AMCAS

applynowThe American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS), is an application service run by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) through which prospective medical students can send their application to various medical schools in the United States. Regardless of the number of medical schools to which you apply, you submit just one online application to AMCAS; in this sense, it is somewhat analogous to the Common Application for college.

Most U.S. medical schools use AMCAS as the primary application method for their entering classes, with the exception being mostly Texas state schools that have their own Texas Medical & Dental Schools Application Service (TMDSAS). AMCAS is not involved in the admissions decision-making process; these decisions are made solely by the medical schools and AMCAS merely delivers your application to them to be reviewed.

Timing Your Application Cycle

Before we give you some resources, an important part of timing your application is deciding whether to apply to post-baccalaureate programs or taking a gap year (or more).  Be sure to see our Educational Opportunities and Resources in the sidebar as well as this great article on Making the Most of your Gap Year.

Some great resources on generally timing your application cycle include:

Completing the AMCAS Application

Online guides on how to prepare your AMCAS application:

Before filling out your application:

Ready to start completing the application:

AMCAS (general info)

What information do I need to provide for the AMCAS?

The AMCAS consists of the following sections:

  • Background Information: Basic demographic information
  • Coursework: Enter in your past undergraduate coursework as it is listed on your transcript. You may use your unofficial transcript to input this information, but you will have to eventually provide AMCAS with a copy of your official transcripts for your application to be processed.
  • Work & Activities: Provide descriptions of your academic honors and awards, clinical experiences, non-clinical experiences, volunteer opportunities, employment history, and even your hobbies!
  • Letters of Recommendation: If you know who will be writing your letters of recommendation, you can input them here. You can submit your AMCAS application without having Letters of Recommendation; they are not needed until specific schools review your application. Check out MSMP’s FAQ for Letters of Recommendation.
  • Medical Schools: This is where you select all the schools to send your application to.
  • Personal Statement: Input your personal statement here. Check out MSMP’s FAQ for Personal Statement.
  • Standardized TestYou can submit your AMCAS application without having your MCAT scores; they are not needed until specific schools review your application. Check out MSMP’s FAQ for MCAT.

For full details on each section can be found in AAMC’s Tools and TutorialsHow to Apply with AMCAS, the 2016 AMCAS Instruction Manual and The Official AAMC Guide on How to Prepare and Apply for Medical School.

For a brief walkthrough, download MSMP’s Application Worksheet and review our presentation slides from the MSMP Application Workshop.

Other online guides (from AMCAS and a couple prestigious universities), and resources for filling out your online application can be found in the section below.  

How do I fill out my coursework? I have AP classes and classes on different campuses! I also don’t know how to classify certain classes.

Don’t pull your hair out regarding this.  The AMCAS application actually checks and verifies your records along with the medical schools themselves.  You will not be denied to a medical school because you made a mistake in how you listed your classes (unless the mistakes are huge and numerous).

If there was ever a time to reference the 2016 AMCAS Instruction Manual (along with the Tools and Tutorials and How to Apply pages), this would be it.  If you don’t know how to list a course, the best and only reliable resource is the AMCAS manual itself.

 

How much does it cost to submit my AMCAS application? What if I can’t afford the application fees?

The initial AMCAS processing fee is $160, which includes delivery of your application to one medical school. Sending your application to additional school will cost $37 each. For more information on deciding how many schools to apply to, read our guide on choosing medical schools.

The AAMC has a financial assistance website as well as a Fee Assistance Program.  We recommend you explore both sites to see what your options may be.

What happens to my AMCAS after it is submitted?

As outlined by AAMC:

amcasprocess

  1.  Application submitted: At this point, you’ve completed entering all your information into AMCAS and have submitted your application. You cannot make anymore edits to your application once you have submitted it. You should have requested for your official transcript to be sent to AMCAS by now, since AMCAS will only begin processing your application if they have your official transcripts.
  2. Application processed: AMCAS will verify that the grades you entered in your application match those that are listed on your official transcript. During their peak periods (June-September), this step can take up to 6 weeks. Again, this step will not occur until your completed application and official transcripts have been received by AMCAS.
    • During this time, AMCAS will be searching for any incorrect or missing grades you submitted in your application compared to those listed on your official transcript. If these errors or omissions cannot be resolved, your application will be returned to you for correction.
    • Most common reasons for a returned application: failure to list repeated courses, failure to list 10 or more courses that appear on the official transcript, failure to list credits/grades as they appear on your official transcript, failure to list coursework in chronological order.
    • ADVICE: double-check that you are entering your grades properly in your AMCAS to prevent any unnecessary delays in your application timeline.
  3. Application delivered: Once AMCAS has processed everything, your application will be sent to the schools designated in your application.

