Application Process Overview
US medical schools admit students once a year in the fall, but applications are submitted 12-15 months before the desired medical school enrollment date. Applications open each year in early May for the following year admission.
When you apply depends on when you will complete your degree, take necessary premedical coursework, and successfully take the MCAT. Timing is sensitive, so you will want to plan well.
Apply early in the cycle, but make sure your application is the best it can be. Medical schools requirements vary slightly from school to school — research schools early for specific information on their requirements.
Before submitting your application, have someone with an unbiased eye go over your entire application to catch any errors.
Medical School Application process includes 5 main components
- The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)
- Primary Application
- Letters of Recommendation
- Secondary Applications
The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)
The MCAT is administered in January, and March through September. Taking the exam by spring will enable you to apply earlier in the application cycle.
The MCAT is divided into four multiple-choice sections:
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Living Systems
- Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
You can obtain the most updated information from students-residents.aamc.org.
Primary Applications are processed through a central processing service and can be sent to every school affiliated with that service. There are three centralized application services processing primary applications for US medical schools.
- AMCAS, for applying to MD Medical Schools
- AACOMAS, for applying to DO Medical Schools
- TMDSAS, for applying to schools in the University of Texas system
These services are very similar, but not identical. They open online in early May each year to allow applicants to start building applications. Deadlines vary between services and also by the school.
The information you will be asked to provide is very similar, although it is organized in different ways. READ ALL INSTRUCTION MANUALS AND DIRECTIONS CAREFULLY!
All Three Application Services will require:
- Your MCAT score
- A list of all college classes taken, as well as official transcripts from each college where you have earned credit
- A list and descriptions of your activities since graduating from high school
- A Personal Statement outlining your motivation for pursuing a career as a physician
- Letters of Recommendation
NOTE: To help us advise other students, we would appreciate it if you would release your statistical information from your applications to the Health Professions Advisor when prompted. This information will always be kept confidential.
Your personal statement is a very important piece of your application and should be given a high degree of attention in the process. You can begin creating your first draft at any time, but serious work should be done a few months before applying. A personal statement is about you and your motivation for pursuing a career as a physician. Remember, why you want to be a physician is different from how you were inspired to become one.
PLEASE NOTE, your audience has more medical knowledge and knows what it is like to be a physician. Don’t try to impress them with your knowledge of the field.
Get feedback! Have 3 or 4 people you can trust to be honest with you (professor, doctor, medical student, parent, advisor, etc.) read your essay and offer feedback. Give yourself plenty of time to make revisions.
A great personal statement will answer the following:
- Motivation - Why medicine? Why medicine over another helping profession?
- Capacity - How have you prepared to become a physician?
- Fit - What makes you a good fit for the profession?
- Vision - What impact do you wish to make?
GENERAL PERSONAL STATEMENT DOs and DON’Ts:
DO answer the question “Why medicine?”
DO concentrate more on actual experiences rather than speculation about future accomplishments.
DO focus more on what you can give rather than on what you can get by becoming a physician.
DO “show” more than “tell.”
DO limit the number of “I” statements you use.
DO share your background if it is appropriate.
DO describe meaningful experiences.
DO pay careful attention to grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
DO pay attention to the character count (5300 for AMCAS and AACOMAS; 5000 for TMDSAS).
DO NOT use the “I want to help people” theme if possible.
DO NOT devote too much space to writing about other people (family, patients, a doctor you know).
DO NOT summarize or merely repeat what is on the activity list on your primary application.
DO NOT use overly flowery language.
DO NOT use your essay to criticize medicine today.
DO NOT overuse medical terminology or abbreviations.
DO NOT assume everyone knows what you know.
DO NOT try to make jokes.
DO NOT use a foreign language.
DO NOT begin your essay with a quote.
Letters of Recommendation
All three applications have a service that allows your letter writers to upload your letter directly to the application and have them distributed to all schools to which you have applied. However, application services do not share letters: Be sure to plan ahead regarding where to have your letters sent.
- Applicants who plan to apply only to one application service should take advantage of the Letter Service provided by the application service.
- If applying to both MD and DO schools, or TMDSAS schools, unaffiliated schools, or an international program, it is easiest to subscribe to a service like Interfolio.com which allows you to collect all your letters in one place and have them sent to each application service.
Requirements for letters vary between schools, so research schools early and know what you need. Most schools require 3 or 4 letters.
Requesting Letters of Recommendation
- Ask if potential writers feel capable of writing a STRONG letter. If anyone is hesitant, you should probably try someone else.
- Ask if recommenders would welcome any written background material. You could include a brief biographical sketch or resume, your interests and activities, career goals, and motivation toward your intended profession.
- For recommenders who are unsure of how to write a good letter, you can provide them with the guidelines found here.
- Always give recommenders ample time. Two to three weeks at a minimum.
- Follow-up with your letter writers and be sure to send thank you notes.
Once medical schools receive your Primary Application, they will send out Secondary Applications. These are specific to each school, and vary in length and structure, but often require one or more additional essays, or ask you to list certain experiences in a specific format. FOLLOW DIRECTIONS CAREFULLY.
Some schools send Secondary Applications to every student who submitted a Primary Application. Other schools will screen Primary Applications first and only send Secondary Applications to students who are under consideration for admission.
Secondary Applications usually have a fee attached, so it is a good idea to reevaluate your list of schools at this point. If you have changed your mind about applying to a school, you do not have to complete their Secondary Application.
Make sure you promptly return your Secondary Applications with well-written, thoughtful, and professional responses.
Some schools may require you to complete the CASPer test prior to an interview invitation. More information about the test and how to prepare can be found here: https://takecasper.com/
The final stage of the application process is the interview. If you receive an invitation for an interview, that is an indication that a school has decided that you are a qualified applicant and they want to get to know you better. Most medical schools hold “interview days” where they bring in a group of applicants for a day that may consist of some or all of the following: Interviews, written essays, the Standardized Judgement Test (SJT), school tours, and opportunities to meet students and faculty. Remember, the entire day is the interview, not just those times when you are in a formal meeting. Be on your best professional behavior all day!
Interviews can take many forms, so it is essential to research your schools and be prepared. A Health Professions Advisor can help you with preparation tips and practicing your interviewing skills.
The most common types of interviews are:
- One on one interview—Usually one or two 20-30 minute interviews
- Multiple Mini Interview (MMI)—7-10 rooms with a different prompt or scenario posted on the door. You are typically given 2 minutes to think about the prompt before entering a room, and 5-8 minutes to respond to the question. Additional questions or a role-play situation could be part of the interview.
- Group interview—Either one applicant interviewed by several interviewers, or a group of applicants interviewed by one or more interviewers.
- Standardized Video Interview—This is a new interview method being implemented at some schools. Before the interview day, applicants are sent a link to a site where they will be asked to provide timed video or written response to questions.