Application Process Outline

The full process and policy description is available in the Health Careers Applicant Guide 2016-2017 provided to students and alumni who attend our mandatory Applicant Seminar #1: The Big Picture

The Committee Letter

Most admissions committees ask that applicants submit either an institutional letter of recommendation from their undergraduate or post-baccalaureate school, accompanied by three or four individual letters of recommendation, or several letters of recommendation from individuals (usually professors) if an institutional letter is not available. Admissions committees prefer the institutional letter packet because it is more comprehensive. If you are a qualified applicant, this is the letter that will be provided by Brown's Health Careers Advisory Committee.

The Health Careers Advisory Committee consists of faculty, health practitioners and administrators who have experience with advising, the education of health professionals, biomedical sciences, public health, and health care in general. As such, committee members come from a variety of disciplines. Committee members interview eligible applicants from Brown and assist in the preparation of their interviewee’s committee letter. The completed committee letter is sent to each applicant’s designated health profession schools along with no fewer than three and no more than four supporting letters of recommendations from faculty members and others who have taught or supervised the applicant and know her or him well. Applicants to MD/PhD programs can provide one additional letter of recommendation. 

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Eligibility for the Committee Letter

To be eligible for the committee letter, you will need the following:

  • Academic preparation for admission. You must have completed, or nearly completed, all course work required for admission and have taken, or be ready to take, the MCAT or other appropriate test no later than May of the year in which you apply. If your academic preparation falls significantly below the average statistics for admitted applicants (for MD programs MCAT 32 and Science GPA 3.6; for DO programs MCAT 27 and Science GPA 3.4) we urge to consult with us to assess your options and to strengthen your credentials before you apply. We are committed to helping you reach your academic and career objectives and will be glad to help you develop a plan of action to achieve your goals.  
  • To ensure the best support of all in the highly-competitive application process, we have dedicated January 25 through February 12, 2016 to advising students and alumni who may have experienced challenges during their studies that have affected their academic or non-academic records. Students and alumni are urged to connect with George Vassilev for a detailed discussion before they submit an HCAD.  Everyone's situation is different and the application process is holistic, which enables you to demonstrate strengths to balance parts of your record that may not be as strong. Based on medical application data over many years we have observed that applicants with GPAs of 3.20 or lower, 2 or more Cs and MCAT scores lower than  30 (~509), or sub-scores lower than 9 (~127) have significantly lower admission chances. Visit in office hours or schedule an appointment so we can provide comprehensive and timely guidance when it can make the greatest positive impact on your preparation to apply. These data do not indicate that you will not be able to succeed in the application process or be supported by the Health Careers Advisory Committee but give you important guidelines about medical schools' expectations. We are here to help you assess and plan ahead to apply when you are in the best position to succeed. 
  • Experience in the field. All applicants must have completed substantive and sustained work, volunteer, or internship experiences in a clinical setting of their intended profession during and/or after college. Most successful applicants have engaged in a number of co-curricular activities, including research, clinical volunteerism, leadership or collaborative projects on campus or in the community throughout their undergraduate years.  Medical and other health professions schools do not accept high school experiences and do not value very brief activities. 
  • A minimum of three supporting letters of recommendation, two of which must be from members of the Brown University faculty who have taught you in a course(s), supervised you in a relevant experience, or both. One of these two letters must be from a professor in the biological sciences, chemistry, physics, or mathematics (teaching assistants do not count). Your third letter can come from a professor at Brown or elsewhere, a supervisor, mentor, etc. You may also have a fourth letter from such an individual; see below for more information on supporting letters of recommendations.
  • Completion of most science/pre-med courses at Brown University. If you have taken your required science/pre-med courses courses through another institution, you are not eligible for the committee letter.
  • Attendance at the mandatory Applicant Seminar #1 (offered 4 times) and Applicant Seminar #5. We strongly encourage all potential applicants to also participate in the other four non-mandatory applicant seminars. Attendance at one of the Applicant Seminar #1 dates is also required before meeting with George Vassilev to discuss your application plans. Students and alumni who have not attended will not be able to submit an HCAD or register for an interview with a member of the Health Careers Advisory Committee and should contact our office to schedule an appointment. Alumni far from campus should contact Health Careers Advising late in the fall to discuss their background and plans if they cannot attend the mandatory Applicant Seminars.  
  • Completion and timely submission of the Health Careers Advising Dossier (HCAD) and all required documentsEligibility is predicated on the assumption that applicants will meet all of the deadlines required by Health Careers Advising. In addition, the Health Careers Advisory Committee reserves the right to deny its recommendation to any applicant who it believes does not possess the qualifications and/or characteristics consistent with success in a health profession training program or in the health professions in general.

