This entry is based on students who have already completed their MCAT and leaves out any information regarding Pre-health committee specifics. For information on those topics (MCAT and/or Pre-health Committee), see our other entries.
So, you want to be a doctor? As a pre-med, envisioning that letter of acceptance to medical school is the stuff of daily fantasy. Some pre-meds are neurotic enough to know every single requirement for applying to medical school by the first week of their undergrad career (yes, I was this neurotic pre-med). You may know what med schools require of their applicants but are you aware of the entire application process? Applying to medical school is long and arduous, with seemingly endless deadlines and requirements. In order for you to be as knowledgeable and prepared as possible, I have prepared an outline of the entire process of applications. This outline should not be your only resource when you are going through your applications. It is, however, a great introduction into what you should be expecting in your near future.
Applying to medical school is about a two-year process from the time you start studying for your MCAT to your matriculation into M1 (assuming you are accepted the first time). Time is your friend, and also your enemy. Applying to medical school is NOT a process that should be rushed, or not done to the best of your ability. After all, the statistics from the AAMC in 2014 showed that 49,474 people applied to medical school, and only 20,343 actually matriculated. Here’s a link to the chart:
Even though this may seem low, don’t be discouraged. You must be aware of just how competitive it is to apply to medical school. You will be competing against the best students in the country. What will you do to make yourself stand out?
One great thing an applicant can do is to apply early. Applying early means your application will be one of the first that a medical school receives. This is good because they have a limited number of interviews and acceptances that they give out. If you apply early, you are applying when there is the largest number of interviews and acceptances available. Plus – if you are accepted in the fall, you have achieved your goal! You don’t have to stress any longer about whether or not you’ll be a doctor. Your seat is secured and you can relax until the following August when you actually matriculate. Any other interviews/acceptances you receive thereafter are just supplemental.
So, let’s begin.
First, I’ll outline the basics of what you should be doing each year to help prepare you for applying to medical school, starting with freshman year (yes, you should start this early!). This timeline is flexible. It is based on the traditional four-year track with direct matriculation into medical school after graduation. Many people turn this into a five-year process by taking extra time to finish their major, by picking up another major or minor, or by taking a gap year. These are great options, but you will have to identify what track is best for you.
Freshman Year: Meet with your Pre-health Committee to discuss your career goals. Typically, it is best to make your first meeting after your first semester so that they have some grades to work with. By the way, MAKE AS MANY A’S AS POSSIBLE! Everyone starts with a 4.0. Once you lose it, IT IS GONE FOREVER.
Freshman/Sophomore Year: Begin building your extracurricular activities by joining clubs (pre-med or not), volunteering, and looking for shadowing or research positions. Meet with Pre-health Committee to keep them updated on your achievements and goals. Also, build relationships with your professors. NOTE: Some labs have specific requirements for accepting research assistants, but others don’t. Make sure to look into this. It is possible to get a research position as a freshman.
Sophomore Year: Ideally, complete all required prerequisites for taking the MCAT. This generally includes:
- Gen Bio I, II (with lab)
- Gen Chem I, II (with lab)
- Physics I, II (with lab)
- Organic Chem I, II (with lab)
- Some psych/sociology classes such as Intro to Biopsych or Cognitive Processes and Medical Sociology or Medical Anthropology
Meet with Pre-health Committee to keep them updated on your achievements. Also, focus on making as many A’s as possible and keep up your extracurricular activities.
Junior Year: Ideally, take your MCAT your junior year. The latest exam date should be May of your application year.
Typically, applications are done in the summer between your third and fourth years (so between junior and senior year). Many people apply between their fourth and fifth years. This depends on what track you chose and how ready you are to apply.
Let’s talk applications.
