Update for AY 2022 effective January 2021: Individual letters of recommendation are not required in advance of participating in the committee intervew process. Please arrange to have all letters of recommendation submitted to the HPP office no later than June 1.
Applying to a health professions program is an extensive and demanding process that requires longterm, careful planning on your part. Each health profession application has a unique process and timeline. Becoming familiar with the application process well in advance helps to ensure that you will be able to matriculate immediately after graduation or to plan the appropriate amount of time off between finishing your undergraduate degree and beginning your studies at a health professions school. Once you commit to applying, ideally by January, you are strongly encouraged to make an appointment with the HPP Director to develop a customized application plan. In fact, in order to participate in the CMU HPP Committee Interview and Letter processes, each applicant is required to either attend the two-part application information seminar or meet one-on-one with Dr. D'Antonio to ensure you are aware of what materials are required and what is expected of you to apply.
Letter of Recommendation Waiver Form for medical school
Letter of Recommendation Waiver Form for other health professions programs (Dental, Vet, PT, Optometry, etc.)
Pre-Med Application Packet - In order to participate in a HPP comittee interview, each pre-med applicant must complete this application packet and submit it to the hpp office (email@example.com) no later than one week prior to one's scheduled committee interview. If you are applying to MD/PhD programs, you must also complete and submit to the HPP office the MD/PhD supplement form.
Pre-Dental Application Packet - In order to participate in a HPP comittee interview, each pre-dental applicant must complete this application packet and submit it to the hpp office (firstname.lastname@example.org) no later than one week prior to one's scheduled interview.
Below are a list of useful resources that are recommended as you begin your preparations for studying for and taking the MCAT.
Writing the Personal Statement
As part your health professions school, you typically must submit a personal statement. Traditionally, this is a one-page, single-spaced essay. The personal statement is your chance to communicate something unique about yourself to the admissions committee, and is an extremely important component of your application. It must be well written with respect to style and grammar. Its content should be geared toward developing the strengths of your personality and experience, which might not come through in the data you otherwise provide on your application. The ultimate goal is to tell a story about your and your experiences that construct a picture of your motivations and reasons for becoming a clinician.
Suggestions for writing an effective personal statement:
- Reflection: Reflect on your academic and extracurricular experiences and how they have shaped your motivations for a career in health care.
- Inventory: Create a list of experiences that represent the evolution of your path to a career in health care. Also identity key people (faculty, mentors, advisors...) who have inspired you.
- Strategy: Think about the message you wish to convey and how you want to illustrate it.
- Organize the key elements in a manner that tells your story.
- If you start with a thesis statement, remember to return to that thesis at the end to provide closure.
- The body should illustrate your growth and maturation, using examples of life experiences, that have prepared you for a career in service to others: service, leadership, overcoming challenges, commitment to your endeavors, communication skills...
- The conclusion restates your focus in a way that shows how your story has evolved, over time, from observations to reflection to wisdom.
- Things to avoid:
- Language that is overly flowery or controversial or opinionated.
- Discussing why you don't want to become a researcher or type of clinician other than your intended career path.
- Using cliches such as, "I've wanted to be a doctor since I was ..."
- Proofread for errors, spelling, and subject-verb agreement. Make sure that you don't have sentence fragments or run-on sentences. Use punctuation correctly. Always have someone proofread your statement, and be mindful of your grammar.
The HPP office can offer guidance or ideas about how to build your personal statement, so feel free to request an appointment. Writing resources such as the Global Communications Center are recommended as starting points as you plan out your personal statement.
Letters of Recommendation
Applicants are encouraged to meet with individual faculty, advisors, mentors, coaches and supervisors to discuss your motivations and readiness for attending a health professions school. The goal is to obtain strong, supportive letters of recommendation that speak to your strengths and preparedness for graduate training. Highly effective letters are those that reflect real knowledge of you, your performance and growth, whether in the classroom, laboratory, clinical, or volunteer setting. When thinking about potential letter writers, you should consider people who know you well and who will be supportive of your application.
