Applying to a medical school can be an arduous process. Some many different parts and pieces go into formulating a complete application. Many students may undoubtedly find themselves intimidated by all the different aspects and processes. That is where our complete guide to the AMCAS medical school application comes into play. Whether you are a prospective physician or are considering going to medical school as part of your career goals, this guide aims to make you more informed about the process. There are three major steps involved with applying to medical school: the AMCAS primary application, secondary application, and interview. This guide will take you through the steps and processes of the primary application – what it is, how it works, how you can stand out, and what mistakes to avoid. Lastly, we’ll answer some of your most commonly asked questions.
The American Medical College Application Service, or AMCAS, is the centralized application processing service for MD medical school admissions in the United States. AMCAS collects and stores information, verifies it, and then delivers your application to each medical school to which you’re applying. For those unfamiliar with the application process, the first thing you fill out is the primary application. The application includes everything you would need to apply to a medical school: your grades, test scores, letters of recommendation, essays, and all your identifying information. Once submitted, the application gets sent to all the U.S. schools you applied to (except for Texas schools, which have a separate application process).
AMCAS opens up in May – usually during the first week. From the end of May to the start of June, students can start applying. The submission deadline varies from school to school (usually between Oct. to Feb., but more specifically Nov/ Dec). It can take AMCAS up to 8 weeks to process and verify the information. You are much more likely to stand out the closer you submit your application to the end of May/ start of June since seats are limited and since most medical schools operate on a first-come-first-serve basis. Therefore, if you submit your application in the later months, you are less likely to be admitted than someone who applied earlier and secured a spot.
The primary AMCAS application has 9 sections for you 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
In this first section, AMCAS will ask you for five things:
Your legal name, your preferred name, any alternate names that may appear on your identification, I.D. numbers from any college you have been to, and your birth date and sex.
This section includes:
- Where you went to high school and when you graduated
- Any college you have been enrolled in (even if you didn’t finish)
- College transcripts
- If you’ve ever enrolled in college previously
- Institutional action – if you’ve ever run into any problems requiring disciplinary action, that is something you will need to mention
This section includes:
- Preferred Address
- Permanent Address
- Alternate Contact
- Legal Residence
- Self Identification
- Childhood Information
- Military Service
- Military Discharge
- Felony/ Misdemeanor – (“If you are convicted of, plead guilty, or no contest to a felony or misdemeanor crime after you submit your AMCAS application and before your medical school matriculation, you must inform the admissions office of each medical school to which you have applied. This communication to each medical school must be in writing, and occur within 10 business days of the occurrence of the conviction”, AAMC)
- Disadvantaged Status
- Parents and Guardians
The AMCAS medical school application will ask for a transcript for every post-secondary institution you have attended regardless of if the credit was earned.
You will enter what courses you took/when you took them, and the grades you received. Make sure to fill this section out very carefully, as it is the number one cause for processing delays and missed application deadlines. If your application information does not match your transcript, AMCAS will flag your application causing a delay in the application process.
In this section, you will get to list 15 different extracurricular activities that will define your persona outside of the classroom during your time as an undergraduate student. For each activity, the AMCAS medical school application will ask for a contact’s information to confirm the information on the application or to address any questions or concerns. You must also list the total number of hours you spent on the experience, and when the experience started and ended.
You will be required to identify up to three experiences that are the most meaningful to you. If you have more than two entries, you will be asked to select one as the most meaningful. When you pick an activity as most meaningful, you will be given 700 characters to describe it and an additional 1325 characters to elaborate on what makes the experience meaningful to you. Please focus on the life-changing aspect of the activity, the significance of your work, and how it contributed to your personal growth. 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
8. Intercollegiate Athletics
9. Leadership - Not Listed Elsewhere
10. Military Service
12. Paid Employment - Medical/Clinical
13. Paid Employment - Non-Medical/Clinical
14. Physician Shadowing/Clinical Observation
18. Teaching/Tutoring/Teaching Assistant
The critical thing to note about this section is that AMCAS does not need your letters of evaluation to verify your application, so you can submit your application even if your letters have not yet arrived at AMCAS. After your application is confirmed, your application and letters will be made available to medical schools. If your letters arrive at AMCAS after your application has been processed, they will be forwarded to schools on a rolling basis.
There are three types of letters of recommendation:
- Committee Letter: A letter written to represent your institution’s evaluation of you by a pre-health committee or pre-health advisor.
- Letter Packet: A package or collection of letters circulated by your institution (usually by their career center) that may include a cover sheet from your pre-health committee or advisor. A Letter Packet does not have an evaluative letter from your pre-health committee or advisor, unlike a committee letter.
- Individual Letter: A letter written by one author.
