Applying to Health Schools, Health Careers Advising | Earlham College

Applying to Health Schools

Congratulations on your decision to apply to medical, dental or veterinary school! While the application process is a rigorous and time consuming one, the Health Careers Advisory Committee (HCAC) is eager to assist you with the steps outlined below. Feel free to consult with any of the committee members as you pursue your career goals. We want to be helpful in this long process.


To apply to medical school, you will need to apply through AdviseStream for a committee letter, schedule and take MCAT exams, have three faculty recommendations submitted via AdviseStream, prepare a personal statement and upload it to AdviseStream, have an HCAC interview, select schools to apply to (and update this information in AdviseStream), complete your applications (AMCAS application, non-AMCAS, and "secondary" applications), go to interviews, and--we hope--finally receive one or more letters of acceptance. Adhering to deadlines is very important in each aspect of the process! (All of the above is applicable to veterinary or dental school.)

The Role of the Earlham Health Careers Advising Committee

The Health Careers Advisory Committee ("HCAC") will prepare a recommendation packet on your behalf and send it to each medical school you select. The packet consists of a cover page with information about Earlham College and about how the committee letter is constructed, and a 4- to 6-page single spaced letter of recommendation that includes the three letters from your recommending faculty.

All Earlham students applying while at Earlham (i.e. at the end of the junior or senior year) are expected by medical schools to apply through the HCAC, rather than having individual recommendations sent separately to medical schools. Recent graduates who took most of their required premedical science courses at Earlham are also welcome to apply through the HCAC. Earlham graduates who are applying several years after leaving Earlham and who took many premedical science courses elsewhere should usually apply "on their own" rather than through the Earlham Health Careers Advisory Committee. In order to apply through the HCAC, you will need at least three recommendations from Earlham professors, at least two of which must be science professors, as explained in more detail in the section on Letters of recommendation.

Application to the Health Careers Advising Committee (HCAC)

Application to the HCAC is done through the AdviseStream system.

Members of the Health Careers Advisory Committee:

  • Michael Deibel - Director of the Integrated Program in the Health Sciences & Professor of Chemistry
  • William Harvey - Adviser-Consultant & Emeritus Professor of Biology
  • Peter Blair - Associate Professor of Biology

The MCAT (Medical College Admission Test)

The MCAT is a standardized test lasting 5 hours, given by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Information, including helpful hints on preparation for the MCAT, may be found a the AAMC web site. The only medical schools that don't require the MCAT are Rochester and Johns Hopkins. (If you take it, you must report scores to Rochester; Hopkins requires one standardized test score, which can be the SAT rather than MCAT if you prefer.) The MCAT is designed to test knowledge of the basic sciences as well as reading and quantitative skills analysis. It tests material covered in the required premed courses, i.e. introductory and organic chemistry, introductory biology, and non-calculus physics. Three scores are reported and are presented on a scale ranging from 1 (lowest) to 15 (highest), with 8-9 being the approximate nationwide average and 9-10 being the average for students accepted to medical school.

It is absolutely necessary to become familiar with the format of the MCAT exam, and to prepare for it, in one or more ways:

The MCAT Student Manual is a study guide for the MCAT that may be obtained from the AAMC web site. Select MCAT from the menu at the left of the screen to access the MCAT home page and then click on the link to the "student manual". It may be downloaded either as separate sections, e.g. science problems, verbal reasoning, etc., or in its entirety (PDF, 129 pages, 11,387KB). Also consult the description of the exam in Medical School Admissions Requirements, Chap. 5. Practice tests are available, and instructions for obtaining them may be seen by selecting "About the MCAT" from the MCAT home page.

Obtain an MCAT preparation book published by one of several companies (Barron's, Betz, etc.). These are available at all larger book stores, Check the Earlham book store for some of these. Some of these sources contain practice tests. Since the MCAT tests not just analytical and verbal abilities but also scientific knowledge, it is essential to plan ahead and set aside plenty of time to study for the test! Do not underestimate the time required in preparation for this very rigorous exam.

