Virginia Commonwealth University

Make it real.

Applying to a Professional Program

On this page:

Letters of recommendation

Most programs require three to five letters (except veterinary schools).
Many programs ask for two to three science professors and one or two non-science professors, though this varies from program to program.

Letters do not necessarily have to be from professors, though you should have a couple from professors. If you are concerned about what letters to get, contact individual programs.

These are general guidelines and may vary from program to program.

  • Get to know professors well.
    Give each letter writer a personal profile, indicating experiences, hobbies and interests. A resume will do nicely.
    Students have the legal right to see their letters of recommendation. Students will be asked whether or not 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.
  • Ask for letters early. Students applying to medical school should have letters ready to send out as soon as they receive secondary applications (or at the time preliminary applications are submitted). For other programs, be aware of the program deadlines and have the letters available well before then. Some professors take quite a while to write and submit the letters. It is the student’s responsibility to make sure they are received by the appropriate deadlines. Find out if professors will be at VCU over the summer. If not, ask for the letters well before they leave. Give letter writers about one month’s notice to write letters or fill out evaluation forms. Provide very specific instructions on where to send them. If postage is required make sure you provide that to the person who agreed to write a letter.
  • Think of people other than professors who might write a good evaluation. Typical letter writers are advisors to student organizations or doctors that were shadowed for significant periods of time (as opposed to one or two weeks). Other letters can come from supervisors or coworkers.

Letters of recommendation should be:

  • from someone who knows you well.
  • from someone who can speak well of your intelligence, personality, and motivation toward your chosen career.
    recent (within the last year).
  • from someone you have worked with in an academic/professional capacity (except for peer/character recommendations) and who can speak of your academic skills and potential.

Back to top

Preparing a personal statement

All application processes require a personal statement, and each has its own instructions. The following are excerpts from the application instructions for some centralized application services:

AMCAS – “This is your opportunity to provide personal information that is otherwise not included on the application. Consider and construct your comments carefully; many admissions committees place significant weight on this section.”

AACOMAS – “We encourage you to provide your motivation for applying to the field of osteopathic medicine in this section.”

AADSAS – “Your Applicant Essay provides an opportunity to explain why you desire to pursue a dental education.”

VMCAS – “Your personal statement should help the admission committee(s) learn something about you as a person, about the development of your interest in veterinary medicine and about your career goals.”

AACPMAS – “State below why you are interested in becoming a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine. Provide any additional significant information to your application, e. g., experience in a health care delivery setting”

This is a student’s opportunity to expound upon experiences not represented in other parts of the application, or which were not described in enough detail. As a program applicant, you volunteered a lot of hours, but what kind of experiences did you gain from it? Think about how your experiences motivated you even further to pursue this career. Express unique qualities/experiences you have that you would like the committee to know about.

The following suggestions will be helpful:

  • Proofread the essay before copying and pasting to your application!
  • Quality is more important than quantity.
  • Make sure the essay is typed (paper applications). Do not squeeze the lines together to make a long essay fit — shorten the essay.
  • Have others read your essay. Ask them to comment not only on grammatical errors, but also on what kind of person the essay makes you sound like. Do you sound sincere?
  • If explaining anything negative on your application (such as a bad semester, conduct probation, etc.), be open and honest. Mention the facts and move on. Explain your side of the story, but do not make excuses.
  • Creativity and quality are important, but you are not expected to write a masterpiece. It should be apparent that you can express yourself well, but do not try to “woo” the admission committee with big words and elaborate descriptions. You should sound like a real person.
  • Try to stick with why you are interested in your chosen field, what you have done in the field, etc. Do not try to use this as an essay to review the field, its strengths, weaknesses, current trends, etc. This essay is intended to provide details about you, not your chosen field.
  • If you are reapplying, write a new personal statement. Show that you are willing to put effort into your new application.

Back to top

Volunteer/health care experience

VCU welcomes volunteers in its hospital. VCU students are encouraged to download the volunteer application from this site and participate in our hospital volunteer program as well as seek out volunteer opportunities in private health care settings. Shadowing health care workers is also a great way to learn about the various health professions. The best way to get shadowing opportunities is to participate in the hospital volunteer program. For any volunteer health care experiences, contact volunteer servcies at that facility for more detailed information and participation requirements.

Application to volunteer on the MCV campus.

We also have relationships with outside volunteer agencies. Contact info for many of these agencies is available here. A comprehensive list of positions also is available from the Virginia Area Health Center.

Animal care experience is essential for those who want to gain admission to colleges of veterinary medicine. The SPCA in Richmond provides excellent opportunities to obtain the necessary experience with small animals. Visit the Richmond SPCA’s web site.

Occupational therapy and physical therapy require a minimum number of volunteer hours for applicants. Other fields, such a medicine and dentistry, don’t expect a minimum number of hours, but stress that all applicants have some depth of experiences in relating to patients and participating in meaningful activities in a healthcare setting.

Regardless of what is required for admission, its important for all students pursing careers in healthcare to get healthcare experience so they know as much as possible about their chosen profession at the time of application.

Read the Richmond Times-Dispatch article on the Cosby High School program.