Application to Graduate, Medical, or Other Professional Schools
1. Getting Started
During your sophomore and junior years, you should seriously consider your interest. In what areas of biology would you prefer to specialize? How committed are you or will you be to biology, research, or teaching? Your motivation is as important as the area of study. The job market is far from ideal, but there is always a need for qualified, motivated people.
Browse through the graduate school catalogues in the seminar room and the library. Talk with your adviser and the faculty member most knowledgeable of the field in which you are interested. Get to know them and let them get to know you (see part 5 of this section on Letters of Recommendation). Ask about schools in which you are interested. Consult with the pre-medical advisers about medical schools. The critical factor in selecting a graduate or professional school is the faculty of the school. Review the literature to see who is doing research in areas of your interests and at what schools. The principal investigators in your field will have established graduate programs unless they are associated purely with research oriented institutions. Contact those researchers to see if they are accepting graduate students. Find out about specific admission requirements of schools that have graduate programs in your area(s) of interest.
The earlier you start thinking about this, the better. You will have a better idea of what you want and a better chance of letting a graduate school and faculty member get to know you and find a place for you. By the fall of your senior year, this whole process should be under way. It is not impossible to get into graduate school if you wait until January of your senior year, but it is more difficult. It is virtually impossible to get into a professional school (e.g. medical) in the year following graduation if you have not begun consideration before Spring semester of your junior year. You must do an effective job of presenting yourself, your qualifications, and your motivation.
2. Application Procedures
A. Medical schools:
Students applying to medical schools must request AMCAS application materials. This should be done in the spring of the junior year. This application form requires a great deal of thought and time and should therefore be given priority. The AMCAS application should be completed by 1 July (1 October at the very latest) for admission the following fall. The AMCAS organization, not the student, will forward the application materials to the schools of your choice. Upon receipt of the AMCAS information, schools may then request additional application materials, as well as letters of recommendation, from you directly. Because many schools have rolling admissions, it is wise to apply early.
B. Graduate schools and other professional schools:
Students applying to schools other than medical schools must request application forms from the schools themselves. Advisers will assist in obtaining addresses and other information. See also the board outside the Biology Department office.
During the fall of your senior year, you should begin to apply for admission. When you have narrowed your choice of schools, carefully prepare the applications. They are a reflection of you. You should correspond with the graduate adviser of the departments in which you are interested. Ask them questions about their program, selection procedures, availability of funding, etc. Correspond with the individual faculty members with whom you are interested in working. If at all possible, visit the schools and professors. Talk with graduate students in that department. Attendance at regional or national scientific meetings provides an excellent opportunity to meet with various faculty and graduate students in the field of interest.
If you are intending to go to graduate school, take the GRE; for medical school, take the MCAT; for dental school, take the DAT. These should be taken by the fall (October [GRE] or August [MCAT]) of your senior year. The scores will then be available to go out with applications. Beside the Advanced Biology Section of the GRE, many graduate departments also require the Aptitude Test so it is recommended that you take both. See GRE, MCAT, and Other Tests
4. Building a Resumé
Remember, your goal during your four years here is to build a résumé. This includes grades, good recommendations, and high standardized test scores of course, but don’t forget to get as much experience in your field as possible! Imagine you are on a selection committee. You must chose between two students with equally good grades, recommendations, and GRE or MCAT scores. But one of them has a published paper, has attended professional meetings, done an internship, and written an honors paper. Which would you accept?
5. Letters of Recommendation
Who should you get to write these? A more effective letter can be written by someone who has had you in several courses, especially upper level courses. Advisers for a research project or a senior honors project will know you and your abilities well. (A project or rough draft of a thesis will also give you something extra to send with your applications.) Check with individual faculty members to see if they have a policy regarding letters of recommendation. Do this in your junior year---January of your senior year may be too late. Make it easy for the people writing your letters. If you have several letters, turn them all in at once. Get your requests in ahead of time. Evaluators in the Biology Department require 3 weeks notice to properly prepare a letter of recommendation. Your professors can not be held responsible for meeting deadlines unless they have been given appropriate advance notice. Provide stamped, addressed envelopes; a list of the people/schools to whom the letters should be sent; copies of application materials for reference; the deadline dates for letters; test scores; a summary of your work experience; a summary of college activities/honors/offices held; information on your research/independent study project and internship, if applicable.
Deadlines for application to graduate schools are usually in February, although some may be as early as December.
Most professional schools conduct interviews during the winter and spring terms. If the candidate desires, the Biology Department can schedule a 'practice' interview.
Acceptances are usually announced in March or April. You may be accepted, rejected or placed on a waiting list.
8. Rejected Applicants
Meet with your adviser to discuss the options open to you. You may wish to take steps to improve your candidacy, or you may choose to pursue a different goal. While repeating the application process during the following year, students may enter a different graduate program, work in a laboratory, volunteer at a hospital, combine study and travel, etc.