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AMCAS Medical School Application: The Complete Guide

January 10, 2023
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What Is the AMCAS Application?AMCAS Application Deadlines & Dates How to Start Your AMCAS Med School ApplicationAMCAS Primary Application – Section by SectionCommon Mistakes to AvoidWhat Is the Secondary Application?Tips for Making Your Application Stand OutAMCAS Application FAQs

”Jonathan

Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 12/06/22

This AMCAS application guide will walk you through applying to med school. Read for expert AMCAS application guidance! 


AMCAS Medical school application overview

Applying to medical school can be an arduous process. So many different parts and pieces go into formulating a complete application. That’s where our complete guide to the AMCAS med school application comes into play. 

There are three major steps in applying to medical school: the AMCAS primary application, secondary application, and interview – let’s dive in! 

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What Is the AMCAS Application?

The American Medical College Application Service, or AMCAS, is the centralized application service for U.S. MD med school admissions. AMCAS collects and stores information, verifies it, and then delivers your application to the schools you apply to. So, how do you fill out the medical school application?

Image explaining what is the AMCAS application

For those unfamiliar with the application process, the first thing you fill out is the primary application. The application includes everything you need to apply to a medical school: 

Once submitted, the application is sent to all schools you applied to (except Texas schools, which use the TMDSAS application). It can take AMCAS up to 8 weeks to process and verify the information. 

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AMCAS Application Deadlines & Dates 

AMCAS opens up in May – usually during the first week. From late May to early June, students can begin submitting their applications. AMCAS application deadlines depend on the schools you apply to – they all set their own deadlines (usually between October and February). 

You can find a list of AMCAS-participating medical schools and their deadlines here on the AAMC’s website. While you can apply through AMCAS at any time during the application cycle, applying earlier is typically best – seats can fill up fast. 

You’re more likely to stand out the closer you submit your application to the end of May or the start of June since seats are limited and most med schools have rolling admissions. This means schools review applications as they receive them. Therefore, if you submit your application later, you may be less likely to gain acceptance. 

Your application must be submitted (not processed) by 11:59 p.m. ET on the school’s final AMCAS application date. 


How to Start Your AMCAS Med School Application

To start your application, load up the AMCAS website and follow the “Sign-in” prompt. You’ll be asked to sign in or create an account. If you have previously registered for the AMCAS application or the MCAT, you’ll already have an AAMC username and password. 

If this is your first time logging in, create an account using your name and email. Once you’re signed in, you’re ready to tackle AMCAS’ nine sections. Remember to select the correct application cycle; if you want to start in the summer of this year, click the “Start the [this year] application” option.  

AMCAS Primary Application – Section by Section

The primary AMCAS application has nine sections to fill out:

  1. Identifying Information
  2. Schools Attended 
  3. Biographic Information 
  4. Course Work and Official Transcripts
  5. Work/ Activities 
  6. Letters of Evaluation 
  7. Medical Schools
  8. Personal Essay
  9. Standardized Test
AMCAS Application Section

Section 1: Identifying Information

In this first section, AMCAS asks for five things:

Your legal and preferred names, alternate names on your identification, college I.D. numbers, and birth date and sex.

Section 2: Schools Attended 

This section includes:

Section 3: Biographic Information 

This section includes: 

Section 4: Course Work and Official Transcripts

The AMCAS med school application asks for a transcript for every post-secondary institution you have attended, regardless of if you earned the credit. You’ll enter your courses, when you completed them, and the grades you received. AMCAS accepts electronic and paper transcripts. 

Ensure you fill this section out carefully, as it’s a significant cause of processing delays and missed application deadlines. If your application information doesn’t match your transcript, AMCAS flags your application, causing delays in the process.

One of the most complex aspects of completing this section is classifying your courses based on the primary content of the course. AMCAS recommends you consult with your pre-health advisor and read course descriptions on your school website if you’re struggling to classify a course. 

AMCAS has provided a handy Course Classification Guide with examples of typically categorized courses. For example, some examples of how AMCAS usually categorizes Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Math (BCPM) courses include:

Again, take your time with this section, as any inconsistencies can delay your application. 

Section 5: Work and Activities 

In the AMCAS Work and Activities section, you’ll list 15 different extracurricular activities that define your persona outside the classroom during college. You must list the total number of hours you spent on the experience, when the experience started and ended, and contact information. 

