Part 1: Introduction

If you’re applying to medical school, chances are you’ve heard a lot of terms (like AMCAS) that you don’t understand. Like in any field, there’s plenty of jargon that becomes normal to people who are used to it. But if you’re just beginning your journey, you might be confused.

Learn These Terms

  • AMCAS / Primary Application
    – AMCAS stands for the American Medical College Application Service. The AMCAS is another name for your primary application. They are the same.
  • Work and Activities Section
    – You’ll see this mentioned in some of our guides. This refers to the Work and Activities section that’s in the AMCAS application. We discuss this later in this article.
  • Personal Statement
    – While it’s commonly referred to as your personal statement, it’s called your personal comments essay on the application.
  • Secondary Application
    Your secondary application is the application you send directly to each medical school. The medical schools will send you the link to their secondary applications after they’ve received your AMCAS application.

    It’s important to note that some medical schools automatically send secondary applications to every applicant. Other medical schools selectively send them. So, if you don’t receive one, that generally means you didn’t make the cut. It’s similar to job interviews in that sense.

Part 2: The Definitive Guide

In today’s definitive guide, we’re going to walk you through the AMCAS. While we’ve touched on this before, we’re going to walk you step-by-step through the application process. Many prospective students find the application process to be intimidating, and that’s a notion we want to break down. It’s only intimidating if you don’t understand how it works. 

Primary Application

The American Medical College Application Service is for every prospective medical student. Like we mentioned in the “Terms to Learn” section, it’s known as your primary application. Every medical school you apply to will receive a copy of it. 

Secondary Application

Your secondary application is the one you’ll send directly to each medical school. Secondary applications are unique to each school and usually involve writing essays. If you need help writing your secondary essays, check out our list of guides to getting into medical school. We tackle topics like diversity, adversity and being a non-traditional student. 

Now that you understand the difference between primary and secondary applications, we’re going to dive into the AMCAS. We’ll go through each step of the application process. By the time you’ve read through this entire guide, you’ll be ready to fill out your application. 

Creating Your Account

The first step to using the AMCAS system is creating an account. There are three steps to creating your account.

  1. Personal Information
    This section includes the standard information that most forms ask. The only out-of-the-ordinary question is what your post-nominal suffix is. If you have your bachelor’s degree, you can put “BA” or “BS” in this spot. Or you can leave it blank since it is optional. 
  2. Initial Questions
    This section asks where you are in the application process. You’re a prospective medical student. You might still be in your undergraduate years, or you might have completed your bachelor’s degree. Just select wherever you are.

    They’ll check to see if you already have an account.
  3. Account Setup
    You’ll create a username and password, answer security questions and verify your email.

You’ll be directed to a page that shows the different AMCAS cycles. This can be confusing. You’ll want to choose the Current AMCAS Cycle. The past cycle shouldn’t show anything, and the future cycle won’t have opened yet. Click the purple bar to begin your application.

Create Your Profile

Once your account is set up, you’ll be taken to your profile page, where you’ll be given your AAMC ID. AAMC stands for the Association of American Medical Colleges. The AAMC is the organization that hosts the AMCAS and administers the MCAT

Once you’ve set up your profile, the website will redirect you to your dashboard. 

You’ll start on the right-hand side, where it says Application – Not Submitted to AMCAS. You’ll see the following list.

  • Identifying Information
  • Schools Attended
  • Biographic Information
  • Course Work
  • Work / Activities
  • Letters of Recommendation

Work through these sections one at a time, beginning with your identifying information. 

Identifying Information

This includes your:

  • Legal name
    This is usually the name on your driver’s license.
  • Preferred name
    If your name is Abigail but you go by Abby, this is the place to specify that.
  • Alternate name
    If you got married or divorced, or if you changed your name for some other reason, list those here. This ensures that AMCAS has your correct profile and application.
  • ID numbers
    If you’ve taken the MCAT, list your ID here. The same goes for any test that comes with an ID.
  • Birth and sex
    AAMC needs to know what sex you were assigned at birth and what gender you identify with now. They also want to know what pronouns you use. If you inform AMCAS that your name is Abby but your pronoun is ze or he, they will respect that.

Schools Attended

This section covers your high school and undergraduate university education. 

High School

Transcripts aren’t requested for your high school education. All AAMC needs to know is where you attended high school and what year you graduated.

Colleges

You’ll need to be really specific about the colleges you’ve attended. Be sure to list the following information.

  • Dual-credit courses in high school
  • Military education
  • Study abroad programs

List all the coursework you took at each institution. Don’t leave anything out. 

When inputting your university, you’ll be asked if you had a Major or Minor. If you didn’t have either, select None. You won’t be able to continue to the next section before making this selection. 

Transcripts

Transcripts are required for your AMCAS application. AMCAS won’t accept transcripts that you send yourself. They must be sent from the Registrar’s office at every institution you attended. 

Biographic Information

The questions included in this section are as follows.