Recent alumni who can meet the criteria noted above and who can return to campus for an interview with a member of the Health Careers Advisory Committee can receive the committee letter. Alumni who graduated from Brown three or more years prior to the beginning of their application are not eligible for the committee letter. If you do not meet the criteria for the committee letter but are otherwise well prepared to apply and meet all deadlines and requirements, we are happy to advise you throughout the admission process and to act as a credential service for individual letters of recommendation. The credential service includes a summary of your major accomplishments. 

Graduate Students
Graduate students who earned their undergraduate degree at Brown and who can meet the criteria above are eligible for the committee letter. Brown alumni who are graduate students but do not meet the criteria are welcome to seek advice through Health Careers Advising as noted in the section above on alumni. Graduate students who did not earn their baccalaureate degree at Brown are ineligible for the committee letter or advising through Health Careers Advising. Such students should seek advice from their undergraduate institution’s health careers advisor(s).

Transfer Students

Transfer students who wish to receive the committee letter must spend at least three semesters of study at Brown University before applying with the Brown committee letter. The general eligibility criteria described above apply to transfer students.

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Interview with a Member of the Health Careers Advisory Committee

In order to receive Brown's committee letter, you must interview with a member of the Health Careers Advisory Committee. The interview is semi-structured but informal and usually lasts between thirty to sixty minutes. The interviews are scheduled after you submit your HCAD to our office and are held between March and May. 


Applicants for 2017 admission must sign up for their interview between February 22 and 25, 2016 (February 22-23 for alumni only; February 24-25 for current students). All required materials, including the Health Careers Advising Dossier (HCAD), must be in our possession when an applicant signs up for an interview. Alumni must ensure their materials are received before they call in to schedule an interview.  The full list of deadlines is available under FORMS & TIP SHEETS on this website.

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Health Careers Advising Dossier (HCAD)

The HCAD is a consolidated form through which you will submit information about yourself to the Health Careers Advisory Committee. In many ways, the HCAD resembles the applications you will have to complete for admission to health profession schools. Thus, with some revisions, you will be able to re-use much of the information you provide in the HCAD for your actual applications.

You must submit two completed, signed paper copies of your HCAD when you sign up for your interview with a member of the Health Careers Advisory Committee. Applicants using our office as a credential service need only submit one copy of the HCAD. Re-applicants will be asked to submit only one copy of the specially designed Re-Applicant HCAD, which focuses on the ways in which they have strengthened their candidacy. We urge those who were not successful in their first application not to apply in the subsequent application cycle but to work with our office and to be proactive in addressing the weaker aspects of their first application. Health Careers Advising will not send materials automatically if you re-apply, and we ask you to stay in touch with us so we can advise you in the best and most timely manner possible. 

The HCAD is divided into 11 sections, several of which ask for personal contact and biographical information. The three major sections that require significant preparation are the Personal Statement, Activities List, and Questionnaire (all of which replicate the AMCAS application to MD programs). Below are detailed overviews of these three sections.

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Personal Statement

The personal statement gives the Health Careers Advisory Committee insight into the personal qualities that you will bring to your chosen profession. Think of it as a warm-up for the personal statement required by AMCAS and other application services. The personal statement for MD programs allows for up to 5,300 characters (including spaces); those applying to other health professions or to osteopathic medical schools should check with the appropriate application service regarding the length of the personal statement.