See the AAMC Letter Guidelines to learn more about the Core Competencies that you can discuss wiuth your letter writers.
- Medical School: It is recommended you obtain 3-5 letters of recommendation. Two science faculty are strongly encouraged as some med schools require 2 science rec letters. DO applicants require a letter from a DO physician.
- Dental School: It is recommended you obtain 3-4 letters of recommendation, one of which should be from a dentist.
Below is a sample list of people from whom to letters can be requested. NOTE: this is not a list of required letters, but rather a list of possible letter writers!
- Two science faculty members whose classes you have taken. One letter can be from a research advisor. (Biology, Chemistry, Physics, BME, and some Psychology faculty members count as science)
- A research advisor (if MD/PhD, letter(s) from research advisors is required)
- A supervisor from a volunteer or service experience
- A work supervisor, athletic coach, mentor...
- A dentist, pharmacist, PA, physician, veterinarian, physical therapist, etc.
Applicants must complete and provide each letter writer an appropriate Letter of Recommendation Waiver Form (see Required Forms above). As specified on the waiver form, letters should arrive at the HPP office with a signed electronic or physical copy of the waiver form.
NOTE: Rec letters can arrive before your committee interview, but this is not required - please ensure that all individual rec letters are submitted to the HPP office no later than June 1. It is customary and a professional courtesy to request letters at least 1 month in advance so please be mindful of this.
Applicants who complete a committee interview and obtain a committee letter (med & dental) need to indicate one letter in the AMCAS, AACOMAS, TMDSAS or AADSAS application:
- Letter Type = "committee letter"
- Author = "Dr. Jason D'Antonio" & contact information (email@example.com). The committee letter consists of the HPP committee letter plus the individual letters of recommendation. The HPP will upload this document packet to the appropriate application service starting sometime in late June/early July, provided we have received your MCAT or DAT score. FYI: Your committee letter is NOT required for you to submit your primary application!
Applicants who do not wish to have a committee letter may instead ask the HPP to upload a Letter Packet (compilation of individual letters of recommendation) to the appropriate application service.
When applying to health professions programs, you are required to request copies of your official transcripts be sent to the centralized application service(s) through which you are applying. It is strongly recommended you obtain copies of your official transcript through SIO for entering your coursework into the online application.
coursework from CMU:
- Please submit a request through the HUB to have an e-transcript sent to the appropriate centralized application service (AMCAS, AACOMAS, AADSAS, TMDSAS, VMCAS, CASPA...)
- If you are finishing up a semester, please select the option to wait for final grades to post before sending - this will likely occur in mid-May at the earliest so plan accordingly.
- Paper copies can be obtained via the HUB.
Coursework from outside CMU?
- If classes were taken through the consortium (e.g., at Pitt or Duquesne during the semester), you may not have a transcript at the other institution but always call their Registrar's office to confirm.
- If at a US school other than CMU, you will need to request an official transcript from the school's Registrar's office.
- If at a non-US sponsored international school or if through study-abroad where courses may or may not show up on your CMU transcript, please review the transcript guidelines for each application service to determine whether you need a transcript or if you can request a waiver.
The health professions school interview is among the final steps toward acceptance at many types of programs. Applicants should be sure to review both the available information about the school they are visiting, as well as the information they have provided to the school in their applications. It is generally a good idea to practice descriptions of important experiences such as research, volunteering and medical shadowing.
- helps admissions members determine your fit for their program,
- helps you determine if a given program is a good fit for you,
- provides you a chance to meet the people at the school, experience the learning environment, and get a sense for the living environment,
- provides you the chance to sell your story in person.
Appropriate dress is formal business attire:
Thank You Letters:
Remember to write thank you notes (email or hand-written is fine) to the admission's office (and to people you spoke with unless you are specifically asked not to) as soon as possible. In the letter, you want to acknowledge the opportunity to interview while highlighting specific things you liked: the people, the learning environment, the school's mission, access to service or research opportunities, the curriculum, the clinical resources, etc. Writing thank you letters shows interest and professionalism – desirable traits in an applicant.