When you are getting ready to apply, you should have the following checklist complete:
- AMCAS Application
- Committee Letter/Packet
- Letters of Recommendation
- Transcripts (from all colleges attended)
- MCAT Score
- List of schools you are applying to
- Lots of $$$
Brief Note on the Pre-Health Committee
Many schools highly prefer a committee letter if your school has one for you to work with. If you do not have a committee at your school or if you choose not to use them, you will have to explain why you are applying without a committee letter in your secondary applications. Although it is preferred by medical school ADCOMs for applicants to use the Pre-health Committee, it is NOT required. However, the Pre-health committee can be extremely helpful because they organize and send all of your paperwork to the AAMC for you. Also, many of their requirements for the committee letter reflect the requirements of applying to medical schools. They also write you what could be one of the most important and detailed letters of recommendation you have for medical school, which is the committee letter. Contact your schools Pre-health Office for more information on the specifics of their requirements.
A Note on Letters of Recommendation
Your letters of recommendation serve as validation for what you say for yourself in your application. It is vital that you create personal, professional relationships with your professors so that you can ask them later to write you an LOR. These letters are a great platform for your application while being reviewed by medical school admissions committees (ADCOMs). Look forward to our next blog post about how to ask for these letters. *
MSAR: Medical School Admission Requirements
This database is a product of the AAMC that you must purchase in order to create an informed list of which schools you will be applying to. A 1-year subscription costs $25, and the up-to-date information includes 10th-90th percentile of GPA and MCAT, location, financial, demographics, facilities, prerequisite courses, research funding, selection factors, graduate specialty choice of current class on medical schools in the United States, the Caribbean, and Canada. You can also search and sort the information on several parameters, allowing you to customize the process of making your list.
American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS)
The AMCAS is the central application that will be sent to every medical school you select. This central application includes the following:
- Personal Biographic Information
- Criminal Background Check (done by medical schools)
- Childhood Information
- Family Information
- Disadvantaged Statement
- Complete academic record of all college courses ever taken and grades received (manual entry)
- Standardized test scores (MCAT)
- 15 experiences
- Personal Statement
- List of Schools
- Letters of Recommendation
The personal statement is one of the most dreaded parts of the application. Us pre-meds are used to studying chemical reactions for hours on end, memorizing every step in the Krebs cycle, and contemplating the detailed, endless instructions in our lab manuals to do experiments we often don’t even really understand. But don’t ask us to write! Oh no, we would take Orgo any day over having to write 5300 characters about ourselves. This is why you should not wait until the last minute to write this statement. It is no easy task, and it takes multiple tries to get it to a satisfactory level. Writing an exceptional personal statement can mean the difference between getting an interview, and not!
The infamous 15 experiences are fifteen boxes in the AMCAS application where you must write about the fifteen most significant experiences you have had as a college student and pre-med. The boxes are limited to 700 characters but you may choose up to three Most Meaningful experiences where you will get an additional 1325 characters to explain why. You can write about anything that has impacted you significantly such as research, volunteering, student clubs, shadowing, travel, hobbies, awards, mission trips, etc. 600 characters is not a lot, so you must maximize your space. Make every word count! Make sure to talk about what you gained personally from this experience in addition to what you did. How did this experience affect you as a pre-med? What did you gain from this experience that will make you a better doctor?
NOTE: These experiences require that you input dates/hours completed/accurate contact information (with name, phone number, and email) for each box. THIS IS WHY YOU SHOULD BE KEEPING A RECORD OF THESE ACTIVITIES. It is a hassle to try and remember these specifics from activities that we did years ago. The information needs to be as accurate as possible, because they do check up on the information you enter.
- May 1st – application opens for info input
- June 1st (approximate) – application opens for submission
- June 27th (approximate) – earliest date that verified applications are sent to medical schools
The later you submit, the longer verification takes. If you submit within the first week, it is likely that your application will be verified by June 27th, meaning it will be sent to medical schools as soon as possible. If you apply in peak season, around late June or July, verification can take upwards of eight weeks. Your application will not be sent to medical schools until it is verified by the AAMC.
Once your application has been verified, it is sent to the medical schools you listed on your AMCAS. Now it’s time for secondary applications!
