"To find health should be the object of the doctor. Anyone can find disease."  —Andrew T. Still, MD, DO

"As a family physician, my job is listening to people's stories."
—Jon S. Hallberg, MD

Preparing to Apply

If you have any questions or concerns about how the current COVID-19 pandemic may affect the application process, please view our COVID-19 FAQs blog post on the Cal Poly Pre-Health Blog for more information and links to helpful resources. 

Am I Ready to Apply?

Patty Pre-Health

"Patty Pre-Health" is a simple visual we often use to help students assess if they have all of the academic requirements, extracurricular experiences, and application materials necessary in order to apply to a health professional school. She represents the "anatomy of a successful applicant," and can be a great way to quickly assess your readiness to apply. Each part of Patty corresponds to a different part of the application or applicant-development process, including maintaining good grades, gaining leadership experience, community service, research, etc. Starting with her head and moving down towards her feet, if you can say "yes" to having completed each of these components, then you're likely ready to apply!

Here are some additional questions to ask yourself in order to assess your readiness to apply:

  • Have I completed all of the prerequisite coursework and fulfilled all extracurricular requirements of the programs I plan to apply to?
  • How strong is my GPA? Is it at, above, or near the average GPA of students accepted to these programs? 
  • Have I carefully considered which programs I'd like to apply to?
  • Am I mentally prepared to jump into the rigors of health professional school? Or do I need some time off to recharge?
  • Am I able to clearly articulate why I want to pursue this health profession in particular? Why am I passionate about this particular field? How do my past experiences support this?
  • How well do I understand what a career in this health profession entails? Am I prepared to make the sacrifices and spend the time necessary to complete the training required? 
  • Am I able to demonstrate the 15 core competencies of successful applicants through the different components of my application?
  • Have I demonstrated my commitment to serving others through community service, volunteering, and/or advocating for those in need?
  • Have I spent time reflecting on, journaling about, and discussing my experiences and the impact they've had on my growth? See the reflection section of our Experiences page!
  • Have I completed my personal statement and had it thoroughly reviewed by someone I trust?
    • (If not, you can schedule an appointment to have your personal statement reviewed by one of our academic advisors here.)
  • Have I notified all of my letter of recommendation writers that I plan to apply this cycle?
  • Do my letter of recommendation writers meet the requirements of the schools I'm applying to?
    • For example, some programs may require 2 letters from professors of the hard sciences (biology, chemistry, physics, etc.) and at least 1 letter from a professor of the social sciences (sociology, psychology, ethnic studies, etc.)
  • Are my letter of recommendation writers capable of talking at length about my qualities as a person? How confident am I that they will write me a strong, positive letter?
  • Have I requested and received all of my transcripts from any institutions I attended after high school?
  • Have I received, and do I feel confident about, my scores for any entrance exams?
  • Will I be able to commit the time required to complete secondary applications and travel to interviews in the coming months? (If applicable)
  • Have I considered how I will finance both the application process and the costs of traveling for interviews (flights, hotel stays, etc.)?
  • Do I feel as prepared as I possibly could be to apply to health professional school?

For further self-reflection, feel free to utilize our Health Professions Application Self-Assessment worksheet.

Financing Your Application

Cost of Entrance Exams

The first expense you will most likely encounter on your path to a career in healthcare is paying for your entrance exam. Whether it is the MCAT, the DAT, the GRE, or another type of exam, the cost can often be significantly more than one would expect. However, there are programs that provide financial aid or exam fee waivers for students that meet certain criteria. Below are the current costs of some of the most common exams taken by pre-health students, as well as links to financial aid programs offered by the centralized application services (as of 2020). 




  • National League for Nursing Pre-Admission Exam (NLN PAX) - $65
  • Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) - $90 - $100
  • Health Occupations Basic Entrance Test (HOBET) - Variable (Typically around $75)

Occupational Therapy:

Note: Not all Occupational Therapy schools require the GRE for admission. Check individual admissions requirements for each school that you are interested in applying to.



  • Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT) - $210

Physical Therapy:

Physician Assistant:

Note: Most PA Schools do not require the MCAT to be considered for admission, but some will accept the MCAT in place of the GRE. Check individual admissions requirements for each school that you are interested in applying to.


Public Health:


Note: The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is required by most veterinary schools, and some also require the Biology GRE Subject Test. The MCAT is also accepted by some schools in place of the GRE. Check individual admissions requirements for each school that you are interested in applying to.