AMCAS allows you to select three experiences that are the most meaningful to you. The different experience categories are: 

  1. Artistic Endeavors
  2. Community Service/Volunteer - Medical/Clinical
  3. Community Service/Volunteer - Non-Medical/Clinical
  4. Conferences Attended
  5. Extracurricular Activities
  6. Hobbies
  7. Honors/Award/Recognition
  8. Intercollegiate Athletics
  9. Leadership - Not Listed Elsewhere
  10.  Military Service
  11.  Other
  12.  Paid Employment - Medical/Clinical
  13.  Paid Employment - Non-Medical/Clinical
  14.  Physician Shadowing/Clinical Observation
  15.  Presentations/Posters
  16.  Publications
  17.  Research/Lab
  18.  Teaching/Tutoring/Teaching Assistant

When you pick an activity as most meaningful, you have 700 characters to describe it and an additional 1325 characters to elaborate on what makes the experience meaningful to you. Focus on the life-changing aspect of the activity, the significance of your work, and how it contributed to your personal growth. 

Section 6: Letters of Evaluation 

The critical thing to note about this section is AMCAS doesn’t need your letters of recommendation to verify your application, so you can submit it even if your letters aren’t ready. 

After your application is confirmed, your letters will be made available to medical schools. If your letters arrive after your application has been processed, AMCAS will forward them to schools on a rolling basis. 

There are three types of letters of recommendation: 

Check school requirements to understand who you should ask for recommendations!

Section 7: Medical Schools 

You’ll enter all the medical schools you want to apply to. There are six types of programs

Other programs may require additional application materials. 

Section 8: Personal Essay

This is arguably the most critical application material: the personal statement. In 5300 characters or less, you must explain why you want to attend medical school. The AAMC recommends typing your letter directly into the AMCAS application rather than copying and pasting it from another word processor to avoid formatting issues. 

You can use a text-only program to copy and paste your text into the application if you prefer. Formatted text can cause problems in the application, and you’ll be unable to edit it once submitted. 

Section 9 – Standardized Test 

In the final section of the application, the AAMC will automatically input your MCAT score if you have received it. If you haven’t received it yet, you can list any future dates you have booked so that they are aware. 

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Avoiding these common mistakes when completing your AMCAS medical school application boosts your chances of success! 

1. Filler Activity

If there are activities you cannot discuss in-depth, it’s better to leave them out. Your interviewer can ask you about anything on your application, and if they ask you about an activity you have limited experience with, you won’t be able to give a satisfactory answer. It’s better to leave it out than use it to fill space. 

2. Grammar/Spelling Mistakes 

Always be sure to proofread your application. Small errors and typos can distract med school admissions committees. Have others proofread your application to ensure everything is polished.

3. Listing Accomplishments From High School In The Experience Section 

You may have achievements from high school which you want to talk about. While they may be important to you, it’s better to go with more recent accomplishments and experiences. 

4. Not Grouping Related Activities Together 

It’s good to group similar and less important activities instead of using up space on the application. For example, if you shadowed three different doctors, there’s no need to list it as three separate activities. This will save you space in case you need it. 

5. Overlapping Information In The Experience Section And Your Personal Statement

It can be easy to repeat yourself in these two sections. When you’re writing about your most meaningful activities, share how they played a role in your journey to want to become a doctor. 

Your personal statement is a chance to tell detailed stories. The goal is to have these two sections complement each other without being repetitive. 

What Is the Secondary Application?

Once your AMCAS primary application has been submitted, processed, and verified, the AAMC sends it to your selected med schools. Secondary applications are specific to each school, meaning you must tailor them to the schools that sent them. 

While creating several school-specific secondary applications sounds like a lot of work, replying to programs with the same generic answers can harm your chances of admission. 

As Alex Tan, the Director of the Post-Baccalaureate Premedical Program at Johns Hopkins University, notes, these essays “afford you the opportunity to send a tailored, unique ambassador to each and every school.” 

While your essay responses will likely share similarities, Tan urges you to “emphasize different details about the experience or give different examples entirely.”

Tips for Making Your Application Stand Out

Getting into medical school takes more than a high GPA and MCAT score (although they certainly help). Here are our tips for ensuring you come across as a well-rounded candidate!

Tip #1: Highlight your Clinical Experience 

Schools want to see that you have more than just knowledge of medicine. They want to know you know its practice, which is where your volunteer experience in hospitals, clinics, hospices, or other healthcare settings comes in. 

