7 Steps to Complete the Medical School Application Process
Securing a seat in medical school requires you to go through a very comprehensive admissions process. By completing each aspect of the medical school application early and well, you maximize your chance of ending the cycle with an acceptance in hand.
1. Take the MCAT
Taking the MCAT is one of the most important and most dreaded parts of applying to medical school. The MCAT consists of three sections: physical sciences, verbal reasoning, and biological sciences. Each section is scored on a scale from 1 to 15 (1 is the lowest), for a total score of 3 to 45. A 31 is typically competitive for allopathic medical schools.
A full test revision is scheduled for release in spring, 2015. The test is revamping the science and verbal reasoning sections, adding a section testing behavioral science topics, and becoming longer.
The MCAT is a difficult test and requires extensive preparation. Some students find taking a test preparation course to be the most effective way to prepare; others prefer self-study. Either way, you need to set up a study schedule and allow at least three months of time to get ready for the exam — longer if you’re splitting your time between studying for your classes and preparing for the MCAT.
2. Create a list of applicable medical schools
Aim to compile a targeted list of schools that takes into account school type (public or private), rank, cost, curriculum, size, location, and how likely you are to be admitted. The goal is to put together a list that is a manageable length and gives you a good chance of being admitted somewhere but that won’t risk selling you short.
3. Submit primary applications
The American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) application is the application service used by most allopathic (MD) schools in the United States. Most osteopathic (DO) medical schools use the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS). Public medical schools in Texas (MD and DO) use the Texas Medical and Dental Schools Application Service (TMDSAS). The AMCAS, AACOMAS, and TMDSAS applications are known as primary applications.
Primary applications become available online in May and may be submitted in May (TMDSAS) or early June (AMCAS and AACOMAS). Admissions to most medical schools are rolling, which means that schools evaluate applications as they receive them. That’s why submitting your application early in the cycle is extremely important.
Each of the primary applications ask for the same basic information, including biographical/background information, colleges attended, coursework, grades, MCAT scores, work experiences, extracurricular activities, honors/awards, and a personal statement. (TMDSAS also has two optional essays.)
You fill out a particular primary application once. The application service then transmits it to each of the schools you designated. Primary applications require a fee that depends on the number of schools to which you’re applying.
Writing the personal statement is the most difficult part of completing the primary application for most applicants. Start brainstorming at least two months before you plan to submit your application, and anticipate going through many drafts to perfect it.
4. Obtain letters of recommendation
Some undergraduate institutions and post-baccalaureate programs have premedical committees that compiles a letter discussing the applicant’s candidacy for medical school. The committee letter may include quotations from individual letters of recommendation and/or may have individual letters attached to it.
If your institution doesn’t offer a committee letter, you will need to obtain individual letters from faculty and others to submit as part of your application. Each medical school has its own requirements for individual letters, so check with the schools to make sure you obtain the correct type and number of letters.
5. Complete secondary applications
In addition to a primary application, most medical schools also require a school-specific secondary (supplemental) application. If you submit your primary application in June, most of your secondaries will arrive during the summer. Fill them out and return them to the schools as soon as possible.
The simplest secondaries require only that you submit a fee and perhaps fill out a short form. Other secondaries include several short-answer or essay questions that ask you to explain why you’ve chosen to apply to the school or to elaborate on your experiences and background.
After you fill out a few secondaries, you’ll create a bank of essays to work from that you can modify for other schools; however, make sure you tailor your answer to the school and question being asked.
6. Interview with medical schools
Interviews start in August at some schools and continue through January or early February, although at some schools they run as late as April. Interview visit typically include tours; medical students mmet-and-greets; talks by the admissions office, faculty, and/or administrators; and one to three interviews.
Interviewers may be science faculty, physicians, or medical students. At some schools, interviews are conducted one-on-one; at others, you interview in front of a panel of two or more interviewers, either by yourself or with another applicant or applicants.
Some schools have switched to the multiple mini-interview (MMI) format, in which applicants rotate through a circuit of timed stations. Types of stations include those that require role-playing, teamwork, or analyzing a bioethics case.
7. Hear whether you’re in, out, or waitlisted
Allopathic medical schools begin offering acceptances as early as mid-October for regular applicants. Early decision applicants to AMCAS schools are notified by October 1.
If it’s a yes, take care to send in any required forms and/or a deposit to reserve your seat in the class.
Students who are in the fortunate position of holding multiple acceptances may decide to go for a second look weekend offered by some schools in the spring before making their final decision.
If you receive a no, contact admissions to get feedback about the reason for the rejection, which can help you during the current cycle or in the next one if you have to reapply.
If you’re put on the waitlist, don’t give up; you still have a chance of being admitted. Keep in touch with the school (unless it discourages that) by sending a letter of update, letter of interest, and/or additional letter of recommendation. This extra information keeps the school apprised of your ongoing activities and desire to attend its program.