Finally, there are the Stanley Kaplan, Cambridge, Berkeley and Princeton Review courses. They give you study guides and lots of practice exams which have taped answers, as well as a series of "lectures" (often of marginal quality) on the basic subject matter. If you are willing to spend the money, want a structured study plan, and are worried about the exam, consider this option. Many premedical students at Earlham and elsewhere take the Kaplan or Princeton courses, but the effects of the program on the overall scoring patterns are unclear. For what it's worth, here's what the MCAT folks themselves say about commercial test preparation outfits: "The results of a study comparing the MCAT performance of candidates who had enrolled in commercial review courses and the performance of those who had not, involving over 20,000 candidates during a five-year period, indicate that gains derived from commercial review courses are small." But on the other hand, the gains for some people are significant gains and these prep programs have to be taken seriously by those who lack the discipline and organizational skills to do the review alone. With minimal use of the objective, multiple choice exam format at Earlham, our students usually benefit from the repeated test experiences provided by the commercial courses.

How well do applicants have to do on the MCAT in order to be admitted to medical school? Individual circumstances may differ, and the more selective schools have higher standards than the less selective ones. However, during the past several years Earlham applicants receiving a total of 30 points on the 3 sections, with no score below 9, were usually admitted to one or more schools. (So, 10-10-10 or 11-10-9 look good; 11-11-8 isn't as certain.) If your total is less than 27 you quite likely won't be admitted anywhere, and you should plan to re-take the MCAT, perhaps postponing your applications for a year in order to do what is necessary to improve your scores. (However, there are exceptions; see factors that may overcome low MCATs.) If you fall in between these levels, your situation is uncertain; talk to a member of the HCAC about whether to re-take. As recommended many times in this Guide, don't think your life is over if you don't begin medical school just weeks after graduation from Earlham. The median age for first-year medical students is almost 25; take your time and do it right, so your first application is as strong as possible! Your first application should be your strong application. In a re-application, you must demonstrate some area of improvement for your application to be given serious consideration.

Bottom line: Practice, practice, practice! You should not attempt the MCAT without having taken at least 6 practice exams, half of which should be full length timed exams!! Earlham students seriously underestimate the rigor of this exam and you must work for months in preparation for the experience. Sorry, but that's the reality of being well prepared for the exam. Self-discipline in preparing adequately over many months prior to the exam, familiarity with the test format, being as relaxed as possible, and getting a good night's sleep for a few nights before the exam are the keys to good performance. Be sure to release your scores to Michael Deibel, Director of Health Careers Advising and William Harvey, Advisor-Consultant, so that they may use these scores as they advise you on the correct medical school choice.

Letters of Recommendation

Michael Deibel and the Health Careers Advisory Committee will prepare a HCAC letter of evaluation on your behalf and send it to the medical schools to which you are applying. The letter is based on three letters of recommendation from teaching faculty at Earlham that you request, plus information from your personal statement, resume, and interview with the HCAC. The Committee letter contains the faculty recommendation comments in their entirety.

Two of the three letters of recommendation you request must be from science professors at Earlham. The third letter of recommendation should come from a teaching faculty member outside the Natural Sciences.  Transfer students, or students who studied at another institution during the regular academic year through an exchange program, may obtain one of the three letters from faculty at the other school. Although what we prepare is an institutional recommendation from Earlham College, we have occasionally incorporated letters from research mentors, job supervisors or others outside Earlham College. Alternatively, you can also ask those who know you well in an educational or scientific/medical context outside of Earlham to write a recommendation and upload it directly to AMCAS.

It's up to you to keep track of which of your three recommendations have been received by the AdviseStream system (it will show in your account if it has been received by the HCAC).  These letters must be received by the end of the spring semester in the year you wish to apply to allow the HCAC adequate time to prepare the committee letter.

Selecting Health Schools

Most Earlham students submit applications to between 6 and 20 medical schools, with an average of around 15. Filling out applications (including the "secondary" specific to each school) takes a lot of time, which makes it difficult to do a good job of applying in a timely fashion to a very large number of schools (i.e. many more than 15 or so). It's doubtful that applications to more than 20 medical schools are productive and cost effective.

