The Holistic Admissions Review Process
Health professional schools use a holistic review process to ensure that all aspects of an applicant’s background and preparation for professional school–including academic metrics, experiential components, and core competencies–are taken into account. See the official definitions from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) below:
- “Holistic review is an admissions process that considers each applicant individually by balancing their academic metrics with experiences and attributes.” (AAMC)
- “Holistic review—a flexible, individualized applicant assessment tool—provides admissions committees a balanced means of considering candidates’ personal experiences, attributes and academic credentials, along with qualities and characteristics that would prove valuable in both dental school and the oral health profession.” (ADEA)
Main Application Components
A complete application to health professional school is typically composed of four main components:
- Primary application (i.e., the “common application” for the particular type of school to which you are applying–AMCAS, AACOMAS, AADSAS, etc.)
- Secondary application (i.e., a school-specific “supplemental application”–not all schools require a secondary)
- Standardized testing scores (MCAT, DAT, OAT, etc.)
- Letters of recommendation
All of these components, with the exception of the secondary application being dependent upon submission of a primary application, are independent of one another. An admissions committee will typically not review you as an applicant until they have received all of the above components, even if one or two of them were received earlier than the others. See more about the individual application components here.
Special highlight: What is the personal statement and why is it important?
A compelling personal statement, also known as a personal comments essay, is a key part of the primary application to medical or dental school. This statement is crucial in linking an applicant with an academic program. The personal statement is the only place to identify yourself uniquely prior to the interview and to illustrate why you are pursuing this health profession. Since applicants have only one or two written pages to make a connection with their reviewer in the academic program of their choice, the personal story is an exceptionally powerful technique.
Begin by selecting a real event in your life and build on it. Comment on your abilities of creativity, initiative, cooperation, and diplomacy. Tell the story in your own unique voice. Discuss the significant elements or people in the story and give a glimpse into your life away from medicine to show balance.
Questions you might answer in your personal statement
- Why did you choose medicine as a career?
- What was the turning point in your life, or the collection of key experiences, that let you know that medicine was your career of choice?
- Give an example of a big challenge you’ve faced and how you resolved it.
- What people most influenced your life and why?
- What are your future goals and why?
Advice for drafting your personal statement
- Background information
- Your values
- Your interest in medicine
- Any personal events
- Other work experiences
- Any influential incidents that have shaped your life
- Any challenges you have overcome
- Keep it simple (only the strongest, most appropriate story)
- Use first-person voice (“I”, “my”, “me”); Include thoughts and feelings; Show versus tell (show what’s happening with strong verbs and images)
- Reinforce your words with common elements or images (use an element as an symbol to illuminate a major point to unify the story)
- Develop a strong idea or action and use it throughout (such as an aspect of your core values)
The process of reflecting on your experiences, drafting different versions of your story, and refining your statement to tell your story in the most compelling way takes time and effort. Beyond producing a strong personal statement, this investment also provides you excellent preparation for the interview.