Applying to a professional program

Admission to a graduate-level programs in the health sciences requires high grades, competitive scores on standardized tests and excellent letters of reference. Students who gain practical experience and exposure to their field, as well get involved on campus, are the most likely to be successful in their applications to professional programs.

Core competencies

Across all healthcare disciplines, there are core competencies students must have experience with and have the ability to articulate personally. The Office of Pre-Professional Health Advising has divided the 25 core competencies into four focus areas.

Building a foundation of and maintaining academic excellence

  • Maintain a cumulative GPA of 2.7 or higher (recommended: GPA above 3.5)
  • Maintain minimal or no D, F, W grades or historical repeats on academic transcripts
  • Demonstrate ability to use logic and reasoning to identify strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions
  • Explain how scientific knowledge is discovered and validated
  • Demonstrate ability to effectively convey information to others using written words

Gaining health care experience

  • Describe the diversity of responsibilities for various health care providers
  • Describe the diversity of skills and competencies required for various healthcare providers
  • Describe interprofessional relationships between a variety of healthcare providers
  • Describe a patient's perspective of the healthcare system based on their individual experience
  • Explain 3 personal lessons learned from shadowing or volunteering in a healthcare setting
  • Identify one's own personal and professional skills or strengths and connect them to a healthcare field

Building a connection and commitment to the community

  • Discuss social and cultural factors that affect interactions and behaviors
  • Demonstrate an appreciation and respect for multiple dimensions of diversity
  • Demonstrate ability to interact effectively with people from diverse backgrounds
  • Demonstrate a desire to help others and sensitivity to others' needs and feelings
  • Demonstrate a desire to alleviate others' distress
  • Demonstrate ability to work collaboratively with others to achieve shared goals

Cultivating professional and personal development

  • Develop professional relationships with professors and advisors for mentorship
  • Demonstrate honest and ethical behavior
  • Demonstrate ability to effectively convey information to others using spoken words
  • Demonstrate ability to listen effectively
  • Demonstrate ability to consistently fulfill obligations in a timely and satisfactory manner
  • Demonstrate ability to take responsibility for personal actions and performance
  • Demonstrate tolerance of stressful or changing environments and adapt effectively to them
  • Demonstrate ability to solicit and respond appropriately to feedback

VCU Pre-Health Advisory Committee

We recommend that students applying to medical and dental school programs participate in the VCU Pre-Health Advisory Committee (PHAC) process to obtain a committee letter of evaluation. Visit the Pre-Professional Health Hub in Canvas for more information on PHAC.

Some professional students applying to optometry and other programs that require a committee letter should schedule a meeting with a pre-professional health advisor.

Letters of recommendation

Most programs require three to five letters of recommendation. These letters should be from people the student has recently worked with in an academic or professional capacity who can speak well of the student’s intelligence, personality and motivation toward their chosen career.

Be aware of program deadlines and have the letters available well before then. Give letter writers about one month’s notice to write letters or fill out evaluation forms, and provide very specific instructions on where to send them.

Students have the legal right to see their letters of recommendation. Students will be asked whether they wish to waive this right. If rights are waived to access the letters, the admissions committees will assume the letter writers were more honest in their evaluations.

Personal statement

All application processes require a personal statement. This is a student’s opportunity to highlight experiences and qualities not represented in other parts of the application. Students should focus on why they are interested in their chosen field and their experiences in the field. The essay should not be used to review the field and its current trends, or to try and woo the admission committee with big words and elaborate descriptions.

Volunteer experience

VCU students are encouraged to participate in our hospital volunteer program and seek out volunteer opportunities in private health care or animal care settings.

Some professional programs require a minimum number of volunteer hours for applicants while other programs only strongly recommend experience. Other fields don’t expect a minimum number of hours, but stress that all applicants should have some depth of experiences in a healthcare setting.