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Separating Yourself for Professional School: 5 Key Steps… Beyond The Grades

What’’s your truth? What makes you different from every other person applying to professional school? Do your undergrad grades make a difference? Do your MCAT’s or DAT’s count?
Of course they do. Your GPA and aptitude test scores provide a baseline for every school you apply to. On the front end, it’s that simple. If you have the minimum GPA and test scores, your application lands in the possible pile; if you don’t, it winds up in the impossible pile…for now.
That said, when you have the GPA and you have the MCAT or DAT scores everyone seeks, how do you separate yourself from the masses?

  1. Go Live.
  2. Research.
  3. Your Resume.
  4. Your Letters of recommendation.
  5. Your Personal Statement.

Let’s look at them one at a time:

Go Live

There is a fundamental truism in life. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. At igniteDDS, we like to add an additional piece. It’s not just who you know, it’s who knows you! Life is about relationships and those who form them best, do the best. Imagine this scenario. It’s Monday. You’re in school and you meet a new friend. By the end of the day, you both seem to be hitting it off. Good stuff! You’re texting, hanging out as the week progresses and all the sudden, Friday rolls around and your new friend invites you to a party. Even better! Fast forward. It’s Friday night, you’re on your way to pick up your new friend and a text comes through. He’s running late and will have to meet you there. Now what? You don’t know anyone there.
How do you feel? Do you have that little pit in your stomach? How are you going to walk into that party when your new friend is the link to all who’ll be there? What will you say? What will they think?
Now imagine a slightly different scenario. You were the one who invited your new friend to a party of people you know well and he’’s running late and will need to meet you there.
How do you feel now? Do you still have a pit in your stomach? These are your friends right? They all know you super well and they could care less, in fact they don’t even know you’’re planning on bringing someone with you. Piece of cake!
Applying to professional school can be very much like this party. When you have no relationship, you’’re on edge and so are they. When you’’re walking into a room of friends, it gets a whole lot easier. So what can you do to help that? When you have composed a short list of schools you’d really like to attend, get to them! Spend some time with the students and as many of the faculty as you can. Will it be awkward at first? It can be. Will it be worth it? I promise it will be. Your sole goal as you spend time shadowing at these potential schools is building relationships. Remember the party. When the admissions committee is evaluating you and all they have are your statistics, you are a statistic. But what do you think happens when they pick up your information and realize they know you? You got it! You now are the friend they expected to come to the party as opposed to the new guy or gal who walks in alone. It’s an enormous shift in your favor. I know you’re busy. I know it may be a challenge to make it happen. I promise if you do, you will be rewarded for it.

Do Your Research

Life truism number two. Everybody likes talking about themselves! And if everyone appreciates that opportunity, then it’s your job to give it to them. This is how you maximize your going live efforts. You’re going to be interested, not interesting. You’re going to ask, not tell. You see, all too often when applicants like you get the chance to get in front of their audience, they inadvertently talk too much in order to impress whoever they are in front of. But think about this. How do you feel about people who brag about themselves around you all the time? Now, I understand what you are trying to do is different. You don’t intend to brag. You are simply trying to get it all in. I understand. That said, perception is reality and it is difficult to know how you will be perceived if you do that. What if you could stand out from the others? What if when you left your shadowing everyone you met was so impressed by you, they went and told one other person about you? What if your time was amplified because even in your absence those you met spread the word for you? How impactful would that be? So, try it. Behave differently than all the others who figured out step one. Instead of telling everyone everything, take a deep breath, stop telling and start asking. Questions are the answers and they are your greatest ally.
Now, building on questions being the answers, what is it you’d like to learn? As much as you can about anyone who may have an impact on saying yes or no to you as an applicant. When you’re live, ask who’s involved in the admissions process. Ask what department they are in. Do your best to find out what their passions are. What is their academic focus? What drives them? Learn that and when you have the opportunity to speak with them, ask them about those topics. Remember where we started with this. People love to talk about themselves! You’ll be amazed at what you learn, the relationships you build and the results you get.

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Your Resume

Your resume is a great place to shine. It’s the part one of your written story …of who you are. Think of it as a living, breathing collection of all you’’ve accomplished. It should look very different today than it did one, two and three years ago. In the future, I’’ll bring you details to each of the above, as well as what follows below, but for now, there’s one key message to remember. Admissions committees want to see the real you, not someone trying to make themselves look good on paper.
Translation: Don’’t join every club for the sake of joining every club! As a member of several admissions processes, I know what you’’re doing and I’’m not impressed. If you want to impress me, show me how involved you are in one to three areas of your life, over time, …because that’’s what you have a passion for! Make sense?

Your Letters of Recommendation

Life truism number three. People believe more what they discover on their own, than what you tell them. AKA, the best way to brag about yourself in life is to let someone else do it for you. Your letters of recommendation are perfect for this! Make sure you ask people who really know you… beyond the grades. Make sure you ask people who want to write for you; they’ll do a better job. And lastly, make sure you give them plenty of time to do it. Even the best writers need time to be effective.

Your Personal Statement

This is the single piece of information in your entire written application that has the potential to make you, very uniquely, you! Think about it. Can the other applicants duplicate your grades? Can they share many of your honors and accolades? Can their letters of recommendation echo the same sentiments? Yes, yes and yes.
How do you write a Killer Personal Statement:
1. One Theme
You’re far better to tell your story based on a single, common focus than to try to weave multiple topics in to impress. Let your resume tell the other stories for you.
2. Invoke wonder
Think of it this way. When you want your reader to come up with the number four, telling them the number never quite grabs them like having them deduce that two plus two gets them there.
3. Your emotional truth
My final life truism for this article is this. No matter who any of us are, no matter where we come from, or what our background is, we make decisions, …we buy things in life with emotion, and we justify those decisions or purchases later with logic. Your application, your body of work that brought you here, everything you have ever done …it’’s all about one sale right now! It’’s about selling you. The admission committees need to buy you!
The devil is in the details as they say, so in the future, I’’ll lay those out for you. In the meantime, I have multiple MD’’s, DO’’s, DDS’’s and DMD’’s on staff. We have all walked in your shoes and we are happy to help you. You just need to reach out and ask.