You’re getting ready to apply to medical school – congratulations! While the application process has the potential to be stressful, it doesn’t have to be. This guide offers in-depth, step-by-step instructions for completing the AMCAS application, tips from professional advisors with admissions committee experience, as well as advice to get you ready in the months leading up to applying. Follow this guide, and you’ll be well on your way to being a strong and competitive med school applicant.
AMCAS is the American Medical College Application Service, run by the Association of American Medical Colleges. Serving as a centralized application service for MD programs, AMCAS allows you to submit MCAT scores, work experience, extracurricular activities, AMCAS letters of recommendation, along with your grades, test scores, and personal statement. In essence, it’s the Common Application for MD programs.
AMCAS is a standard application utilized by many allopathic U.S. medical schools, so it’s important to understand how to use it before you apply.
In all, the process of applying to medical school takes more than a year from application to acceptance.
Medical schools use a rolling admissions process, which means applications are reviewed as they are received. There is an obvious advantage to this first-come-first-reviewed process. But what a lot of students don’t realize is that submitting earlier in the cycle means less time to verify their application (as little as a few days or a couple weeks). Whereas students who submit later in the cycle could experience a 4-6 week wait time while their application is in the queue to be verified.
The dates vary slightly each year, so check the AMCAS website before you start your application. In general, the AMCAS timeline is as follows:
Before you ever log into AMCAS, you need to do some legwork to get ready and organized:
Take the MCAT – Depending on your preparedness level, you can take the MCAT as early as the end of your sophomore year, or as late as April during your application year. If you’re waiting to sit the MCAT, you can still submit your AMCAS application by entering the date of your upcoming test. MCAT scores are automatically released to AMCAS, so your application will be updated when your score is available. Whenever you take it, plan 3-6 months of study time to prepare for the MCAT.
Print your unofficial transcripts – AMCAS requires an official transcript from EVERY post-secondary institution you attended. Before you start your application, you can print your unofficial transcript from your school(s)’ website to make sure everything is accurate. To request your official transcript, you will use the Transcript Request Form within the AMCAS application, and your school’s registrar will submit your transcript directly to AMCAS.
Ask for letters of recommendation – It’s surprising how many students wait until they begin the application process before they ask professors, supervisors, and other mentors for LORs. Start asking 3-4 months before you apply, and know the proper etiquette when approaching letter writers. LORs are also submitted directly to AMCAS once you start the application, but you’ll want to give letter writers enough lead time to prepare.
Start writing your personal statement – Many students underestimate the importance (and the process!) of writing the personal statement. It’s the one place on your application where you have the opportunity to show what makes you a unique and qualified candidate. Dr. Katzen, MedSchoolCoach Master Advisor and previous admissions committee member at GWU, recommends starting on your personal statement in December/January for students planning to apply in May/June.
During your time as a pre-med, you’ve likely given thought to whether you want to earn an MD (allopathic) or DO (osteopathic) degree. There are more than 150 accredited allopathic colleges in the U.S., versus just 35 accredited osteopathic colleges, and the process for applying to each is different.
Applying to MD Programs:
Students applying to allopathic schools in the U.S. will use the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) application.
Applying to DO Programs:
Students applying to osteopathic schools in the U.S. will use the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS) application.
Students applying to medical school in Texas:
If you are planning to earn your MD or DO from a Texas state school, you need to know about the Texas Medical and Dental School Application Service (TMDSAS).
Why does Texas have a different application program?
When it comes to accepting applicants, medical schools in Texas have a unique set of restrictions. In Texas, no more than 10% of the class can be from out-of-state. So having a state-specific application process and comprehensive database of in-state Texas applicants is convenient for schools.
The following state schools use the TMDSAS application, NOT the AMCAS:
Now let’s jump into the AMCAS application.
Follow these steps to thoroughly and accurately complete your AMCAS medical school application.
Vist the Applying to Medical School with AMCAS® page.
Click the blue “AMCAS Sign In” button.
On the Sign In page, click “Create Account” on the right.
Next, enter your Personal Information, Initial Questions, and Account Information as indicated.
Finally, check your email for a verification link.
Once you click the link in your email, you will get a notification that your account has been verified, and you will be directed to sign in.
Select from available application cycles.
Follow the prompts to enter your identifying information, including:
•Birth country, state, and county
Click “Save & Continue to Application”.
You’ll be taken to an application main menu that shows your personal information, the nine sections of the application (and whether they’re complete or not), quick links for help with your application, and your document statuses (for letters of evaluation/recommendation and transcripts, as these items are submitted directly to AMCAS).
