, rather than generic.
Themes for Interview Questions
There are countless possible interview questions, so rehearsing answers isn't very useful. You may, however, want to think about some of the common themes for questions:
- Who are you? How are you different from other people who are applying?
- How have you prepared yourself to become a member of this profession?
- Why do you want to become a member of this profession?
- What are your professional goals?
- How familiar are you with the health care system, and related issues?
- How do you reason through ethical dilemmas, and other kinds of problems? Hint: See the American Medical Association's Code of Ethics.
- Why are you interested in our school?
- And, what questions do you have for your interviewers?
And, you can find feedback from many candidates who've interviewed on the Student Doctor Network.
If I'm not accepted, what should I do?
Not being accepted gives you the opportunity reflect, and deeply consider whether to re-apply, move toward a different, to develop other career possibilities while also re-applying.
If you decide to re-apply, talk with representatives from admissions offices.
In most cases, a "How can I strengthen my candidacy?" approach is more constructive than "Why wasn't I accepted?" Because there really are more qualified candidates than seats, there are often no satisfying answers to "why" questions.
For those with similar qualification to many who were accepted, it's not a satisfying answer, however, many accepted candidates are re-applicants who've had more time to learn, gain experience and mature. Often, the judgment of selection committee members is more "not-yet -eady" than "will-never-accept."
If you want to strengthen your qualifications, you can consider re-taking the admissions test, re-taking undergraduate science courses, taking additional science courses, and/or applying to formal post-baccalaureate (Post-bac) programs geared toward helping candidates strengthen their qualifications. The National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions (NAAHP) has posted an excellent introduction to post-bac programs in their Resources for Students, and there's a new common application for programs, PostBacCAS.
It's also helpful to continue strengthening other aspects of your candidacy by getting additional shadowing, volunteering, service, working and research experience.
Many re-applicants are accepted! For example, at the KU School of Medicine, one-fourth to one-third of the seats usually go to re-applicants.
If medicine or veterinary medicine, and you're not accepted as a re-applicant, you may want to consider applying to international schools.
If you decide to pursue other careers, the University Career Center can help you clarify your career values and goals, and apply for related internships, jobs and graduate programs.