 

Filling out Work & Activities:

Although the Work & Activities section is just one of the many sections in the AMCAS, it is actually a great way to summarize all of your accomplishments and perhaps do a bit of self-reflection on how each of your activities reflects your growth, motivation, and determination to become a physician.

AMCAS (activities)

General Advice and Online Guides
  • The University of Washington’s Associate Dean of Admissions hosts recorded, publicly broadcasted Focus Sessions each year to talk to students about how they should write about their work and activities.
  • Harvard Medical School’s Pre-Medical Advising also has their own FAQ that covers some commonly asked questions about completing the Work & Activities section.
  • There is an entire Student Doctor Network thread with tips on entering your Work & Activities into the AMCAS. There’s a lot of great advice there from those that have submitted applications in the past.
How should I describe each experience? Bullet vs Paragraph? Detailed vs. Concise?

Bullet vs Paragraph: 

  • Generally speaking, you may go with either method.   You may write in full sentences or write in more of a “resume” or “CV” format (ex: I shadowed Dr. Smith vs shadowed Dr. Smith). Be consistent across the board with your approach, however.

Detailed vs. Concise

Please read the schools of though below.  However, it is generally wise to:

  • Be as concise as possible.  You do not need to use all the characters till your reach the character limit.
  • Remember that medical schools read hundreds to thousands of applications.  Make sure you are clear and get your main points across quickly and effectively.
  • Utilize your 3 “most memorable experiences” well (see FAQ on most memorable experiences)
  • Remember you also have your personal statement.  Don’t feel as though you need to get every single thought into these small descriptions.

3 general schools of thought/common advice you may receive:

“A – Describe the activity only if it needs describing (if you think it is something an Admission Committee Member will not know about) and otherwise, be brief with your description. Many think that talking about what you learned from the activity is not appropriate in this section, and is better saved as material for secondary applications.

B – Another school of thought is that this is exactly the place to address what you learned from an activity because you may not get another chance in a secondary application. Those from California especially feel this pressure since most of the secondaries at California Med Schools are screened (you do not automatically get a secondary; they review your primary application first and decide if you are worthy). Because of this it is tempting to spew as much as possible here.

C – Approach C is a combination of the two approaches. Spew when necessary (an unusual activity that may need a little bit more explanation to understand its depth, and you learned a lot from but you are NOT addressing in your PS) and limited description of commonplace application items (ER scribe, general hospital volunteer, MCAT teacher/tutor).”
From: Student Doctor Network submission http://forums.studentdoctor.net/showthread.php?t=813591

 

Do I need to fill all 15 slots? Can I combine certain related experiences or accomplishments?

Do I need to fill all 15 slots?  

NO!  Many applicants get into medical school without filling in 15 slots.  Quality is better than quantity.

That being said, utilize all of your 3 most memorable experiences well.  Be sure to read the instructions on the 2016 AMCAS Instruction Manual  on how you should approach these experiences.

Can I combine certain related experiences or accomplishments?

YES!  Some people have so many experiences, they exceed the 15 allotted.  Some people may not have more than 5 experiences, but have experiences that should not be broken up into different slots.  Some examples include (but are not limited to):

  • Academic honors: it is wise to lump all your academic honors and scholarships under one heading like “Academic honors and awards.”  This may include Deans List rankings, Phi Beta Kappa, Golden Key, scholarships, etc.
  • Related leadership: if you were a member of an organization, then eventually became a member of the leadership committee, also list these activities together.  There is no sense in listing “Premedical Association Member” and “Premedical Association President” under different headings.
  • Activities that may be related but that you don’t have much to say about individually: if you participated in various volunteering, or shadowing activities, but for a short time, list them under the same heading.  For example, you may include an entry with the heading “Various Service Activities” or “Shadowing Experiences in OBGYN.”
I’m confused on how to enter dates and hours for each experience. Can I list future experiences?

I’m confused on how to enter dates and hours for each experience. 

Always refer to the AMCAS Manual for official advice.