Applications, Travel, and Hotels

Paying for application fees, flights to interview locations, and overnight stays in hotels can make the application process a large financial stressor for many students. However, there are resources available to help those students in need reduce the burden of applying to health professional schools. Below are some programs that can help mitigate the costs of the application process for several of the health professions. 




Occupational Therapy:


Physical Therapy: 

Physician Assistant:


Test Preparation

Types of Exams

Exams are usually taken by students in the spring of their junior year (or their senior year if they plan to take a year off after graduation) and should be taken only if the student has completed or is within a month of completing the pre-requisite curriculum.  Registration and general information can be found at the respective websites.  Check the requirements of each school carefully, however, since not all schools require the same entrance exams.

Students applying to allopathic or osteopathic medical school are required to take the MCAT exam. Students applying to dental programs are required to take the DAT, and applicants to optometry programs take the OAT. The MCAT, DAT, and OAT are lengthy, standardized, comprehensive exams similar in structure to the SAT but much more specific in content. Students applying for Physician Assistant and Physical Therapy programs are required to take the GRE, a more general exam similar to the SAT in structure and content. Pharmacy students take the PCAT. 

These exams test students' knowledge of biological and physical sciences as well as verbal reasoning and writing skills.  GPA and test scores are a way for admissions committees to screen out less competitive students.



It is crucial for you to prepare well for these exams so the results truly reflect your abilities.  Learn as much as possible about the test, both its content and format.  

  • Form a study group to prepare for the exam
  • Take practice tests
  • Take a commercially available prep course 
  • Begin early
  • Ask for advice from alumni, peer advisors, and academic advisors

There are many publications available that offer practice examinations, as well as handbooks that provide information about the examination and how it is scored. 

A specific block of study time should be set aside, preferably one or two hours daily. It is much better to study on a daily basis rather than attempt to review huge blocks of material in a short time. The emphasis ought to be on familiarizing yourself with concepts learned previously rather than on learning new material. 

Check out our Test Prep Resources blog post, where we share links to and descriptions of commonly-used test preparation resources!

Personal Statement

Your personal statement is your first opportunity to set yourself apart from other candidates. Until you are given the opportunity to present additional (secondary) information or interview in person, it is what is going to determine if the schools are interested enough in you to grant you an interview over someone else with a similar GPA and test scores. It takes a lot of time, care, effort, and revisions to make a great personal statement. Do NOT underestimate the time that you should spend on this key part of your application.
Who reads the essay?
Admissions committees comprise anywhere from a handful to two dozen members, generally made up of a combination of full-time admissions staff, faculty, students, and professionals from the community. Because admissions committees will be reading thousands of essays, it is important to convey the information in a way that will stick in their minds.
What are committees looking for?

Anecdotal evidence of the following:

  • The reason(s) you chose this career instead of another profession. Describing yourself and your accomplishments is important, but it is more important to emphasize how it helped you decide your career choice and how these experiences have prepared you for the career. What drew you to that health profession? How have you tested your interest or commitment to the profession and the results of those tests?
  • If your perceptions of the profession are realistic.
  • If you possess qualities that are necessary to be a good practitioner.
  • The evidence that you have the potential to not only be a good student, but also a good professional one day.
  • If applicable, what you have had to overcome, and how hard you will work to achieve your goal. If you have something in your background that you feel needs to be explained, do so. If you had to take a year off due to illness or had a difficult term because of a heavy workload, explain it here. Make the explanation as positive as possible.
  • How you will be an asset to the school and the profession.
  • Your professional career goals. How do your values fit in with this particular health profession?
  • In several sentences, who are you?
  • Succinct, clear, and concise writing style that tells about who you are as a person and your motivation for the career of interest.

Some questions to ask yourself before you begin writing:

  • What person had the greatest influence on my life, and how?
  • What moment in my life has been the most pivotal?
  • If I woke up tomorrow as a [insert health profession], what would be first on my "to-do" list?
  • What energizes and excites me?
  • When am I at my best?
  • What has been my greatest challenge and how did I overcome it?
  • What are my top accomplishments and what have I learned about myself through them?
  • What are 3 things that others would say are my top strengths? How did I develop these skills? How do they relate to my profession of interest? 

