I remember feeling absolutely terrified of hitting the button that would open the application portal. I knew it was going to be overwhelming, so I distracted myself by researching information about AMCAS on the side. Let this be your sign: bite the bullet. The sooner you look at AMCAS and get familiar with the application, the sooner you will be able to hit submit. But trust me, I know how it feels. I know how important every single word and every single page feels. Use this blog post to help you walk through it all, step-by-step.
On the first day you open the application, I recommend that you send your transcript to AMCAS immediately. This will help prevent delays during the verification process, and take one very important step out of the way.
Next, you want to start filling out the identifying information, schools attended, and biographical information. It’ll only take around 30 minutes, and it’s going to feel so good to see those boxes checked off.
It’s easy to get stressed out about every minute part of the application. I spent some time googling the language proficiency levels to make sure that I was accurate, and worried that it wouldn’t be impressive enough that I was only “good” at Spanish. Guess what? Nobody ever asked me about my language proficiency level. When you’re filling out these parts of the application, just imagine that you’re filling out another long form at the dentist. Answer honestly, and answer quickly.
The one part that you might want to consider in more detail is the childhood information section. I spent half of my childhood in Illinois and the other half in California. I strategically selected Illinois as the place where I spent the majority of my childhood from birth to age 18. Why? Because regional bias is real, and something to consider when structuring your medical school list. I went to high school and college in California, and I wanted to show admissions committees that I had lived in Illinois to increase my chances at midwestern schools. If you are in a similar situation, I suggest you choose the place that will help you expand your geographic reach. But please do be honest, or it will make your life harder down the line!
The other part to consider is whether your childhood place of residence was a medically underserved region. You can start by searching for your neighborhood on the HRSA website. The definition of a medically underserved area can be very diverse, so I would urge you to evaluate your childhood situation honestly. Did you have to drive hours to get to a medical facility? Are hospitals available in your area, or are there only local clinics? Don’t worry if you are unsure which option to select. The question asks, “Do YOU believe that this area was medically underserved?” Be transparent, be real, and you’ll be great.
When entering your courses, simply copy and paste the exact wording from your official transcript. Let me say that again. The exact wording. Even if it doesn’t make sense. Your AMCAS verification will be way quicker and smoother if they don’t have to confirm that your courses match your transcript. I hated the abbreviations, and I wanted to write out the complete course titles. But trust me, you want to match your transcript. You should only change your course title if your course included a laboratory component, which was not indicated clearly on your transcript. In that case, add “and Lab” to the end of the course title. List all of your expected and future courses as well. Even if the exact course changes, it offers a nice picture of how you will complete all of your competencies before medical school.
For quarter system folks, I found a lot of discussion online about whether you should enter your credit hours in terms of the quarter system or semester system. Under “term” in the coursework entry, it allows you to select “1st quarter (fall),” “2nd quarter (winter),” etc. I wrote my credit hours exactly how they appeared on my transcript, in quarter system hours, and I would recommend that you do the same for the quickest verification. They will convert them for you after you submit!
The only place where I deviated from my transcript was for the AP courses. On my transcript, it showed up as 48 total AP credits, without any distinction of the courses. I looked up “UCLA AP Course Credit,” and found this link. Using that website, I input the names of my courses and their UCLA-converted units. If you take this approach, make sure that your total number of AP hours for individually-inputted courses matches the AP units on your transcript. And remember to use the units/credit hours provided by your school, which might be different from UCLA.
Now, as you start inputting all of your courses, it can get pretty tiring. It’s okay to make mistakes, since you can always edit them later. The ONLY thing you want to BE SURE to get right are the year, and the quarter/semester in which you took your course. If you later decide to change the year/quarter/semester, it erases the content in the rest of your entry, which gets annoying real quick. Trust me.
Some of you might be wondering what label you should choose for “course classification” if your course was very interdisciplinary. I had taken a year-long course on Interracial Dynamics, which covered my history, sociology, government, and writing requirements. So for each quarter, I chose a different classification.