AAMC Video Interview Tool for Admissions (VITA)
New to the 2021 AMCAS (MD and MD-PhD) application cycle is the AAMC Video Interview Tool for Admissions (VITA). In response to AAMC medical schools moving to remote interviews, AAMC developed a free interview tool designed to help medical schools assess an applicant's strengths in several Core Competencies as outlined by the AAMC.
AAMC medical schools that are using VITA in the 2021 application cycle. This list will not change after August 5, 2020.
How will AAMC med schools use VITA:While the VITA will be used in slightly different ways depending on the medical school, most schools are using the VITA alongside their virtual interview to assess core competencies. In doing so, admissions persons who conduct school-specific interviews can focus on other aspects of the interview, such as exploring an applicant's application and personal narrative. Be prepared to talk about your education and lived experiences that have helped you develop these Core Competencies. Key examples are listed below:
- Social Skills
- Cultural Competence
- Reliability and Dependability
- Resilience and Adaptability
Your journey to medical school
Can I practice the VITA before the real thing?YES - Applicants can and are encouraged to practice the VITA using the AAMC practice VITA tool.
Sample VITA Questions (these will not be used in the real VITA interview process):
Medical school journey questions, which ask you to describe your journey and/or the experiences that led you to pursue a career in medicine.
Sample: Why did you decide to pursue a career in medicine?
Past behavior questions, which ask you to describe previous experiences that demonstrate your level of knowledge and skills related to the various competencies.
Sample: Describe a time when you experienced a conflict with a classmate or a coworker. What did you do? What was the outcome?
Situational questions, which ask you to demonstrate your level of knowledge and skills related to the various competencies by describing what you would do in different hypothetical situations.
Sample: Imagine you are working in a group project and one of your teammates is not doing their share of the work. What would you do?
When should I practice for the VITA interview?Ideally as close to your actual VITA interview so you are fresh and prepared. During the recorded VITA interview, applicants are not permitted to take notes or write down the questions, so you must be prepared in advance to respond to the VITA questions.
The CASPer test is a relatively new online exam that many health professions schools are now requring applicants to complete in addition to the primary and secondary applications to their programs.
CASPer = Situation Judgment Test (SJT) that examines an applicant’s general competencies related to problem solving, critical thinking, and communication to get a sense of how you think on your feet.
- 90 min (65 mins of questions) online delivery
- Video-based to give individual a more realistic sense of being in the situation rather than reading the scenario
- Scenario-based questions that ask, "How would you respond to a situation?"
- Open-ended questions - you do not choose from possible answer options
- "Why" you choose what you do is more important than "what" you choose to do
- Designed to test for 10 competencies:
- Problem Solving
- Programs that require CASPer – just over 100 use it as of 2020 Application cycle.
- MD & DO – tested together
- Dentistry, PA, PT, Optometry, Vet, Graduate Nursing – tested together
- If you appy to MD and Dental programs, you take two different CASPer tests
Letters of Update / Intent
So it's been several months since you submitted your secondary applications and you have not heard from some schools. Or, it has been a few weeks since you interviewed and you expect to hear soon. In either situation, you are feeling anxious and you are thinking you might want to send a letter to schools.
You may be interested in sending a "letter of update" to possibly trigger an interview. Things to consider:
- Does school X accept updates / letters? Some schools, e.g., Penn State SOM, do not. It would be ill-advised to send a letter to these schools.
- Make sure to research the program to include a few specific details about the SOM in your letter.
- Letters are generally 3/4 to 1 full page - recommend keeping it to 1 page.
- Include your name, application ID#, and email.
- Direct and email the letter to the Office of Admissions, unless directed otherwise on the SOM's website.
- Feel free to use these template letters to give you ideas of how to construct an effective letter of update.