Proofreading and Revising Your Personal Statement

Ensure the quality of your personal statement by having several people proofread your essay. Have a proofreader examine it solely for grammar and spelling errors, and have another proofreader examine the style and content of your writing. As you read it, ask yourself, "Would I be interested in talking with the person who wrote this essay?" Expect to have several drafts written before the final product.

General Do's and Don'ts When Writing Your Personal Statement


  • Start early.
  • Use anecdotal examples. Anecdotes about topics are often informative, interesting, and memorable reading for the admissions committee.
  • Show, don't tell.
  • Connect topics into a common theme.
  • Develop a few ideas in sufficient detail.
  • Cover a few topics in some depth, deciding what is really important to you and discuss that. 
  • Show that you are altruistic by examples, not phrases.
  • Make it personal.
  • Address anything unique or challenging.
  • Have 2-3 people read it.
  • Be honest in what you discuss.
  • Be comfortable enough with your topic to talk about it in the interview.


  • Procrastinate
  • Use generic statements ("I've always known I wanted to be a doctor", "I want to help people").
  • Write about 5 different experiences or ideas.
  • List off skills, qualities, and characteristics without examples.
  • Repeat information found in other places of your application.
  • Use cliches or generic quotes.
  • Do not write in the third person.
  • Begin every sentence with the personal pronoun "I," because it sounds egotistical.
  • Discuss controversial topics in politics and religion.
  • Make apologies for your past, particularly with grades. If there is a relevant point about why you have a C in physics then share it, but avoid excuses.
  • Take risks. While expressing your uniqueness, do so within the usual parameters of a personal statement. Personal statements are not the place to experiment with format or avant-garde ideas. Err on the side of a conservative style. 


Personal Statement Advising

If you would like to have a professional advisor look over and review your personal statement, or even just brainstorm ideas for a statement, please schedule an appointment here or visit us at virtual drop-ins. Do this the quarter before you begin applying to schools. Please email anything you have written and would like reviewed by your advisor at least 24 hours in advance of your appointment.

Experiences, Work, and Activities

While health professional schools certainly want their students to be academically inclined, disciplined, and hard-working, they also want to see that applicants are well-rounded and have interests and passions outside of academics. The best way to convey this is through your extracurricular experiences, which may include research, community service, clinical experience, leadership experience, work experience, participation in athletics, etc. They want to hear how these experiences have shaped and molded you into the person you are today, and how your beliefs and sense of self have been influenced by the people and situations you've encountered. This is why reflection and journaling about your experiences as you do them is extremely valuable. Listing and summarizing your experiences is an important component of your application, as it gives admissions committees a chance to learn more about you as a person, beyond the grades on your transcript and your test scores.
To learn more about how to find experiences, the types of experiences health professional schools are looking for, and how to reflect on these experiences, visit our Experiences webpage.

Choosing Schools

Given the competitiveness of admissions to health professional programs, its important to cast a wide net when applying in order to give yourself the greatest chance of matriculation. However, that doesn't mean that you should just apply anywhere and everywhere; you should only apply to those programs that you can actually see yourself going to if accepted. Some important factors to consider when selecting a school or program include:

  • Location: Can you see yourself living in this area for the next few years? Is the program across the country, or close to home? What kind of patient population will you be serving in this area? Will you have access to the extracurricular activities and opportunities that are important to you?
  • Mission Statement and Institution Focus: What is this school known for? Are they research-based, or do they take more of a population/preventive health approach? What values and goals are most important to them? How are they working towards accomplishing those goals? Does the mission statement speak to your personal interests, passions, and values?
  • Cost: Education and training for the health professions can be extremely expensive, so its important to consider the cost of attending each institution relative to what you'd like to spend. Some factors to consider include:
  • Program Culture: If you've visited the institution, how did you feel while walking around the campus? Were you able to interact with any current students? If so, did they seem like people you could see yourself working and studying with for the next few years? Did you feel "at home?"
  • Program Curriculum and Faculty: Have you reviewed the program's curriculum outline? Is it in line with your personal academic interests and goals? Are there any joint degree programs available (i.e., MD/MPH, RN/MBA, etc.)? Are the faculty members at this institution accomplished or well-known in their respective fields? Is there a certain faculty member you'd like to work with or learn from? 
  • Your Competitiveness as an Applicant: How do your test scores and GPA compare to those of previously accepted students? Do you meet all of the necessary prerequisites for the program? Are their certain extracurricular activities or experiences that this program is looking for (i.e., research, community service, direct patient care hours, etc.)?