The number of schools you should apply to depends upon your personal record, MCAT scores, recommendations, etc. Michael Deibel and William Harvey can suggest schools where you have the best chance of being accepted and for the best fit. It is always advisable to have one or two "safety schools" on your list, because the medical schools' admissions process is notoriously competitive and unpredictable. Obviously you should apply to the state medical schools in your home state, which usually have attractively lower tuition for state residents. A few private schools also give preference to students who are residents of the state in which they are located. IU Medical School, a non-private medical school, gives preference to Earlham students over other out of state applicants.

For specific statistics and information, consult the individual catalogs or the AAMC Medical College Admission Requirements handbook, which lists all medical schools in the U.S. and Canada, their requirements, number of applicants, the number matriculating, etc., along with a brief description of each school. The book is on file in Career Services, The Wildman Science Library, Michael Deibel's office, William Harvey's office, and may also be ordered by writing to: Association of American Medical Colleges Membership and Publication Orders 2450 N Street, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20037-1129 (phone 202-828-0416)

Most students find this to be a good investment.

Some important factors to consider when looking at health schools are:

  • curriculum (structure/flexibility)
  • size
  • location
  • grading system
  • atmosphere
  • cost (tuition and expenses)
  • financial aid availability
  • clinical and teaching facilities
  • social life and student activities
  • housing
  • research opportunities (if these interest you)
  • reputation, and what residency programs students are accepted to

In the end, it is the health degree that counts. Where you obtain it will probably not make a large difference (unless you are interested in high-powered academia, research, or specialties). Most patients are not interested in where their physicians were educated, but are more concerned that they display a personal devotion to their patients and to medicine. Where you do your post-graduate training (residency) is more important than where you get your degree.

The Application: AMCAS and Non-AMCAS


The American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) is an organization providing a centralized application service to which most of the 125 medical schools subscribe. This is a web-application process, and information regarding this application may be found on the AAMC home page by clicking on "AMCAS". This application procedure should be initiated in early May of the year in which you wish to apply (which is a year before you wish to matriculate.  The completed application should be submitted by the end of June.  The fee for submitting the AMCAS application is scaled according to how many schools you designate. Do your AMCAS application early: AMCAS begins accepting applications in early June. This application will take you longer to complete than you think so please allow yourself adequate time to prepare this! Career Services has several resources available on writing personal statements. Also use the HCAC to review your personal statement.

Secondary and Non-AMCAS Applications:

Although you may wish you were finished after submitting the AMCAS application, you will probably have to complete "secondary applications." Most schools which participate in AMCAS require an additional application fee ranging from $50-$95 plus additional application material. The schools which do not participate in AMCAS have their own forms which you must request individually. The application fees for each school range from $25-$70, with most usually falling around $60.

Personal Statement:

Take seriously each personal statement that you are asked to submit in your applications. Make the statement interesting, honest, clearly written, and grammatically correct. This is your only opportunity before an interview to tell admissions committees about yourself and your interest in medicine. Some schools request that you write on a specific topic, while others will leave the content of the written statement entirely up to you.

Don't try to be "cute" in your personal statement. Emphasize your commitment to science, working with people, your enthusiasm and experiences in working hard and why medicine is the field of your dreams.

Only a few applicants will have authored or co-authored scientific or other publications; if you haven't, don't worry. If you have, however, it is useful to include these in your AMCAS application, especially if they are "refereed" publications - if you don't know what this is, consult your research supervisor, Michael Deibel or William Harvey. It is also important to use one of the standard citation formats. These always include all authors, the complete title, journal name, volume number, and page numbers.


Pay close attention to deadlines and remember that the earlier you complete your applications, the earlier they will be considered. You will also have a better chance of being accepted. Most schools have a rolling admissions process, which means that places are filled as they review and interview applicants. Medical schools are often much more willing to accept a particular candidate in October, when they have still not been flooded with applications and paperwork, than in March, when there are only a few spaces remaining in the class. In addition, completing applications once the fall semester (of your senior year, if that's when you are applying) has begun is a huge hassle, often taking on the proportions of a fifth course. You will be much better off if all of your applications are completed no later than September 1!