Some students find part-time paid positions as emergency medical technicians (EMTs), medical scribes, or certified nursing assistants (CNAs). 

If you haven’t, consider doing a preceptorship. A preceptorship is when you shadow a doctor as they go about their day in different healthcare environments: office, hospital, and trips to conventions. 

It’s not just about the number of hours but a diversity of experiences. One hundred hours shadowing doctors from varying specialties is better than 500 hours following a single-specialty doctor.

Tip #2: Valuable Extracurriculars 

Although it isn’t required, academic research is a valuable experience to have. Research involvement shows you’re intellectually curious and take the initiative in your learning. 

Studying or volunteering abroad are also great experiences. These trips studying or volunteering abroad develop empathy, perspective, and an understanding of different cultures. 

Tutoring or teaching are other excellent experiences to have. You reinforce what you already know and build your communication skills by explaining concepts to others when you teach.

If you’re applying to medical school or considering a career in medicine, it’s safe to assume you have a keen interest in the sciences. But to stand out in your application, include significant, varied extracurricular activities or hobbies in which you’ve participated. 

It could be an instrument you’ve dedicated yourself to, a sport you play, or art you created. If you’ve pursued anything of that sort over a considerable period, then it’s worth mentioning. 

Extracurriculars demonstrate various skills, like leadership and persistence. The more versatile you are in your activities, the stronger your activities section is.

Tip #3: Reflect on Your Experiences 

Use the space on your experience list to reflect on what you did instead of just listing it. Many students make the mistake of simply saying, “I did this” and “I did that.” Try and write about what you learned, what you took away from it, how it made you a better person, and how it applies to your future career as a physician. 

AMCAS Application FAQs

To help you ace your med school application and understand the process, we’ve included several questions and answers about AMCAS.  

1. What Is the AMCAS Application Deadline? 

The Early Decision Program (EDP) has a deadline of early August. If the start of August falls on a weekend, it will be the next business day. All other deadlines are set by schools and usually fall between August and December. 

You must submit your application no later than 11:59 pm E.T. on the deadline. 

2. What if I Don’t Have a Contact to List for My Activity/Experience? 

You may use the email or phone number of someone else who can verify your experience if the original point of contact cannot be reached. If you have no one you can think of as a contact, you can list yourself as the contact person and explain in the description why there’s no valid contact person that can be reached for that experience.  

3. How Many Letters of Recommendation Can Be Sent to AMCAS? 

You can send up to 10 letters to AMCAS. This doesn’t mean that one school wants to receive ten letters. AMCAS gives you that many letters to write specific letters to specific schools. 

4. How Much Does It Cost to Use AMCAS?

The processing fee is $170 and includes one medical school designation. It is $43 for each additional school.

5. How Does the AMCAS Verification Process Work?

Once you submit your application to AMCAS, you’ll receive a confirmation email. Once your transcripts arrive and your application is submitted, the AMCAS verification process begins. 

Your application is entered into the verification queue, which can take up to eight weeks to process. AMCAS verifies the coursework you entered with your transcript to see if everything aligns. If there are discrepancies, AMCAS returns your application, causing a delay that may result in missed deadlines. 

6. What if I Miss the AMCAS Deadline?

Under no circumstances does AMCAS offer deadline extensions – schools may. If you need an extension, it’s best to contact the school and request one. If approved, the school will notify AMCAS to proceed accordingly. 

Once the application has been submitted, the schools you entered in the application can’t be changed or removed, even if you miss a deadline. 

7. Can You Add Schools to AMCAS After You Submit Your Application? 

You can add schools to your submitted AMCAS application as long as the school’s deadline hasn’t passed. 

8. When Is Too Late to Submit the AMCAS Application? 

While you may have a better chance of acceptance by applying earlier, you can submit your application by a school’s deadline. However, it’s often too late to submit your application past the deadline (unless you get an extension from the school). 

9. When Will the AMCAS Application Open for Medical School in 2023? 

AMCAS typically opens within the first week of May, although there is currently no set date for 2023. Check the AMCAS website for the latest updates. 

AMCAS Application: You Can Do This 

It can be easy to be overwhelmed by the multi-step AMCAS med school application process. Remember to proofread your application, have all documents ready, and put considerable time and thought into your personal statement to improve your chances of admission. 

Most of the work is already done: the hours of volunteering, the years of pursuing your interests and activities, the sleepless nights spent studying for your classes, and everything that has led you to this path. All that’s left is communicating your competence and persistence through your application!

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