A helpful tool: Feel free to use our "Deciding Where to Apply Matrix" as a way to keep track of the schools you're interested in, as well as differentiate between programs based on the criteria that are most important to you.  


Resources for Identifying Potential Programs:


  •  ADEA Official Guide to Dental Schools - In addition to providing profiles of all 78 U.S. and Canadian dental schools, the 2019-2020 ADEA Official Guide to Dental Schools answers key questions about opportunities in dentistry, the dental school admissions process and financing a dental education (purchase required). 


  • Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) - an online database that enables you to browse, search, sort, and compare information about U.S. and Canadian medical schools and BS/MD programs, and more (subscription purchase required).
  • Choose DO Explorer - an online database of Osteopathic medical schools in the U.S.


Occupational Therapy:



  • Pharmacy School Admission Requirements (PSAR) - The PSAR tables are designed to provide the most up-to-date information about each pharmacy school, including specifics about admission requirements, selection factors and educational costs for students entering pharmacy school.

Physical Therapy:

Physician Assistant:


Public Health:


  • Veterinary Medical School Admissions Requirements (VMSAR) - provides the following information for each school: a summary of application procedures; requirements for application and residency; prerequisites for admission; deadlines for each component of the application process; a description of campus and campus life; and the costs of tuition and fees (purchase required). 


Additional Advice: Tips from Students and Staff

  • Write your own mission statement - A helpful exercise for those in the application process is to develop a personal mission statement and/or write the mission statement of a school that they would like to start. In other words, if you were going to establish a program for your health profession, what would be the mission of "The [insert your profession] School of [insert your name]?"
    • For example, Maria, a pre-medical student that particularly values research and innovation, may write something like: "At the Medical School of Maria, our mission is to support and develop the brightest emerging minds in medicine with the goals of revolutionizing patient care and advancing medical technology." Maria could then search for programs whose mission statements and values align with her own - in this case, a focus on research and innovation.
  • Look through the program's entire website, not just the "Prospective Students" page - Though much of the information you'll be looking for (mission statement, tuition/expenses, location of the school, etc.) can be found on the "Admissions" or "Prospective Students" page of a program's website, we would also encourage you to explore the program's webpages for faculty, current students, research, and any other areas that could provide additional context for your application decisions. These pages may offer more insight into what resources and professional development opportunities are offered to students, what research initiatives faculty members are involved in, and/or how the curriculum is structured, among other critical information. This may give you a more complete picture of what life at this program would be like for you as a student.
  • Research two schools per week - With the number of programs offered for each health profession around the country, it can be overwhelming to think about deciding where you should apply. With a steady, focused effort over an extended period of time, however, you can thoroughly research programs and compile a list of those that best fit you, your interests, your personality, and your professional goals. We recommend researching two schools per week, making note of all the criteria that are important to you and where each program falls relative to those criteria. By spacing out your research over the course of a few months, you can reduce your stress in the weeks leading up to the application cycle and be more confident in your school and application decisions. 

Selecting a Medical School: 35 Questions I Wish I Had Asked

Don't be shy about asking questions! The medical school interview is one of the most valuable sources of information that can help you decide where to matriculate.

Created by the AAMC's Organization of Student Representatives (OSR)


These questions were compiled by medical students from across the country to help you evaluate the medical schools you visit.

Medical schools, like individuals, are very different. Selecting the "best" medical school for you can be challenging. While this list is by no means complete, it can help serve as a base for your own questions. Be sure to research each school before your interview so you can ask informed questions.


1. Are there any special programs for which this medical school is noted?

2. Please tell me more about the integrated curriculum.

3. What modalities are used for student lectures?

4. What are the opportunities for research? What are the policies for taking time off for research opportunities?

5. How do students get assistance if an academic need arises?

6. Is there flexibility in the coursework (the number of electives) and the timing of the courses (accelerating, decelerating, and time off) during the pre-clinical and clinical years?

7. Are standardized tests used such as the NBME shelf exams?

8. Has this medical school, or any of its clinical departments, been on probation or had its accreditation revoked?

9. How do students from this medical school perform on the National Board Examinations? How does the school assist students who do not pass?