There are nine sections on the AMCAS application. You must complete the Identifying Information and Schools Attended sections before you can go on to other sections.
Most of this data is pulled over from your profile creation. Complete any missing or inaccurate information in this section until a checkmark shows that the section is completed.
In this section, you’ll enter all of the information for your high school and colleges, including any attempted postsecondary foreign/study abroad or military education.
You will also have to state whether you have matriculated as a medical school student previously, and whether you were ever the recipient of any institutional action by any college or medical school for unacceptable academic performance or conduct violation.
This is also where you’ll first see the notice that official transcripts are submitted directly to AMCAS from your school’s registrar. Once you enter a college’s information, you’ll have an opportunity to create a transcript request form.
This is a hefty section with a ton of personal information and background. Go step-by-step and fill in the blanks as indicated.
You must enter all of the courses you took at each school — it’s tedious, so have your printed transcripts at-hand and settle in for this section. Prior to entering your coursework, AMCAS encourages you to watch some brief tutorials that will guide you through the process of entering your coursework.
You will have to complete multiple sections for each course:
This is another hefty section where you’ll have the opportunity to show what makes you a strong applicant beyond your school work.
In all, there is space for up to 15 work and activity entries (but it’s ok if you don’t have 15!), and the opportunity to highlight the 3 most meaningful experiences to you or the ones most relevant to your future career in medicine.
There are 18 Experience Type categories to choose from for each work/activity entry:
For each experience, you’ll enter the following information:
The Experience Description box is the kicker here. Admissions committees are not simply looking for what you did. They want to know the depth of your responsibilities and what you accomplished. They want to know the impact you made within the organization, and more importantly the impact the experience made on you. They’re also hoping to hear what qualities you demonstrated, how the experience reflected your values, and how you learned and grew from it — personally, and as it relates to your future career in medicine.
And, you have just 700 characters to wrap that up in a nice little package!
For schools using the AMCAS Letter Service program, your letters of recommendation are another item that are submitted directly to the AMCAS and subsequently to the medical schools you are applying to. As AMCAS doesn’t require a student’s LORs to verify their application, students may submit their application even if their letters have not yet arrived at AMCAS. Medical schools will receive the application and letters after the application has been verified.
When adding a letter of evaluation/recommendation, you will choose from one of three types. Each letter type is considered one letter entry, regardless of the actual number of letters it contains. Each medical school has different requirements for letters of recommendation. For example, schools may require a Committee letter/package OR 2 science professors PLUS 1 non-science professors PLUS 1-2 from others, including physicians. Check the medical school’s website for specific requirements.
• Committee Letter: A letter authored by a prehealth committee or prehealth advisor and intended to represent your institution’s evaluation of you. A Committee Letter may or may not include additional letters written in support of your application. The Committee Letter is sometimes called a Composite Letter.
• Letter Packet: A packet or set of letters assembled and distributed by your institution, often by the institution’s career center. A Letter Packet may include a cover sheet from your prehealth committee or advisor; however, in contrast to a Committee Letter, a Letter Packet does not include an evaluative letter from your prehealth committee or advisor.
• Individual Letter: A letter written by, and representing, a single letter author. If you have already included an Individual Letter within either a Committee Letter or Letter Packet, you do not need to add a separate entry for that letter.
For each entry, you will also include a letter title. Make this a meaningful title that you can remember, as you will later need to match letters and assign them to the medical schools you’re applying to.
Before completing this section, you will need confirmation from letter writers. You will add an entry for each letter you’re expecting with the author’s contact information and letter title. AMCAS will then assign an ID number for each letter that the letter writer must include. After you add each entry, you will be prompted to create a PDF Letter Request Form that you will provide to the author.
In this section, you’ll select all of the medical schools you’re applying to. The admissions advisors at MedSchoolCoach recommend you apply to 25-40 schools, including all in-state schools plus out-of-state schools that are a match for you.
You don’t have to have a full school list at this point; you only have to apply to one school to “submit” your application, and a lot of the heavy lifting is done at this point. You can come back and add schools later, but submitting your application early starts the verification process.
For each school you add, you will select a program and state whether or not you’ve previously applied to that school. You will be able to see whether or not the school participates in the AMCAS Letter Service and the AMCAS-facilitated Criminal Background Check. If you have entered letters of recommendation, you will also have the opportunity to assign a letter to each school at this point.
As you add schools, you will have a nice dashboard where you can see each medical school, the program you’re applying to, and the transcript and application deadlines. You’ll also see your fees start to add up here.
The current fee is $170 to send your application to the first school and $42 for each additional school.