Whether you are applying to medical school or some other health profession training program, the personal statement is an important piece of qualitative information about you. It is therefore important to give it your fullest attention. You should plan on devoting significant time to this letter, going through several drafts before you have your final version. Share a draft with someone who knows something about writing and/or the health professions and whose honest feedback and judgments you trust. If you are having trouble getting started or refining your draft and are a current Brown student, seek help from the Writing Center. The Health Careers Advising office keeps a binder with sample essays and has several examples on Canvas.

Tips for Writing your Personal Statement

  • Remember that you have limited space; think carefully about what you will write.
  • Before writing your statement, think about the characteristics that an admissions committee might be looking for: academic ability, knowledge of the field, personal commitment and integrity, and interpersonal skills.
  • In addition to these characteristics, they will also be concerned with presentation, including writing abilities, grammar, and spelling.
  • Your essay does not need to be entirely about medicine or the reasons you want to be a doctor or practitioner of another health careers. It is more important that your essay give admission committees a sense of the person they are evaluating. For this reason, you might want to focus your essay on something about yourself that is not apparent from the rest of your application.
  • Do not use your essay to summarize all of the activities that you have been involved in. You will be able to do this elsewhere in your application. Instead, focus your essay on a particular theme, idea, or thesis that cites specific examples of your experiences, while also reflecting upon those experiences.
  • Allow readers to draw their own conclusions about you. To this end, you should avoid using direct statements—such as “I like working with people,” or “I really care.” Show, don’t tell: back up your claims with concrete examples from your experineces.
  • Avoid clichés! (For example, “I am fascinated with the human body,” or “Doctors can change lives.”)
  • Don’t idealize doctors or other health care providers (“It is a miracle what doctors can do…”). Demonstrate a realistic view of health care that is neither overly zealous nor unreasonably cynical.
  • Remember that you are writing from your own perspective and about yourself. Writing about your mentors or family members  tells admission committees very little about you.
  • Share your essay with one or two readers who can provide you with honest, focused feedback. Too many opinions about your writing will leave you confused and unsure about what to do. Remember that current students can get help from the Writing Center. Be sure to take the time to proofread your final draft.

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Activities List

This section gives you an opportunity to tell us about postsecondary experiences such as internships, volunteer or paid work, community service, travel, research assistantships, teaching assistantships, athletic endeavors, and/or significant hobbies. Do not include activities from your high school years.

The activities section is formatted like the work/activities section in AMCAS (which is similar to the activities sections in other applications services). Each entry asks for the following:

  • Activity Type
  • Dates
  • Total Hours
  • Activity Name
  • Contact Name and Title
  • Organization Name
  • City, State, Country
  • Experience description

There is room for 15 entries. List activities in reverse-chronological order, starting with your most recent activities. Similar and related activities may be grouped together. For 12 of the activities, you will be given 700 characters (including spaces). Describe your activities concisely and accurately; if you have room after doing this, do discuss how this activity was significant to you. The remaining 3 entries enable you to describe activities that were most meaningful to you. You will be given 1325 additional characters for these entries (including spaces). The "most meaningful activity" entries specifically invite you to demonstrate not only what you did but also to share the importance of the experience and the role it plays in your learning, personal growth and preparation to become a practitioner of your chosen profession. Be thoughtful in describing these activities. Articulating your passions, learning and potential impact are important ways to communicate your readiness for professional study and future health and medicine practice. 

A typical short entry might look something like this:

  • Emergency Room Volunteer
    September 2013-April 2014
    General Hospital, Anywhere, RI
    Approximately 7 months
    Supervisor: Jane Doe, M.D.

As a volunteer my initial responsibilities included patient transport, bringing samples to the laboratory, assisting nurses in preparing patients' rooms, and making patients feel welcomed. As time progressed, the doctors and staff saw my desire to learn, and I was allowed to spend most of the time observing. I observed everything from stitches to treating suicide attempts. This experience awakened my desire to become a physician, which has stayed with me since. It also prompted me to seek experience as a clinical research assistant and inspired me to take courses with a public health focus. 