10. How are students evaluated academically? How are clinical evaluations performed?

11. Is there a formal mechanism in place for students to evaluate their professors and attending physicians? What changes have been made recently as a result of this feedback?

Counseling/Student Support

12. What kind of academic, personal, financial, and career counseling is available to students? Are these services also offered to their spouses and dependents/children?

13. Is there a mentor/advisor system? Who are the advisors—faculty members, other students, or both?

14. How diverse is the student body? Are there support services or organizations for ethnic/cultural minorities, LGBT students, and women?


15. Tell me about the library and extracurricular facilities (i.e., housing and athletic/recreational facilities). Is designated study space available?

16. Are students required to have a laptop?

17. What type of clinical sites—ambulatory, private preceptors, private hospitals, rural settings, international—are available or required for clerkships? Does this school allow for students to do rotations at other institutions or internationally?

18. Is a car necessary for clinical rotations? Is parking a problem?

Financial Aid

19. What is the current tuition and fees? Is this expected to increase yearly? If so, at what rate?

20. Are there stable levels of federal financial aid and substantial amounts of university/medical school endowment aid available to students?

21. Are there students who have an "unmet need" factor in their budget? If so, how do these students come up with the extra funds?

22. Are spouses and dependents/children covered in a student's budget?

23. Are there services/staff available to assist students with budgeting and financial planning?

24. Does this school provide guidance to its students and to its graduates/alumni, on debt management?

Student Involvement

25. What medical school committees (e.g., curriculum committee) have student representation?

26. Are students involved in (required or voluntary) community service?

27. How active is the student council/government? Are there other active student organizations?


28. What is the student medical insurance coverage and what is the cost to students?

29. Is there an established protocol for dealing with student exposure to infectious diseases?

30. Does this school provide, or does the student pay for, vaccinations against Hepatitis B or prophylactic AZT treatment in case of a needle-stick or accident?

31. Is disability insurance provided to cover exposure?

32. Is there a school honor code? Is there a grievance process/procedure? Are the students involved?


33. May I see a list of residency programs to which this school's recent graduates were accepted?

Questions to Ask Yourself

34. Does this school have strengths in the type of medicine (primary versus specialized care, urban versus rural practice environment, academic medicine versus private practice) that I will want to practice?

35. Would I be happy at this school for at least the next four years?

For more advice from medical students check out these Tips for Interview Day.

Courses and Transcripts

To find out how to request your official transcripts from Cal Poly, please see the instructions on the Cal Poly Office of the Registrar website. You may need to upload a transcript matching form to the parchment system that you would get from your application service or individual school. Be sure to enter the school or application service's info accurately into Parchment so as not to delay the processing of your transcripts and verification of your courses.
For instructions on submitting coursework and transcripts specific to your program and career, please visit the corresponding website below:


Occupational Therapy:



Physical Therapy:

Physician Assistant:


Public Health:



Listing AP Coursework on Your Application/Transcripts

Non-Prerequisite Coursework: Simply list a course entry titled "AP Credit" and indicate the total number of units of credit you received.

Prerequisite Coursework: Print or download a PDF of the "Test Credits" page of your Poly Profile (located on the right side menu bar), and attach that PDF in parchment when you request transcripts (the same way that you attached the PDF of the transcript matching form). You'll want to list each individual exam separately in your course history. You don't need to list the course that you got credit for at Cal Poly, just enter, for example: "AP Credit: US History" for the course name, "9 units" for the credits, "CR" as the grade, and check the box indicating that it's AP credit.

The Office of the Registrar can send you a letter head document with all of your AP scores and credits received so that you can provide it with your transcripts. You will need to submit a Verification Letter Request and request your AP credits in detail (detailed in parts A and B):

A) Requesting AP Credits in Detail from Cal Poly

  1. Complete Verification Letter Request: https://content-calpoly-edu.s3.amazonaws.com/registrar/1/forms/records/VerificationLetter.pdf

Verification Letter Request

Oce of the Registrar 1 Grand Ave. San Luis Obispo, CA 90700 TEL: 8076296 FAX: 8076727 www.reistrar.calpoly.edu Verification Letter Request




  1. Once you receive the Verification Letter with your AP scores and credits, then you can place your transcript order and add it as an attachment so that it gets sent all together.
  2. Save the Verification Letter with your AMCAS form into 1 PDF document.
  3. Place and order for your transcript. (7 steps)