Documenting Advanced Standing:

Occasionally an Earlham applicant will need to document advanced standing, usually in Math but possibly in Biology, Chemistry or Physics. As noted above, we encourage you to take the required number of premedical courses in college even if you have advanced placement or advanced standing, simply to avoid questions or problems with your application. However, if at the time you apply you do not have the required 4 lab chemistry, 2 lab biology and 2 lab physics courses on your transcript because you "placed out" of one of those courses and didn't take another course in that department, or if you did not take calculus at Earlham and need to demonstrate your advanced standing in calculus, contact Michael Deibel or William Harvey and ask for a letter from the HCAC or the registrar that you can send to medical schools.

Record Keeping:

Keep records of the dates you send out materials and receive notification of their receipt. It is your responsibility to ensure that your application file is complete. If you have not received notification of your file's completion within a reasonable period of time, you should contact the school. Admissions offices have been known to misplace some pieces of very necessary paper in the shuffle of thousands of applications. Your application will not be reviewed until your file is complete. In addition, it is a good idea to photocopy all of your applications for future reference.

Medical School Interviews

After receiving and reviewing applications, medical school admissions committees narrow down the pool and request interviews with those applicants they are continuing to consider. Medical school interviews are by their request only. Interviews are generally conducted from August to April, although each school has its own specific schedule. The percentage of students accepted from the interview pool can range from 10% to 40%.

The best pathway to a successful interview is preparation! Think about how you want to present yourself - what you want to say about your experiences, what your specific strengths, successes and goals are. You must have a thoughtful answer ready to the question, "Why do you want to be a physician?" Get to know the school beforehand by reading the catalog. Have some questions ready to ask the interviewer. Read up on current medical issues, such as managed care, physician-assisted suicide, and rationing of high-tech procedures. Visit the medical school interview web site for examples of "most interesting questions" and "most difficult questions" asked at recent interviews around the country. It is critical that you consult with Michael Deibel or William Harvey as soon as you have an interview scheduled. They will provide you with useful interview strategies.

Schools will send you a letter requesting an interview--some schools will ask you to arrange a date with them and others will assign a date. These assigned dates can be changed, but you should plan ahead and try to avoid changes, so as to inconvenience the admissions offices as little as possible. If you can, you should try to schedule your first interview at a school that is not your first choice. The first interview is always more anxiety-provoking than subsequent ones (it really gets much easier as you go along!). Prepare to pay considerably for travel to interviews (usually mid-week, with little chance for lowest airfares), and prepare to miss classes also.

If you will be in a specific area of the country for a group of interviews (e.g., during a vacation), you may call or write to a school you have not heard from yet to see if you can arrange an interview while you are in the area. Before you contact them, make sure that your application is complete and don't be surprised if they won't tell you anything over the phone. In any case, it's worth the try!

It is the rare interviewer who is really out to intimidate you. The interview is an opportunity for you to become acquainted with the school, as well as for the school to become acquainted with you. The interview format varies--some schools have teams of interviewers who interview one person at a time, while some have group interviews. In general, however, the interview will be one-on-one, and usually you will be interviewed twice on the same day. Some interviews are "blind," meaning that the interviewer has not seen your record or read your application. In any case, you should go over your application to the school before your interview and feel free to reiterate or reemphasize anything you have written which may be important. If you feel that you have had an unfair interview, and especially if you have traveled to the school, you can request another interview promptly. There is no shame involved and you should ensure yourself of a fair chance. If the interviewer asks improper or over-personal questions, you should report the incident to Michael Deibel or William Harvey.

It is also a good idea to contact any Earlham alumni who are teaching or practicing at the school you visit. A list of alumni in the medical field arranged by geographical location is available in the Development Office.

Remember that Career Services is always pleased to set up a mock medical school interview. If you have a question about what you should wear at such an interview, you better check with us before you leave campus, please!

Early Decision

Some schools offer an Early Decision program. The deadline for applications is during the summer, and you should check the AAMC handbook for specific information. Under the E.D. program, you may submit an application to ONE school. The admissions committee will evaluate your application and interview you (if you are chosen for one) by October 1. Until this date, you cannot submit applications to any other schools. If you are accepted E.D., you are obliged to enroll. However, if you are deferred or receive no decision by October 1, you can then apply to as many other schools as you wish.

In applying E.D., you are taking a certain risk; if you are not accepted, your other applications will be submitted later than those of other students and this will put you at a disadvantage. However, if you have a strong record and know exactly which school you want to attend, applying E.D. gives you a good chance of resolving your future early in the application process. Consult Michael Deibel or William Harvey if you are considering this option.