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This section offers you an opportunity to tell us more about yourself, your academic interests, and the reasons you aspire to a career in the health professions.

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Supporting Letters of Recommendation

Your committee letter from Brown will be supported by a minimum of three and a maximum of four individual letters of recommendation. These letters, along with your committee letter, make up the contents of the packet sent from the Health Careers Office to your designated schools. You will need to obtain letters from the following individuals:

  • Two from Brown faculty members, one of whom should be a professor in Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, or Physics and should have taught you in class(es) and/or supervised you on a relevant reserach project. The second letter can come from a faculty member in any academic area. Check Brown's staff directory online to find out if the individuals who might write your letters are in fact Brown faculty. 
  • One or two from any other individual who knows you well in an educational or supervisory capacity. This could also be a Brown faculty member.

For the 2017 application cycle, your letters must be submitted by June 10, 2016. Failure to meet this deadline could result in delay in the completion of your committee letter.

Guidelines for Letters of Recommendation

  • To the greatest extent possible, ask for letters from qualified individuals who can write substantively about the qualities you will bring to the medical profession.
  • Use the List of Letter Writers and Waiver Form (Form 2) to notify us who will write on your behalf. This form also asks you whether or not you’ve waived your right of access to your letters. Please discuss this issue with each of your recommenders and bear in mind that admission committees favor letters to which students have waived the right of access.
  • Form 2 should be submitted to our office as soon as you know who will write for you and no later than May 10, 2016.
  • Do not include letters from family, friends, or peers, even if you have done relevant work with them. Also, all letters should reflect post-high school experiences.
  • It is your responsibility to request letters of recommendation and make sure that they are submitted in a timely fashion. In addition, it is your responsibility to remind your recommenders of the deadline for letter submission! Faculty are extremely busy and often may not remember exactly when your letter is due. A polite e-mail reminder a couple of weeks before the letter is due is always a good idea. 
  • Give each of your letter writers the Instructions for Recommenders form (Form 1). This form is for your recommenders' information and does not need to be submitted together with the letter they write on your behalf.
  • We will send all letters that we have on file for you as part of your packet. Please do not ask us to pick and choose which letters to send for you. You should be confident that the people you are asking to write on your behalf will submit strong letters.

Submission Process and Deadlines

For your convenience and the convenience of your recommenders, Health Careers Advising has adopted a web-based system, veCollect, to receive and track your letters of recommendation. Our office does not accept recommendation letters directly, in paper or Email form. Only students and alumni who have attended the mandatory APPLICANT SEMINAR#1 and have submitted their HCAD to our office can register with this system. This can be done after your HCAD submission and no later than May 6 2016. The List of Recommenders and Waiver Form (Form 2) is due to our office by the same date. Once you have created an account and our office has approved it (within 2 business days), you can add your recommenders' information in your veCollect account. Send an email through your veCollect account to your recommenders. This will include submission instructions. Recommenders will email their letters back to veCollect through the email they received on your behalf. All letters should be signed and submitted by June 10 2016.

  • Brown-affiliated recommenders can write on their own letterhead or use our electronic Letter of Recommendation Form (Form 6). Please forward the website link to your Brown recommenders.
  • Letter-writers not affiliated with Brown should write their letter on institutional letterhead only.

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Letters for MD/PhD Applicants

MD/PhD applicants are allowed to exceed the normal limit of four supporting letters of recommendation. If you are applying to MD/PhD programs, your additional letters must come from references who can comment on your experience and potential as a researcher. Individual programs differ in the number of research recommendations they require. Be sure you know the guidelines for each program to which you apply. Health Careers Advising expects two of your letters to be from research mentors.

Applicants to MD/PhD programs should complete the List of Recommenders and Waiver Form –MD/PhD (Form 3). Please identify your research mentors by checking the box on the form. This will allow us to highlight these recommendations in your committee letter. We will send all letters listed in Form 3 to your MD/PhD schools. Applicants to MD/PhD and MD programs should also complete the List of Recommenders and Waiver Form (Form 2) in addition to Form 3. If you are applying to some schools as an MD and to other schools as an MD/PhD candidate, we will send your letters according to the information you provide on Form 2 and Form 3.  