B) Sending Transcript to AMCAS

  1. Create an account or Log in
  2. Where would you like your document sent?
    • Type AMCAS on the box, click search
    • Select AMCAS in Washington DC
    • Click eTranscript
  3. Order Details
    • From the drop down box, select Purpose of Request
    • Add your AMCAS Transcripts Request Form
    • click continue
    • A box will come up, where you will enter the AAMC ID and AAMC Transcript ID number located on the AMCAS Transcript Request form
    • Image preview
  4. Provide Consent
  5. Payment selection
  6. Review Order: Please confirm all information before submitting order, verify that you enter the AAMC ID and Transcript ID correctly before clicking Confirm.
  7. Pay for transcript

If you have any further questions about including AP credit/coursework on your health professional school application, feel free to schedule a planned appointment with one of our staff advisors.  

Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation are considered by many admissions committee members to be one of the most important aspects of a health professions application. This is the only piece of the application that will be completed by someone other than the applicant themselves, and can provide a more objective view of the applicant and their unique qualities, character, and abilities. Strong letters of recommendation can have a dramatic impact on your chances of admission, so be sure to pick your letter writers wisely.

Who should I ask for a letter of recommendation?

Your letter writers should be individuals who know you on a personal level and can easily speak to personal qualities that are not readily apparent on the rest of your application. Potential letter writers could include:

  • Professors 
    • Typically 2 from the hard sciences (e.g., Biology, Chemistry, Physics, etc.)
    • At least 1 from a non-science course, preferably the humanities or social sciences (e.g., English, Sociology, History, Ethnic Studies, etc.)
  • Research Supervisors or Principal Investigators
  • Workplace Managers
  • Health professionals in your field of interest (preferably those that have seen you interact with patients and other professionals in a healthcare setting)
  • Extracurricular Supervisors (Coaches, Instructors, Managers, etc.)

Note: Letter of recommendation requirements vary widely across careers and programs, so be sure to check the requirements for each individual school or program that you are interested in applying to. 

It is important to note that these individuals should be able to talk about you in great detail, and speak to qualities beyond "this student got an A in my course and was engaged in lecture." This type of information will not set you apart and is already implicated by the transcript component of your application.

Of more value to both yourself and the admissions committee would be something like:

"This student is an excellent communicator, with a long record of exceeding expectations in my research lab. (He/She/They) is/are consistently early to the lab, is/are engaged and encouraging to younger students, and stays well after the required time to ensure that all experimental results are thoroughly detailed and recorded. (His/Her/Their) passion for the subject is readily apparent by the energy and enthusiasm that (he/she/they) bring to the lab each day." 

Which of these two students sounds like a better candidate to you? This demonstrates the importance of receiving strong letters of recommendation from individuals that know the real you, not the superficial, surface-level you.

Who NOT to ask for a letter of recommendation

You should not ask for a letter of recommendation from anyone that would be overtly biased in their assessment of you or is of equal rank in a particular group or organization. This includes:

  • Friends, Coworkers, or Teammates
  • Family Members
  • Teaching Assistants (TAs) or Supplemental Workshop Leaders
  • Fellow students or lab partners

If there is ANY doubt in your mind about the quality or content of a letter that a potential writer would submit on your behalf, you're better off finding someone else that you are confident will write you a strong, positive letter. You will not be able to review these letters before they are submitted to admissions committees, and any negative comments or concerns expressed by your letter writers will severely hinder your chances of admission. 


You've gotten your foot in the door with your application, but now it's time to seal the deal. Interviews are one of the most important parts of the application process, as this is where you get the chance to show admissions committees the person behind all of the grades, extracurriculars, and experiences on your application. 

Prior to the Interview

  • Thoroughly research the school you are applying to. Have a clear understanding of the institution and the individuals who will be interviewing you. Know your audience.
  • What do you know about the institution, its curriculum, its culture? Research!
  • What do they know about you? Will this be an open or closed file interview?
  • Know your application better than the interviewer. Be prepared to elaborate on your experiences.
  • What do you hope they will not ask you and what will you say when they do? Prepare!
  • Rehearse your answers out loud. If possible, try to get someone to video-tape you doing a practice interview so that you can critique it.
  • Use Big Interview via Career Services and practice answering questions using this virtual mock-interview format.
  • Sign up for a Mock Multiple Mini Interview (MMI) in the Pre-Health Advising Office (53-211) to get some valuable practice and feedback from your health professions advisors.