Secondary applications are exactly what they sound like. After you have completed and sent your AMCAS application to the AAMC and they sent it to your schools, each school sends you back a secondary. These applications are generally essay-based and are specific to each school. Some schools have no essays, while others can have as many as twelve for you to complete. The topics vary by school, as does the cost. Yes, you must pay for each secondary application. The price can range from about $25-$120 each, and anywhere in between. Also, the unsaid “deadline” for submitting your secondaries is two weeks after you receive it, but you should try to return them ASAP. So, if you receive 12 secondaries in a single day, you should have them complete and returned within two weeks, and earlier if possible.
Once you submit your secondaries, it is time to wait for interview invitations. Interview season begins in August and lasts until about March/April of the following year. The wait can be absolutely unbearable once you’ve submitted all of your applications.
Interview Time (yay!)
If you are invited to interview, you must attend the interview at the school within a specific time window that they assign. This means that you must travel to that school and arrange accommodations for yourself. Interview season can be very expensive depending on how many interviews you get and where they are. Interview days are usually quite fun, and often include campus tours, lunch with medical students, meet and greet with faculty, tours of facilities, and school specific info sessions. If you want more information on interviewing skills, look forward to our interview blog post. *
Acceptance: You made it!
Receiving your first medical school acceptance is extremely exciting. You have achieved your goal of acceptance. You may be accepted to one school or ten schools, but an acceptance is an acceptance regardless of how may you get. Your dreams of becoming a doctor are that much closer now.
Take note, however, that many people do not get in on their first try. It is not uncommon and it doesn’t mean that you are not meant for this career. If you are not accepted on your first try, you should not give up. This is an opportunity for improvement. Make sure to identify your weaknesses, work on them over the following year, and reapply! You will be a much stronger applicant the next time around.
Some schools receive over 10,000 applications for classes as small as 165 students. For example, in 2013 the Boston University School of Medicine received 11,072 applications, offered 1,072 interviews, and accepted 165 students. The application process is hypercompetitive!
Financing an Application Cycle
Applying to medical school can be extremely expensive. Below I will give a general list of costs, but remember that many of these costs vary (such as secondaries and interview expenses) depending on the results of your applications.
- MCAT: exam $300, prep course $1,500-$4,000 depending, so approx. = $2,000 minimum
- MSAR: $25
- Committee Fee: $65
- Transcripts: $10 each
- AMCAS Fee: $160 (includes one school)
- Each additional school: $37 each (average 15 schools = $555)
- Secondary Applications: $25-$120, for each school, so approx. = $900 for 15 schools
- Interview Outfit: $100
- Travel Costs for Interviews: approx. $500 per school (flight + accommodations), estimate 3 schools = $1,500
TOTAL: approximately $5,300 (this total may vary greatly, but it is generally within the thousands).
NOTE: There is something called the Fee Assistance Program (FAP). This is a program offered by the AAMC that reduces or waives many of these fees, such as the MCAT exam cost, the AMCAS central application cost, the additional fees for 13 schools, and many secondary fees. You must apply and be approved to use this program, but EVERYONE SHOULD APPLY. Using the FAP could save you thousands of dollars.
Are you overwhelmed yet? Don’t be, because just think about how many medical students and doctors have done this successfully before you. This is the last big hurdle before you get to medical school.
Prepare yourself. There is no excuse for not knowing something. There are dozens of resources out there to help you make it through the application process and meet all of your deadlines. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and speak to your colleagues/superiors to be as well informed as possible.
Also, don’t rush this process. If you are not ready to apply, don’t. There is no problem with waiting an extra year or two in order to solidify your application. After all, the average age of entering medical students is 24. If you want to take your time and travel, get a masters degree, improve your GPA, or complete a research project, do it. It is better to wait until you’re completely ready.
Think about receiving that acceptance letter, and get excited! We are extremely lucky to be able to go through this process to try and join the most elite group of healthcare providers. Where will your dreams of being a doctor take you? Keep your eye on the prize. If you really want it, and you put the appropriate effort, these dreams will become a reality.
Have any questions about the application process? Feel free to ask in the comments section.
Best of luck to you all!