If at first you don't succeed, be aware that persistence is rewarded. Some factors which favor success in reapplying include: retaking the MCAT if your scores were not terrific (and studying to make them better), taking other science courses if your academic record is weak, and showing a sustained interest in the medical field. The latter can be done by getting a job in the sciences (usually a lab job) during your interim year. Discuss your future plans and reasons why you were not accepted with members of the HCAC. The Career Services Office has good listings of jobs in medical research. They also have listings of alumni in medicine and science who can be helpful contacts. Call or write to schools which did not admit you and ask where your record is weakest. Sometimes admissions staff will agree to meet with you to provide advice on reapplying.

M.D./Ph.D. Programs

An MD/PhD program is a superb opportunity, but it is not for everyone. It involves a commitment of 6 to 8 years of study and research with minimum vacations, in addition to residency once you specialize. You should be especially clear in you own mind about why you need both degrees in order to accomplish your career goals.

There are two kinds of MD/PhD programs: (1) the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at 32 schools in the country; and (2) internally-funded non-MSTP MD/PhD programs at 115 schools. Generally the MSTP programs are at the more prestigious schools.

The Medical Scientist Training Program accepts about 150 new students per year in the whole country. The grant will fund tuition for both MD and PhD degrees, and provides a stipend of approximately $12,000 per year for living expenses. (If you add it all up, it comes to over $250,000 in support!) You must be in academic medicine throughout the time you are being funded and if you drop the program midway, you must pay back all the money spent on you until that point. You will also have an obligation to do research during at least part of your career after receiving the degrees. You should know what field you are interested in and apply to schools with appropriately strong departments. Your interests must be both sincere and focused: do not bother to apply if you have not already done research. Many students accepted into M.D./Ph.D. programs are co-authors of one or more publications in scientific journals at the time they apply.

Most schools reserve some spots for second year medical students. An exception is the Harvard/MIT Health Scientist Training program, which gives all its places to those going into their first year.

AMCAS does not provide a service for applying to the Ph.D. portion of these programs; you will need to submit completely separate applications, plus separate recommendations in addition to the Committee recommendation for the MD portion of the program. Interviews for these programs can be grueling, usually six to eight consecutive individual interviews, complete with specific science knowledge questions. You will have to interview separately for the MD and Ph.D. programs, which often takes two days. In general, six to ten applicants are interviewed for each available place.

Other Combined Programs

Many students are combining degree programs in fields such as medicine and public health or law or business administration. Others are combining interests in health with international studies including public policy and economics. Please consult with Michael Deibel or William Harvey as you explore these options.

Financing Medical School

Most students find it necessary to obtain some sort of financial aid in order to fund a medical education. There are several ways one can pay for medical school expenses including personal income, family or spouse assistance, scholarships, work/study opportunities, and loans. Financial aid is usually awarded on the basis of need. The majority of medical schools believe that it is the responsibility of the student to pay the primary cost of medical school. Sometime during the application process (often once you have been accepted), the individual medical schools will send you financial aid information and applications. Most medical schools require that you file the GAPSFAS (Graduate and Professional Schools Financial Aid Service) general application in addition to other forms which vary for each school. The GAPSFAS should be completed by early March of the year you intend to start medical school if possible. GAPSFAS applications are available from the medical school. If you have particular financial aid questions or concerns, it is best to contact the financial aid officer at each school to which you have applied. You can start the process now by maintaining a good credit record. Watch that credit card debt!! Students have been rejected from medical schools due to poor credit records.

Be aware that federal funding options in particular may change from year to year. It is our impression that Ch. 9 of the Medical School Admissions Requirements book that contains the most up-to-date information. There is a special publication for minority students that contains scholarship and loan information of interest to all students. Financing Medical Education is available in the Career services resource library.

* This material has been adapted from the Amherst College Premed homepage with permission of the author, Stephen George, Ph.D., Professor and Chair of Biology.

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Earlham College, an independent, residential college, aspires to provide the highest-quality undergraduate education in the liberal arts, including the sciences, shaped by the distinctive perspectives of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).

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Richmond, Indiana
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