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The MCAT and Other Standardized Tests

Individuals applying to medical school and some other health profession training programs must take the MCAT. Other health professions have separate admission exams. Applicants to dental school will have to take the Dental Admission Test (DAT); those applying to optometry school will have to take the Optometry Admission Test (OAT).  Veterinary schools often require the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), though some will accept the MCAT. Veterinary applicants are strongly encouraged to check with the individual schools they plan to apply to for specific standardized test requirements. The DAT, GRE, MCAT, and OAT are all computerized exams. MCAT is offered on 20 exam dates in 2016. Due to the high demand for MCAT test dates, many facilities will be fully booked months in advance. We recommend you look into booking a test date as early as you can, given that you are well-prepared to take the exam successfully.

Latest Date to Take the MCAT for 2017 Admission:

We recommend that you take the MCAT early enough to have your scores in hand when deciding where to apply. This generally means that you want to have your MCAT scores by early or mid- June (Health Careers Advising recommends that you submit your AMCAS or other common application no later than mid-July). Given that it takes 30 days for your scores to be reported, plan to take the MCAT no later than May and earlier if feasible. However, any testing dates through July will still allow for a timely review of your application (as long as you have also completed all other parts of your application in the recommended time frame, and are confident in your preparation for the MCAT). This is a riskier approach to take because   you will have to submit your application without an essential component- the MCAT score. Consult with George Vassilev about your plans as early as you can. Information and scheduling for the MCAT are available on-line.

Repeating the MCAT

Repeating the MCAT is not recommended unless you were ill on the day of the test, you did not get enough sleep the night before the exam and were stressed during the test, you recorded the answers to the test incorrectly, there was a disturbance during the test at the testing center, you did not adequately review for the test, you did not complete all the coursework necessary before taking the test, or you scored significantly lower than your grades or practice tests would otherwise predict. Most applicants who repeat the test just to see if they can do better end up with similar scores—going up or down a point here and there. These changes are not considered significant and will not help your candidacy. Some score lower on a repeated test, which has a negative impact on medical school applications. All sets of scores are reported to medical schools, and they are interpreted differently by different schools. We strongly encourage you not to repeat the MCAT without thoroughly analyzing your performance, taking sufficient time to identify areas for improvement, and preparing accordingly. You are allowed to register for only one exam date at a time. If you are not sure whether or not to re-take the MCAT, consult with George Vassilev.

MCAT Preparation:

Many students prepare for the MCAT and other exams by enrolling in test-preparation courses such as those offered by Kaplan or Princeton Review. The makers of the MCAT exam, AAMC, have broadened the range of their exam preparation services and offer excellent preparation resources. Consult our Standardized Tests section and for details. Other students prepare by studying on their own. Study guides are available in bookstores everywhere and can also be purchased through on-line booksellers. If you adopt this approach, make sure you access the AAMC resources in conjunction with any others that fit your needs and learning styles. In general, you should plan on spending the equivalent of a semester reviewing and preparing for the MCAT, DAT, et al after you have completed all necessary courses.

MCAT Registration and Length of Time Scores will be Accepted

You may register for the MCAT on-line. Medical school policies on accepting old MCAT scores vary. In general, schools will accept scores that are two to four years old. You should, however, check with the schools to which you plan to apply if you have an MCAT score that is more than a year old. AAMC have published a chart of medical school policies for accepting the old and new MCAT scores. When you register, you will be asked if you would like to release your scores to your pre-medical advisor. Since these scores provide Health Careers Advising with useful data and assist us in advising you, we ask that you release your scores.

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AMCAS and Other Application Services

Most M.D. programs in the United States require that students complete an application from the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS). The AMCAS application is electronic and can be initiated and completed online. The system becomes available in early May, but applications cannot be submitted until early June. AMCAS will not begin forwarding completed applications to the individual medical schools where you have applied until late June or early July. Check for specific dates. 