Dress and Appearance

It is important that you present yourself in a professional manner. In general, what you wear should not overpower what you say. Physical appearance does create a first impression and has an impact on how you are perceived. The ultimate goal is to have your clothes accent your positive image rather than compete with it. Here are a few tips regarding physical appearance:

  • Dress conservatively. Men should wear a suit or blazer and neatly pressed pants with a dress shirt and simple tie. Women should wear a suit or a solid dress.
  • Avoid distracting or flashy jewelry and strong perfume or cologne. 

The Arrival

A well-planned arrival tips the odds in your favor. The goal is to have you arrive in the best shape possible to present yourself in an honest and relaxed manner.

  • Arrive a day early and stay overnight in a hotel or friend's home.
  • Awaken that morning with plenty of extra time so that you can properly groom, eat, and arrive with time to spare.
  • Arrive on campus a few hours before your interview. If possible, check out the physical site where the interview will take place. If you have the interview room number, arrive an hour or two earlier and check this site out.
  • Use the restroom prior to the interview and check out your clothes in the mirror.
  • Review the following quick tips for success:
    • Be honest
    • Be professional
    • Think fast but speak slowly
    • Be human and interesting
    • Remember, the interviewer is not your enemy

Relaxation techniques

If nervous in the final hour, try the following relaxation tips:

  • Get some fresh air. Take a walk around the block and let your muscles relax and your eyes wander. Whistle. Sing.
  • Physically shake out your anxiety by stretching your arms and legs and exercising your facial muscles.
  • Think of events or occurrences that you have found especially enjoyable or humorous. Allow yourself to smile.
  • Breathe in deeply counting from one to three, then hold your breath from one to three, then exhale from one to six. Repeat this process three or four times slowly.
  • If you are in a room waiting for the interviewer's arrival, use your deep breathing and alternately tense and relax your muscles, one arm and one leg at a time.
  • Remind yourself that you are well prepared to do your best.


Body Language

  • Make sure your facial expressions and hands augment rather than detract from your image and message.
  • Look people in the eye while you are listening.
  • Sit erect but not stiff, leaning slightly forward.
  • Use normal, conversational hand movements to augment what you are saying.
  • Listen intently to all questions and responses from the interviewer.

Some things to avoid are the following:

  • Fidgeting with your hands, including nervous gestures or touching your face.
  • Inappropriate smiling or laughter.
  • Tightly grasping the arms of a chair or your hands together
  • Toying with objects such as glasses, pen, or pencil.
  • Drumming with the tabletop or nervous vibrations of your feet.
  • Tightening and loosening facial muscles.
  • Unnatural super straight posture.
  • Swinging your legs or shifting in your chair.
  • Wandering eyes, especially when you are being addressed or giving a direct answer.
  • Slouching, closing your eyes or looking downward in a manner that would convey disinterest.


Key Points

  • Warmly Greet the Interviewer. When you or your interviewer enters the room, stand and greet the interviewer professionally with a firm handshake and smile. You should allow yourself to express with confidence your gratitude for the opportunity to interview with this professional school.
  • Be Personal and Professional. Most health professions involve some level of patient contact that requires intimate interaction, excellent communication skills, confidence, and trust. It is important during the interview to demonstrate that you are a mature, confident, and responsive human being.
  • Stay on Task. You should have in mind two or three points that you wish to get across during the interview. Seek opportunities early to bring these points out and feel comfortable reinforcing them throughout the interview. 
  • Listen Carefully and Clarify if Necessary. It's important to understand clearly the questions that are being asked. If you give an answer that is completely off the mark, it raises questions in the mind of the interviewer. If a question is asked that is not entirely clear, it is better to attempt to clarify the question than to give an answer that is inappropriate.
  • Control the Pace. A controlled slower pace shows a thoughtful candidate and generally reflects better on you than a fast pace that may communicate nervousness or tension.
  • Monitor your Body Language. Be aware of your physical presence, how you are sitting, what you are doing with your hands, and how you are physically relating to the interviewer.
  • Maintain your Guard and Stay Alert. Skilled interviewers will attempt to relax you so that you will be honest and spontaneous with them. The goal is to get to know the real you. This is your goal as well, but remember that you are attempting to provide an image that is confident and professional. Don't become so relaxed that you appear arrogant or cocky. 
  • Maintain Eye Contact and Responsiveness. Comfortable, normal eye contact is a sign of respect. Looking away suggests disinterest. Steely, persistent glares reflect combativeness. Use eye contact the same way you would if fully engaged in an interesting conversation with a friend. 
  • Flag and Reinforce What's Important. If asked a question that provides you with the opportunity to state something that you think is important, it's useful to reinforce the question in the form of a statement and to let the interviewer know that you are glad that they asked the question.
  • Avoid Sarcasm and Take Care with Humor. It's extremely important to stay within the bounds of a professional interview. There are times when you feel that the interview is going so well that you can take liberties. But remember, the interviewer is a new acquaintance that is gaining a first impression of you. Humor can be a risky way to communicate and can leave the interviewer with an impression that is in conflict with the rest of your application.
  • Relax. Be Yourself. Enjoy the Experience. The worst thing you can do during an interview is attempt to fool the interviewer. Make sure your responses match your emotions, facial expressions, and body language. If you can separate what's at stake, the interview can be quite an interesting experience. At the end of the interview, you will know more about the interviewer, about yourself, and about the institution to which you have applied. 