Perhaps you have interviewed at a few schools (A, B, X, Z) and wish to send a letter of continued interest to schools A, X and Z - but there is no clear top choice - to hopefully secure a seat. The goal of this letter is to identify strengths and connections between you and a given school, highlighting specifics about the school's mission and training environment and how you are a solid fit. Feel free to use the above sample letters to give you ideas about how to draft a letter of continued interest.
What if you have identified a clear top choice and want to tell that school they are your #1. Below are a few templates to give you some ideas about how to draft a letter of intent. Like with a letter of continued interest, you are highlighting strengths, shared mission, opportunities for continued growth, and how you will enhance your incoming class. Be mindful that not all schools accept these types of letters nor do all schools factor them in their decision making.
- Letters are generally 3/4 to 1 full page - recommend keeping it to 1 page.
- Include your name, application ID#, and email. Indicate the date of your interview.
- Include names of people with whom you had meaningful interactions.
- Direct and email the letter to the Office of Admissions. If you want to direct the letter to a specific person in admissions (e.g., Assoc Dean of admissions), still email the letter to the general admissions email.
- Feel free to use these template letters to give you ideas of how to construct an effective letter of intent. (can be easily modified for letters of continued interest, as well)
Thinking about how you are going to pay for medical, dental, vet or pharmacy school? For most applicants, this is a significant factor in selecting a health professions school. You should start reading and learning about your options well before the start of the application cycle so you are well informed. In addition to speaking with the financial aid office at CMU, below are a few resources.
- Pay for med school through service
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)
- 7 ways to reduce medical school debt
Dental schools: ADEA Financing Options
Pharmacy schools: see individual school websites for information on financial aid
Physical Therapy schools: Allied Health Schools financial aid
PA schools: see individual school websites for information on financial aid.
Vet schools: AVMA
Serving the community as a health care provider requires a strong knowledge base in the sciences, a deep commitment to service, the ability to empathize and be compassionate, as well as integrity and trustworthiness. Many health professions programs inquire about institutional actions because academic and conduct violations raise concerns about integrity and trustworthiness. While not all violations are the same, health professions programs look for an applicant with a violation to 1) show a sense of ownership, 2) express remorse, 3) offer evidence of reflection and 4) disuss personal growth as a result of 1-3. Students with violations must provide evidence of these four elements for schools to feel comfortable that an applicant has grown and learned from the experience. In fact, some individuals emerge stronger and more prepared for the demands of clinical practice having overcome life challenges such as academic or behavioral violations. However, multiple or repeat violations are especially concerning.
Based on the wording in health professions programs' applications, the expectation is that an applicant report ANY violation regardless of whether one's academic record has been expunged or sealed. See below for language from AMCAS:
AMCAS (online applicaiton)
You must answer "Yes" even if the action does not appear on or has been deleted or expunged from your official transcripts due to institutional policy or personal petition.
Were you ever the recipient of any institutional action by any college or medical school for unacceptable academic performance or conduct violation, even though such action may not have interrupted your enrollment or required you to withdraw?
Institutional Action (as described in AMCAS manual)
If you were ever the recipient of any institutional action by any college or medical school for unacceptable academic performance or conduct violation, you must answer Yes, even if such actions did not interrupt your enrollment or require you to withdraw. Furthermore, select Yes even if the action does not appear on, or has been deleted or expunged from, your official transcripts as a consequence of institutional policy or personal petition.
Failure to provide an accurate answer to the question about institutional action or, if applicable, failure to complete the form provided by the school will result in an investigation. Medical schools require you to answer the question accurately and provide all relevant information. Medical schools understand that many individuals learn from the past and emerge stronger as a result. Full disclosure will enable medical schools to evaluate the information more effectively within the context of your application.
If you become the subject of an institutional action after certifying and submitting the AMCAS application, you must inform your designated medical school(s) within 10 business days of the date of the occurrence.
If you have any questions about academic or conduct violations, or want to learn more about how to best remediate a violation, please schedule an appointment with the Director of the Health Professions Program.