Building Your Credentials

How do you show schools that you are prepared? That you have a realistic view of what your chosen field is like? What can you do now to be ready for the application process?

This section helps you learn about necessary credentials and how to start piecing together a competitive application.

It would be really easy if there was a checklist for this. Just do these things and you'll get in!

Unfortunately, it doesn't work like that.

Professional schools do have categories of things they look at. Within those categories, however, they give you the freedom to do the things that you find interesting. This is a good thing--they want their professional school class to be made up of individuals who have done interesting things--not people who are all the same.

In the process of applying, schools will depend on the way you reflect on what you learned, what you contributed, and why it mattered to you to learn more about you during your application. (See the Learning Center section on reflection)

Come see us to talk more about preparing for professional school. Make an appointment through BoilerConnect.

Keep working through this section to learn more about the core skill sets professional schools expect to see (competencies), professionalism, finding research opportunities, and please check out other sections in the Learning Center.

The Core Competencies were released by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) several years ago and are the fundamental skills they look for in incoming medical students. Although this list of competencies was started by the medical schools, it really applies to any professional program (and we have heard this from representatives from other professional programs). When you apply, you will try to demonstrate these competencies as part of your application. Your letter writers will hopefully comment on some of these as well.

Even if you apply for other jobs, these competencies are similar to those that employers are seeking. Check out the NACE Career Readiness Fact Sheet as an example of the things employers look for and you will see the similarities to the list that medical schools developed.

The AAMC even developed a fantastic workbook that provides a place to focus on each competency and how you will demonstrate it, why it matters, what it says about you, etc. This Anatomy of an Applicant document is useful for these worksheets even if you aren't applying to medical school.

Learn more about competencies in our Sway (next tab).

The great thing about preparing for professional school is that you get to follow your own path.

You need to demonstrate a few your skills and desire to enter the field--but how you do that is up to you.

You should plan on demonstrating to professional schools:

  • That you understand what the field is really like. You need to volunteer in settings where the field is practiced and shadow/observe practitioners. Take courses that help you understand the field. In some fields the observation hours will be required (physical therapy and occupational therapy, for example).
  • You need to demonstrate a dedication to serving others. Healthcare and law are service fields. This means that you need to do some kind of volunteer work. What you do is entirely up to you. Something that you do over a longer period of time will show more of a commitment than something that you do once, obviously.
  • You need to develop your core competencies and work on ways of demonstrating them.
  • You should consider being involved in research as a means of developing competencies and as a way of enhancing your education. The Sway in this section provides some suggestions on finding research opportunities. The Office of Undergraduate Research is a key partner in this. The lists of links below will provide some other options.

Pre-Law Volunteer and Internship Opportunities

Pre-Health Volunteer, Internship, and Research Opportunities

Summer Pre-Health Opportunities

Purdue offers amazing opportunities to study abroad at the university level through the Purdue Study Abroad office and also through classes and programs at the college level. Some of these have financial support available. If you can make it work financially, this is a great opportunity to see some of the world, learn about other cultures and languages, and about yourself.

For pre-professional students, your travels sometimes fall at a time when you are preparing for aptitude tests and applications. It is important to plan ahead for your time away and how it impacts your application and the financing of your application. Our Study Abroad handout introduces this topic but we encourage you to discuss this early in your academic career with one of our advisors.

In addition, a few programs are out there for pre-health students who want to ethically shadow in other countries or who want to work on their medical Spanish. We can provide you with information on these programs.

Sometimes things just don't work out the way we think they will--at least not on the timeline we think they will. That isn't always a bad thing.

This is why everyone should have a parallel plan, a plan B, a pivot plan. What will you do if whatever you were planning for doesn't work out?

Part of your plan may be what you will do while you are re-applying. Part of it might be another plan entirely. You may also want to have a plan C & D, not just a plan B.

You should do this even if you are an exceptional candidate for professional school. Why? At interviews, it is common for them to ask, "What will you do if you don't get in?" They expect you to have a solid answer. They want people who plan for contingencies. So make a plan.

Considering your parallel plan also help you focus on the reasons why you like your original plan. This is important for preparing for interview and writing a personal statement. You must be able to express with clarity why that career is a good fit for you. Developing a parallel plan actually helps you with thinking about your career plan overall.

Read more about Parallel Planning.

Need more help with your planning? Check out some of the resources offered on campus:

Career counseling at the Center for Career Opportunities and take a look at the Career Research Portal

College of Health & Human Sciences Career Services, see Stephanie Farlow

College of Science Career Development, see Danielle Sheese

College of Agriculture Career Services

College of Liberal Arts Career Center

Office of Future Engineers

College of Pharmacy Career Development

Krannert School of Management Professional Development Center

Purdue Polytechnic Institute

College of Education




It is vital that your application reflect that you have a realistic view of the field you are wanting to enter. Medical school is not really like what you see on Grey's Anatomy nor is law school all that similar to most legal TV shows.

This means that you need to make time to spend with people who work in these fields. You need to experience what it is like on a daily basis to work in that area. Ideally you will experience this with a number of different practitioners to see variations in the field and how people practice.

Typically it works best if you can ask people with whom you have some kind of connection (ask your family and family friends to think about who they know). People you are connected to are most likely to say yes to you. It is also better to ask them in person rather than over the phone or over an email. Generally you will need to shadow during breaks and summers when you have larger blocks of time. Showing up in someone's office for an hour at a time is too disruptive.

This Guide to Observation Hours will provide more specifics about asking for opportunities, what you are there to learn, what you should do while there, and more. As always, feel free to reach out to us with any questions.