If you have to pick one classification, think about which area seems to be the weakest on your application. For example, if you were a neuroscience major and took mostly STEM classes, maybe you want to label your interdisciplinary psych-neuro course as Psychology to get a bump on your social sciences credit. Check out the requirements on the Johns Hopkins page for a good guideline. Many medical schools have moved towards “competency-based” admissions, so they don’t state exactly how many courses they want to see in each category. Hopkins is a nice reference to see whether you are meeting the general requirements. I would recommend researching all of your schools, and using the one with the most strict requirements as a guide.
If you are on the quarter system, don’t be worried if you don’t meet the exact “credit hours” listed on the Hopkins website. I was told that I only needed 1 quarter of biochemistry, which landed me a bit short on their credit hours. But it was not a problem through my admissions cycle, so I am sure they understand that the quarter-to-semester conversion is imperfect.
And for everyone: your courses do not have to be perfect. They understand that every college has different offerings, and you might still be taking classes. At most schools, they are not strict about things like “1 year of English.” Maybe you took a writing course in Scandinavian Studies that had a focus on English. That counts! Try to accurately capture the diversity of your course experiences, but don’t get #neurotic. Your grades are the important part for landing an interview. Coursework matters more for matriculation.
Letters of Evaluation
Letters were definitely the scariest part of the application. Most of our courses at UCLA were very large, and it felt like you had to go out of your way to meet professors. I have many thoughts about networking tips, choosing the optimal combination of letter-writers, or things to ask for in your letters. Right now, let’s talk about the nitty-gritty of letters in AMCAS.
First, it is important to know that you can submit your application without receiving all of your letters. Most schools will not review your file until your secondaries are complete, so your letters technically only need to arrive by the time you start submitting secondaries (which tends to be around the beginning of July at the earliest). That being said, having your letters earlier can feel very stress-relieving, and allow you to focus on your part of the application.
Interfolio Dossier is the most user-friendly way to submit your letters. You can create a free account to request letters from your recommenders. When you hit “request a letter,” it will allow you to enter their email address. This will send a link for recommenders to confidentially upload your letter. After that, you can sit tight for a while until you need to deliver the letters to AMCAS.
For delivery, Interfolio accounts must be upgraded to Interfolio Dossier Deliver, which costs $48 for the full year. To deliver a letter from Interfolio, you will first go into AMCAS, hit “add a letter of evaluation,” and enter some identifying information about your recommenders. This will generate an AMCAS Letter ID unique to each recommender. When you deliver a letter from Interfolio, make sure you add the AMCAS Letter ID to the delivery. This will make sure that the letter is uploaded under the right name from Interfolio to AMCAS.
The other option is to use the AMCAS letter writer. Unlike Interfolio, you will have to create the AMCAS Letter ID before you request a letter from your recommenders. Your recommenders will have to create an account, and input your AAMC ID along with their AMCAS Letter ID to upload your letter. Overall, there are more steps for your recommenders to complete with AMCAS Letter Writer. From my experience, more steps equals more time. That is why I prefer Interfolio, but the associated fee is definitely a downside.
After you have received your letters on AMCAS and chosen your medical schools, you will have to assign letters. I would recommend reading the requirements on the admissions page for each school, and writing a little note for yourself. Choose the combination of letters that you think will make you sound the strongest. If there are only three letters accepted at a school, you have some options. You can pick the strongest three, even if that means compromising recommenders who can talk about your breadth of experiences. I would choose this approach if you think that some of your letters are significantly stronger than others. However, if you think most of your letters are pretty strong, I would recommend another approach. Pick letters from people in a variety of roles (like a professor, mentor, and employer) to show your strength in a multitude of areas. Most applicants will need to find some middle ground between the two approaches. If you’re really stuck between two recommenders, trust your gut. There is probably one person who knows you better, supports you more openly, or honestly, writes more convincingly.
Your MCAT scores will auto-populate into this section of the application. Be transparent if you plan on taking the test again, or have an upcoming test date. We would recommend taking the MCAT before you start applying. This will help you create an optimal school list, and let you understand your chances. That being said, it is perfectly fine to apply before you have your scores. Just make sure you have signed up for a test date, and have some idea of your projected score range.