  • Academic Honors, Awards, Presentations/Posters and Publications: require only one date. Don’t stress too hard on how to list the hours and dates for these types of experiences. You can give date ranges for various awards and presentations in the description section.
  • I repeated one job/experience multiple times: check Yes next to the “Repeated?” field for that particular entry. You may enter up to three additional date ranges. For each of the date ranges, include only the number of hours completed for that specific date range.
  • I combined experiences or I had a non-traditional work schedule: If you have a non-traditional schedule, you may explain in the Experience Description field.
  • DONT STRESS about the specific way you list hours and date ranges for certain experiences. Committees look at the date range and hours for traditional experiences like long-term jobs or volunteering experiences. They understand that certain entries (ex: academic honors, presentations, combined entries ie “Various Service Experiences”) do not match the traditional method of entry for dates and hours.  Just be sure to describe adequately in the description section.  

I’ve got a super awesome opportunity coming up.  Can I list it even though it will start after I submit my AMCAS application?

Generally, no.  The committee only cares about experiences that you started before your application was submitted.  Your start date must be no later than the current month. Similarly, medical schools ask that the experience end date coincide with the start of medical school. Even if the experience will be ongoing, the latest end date is August of the current application cycle.

What if I don’t have a contact person or lost touch with my contact? What if there are various contacts or locations?

I lost touch!

Try to get back in touch.  Most of your contacts will be understanding that you are busy or other circumstances may have arisen such that you lost contact with them.  Most also understand the importance of listing a contact for your application.  For the most part, these contacts are not called for recommendations, so don’t view them necessarily as references in the same way as a job application.

Even if you cannot get in touch with your professor or other faculty/direct supervisor, you can actually list other staff, administrators, students or ANY persons who can reliably verify that you were involved in that activity at the dates and hours you specified (even if you had no direct contact with that person).

My organization has no faculty advisor!

Indicate a person who medical schools can contact to verify that this experience occurred. For example, you may enter your supervisor or the individual in charge of a particular program. If the experience was a student-organized group and there is no advisor, you may list a staff member in the Student Affairs/Activities Office who can verify your experience.

As a last resort, you may enter the name of ANY person who can verify your participation, including yourself. You are required to provide a phone number and/or email address for this contact person.

My experience has various contacts!

List the one that you are in best contact with.  If you are listing a contact (or location) for experiences like “Academic Honors” or “Various Volunteer Experiences” again, pick one best contact and you can give further contacts (if necessary) for the others.

 

What are my most memorable experiences?

This is completely up to you.  You may include medical or non-medical most-memorable experiences (they do not all need to be clinical experiences). These experiences will be described in much more detail than your other experiences.  The best way to choose your experiences may be to consider the description of the AMCAS Manual.

You may identify up to three (3) experiences that you consider to be the most meaningful. This designation will allow you an additional 1,325 characters to explain why this experience was particularly meaningful to you. When writing your response, you might want to consider the transformative nature of the experience, the impact you made while engaging in the activity, and the personal growth you experienced as a result of your participation. If you have two or more experience entries, you will be required to identify at least one (1) as the most meaningful. You may change which experience(s) you designate as Most Meaningful until the initial submission of your application. The text you entered in the Experience Summary section will be lost if you remove an experience from those that you have designated as Most Meaningful.

I can list an experience under multiple categories (ex: leadership vs. teaching). What should I do?

Just use your best judgment.  For the most part, these categories are just meant to help you and medical schools organize your experiences in some way.

Certain schools may assign you points in the primary or secondary screening process according to certain experiences you listed.  For example, some schools assign points to your application for having listed academic honors, medical employment, research experience or publications, etc.  It is therefore probably wise to list your experiences in a well-rounded fashion.  For example, if you already have many experiences that can be listed as teaching or mentorship, consider listing some as leadership instead.

However, don’t worry about how you list your experiences too heavily.  Schools will read your application, and assign your points accordingly.  The way you classify your experiences wont heavily influence (or influence at all) the points you receive, or how your application is considered.  The way you classify things probably means more to you than it does to them.

 

The Primary and Secondary Screening Process and Committee Consideration:

AMCAS (primary and secondary)

What’s on the primary app? How do medical schools determine who gets a secondary application?

You can find the information required for the primary application in the FAQ above labeled “What information do I need to provide for the AMCAS?”