In this section, you will enter all the medical schools for which you want to apply. There are 6 types of programs:
- Regular MD
- Combined MD – PhD
- Combined Bachelor’s/M.D.
- Combined MD – Graduate
- Deferred/ Delayed Matriculation
- Other Special Program (OSP): A special program offered by medical schools and vary from one school to another
This is arguably the most critical section of your application. Section 8 is where you write your personal statement. In 5300 characters or less, you explain why you want to go to medical school. To avoid formatting issues, the AAMC recommends typing your letter directly into the AMCAS application rather than copy and pasting it from another word processor. You can use a text-only program like Microsoft Notepad and copy and paste your text into the application if you prefer. Formatted text can cause problems in the application, and you will be unable to edit once it is submitted.
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.
If there are activities that you cannot talk about in-depth, it is better to leave them out. Your interviewer can ask you about anything on your application. If they ask you about an activity you have limited experience with, you won’t be able to give a satisfactory answer. That is why it is better to leave such activities out rather than cave into the pressure of filling up space on the application.
Always be sure to proofread your application. Small errors and typos will come across as careless and won’t impress medical school admissions committees. To be extra careful, have others proofread your application to make sure everything lines up and is error-free.
You may have achievements from high school about which you want to talk. While they may be important to you, it is better to go with more recent accomplishments and experiences in your application.
It is a good idea for similar and less important activities to be grouped 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.
It can be easy to repeat yourself in these two sections. In the experience section, talk about how your activities, specifically, played a role in your journey to want to become a doctor. Your personal statement is a chance to tell detailed stories that are part of your more extensive journey towards medical school. The goal is to have these two sections complement each other without being repetitive.
If you have not yet experienced it, leave it out. Only include activities and work that are recent and relevant.
As many of you may know, getting into medical school is about more than just getting a high GPA and MCAT score. It would help if you were a well-rounded individual with the qualities and experience that will convince a committee of professionals that you will thrive in medicine.
Schools want to see that you have more than just knowledge of medicine. They want to know that you know the practice of it as well. This is where your volunteer experience hospital, clinic, hospice, or other health care setting will come in. Some students find part-time paid positions as emergency medical technicians (EMTs), medical scribes, or certified nursing assistants (CNAs).
If you have not already done so, consider doing a preceptorship. A preceptorship is when you shadow a doctor and watch them go about their day in different healthcare environments: office, hospital, and trips to conventions. It’s not just about the number of hours but diversity in experiences. 100 hours shadowing doctors from varying specialties is better than 500 hours following a single-specialty doctor.
Although it is not required to be involved with academic research, it is a valuable experience to have. Being involved in research shows that you are committed to the educational process and take the initiative in your learning.
Studying or volunteering abroad are great experiences to have and will look good on your application. These trips studying or volunteering abroad develop empathy, perspective, and an understanding of different cultures.
Tutoring or teaching are great experiences to have. When you teach, you reinforce what you already know and build your communication skills by explaining what you know to others.
If you’re applying to medical school or considering a career path in medicine, it is safe to assume that you have a keen interest in the sciences. But, of course, that isn’t going to be enough. To stand out in your application, include significant extracurricular activities or hobbies in which you’ve participated. It could be an instrument that you have dedicated yourself to, a sport that you play, or art that you’ve created. If anything of that sort you have pursued over a considerable period, then it is worth mentioning. Extracurriculars demonstrate a variety of skills like leadership and persistence. The more versatile you are in your activities, the better you’ll relate to your patients.
On your list of experiences, use the space 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.
The Early Decision Program (EDP) has a deadline of the start of August. If the start of August falls on a weekend, then it will be the next business day. All other deadlines are set by the school and are usually between August and December. You must submit your application no later than 11:59 pm E.T. on the deadline.
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 is no valid contact person that can be reached for that experience.
Up to 10 letters can be sent to AMCAS. This does not mean that any one school wants to receive 10 letters. The purpose of giving you that many letters is to target specific letters to specific schools.
The processing fee for 2021 is $170 and includes one medical school designation. It is $41 for each additional school.
Once you submit your application to AMCAS, you will receive a confirmation email. Once all 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 8 weeks to process.. AMCAS will verify the coursework you entered with your transcript to see if everything lines up. If there are any discrepancies, AMCAS will return your application, causing a delay that may result in missed deadlines.
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.
It can be easy to be overwhelmed by the multi-step AMCAS medical school application process. After all, there are many ways to make a mistake that can jeopardize your admission to the medical school of your dreams. If you apply early, proofread your application, have all documents ready, and put considerable time and thought into your personal statement, you can improve your chances of admission. Most of the work that needs to be done has already been done by you: 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 this path. All you need to do is communicate your competence and persistence through your AMCAS medical school application. If you are successful at that, the odds are in your favor.