Sunday, November 4, 2012

Advice for Applying To Medical Illustration Grad School

Applying to grad school is an endurance event.  My entire senior year was dedicated to preparation for portfolio and application materials such as resume, personal statement, and letters of recommendation.  What I was lucky to have was a friend who applied the year before me and could answer all my many questions as well as friends that were also applying to the exact same schools.  Having that camaraderie made what could have been a torturous experience a... learning experience, ha.

For all of those out there who aren't in a medical illustration undergrad program, and you're going through the application process alone, I hope this makes the process a little easier.  For those in a medical illustration undergrad program, application is still confusing as heck, so this is for everyone.

The top two things that can get you into a program:

1) Portfolio

If your portfolio kicks ass, I am 99% any med. ill. graduate program will overlook almost all other weaknesses in an application.  Spend the most time perfecting your portfolio, if you are running out of time, do not cut corners here.  The tricky part is how do you know if your portfolio kicks ass?  I have to say, I do not have a formula.

Here are a couple tips:

-Quality over quantity:  I had a wide breadth of artwork, but I didn't have the "wow" piece I needed.  I would work on making one piece so incredibly fantastic you want to cry than trying every technique possible.  As long as none of the pieces you bring tank, the interviewers will remember the fantastic one and pretty much forget the rest.

-Know your portfolio:  Many of the questions asked for my Georgia interview related specifically to my art: "what's your favorite, why? What shows your artistic style the best?"  There were also easy questions such as "when did you make this" "what was your process."  These things are easy to forget over time or you never really thought about them from the beginning.  I suggest taking a quality photo of each piece you complete as you complete it and write down a few notes.  Date made, dimensions of the piece, what class you made it in, what references you used, your process, etc.  Also, make a few pieces outside of class.  I'm not sure why, but during interviews I was always asked if I had made a piece in or out of class and "in class" was not as good as "outside of class."

2) Contact the program before application

If the heads of the program already know a little bit about you, it takes a lot of pressure off your interview being both your first and last impression.  I'd send a quick email asking a pertinent question about the program as well as if they would mind critiquing one of your pieces.  I know for sure that Hopkins people are very willing to help go through your portfolio and critique it ahead of time.  I can't guarantee that but that's what they told me.  I think just getting an email out to ask a question gets your name out there.  Every little bit of advantage helps.

So there are a lot of other steps to the process of application, but I wanted to get a few tips out there.  Be proactive and stay on top of the application schedule, you are bound for success if you do those things.  Make sure to check if the programs websites are accurate, I know some are out of date.  That's a good time to email the program with a question.  And feel free to comment/email me a question.  I know I barely scratched the surface of the process.  Good luck!


  1. Hi Audrey! I'm currently a middle school art teacher but am exploring the path of biomedical illustration. Is it still possible to get in to a program if I don't have all the "required" science classes? I had an excellent gpa and was in the honors program, but was not required to take a lot of science credits for my art education degree.

    I've really enjoyed reading your blog! Thanks for posting everything up!

    1. It depends on how many classes you are missing. If it's only one or two, you can take those classes your first semester of grad school. Here is the link the UIC's pre-reqs . To be sure where you stand contact John Daugherty, 312-996-4975 or He's the director of the Biomedical Visualization program here at UIC and a very nice guy who would love to hear from you.

      With a good GPA and a solid portfolio requirements are not as rigid. More people than ever before are being let into the program here, so now is a great time to try to get in without every requirement. I cannot speak for the Georgia, Hopkins, or Toronto program though, they may enforce pre-reqs more harshly. UIC is a great option to try! Let me know if you have any other questions and good luck!