Your personal statement is arguably the most important part of the application. This is the place for you to really shine, show some personality, and set yourself apart from other applicants.
A strong personal statement speaks volumes about your potential to succeed in medical school. It can demonstrate to admissions committees your potential as a future physician and how you’ll contribute to their school. Additionally, it helps to distinguish you from the number of other applicants with similar MCAT scores and grades.
Likewise, an unimpressive personal statement can ruin your chance at getting an interview. A poorly written personal statement with typos and lacking content is hard to come back from when admissions committees have hundreds of applications to review.
The challenge with this section is how deceptively simple it’s presented on the AMCAS: “Use the space provided to explain why you want to go to medical school.” And you have 5,300 characters – or around 500 words to do it in. No pressure there!
If you click the link provided in this section, AMCAS does give you a bit more guidance for what to write about:
How can you write a standout personal statement?
• Be authentic
• Demonstrate your passion for medicine
• Stick to a central theme
• Include personal stories – show, don’t tell
• Share your vision for the future
• Give it some personality
• Carefully navigate emotional topics
There are also certain things you should NOT include in your personal statement, such as:
• MCAT & GPA (will be included in another section of your application!)
• Typos, grammar, punctuation, or spelling mistakes
•Made up stories
• A duplicate of your CV
•Third person writing
• Irrelevant stories
• Explanations for one bad grade
It may help you write your personal statement if you break it up into smaller, manageable chunks. In general, think about your essay containing 4-5 components:
Introduction (1 paragraph) – Introduce your narrative/theme by tying it to a personal story or anecdote.
Body (2-3 paragraphs) – Highlight pivotal experiences and how they drove you to pursue medicine.
Conclusion (1 paragraph) – Tie everything together and share how you envision yourself impacting the field of medicine in the future.
When it comes to the actual writing process:
• Start early – As early as December/January if you’re planning to apply in May/June
• Brainstorm – Use whatever brainstorming methods work for you – outlines, idea clouds, etc. Some things to think about:
○ Significant/formative life experiences: things that have greatly influenced your life, the way you conduct yourself, your outlook on the world, or your decisions:
○ People that had an impact on you (positive or negative), and how that affected your journey to medical school.
○ Personal characteristics and skills that you have, and how those skills translate into being a good physician.
• Just start writing – If freestyle writing works for you, go for it! A lot of students start with a lot of content then edit it down. Others find it easier to carefully craft each individual sentence.
• Take breaks between drafts – Many students who successfully got accepted into medical schools say they wrote multiple (different) drafts of their essay. By taking breaks between drafts, you can put a fresh set of eyes on each and select the best one.
• Get opinions from others – Have others read your essay, but be selective with who you ask. A professor, work colleague, or med school student may be a better option than a family member.
• Proofread to perfection – There should be ZERO errors when you submit this essay.
Want even more help writing your essay? Read our Ultimate Guide to Writing Your Best Medical School Personal Statement.
This is the final section! If you have already taken the MCAT, your scores are automatically released to AMCAS and will be visible here. If you haven’t taken the MCAT yet, or if you plan to retake it and have a test date scheduled, you can indicate that here and your latest test score will be updated when released.
This is also where you have the opportunity to enter any additional standardized test scores, such as GRE, LSAT, or GMAT.
From your main application menu, you have the opportunity to go back into every section and make changes. CHECK and DOUBLE CHECK EVERYTHING.
When you’re ready, click “Submit Application.”
Follow the prompts on the next few pages. AMCAS does a great job of telling you what you still need to do in the Pre-Submission Checks, such as assigning letters of recommendation to medical schools. Remember, letters can be added and assigned at a later date as you get confirmations from letter writers.
From here, you will complete the following to officially submit your application:
Certification – This acts as your legal signature to certify everything on your application is accurate. There are 13 statements to read, check, and agree to on this page.
Password – Next, you’ll have the opportunity to print your application. We HIGHLY recommend you do so. Even if you don’t physically print it, the file will open as a PDF and you can read through it. This is EXACTLY what medical schools admissions committees will receive. If you find any errors, you can still go back and edit your application before continuing the submission process.
When you’re satisfied with your application, you will enter your AMCAS password to certify that you understand that you may not change, correct, or update selected parts of the application as outlined in the AMCAS Applicant Guide once it has been submitted to AMCAS.
CBC (Criminal Background Check) – This page informs you that AMCAS partners with Certiphi Screening, Inc. to perform criminal background checks. Upon your initial, conditional acceptance by a participating medical school, Certiphi Screening, Inc. will send an email with additional information to your preferred email address to start your background check.