(Source: The Pfizer Medical School Manual: A Practical Guide to Admissions American Medical Schools, 1997)

"What if I don't get in?" 


"A rejection is nothing more than a necessary step in the pursuit of success."   


- Bo Bennett, PhD


Facing and dealing with rejection from health professional programs can be extremely difficult. However, not getting in the first time around (or second, or third) is often the best thing that ever happened to many students. This extra period of time allowed them to pursue a number of activities, academic or extracurricular, which deepened and improved their application, as well as clarified what they want out of their career. 

Common ways of bouncing back from rejection and spending this time include:

  • Enrolling in a post-bacc or graduate degree program
  • Furthering clinical experience by working or volunteering in a healthcare setting
  • Community Service - finding ways to give back to the community and further a cause that you are personally passionate about
  • Retaking the admissions test (MCAT, DAT, OAT, GRE, etc.) in order to improve your score
  • Research
  • Meeting with a pre-health staff advisor to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your application (advising services are still available to Cal Poly alumni who are applying to health professional schools). 
  • Going abroad - medical service trips, Peace Corps, etc. 

Don't see this time as a step backward or a failure, but rather as a time to grow academically, personally, and professionally. 


Success Story: Click here to read an article from a practicing orthopedic spine surgeon who took 6.5 years to complete his undergraduate degree and applied to medical school three times before being accepted. 

"I'm getting close to graduation (or I already graduated) and I just decided that I want to be pre-health. Now what?"

For students who decide later on in their academic careers (late in their third year or during their fourth year) to pursue a career in healthcare, the best course of action is usually for them to complete their undergraduate degree and then enroll in a post-baccalaureate program. Post-baccalaureate or "post-bacc" programs allow students to complete the necessary prerequisite courses if they haven't already, and often assist students in preparing for both the admissions test (if required) and the application process. To learn more about post-baccalaureate programs, click here to read our "Overview of Post-baccalaureate Programs" article on the Cal Poly Pre-Health Blog.

If you have any other questions about post-bacc programs or your unique situation, please feel free to stop by our office (Bldg. 53, room 211) during pre-health peer advising drop-in hours (or join their drop-ins virtually). You may schedule an appointment with a staff advisor or visit us at staff advising virtual drop-ins offered each quarter while classes are in session (with the exception of Summer Terms). Please plan ahead and meet with an advisor the quarter before you begin applying to schools.

Related Content

Pre-Health Canvas Page

Stay up-to-date with pre-health events and opportunities by joining our canvas page! Email prehealth@calpoly.edu to be added!

Canvas Page Info

Drop-in With a Peer Advisor

Hours are subject to change each week, so please check the "Contact Us" page regularly!

Pre-Health Peer Advising

Pre-Health Calendar

View and sign up for upcoming application workshops, personal statement workshops, presentations, and other events hosted by our office!

Pre-Health Events

Pre-Health Blog Posts

Visit our Pre-Health Blog to stay up to date on pre-health events, opportunities, articles, workshops, and more!

Cal Poly Pre-Health Blog

Pre-Health Reading List

Reading is a great way to learn new perspectives and develop yourself as an applicant.

Pre-Health Reading List

DEI in the Bailey College

Learn More