There is a section to enter other tests, like the GRE, LSAT, etc. Please don’t look at this section and wonder if you’re going to be less competitive because you don’t have extra test scores. I promise you are not :) This section is designed for people who had career changes, or have interest in a dual degree that requires additional scores.
Creating a school list is not easy work. When submitting your primary application, you actually only need to enter one medical school. If you are delaying submission because you are unsure which schools to select, go ahead and press the button. You will have time in the verification period to craft and update your school list on AMCAS.
Work/Activities & Essays
These are the most important sections of the AMCAS, and each deserves its own blog post. But in short, there are 15 activity slots in the Work and Activities Section, of which you can designate 3 to be the most meaningful. Your goal should be to fill up as many activities as possible, but never sacrifice quality for quantity. Ideally, most applicants should try to aim for 8+ activities but this is not a hard and fast rule, especially if you have 7 or fewer activities to which you have dedicated meaningful time.
If you’re on the fence about whether to include an activity or not, ask yourself these two questions:
(1) Have I done this activity consistently for at least a few months?
(2) Would I be able to talk about this positively during an interview?
There’s little value in including a research job that you moved on from in only two weeks or a volunteering event that you did once every few months but cared little about. If anything, these can hurt your application if you ever have to justify why you stopped or if your motivation for pursuing the activity seems inauthentic.
If there are some experiences that don’t fit the longevity and meaningfulness criteria I suggested above, think about grouping multiple experiences together into one activity. For instance, if you were involved in isolated philanthropic events a couple times over a few years for a particular cause, you can group them together into one broader activity like “Pediatric Cancer Awareness Volunteering.” Grouping more sporadic activities can make them seem less like “fluff,” and can help you appear more dedicated.
One exception to the longevity and meaningfulness criteria is clinical experiences. We know that it can be tough to find shadowing opportunities or a clinical job, so your experiences here might be less robust compared to other areas. Include them anyways, since they help illustrate that you have real experience in the medical field. You might still consider the grouping approach, especially for short-term shadowing events.
For your essays, browse through the AMCAS competencies and think about those that matter to you. Start with a few free-writes, and evaluate whether you are showing those values through your writing. I recommend working with your tutors to find the best way to share your story and highlight your achievements.
Review, Review, Review!
Make sure to check all of your sections for accuracy, grammar, and spelling. So many people will read your application, from the initial screeners to the interviewers to the final decision-makers at every single school where you applied. The application is gone once you hit submit, and there are only a few administrative items that you can change (included in this link). So, don’t rub anyone the wrong way with a careless error!
Once you submit your application, it goes to AMCAS staff for verification. The verification process only starts once they have received your transcript and fees, so make sure you send those along as early as possible. Basically, in this period, AMCAS staff will check that your application is completely filled out, and that the coursework you entered matches your official transcript. That is why it’s super important that you enter your coursework exactly as it appears in your official school records--it will ensure that your application is processed smoothly.
If there are any errors or discrepancies, AMCAS may ask you to edit and resubmit your application. Each step of the process takes additional time, which delays your secondaries, and puts you farther back in the applicant review pool. So again, be sure that your coursework matches your transcript before you submit.
AMCAS verification usually takes 2-3 weeks at the beginning of the cycle. As the system gets piled with more applications, it can take up to 8 weeks. Your application does not get sent to medical schools until AMCAS verification is complete. The earliest date that medical schools receive applications from AMCAS is June 26th. You are likely to catch this window if you submit within 1-2 weeks of when the application opens for submission (i.e. May 31th - June 10th). After June 26th, AMCAS will send applications as fast as it can, but again, things tend to get delayed. We recommend that you submit your primary application before June 15th. If you have a really strong application, you might be alright submitting around July 1st, although it becomes risky. You need to evaluate your chances and your willingness to take risks at that time. Our best advice? The earlier, the better.
The good news - once you submit your application, you have a little bit of downtime in the verification period before you start receiving secondaries from schools. Use this time well! Relax, take a breath, start brainstorming some ideas, and check out our other blogs on creating a medical school list and writing secondaries...