Payment – The final section is where you’ll pay your application fees. For students that need help paying fees, financial assistance is available from AMCAS.
Once your payment has been confirmed, your application is submitted!
Like we’ve already discussed, certain items can be changed after you submit your application (i.e. adding letters of recommendation or medical schools). Others are set in stone (i.e. personal statement and work/activities sections). AMCAS offers an in-depth overview of Postsubmission Actions.
If you make any changes to your application, you must recertify and officially update your application. Processing will not be delayed and you will not be charged unless you add more medical school designations.
Items that can be changed on your application include:
• Your ID numbers.
• Your name, including full legal name, preferred name, and alternate names.
•Your contact Information, including your permanent address, preferred mailing address, and e-mail address.
• Your alternate contact information.
• Your date of birth and sex.
• Letters of evaluation (although please note that you can only make additions of up to 10 letters, and you must notify AMCAS if you have a letter you wish to no longer be sent to medical schools; you cannot delete letters of evaluation from your application).
• Your next MCAT testing date.
• The addition of medical schools and the altering of existing program types (deadlines, restrictions and an additional fee may apply).
• The release of your application information to your prehealth advisor.
The only exception to the editable items above is for the Course Work section. Remember that it’s ultimately up to you to correctly classify your courses and enter grades; however, AMCAS has the authority to make changes during the verification process if they feel you incorrectly classified a course. After verification, you are required to review the Course Work section and agree (or disagree) with any changes AMCAS made.
If you find a discrepancy or want to dispute something, you must submit an Academic Change Request, which is located under “Quick Links” on your AMCAS Main Menu.
To submit an Academic Change Request, select one of the following reasons and include an explanation:
• Re-compute the following GPA/hours
• Re-verify the following courses
• Add the following courses
• Delete courses that were added by AMCAS Verifications team (based on errors or omissions compared to applicant official college transcripts)
• Update the following school information
The verification process can range from a few days to a few weeks, and can be delayed if there are errors on your application, such as misclassified course work.
In order for your application to be placed in the queue for verification, the following are required:
• Biographic information
• Work & Activities section
• Personal Statement section
• Official transcripts and grades received by AMCAS
These items are NOT required for verification and they will NOT delay the verification of your application:
• MCAT score
• Letters of recommendation
• Medical schools (except the one required to submit)
Once you submit your application, you’ll want to monitor the status closely. On the top right corner of your main menu, you will see a blue status. You can also click “View Application Status History” at any time to see a record of updates.
It’s important to understand the meaning of each status so that you can track your application and know if you need to take some action:
Not Submitted to AMCAS: AMCAS has not received your application.
Submitted to AMCAS – Waiting for Transcripts: AMCAS has received your application. Required transcripts have not been received for review.
Submitted to AMCAS – Ready for Review: AMCAS has received a copy of all required transcripts and has placed the application in line to be reviewed by an AMCAS verifier.
Submitted to AMCAS – Under Review: A verifier is reviewing your application. You will be notified if there are any additional transcripts needed for processing.
Submitted to AMCAS – Financial Hold: You have certified and submitted your AMCAS application. However, AMCAS is unable to process your application until you resolve the financial hold associated with your application.
Submitted to AMCAS – Incorrect Coursework: You have certified and submitted your AMCAS application. However, your application is on hold due to incorrect coursework in your application.
Submitted to AMCAS – Incorrect Documents: You have certified and submitted your AMCAS application. However, your application is on hold due to incorrect documents associated with your application.
Returned to Applicant: Application has been returned to you for missing coursework or failing to enter an original grade for a repeated course.
AMCAS Processing is Complete: Application has been made available to your designated medical schools.
Withdrawn from AMCAS: You have withdrawn your AMCAS application. This step is final, so you are no longer eligible to apply for the current application cycle.
We’ve taken an in-depth look at best practices for completing your AMCAS application, but there are certainly some things you’ll want to avoid as well!
Some of the most common mistakes students make on the AMCAS include:
Fluff – be clear and concise across the entire application.
Errors – proof and proof to perfection. There is ZERO room for errors in any field — even something seemingly minor like an accidental comma instead of period after an street abbreviation (i.e. Mill Creek Dr,) looks sloppy.
Abbreviations and jargon – If you make it to medical school, the rest of your life is going to be riddled with jargon. Your application isn’t the place for it (i.e. don’t refer to the admissions committee as the “adcom”).
Putting too much emphasis on scores – minimum GPA and MCAT scores are prerequisites and don’t really help you stand out from other applicants.
Embellished or made up stories – honesty and integrity are foundational values of any physician. Don’t start your potential career as a fraud. Medical schools want to know the authentic you.
