1. What is the AMCAS application?
AMCAS stands for the American Medical College Application Service, and the AMCAS application is a centralized application service available through the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). It allows candidates to apply to multiple allopathic (MD) medical schools using a single application. You can access the AMCAS application through the AAMC website.
2. How many MD medical schools can I apply to through AMCAS?
You can apply to as many schools as you want, though we recommend refining your school list a bit and trimming it down to approximately 20 schools. You can always add a few more to your application after it has been submitted. So later, mindful additions might make sense.
3. Why not send the application to as many medical schools as possible?
This is certainly a tempting strategy that we see candidates use from time to time. However, even though the schools won’t know how many schools you’re applying to, all the written material you must submit (your personal statement, activity descriptions, and three most meaningful experiences) cannot possibly establish your fit with 50 different schools at once. There are ways of refining your lineup of target schools that will eliminate any excess or unrealistic choices. Know each school’s rules before finalizing your list.
Applying to medical school is very costly and time-consuming, and it commands your full attention. Keep in mind that once your AMCAS application is submitted, your work is not done – not even close.
4. What information and documentation do I need to complete the AMCAS application?
The AMCAS application asks for personal and demographic information about you and your family. It asks for contact information, transcripts and academic history, reference information for your letters of recommendation, and an MCAT score. Academic work and achievements, paid work, extracurriculars, employment, volunteer work, research work, hobbies, and clinical experience are covered in the Work/Activities section, which allows for up to 15 entries with a short narrative description for each of up to 700 characters (with spaces). You’ll need to identify three of these entries as “most meaningful” and will have an additional 1,325 characters (with spaces) to elaborate on and explain why they are so significant for you.
You will be asked whether you wish to submit a statement of disadvantage. Do so if you’ve experienced hardship, and explain your circumstances and your ability to achieve your goals. (This is not the place to explain a gaff in your academic performance.)
You will be asked to provide an explanation of any Institutional Action that appears on your record. Be honest, own it, and explain how you grew from the experience.
You will need to provide an explanation for any criminal convictions, from misdemeanors to felonies. However, there are rules AMCAS must follow in asking about convictions. Be sure to review the AMCAS guidelines for particular guidelines about reporting convictions. Not all convictions must be disclosed or reported. Here’s the guide: AMCAS Applicant Guide
5. What happens after I submit my AMCAS application?
All AMCAS applications undergo a verification process for accuracy and consistency of information. Once your coursework has been verified, AMCAS calculates a standardized GPA. Verification typically takes several weeks. Once a candidate’s application has been verified, they will move on to the “secondary” phase of the application process.
After a candidate’s AMCAS application has been submitted (preferably in June) and the verification process completed (typically a few weeks later), individual schools will automatically or selectively send out requests for required supplemental essays, called secondaries. These supplemental essays are a lot of work and have relatively short deadlines (typically two to three weeks). The more schools you apply to, the more secondaries you’ll have to complete within a very tight timeline. Some secondary questions are practical, such as “Are there any moments in your academic performance that you wish to explain?” Some secondary questions are experiential: “Discuss a time you experienced or witnessed social injustice.” Some secondary questions are exploratory, such as “What does leadership entail?,” or visionary, such as “What will be the biggest challenge in twenty-first century medicine?” The most important responsibility in answering these secondary questions is to precisely follow the prompt and provide a mature answer that reflects your principles and character. Avoid at all costs the temptation to recycle a completed secondary response without very consciously tailoring it to fit the new prompt.
All secondaries have word or character limits. Some schools request answers to a variety of secondary questions, so their limits tend to be shorter. Other schools ask fewer questions but want longer answers in the form of essays. The best secondary responses are thoughtful and composed, and undergo several revisions until they are refined.
A strong primary application with mindful, mature, and insightful secondaries can cinch an interview invitation. Weak secondaries can place you in limbo or even sway a rejection.
Good luck, future doctors!
Do you need help identifying a med school that’s the right fit for you? Schedule a free consultation with an experienced med school admissions consultant, and get your questions answered.
Dr. Mary Mahoney, PhD, is the medical humanities director at Elmira College and has more than 20 years of experience as an advisor and essay reviewer for med school applicants. She is a tenured English professor with an MFA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College and a PhD in literature and writing from the University of Houston. For the past 20 years, Mary has served as a grad school advisor and essay reviewer for med school applicants. Want Mary to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!