So how do medical schools use this information for their primary screening process to determine if you get a secondary application or interview?  A good basic overview can be found here.  You should also consider reading this article from AMCAS and this Letter from the John Hopkins Previous Dean of Admissions. A good insightful overview of the entire preparation and application process can be found in the AAMC Official Guide to Medical School Admissions.

  • Point system: some schools use a point system.  These schools assign you a certain number of points considering (but not limited to): your MCAT scores by section, your cumulative AND science GPA, your GPA from the most recent two years of your undergraduate years, research experience, medical/non-medical employment or work, medical/non-medical volunteering, academic honors, etc.  If you meet the necessary number of points, you get a secondary application.
  • Cutoffs: Some medical schools have minimum GPA and MCAT requirements, or other basic requirements from your work and activities section.  If you do not meet these cut offs, you do not get a secondary; if you do, you get a secondary or move on to another screen.
  • Everyone gets a secondary: some schools have very little screening process for the primary application, and everyone will get a secondary application.  Screening for these schools takes place AFTER they receive your secondaries. Keep in mind that secondaries often involve a secondary application fee for the school.
  • Single screeners: some schools have committees or a single individual who reviews and reads each application individually and then decides who to invite to submit a secondary. These schools may even consider your personal statement in the primary screen.
  • Other algorithms, categorical systems: some schools use other systems or algorithms to break you into different categories (ie definitely offer secondary, hold offer pending other information, don’t offer).

The systems vary widely and while you can generally go online to Student Doctor Network to investigate the method each of your schools will use, it is very difficult to predict if you will extended a secondary application.  Generally speaking keep in mind:

  • Your numbers matter most during the primary screen.  Your GPA and MCAT is most useful for getting your foot in the door.  After your primary screen, your numbers decrease in weight and the rest of your application (interview, essays, CV), becomes much more highly weighted.
  • Just because you get a secondary application, doesn’t mean you’ll be offered an interview. Some schools have very lenient or non-existent primary screens.
What is the secondary application? Can I repeat information in my secondary essays that I already covered in my primary essays?

What’s on the secondary application?

  • Undoubtably, more essays!!!  Accepted.com and Prospective Doctor offers a list of links to some top medical schools in the nation and their secondary essay prompts or advice with regards to how to approach these secondary essays.
    • Can I repeat information from my primary essay? From Student Doctor Network: “Of course! The only caveat to this is if the medical school specifically states that no material that is already covered in your primary application be repeated in a secondary essay. In fact, I find that when applicants compose comprehensive primary applications, they are often forced to repeat some of this content in secondary essays.  Since medical schools often create secondary essay prompts to address deficiencies they observe in applications, having already covered the material implies your application wasn’t deficient.”
      • Do not take this to mean that you can copy and paste your primary essay or use all of the exact same experiences you used in your primary essay.  You should try to approach these essays in a unique way if possible.  While using similar experiences or themes is inevitable, remember that this is perhaps another chance to show a different side of your application or personal history.
  • Letters of recommendations are usually requested at this time, if they were not already requested with your primary application and screening.
  • Some schools, including JABSOM, offer interviews at the same time as their secondary screen.
  • Some schools have other paperwork or mini-prompts that you need to complete.

Some common FAQs and advice can be found on this Student Doctor Network Article and Berkeley’s Application Page.

How do medical schools decide who to interview and eventually accept? What factors are considered?

Important insights can be gleaned from articles given in the previous two FAQ’s, including:

Some schools, like JABSOM, offer interviews and secondary applications together.  Others will take a look at your application as a whole, including your secondary essays, and determine who to extend an interview to.  The process itself is usually very holistic in nature, and may be considered directly by the admissions committee or dean of admissions.  For more information on what to do if you receive an interview, please see our interview page.

The Committee:

Most if not all medical schools have an application committee, which meets to discuss your application.  Remember, your medical school application is more than just your grades and MCAT scores! AAMC released an insightful analysis showing how other factors such as interviews, community service, and letters of recommendations weigh in determining interview invite and acceptance.  Most schools have a ranking system, which may or may not be fluid in nature (meaning you can move up or down the ranking system).  The application committee may assign you a score or rank, and will extend invitations to the top candidates.  Schools with “rolling applications” may accept the first students who meet a certain rank or criteria set by the committee, and will close their applications once they receive their desired class size.