Name dropping – it’s obnoxious, and could backfire if the person reading your application doesn’t think highly of the person you’re bragging about.
Hiding behind a well-known organization – don’t write about an organization you worked at instead of YOUR role there. If the role wasn’t significant enough to include on your application, don’t use the organization’s reputation to boost your credibility.
Generic letters of recommendation – only ask for letters from professors, supervisors, and mentors you had a genuine relationship with. Generic letters add no value to your application and can even harm your chances against a similar applicant with better letters.
Only including what you THINK admissions committees want to see – one of the biggest mistakes you can make is falling victim to the “perfect pre-med checklist.” Admissions committees want to see what you’re passionate about and what makes you unique.
Explaining one-off bad grades – it’s usually not worth mentioning. The exception would be an entire semester you bombed, but there was an underlying cause that you overcame and grew from (i.e. your mom had terminal cancer so you were traveling home a lot and school suffered. But the experience inspired you to want to specialize in palliative care, and your commitment and grades rebounded in the next semester).
Having too broad or too narrow of a school list – a focused and intelligent school list is important for so many reasons. Schools you apply to should be a good match academically, but should also meet your personal and professional preferences. Also remember that any school you apply to could send you a secondary application, which consists of multiple essays and a lot of additional effort if you’re applying to a ton of schools. The good news is that you’d hopefully have multiple offers to choose from. On the flipside, if you apply to too few schools, you may not get any offers at all and be forced to reapply in the next cycle.
Starting too late and submitting a sub-par application – as outlined in this guide, a LOT of work and time goes into applying to medical school. This is not where you want to procrastinate, especially with the rolling admissions process. Start early and give yourself several months (as much as 6!) to gather everything, reach out to letter writers, and write your personal statement and work/activities entries.
The reality is that only about 40% of students who apply to medical school will matriculate. For the other 60%, they have to decide whether they want to reapply in the next application cycle, or pursue a different career path. While some students may worry that reapplying makes them look bad, data from the AAMC showed that 27% of applicants during the 2020 cycle were reapplicants. Getting into medical school is tough – it’s ok if you don’t make it the first round and have to reapply! The important thing is that you’re honest with yourself. If you’ve got the numbers, experience, and extracurriculars and are truly a competitive applicant, give it another go.
What do you need to do differently when you reapply?
The good news is that most of the information on your AMCAS application will remain the same when you reapply. Here are the sections you need to, or should consider, updating:
Work & Activities – If you added any relevant experience during the year that you originally applied, or if you took a gap year or earned a post-baccalaureate certificate, update this section of your application.
Letters of Evaluation – While you can reuse letters of recommendation, you will need to resubmit them as AMCAS does NOT retain letters from previous application cycles. However, you may want to request new letters if you worked with a new mentor in the past year.
School List – You can absolutely reapply to the same medical schools again, but reevaluate each with a critical eye and be honest with yourself about how competitive you are.
Personal Statement – Unfortunately schools do expect reapplicants to write a new essay. While you can certainly still use the same theme, personal attributes, and reasons for wanting to become a physician, the stories and anecdotes should change.
If you struggled with your AMCAS application the first time around, you may benefit from professional admissions advising services as you prepare to reapply. Advisors with prior admissions committee experience can provide honest feedback on your qualifications and help you update your application to improve your chances of getting into the medical school of your choice in the next application cycle.
Hopefully this step-by-step guide prepared you for what to expect as you begin your AMCAS application. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, or could just use a guiding hand, the admissions advisors at MedSchoolCoach have helped thousands of students successfully apply and get accepted to medical school. Our goal is to help you prepare a great application so you can stand out and ultimately achieve your dream of becoming a physician.
Lear more about our Application Advising Services, then schedule your free consultation to see if we can help you.
Preparing Your AMCAS Application https://www.prospectivedoctor.com/preparing-your-amcas-application/
The Complete Guide to the AMCAS Application https://www.prospectivedoctor.com/podcast-86-the-complete-guide-to-the-amcas-application/
5 Common AMCAS Mistakes https://www.prospectivedoctor.com/podcast-47-5-common-amcas-mistakes/
Common Mistakes on the AMCAS Application https://www.prospectivedoctor.com/podcast-episode-9-common-mistakes-on-the-amcas-application/
A Step-by-Step Guide to the AMCAS Application https://www.prospectivedoctor.com/podcast-episode-7-a-step-by-step-guide-to-the-amcas-application/
What’s one thing you wish you had known before starting the AMCAS application process? https://www.prospectivedoctor.com/weekly-weigh-in-amcas-application-advice/
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