D.O. programs have a similar system, the Association of American Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS), which is available at

AMCAS, AACOMAS and other systems ask you for a broad range of basic information, including:

  • Biographical data such as your name, address, date of birth, citizenship, etc.
  • Information about where you attended college
  • Grades from all of your undergraduate courses
  • Activities you’ve engaged in since high school

In addition, you will be asked to submit “personal comments”- your personal statement (see above). Other application services will have similar sections for your personal statement.

Applicants may begin working on their AMCAS applications in May; the application can be certified and submitted in June (check and for specific dates). Note that each medical school has its own deadline for AMCAS applications. Some have deadlines as early as October. Medical schools that are not part os AMCAS may use different forms. These include the state medical schools in Texas, which use the Texas Medical and Dental Schools Application Service (TMDSAS). The time frames for this system are very similar to those of AMCAS, AACOMAS, or other applciation systems. 

Applicants to other health professions schools will also need to use an application service. Again, deadlines for completing such applications vary from school to school. Be sure to check the deadline for each school that you apply to.

Information about the various health professions' application services is listed below:

  • Allopathic Medicine: American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS).
  • Dentistry: Associated American Dental Schools Application Service (AADSAS).
  • Osteopathic Medicine: American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS).
  • Veterinary Medicine: Veterinary Medical College Application Service (VMCAS).
  • Podiatry: American Association of Colleges of Podiatric Medicine Application Service (AACPMAS).
  • Pharmacy: Pharmacy College Application Service (PharmCAS).
  • Physician Assistant: Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA).
  • Public Health: Schools of Public Health Application Service (SOPHAS).
  • Nursing: Nursing Centralized Application System (NursingCAS)

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Secondary Applications

In addition to your AMCAS or other common application, most medical and other health professions schools will require you to complete their own application materials. These applications are generically referred to as secondary or supplementary applications. When you receive a secondary application, you should complete it as quickly as possible. Each school will charge an application fee upon submission of your secondary application. This will be in addition to the application service fees (e.g., AMCAS, AADSAS, etc.). Check the application system's Guide for information about each school's secondary application policies.

For MD schools, this is the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) produced by the Association of American Medical Colleges' (AAMC). The MSAR is an online system that contains key information about the 143 Allopathic medical (M.D.) schools  in the US and 17 such schools in Canada. This is accompanied by the guide book "The Official Guide to Medical School Admissions", which presents broader statistics and information about the application process not available as part of the MSAR online. We strongly recommend that you get both the guide book and access to the MSAR online. A copy of "The Official Guide to Medical School Admissions" is also available in the Health Careers Advising Office in J. W. Wilson 313. 

Many secondary applications will ask you to list the course work you completed to fulfill admission requirements. Fill in these courses on your secondaries exactly as they appear on your AMCAS, AACOMAS, AADSAS ,or other application. Note that Brown courses will appear on your primary applications with four (4) semester hours each. Hence, four (4) semester hours is what you should enter on your secondary applications’ course work sections as well, if asked for this information.

Note that some medical schools may want to see your SAT scores or high school transcripts. These items cannot be forwarded from Brown and must come from their original source (e.g., your high school or the College Board).

Important Note About Letters of Recommendation and Secondary Applications
In many cases schools will ask if you will be sending individual letters of recommendation or a letter and packet from the health professions committee at your undergraduate institution (or wherever you completed your pre-med/ pre-health course work). If you are receiving Brown’s committee letter, be sure to note this in the appropriate place on your secondary application. If you are receiving the committee letter from Brown's Health Careers Advisory Committee, do not write in the names of individuals who have submitted letters on your behalf to Health Careers Advising. This will engender confusion in the admissions offices and lead to problems with your application. Conversely, if you are not eligible for the committee letter but instead plan to use Health Careers Advising as a credential service, note that you will be sending individual letters only and not the committee letter, and do write in the names of your recommenders.

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