  • Preferred Address
    This is the address where you prefer to have your mail sent.
  • Permanent Address
    Your permanent address is where you legally reside.
  • Alternate Contact (Optional)
    A parent, spouse or trusted friend could make a good Alternate Contact if AMCAS needs to contact you but can’t reach you.
  • Citizenship
    Wherever you legally reside is where you are a citizen.
  • Legal Residence
    If you are a college student in a state other than where you live, you’ll need to look up the requirements to become a legal resident of that state. You’ll probably want to list the state where you lived with your parents or legal guardians before you attended college. 
  • Self Identification
    This is optional. Don’t self-identify if you live in the European Union.
  • Languages
    You should list all languages you speak, no matter how fluent you are. List the language your family primarily spoke first, followed by any secondary languages you’ve learned or with which you are familiar. Basic knowledge should be included. The more languages, the better, but only speaking one language does not disqualify you.
  • Childhood Information
    This includes demographic information and questions about your household income growing up. 
  • Military Service
    If you’ve served in the United States Armed Forces, there are programs to help you earn your education at a more affordable cost. Fill out the information in this section according to your circumstances.
  • Felony or Misdemeanor
    Pay close attention here to what doesn’t need to be reported. Also, keep in mind that reporting a felony or misdemeanor conviction doesn’t disqualify you from medical school. There are medical schools in the U.S. that accept students with a record.

    Don’t list a felony if…
    – You weren’t charged.
    – The charges were dropped.
    – You were found not guilty by a judge or jury.
    – Your conviction was overturned on appeal.
    – You received an executive pardon.
  • Disadvantaged Status
    If you feel that you were disadvantaged and that this significantly affected your life, you’re given an opportunity to explain how. Select Yes, and the space to explain your circumstances will pop up.
  • Parents and Guardians, Siblings, Dependents
    If you’re a single parent, you’ll want to list your children as your dependents.

Coursework

AMCAS provides the following videos to help you learn how to input your coursework.

Work and Activities

If you’ve been reading our blog for any length of time, you’ve probably seen us reference this section. The Work and Activities section is your opportunity to list extracurricular activities, like the Debate Team, Chess Club, or your student newspaper. You have 15 spots, so list your experiences in order of importance. (By the way, good for you if you have more than 15 experiences to list!)

Letters of Evaluation / Recommendation

AAMC provides the following videos to help you submit your letters correctly.

There are several things to note about Letters of Evaluation.

  1. You can submit your application without the letters of evaluation if you haven’t received those letters yet. The letters are required, though, so don’t forget about them!
  2. Due dates for letters of evaluation are set by the medical schools, not by AMCAS. Make sure you upload your letters by the due dates listed for each school, or your application will be rejected for being incomplete.
  3. If your evaluator sends the letter directly to AMCAS, you won’t get to read it.
  4. If you’re a second-year applicant, you’ll need to re-submit your letters. They won’t automatically show up from your first-year applications.
  5. AMCAS doesn’t forward letters. So, if your school doesn’t participate in AMCAS, you’ll need to follow that school’s submission guidelines. Chances are, they’ll have you upload it via a portal on their website.

Medical Schools

This section is perhaps the most exciting part of the AMCAS application. This is where you select the medical schools to which you want to apply. It’s self-explanatory. You can type in the name of the school you’re looking for, or you can scroll through the list. Add all the schools to which you’re applying here. Don’t leave any out, or they won’t have access to your AMCAS application.

Essays

Personal Comments Essay

This is also known as your personal statementDon’t rush this section. Medical schools that don’t automatically send out secondary applications will not send you an application if they don’t like what you write here. Also, you cannot go back and edit this essay after you’ve submitted it. Because of that, we highly recommend using a tool like Grammarlyor Hemingway to edit your personal comments essay before you submit it. Both of these tools have basic versions that are free and easy to use. 

You have 5300 characters in your personal comments essay to discuss why you want to go to medical school. 

Here’s an example:

I come from a family of doctors. I grew up seeing both of my parents in scrubs, rotating between 24-hour shifts and making sure I had a babysitter when they were both on-call overnight. My father lived in his scrubs. I saw my mother more often. She spent every spare second she had with me, doing her best to influence me positively. Sometimes I resented my parents being gone so much, but it made me treasure my time with them all the more. I knew when they were on-call versus when they were off. So, I knew when to expect interruptions versus when I would have them all to myself. But honestly, the highlight of my childhood was all the time I spent with my grandmother. She moved in when I was 10 years old. 

Even though both of my parents were doctors, it was my grandmother who first inspired me with stories about her OB/GYN. My grandmother was 35 years old when she found out that she was pregnant with my mom. She was terrified of having another child because she thought she was too old. She had experienced smooth deliveries with her other children, but because of her age, she was irrationally afraid that she would die from birth complications. My grandmother’s anxiety was so bad that her OB/GYN saw her once a week for the entire duration of her pregnancy, even though she wasn’t high risk. Seeing her lab work come back normally and hearing Mom’s heartbeat on the ultrasound got my grandma through her pregnancy. My grandmother used this story as an example of being kind to others. She talked about using my skills to help others and to make a difference in their lives. 

My parents would roll their eyes whenever Grandma told that story because they had heard it a million times. But my parents also told stories over and over again–just different ones. Even though it was my grandma who got my attention with her stories, I was also influenced positively by my parents’ stories. My father is an anesthesiologist. He would make conversations with his patients before he put them to sleep. He once put a celebrity to sleep for surgery, but he couldn’t tell me who it was because of confidentiality reasons. He also helped a U.S. senator and a county commissioner. But his favorite stories to tell were about families. He loved helping families because they reminded him of us. At the end of the day, Dad was a doctor so he could come home and be with me and Mom. 

Mom was a pediatrician. Her stories weren’t as entertaining when I was young, but I have a greater appreciation for them now. Her days consisted of prescribing inhalers for little kids who suffered from asthma. She gave antibiotics to kids with strep throat and comforted little kids with colds who just needed to rest until they were better. 

It might not be a surprise that I want to go to medical school. Between my grandmother’s gratitude for her OB/GYN, to my parents caring for their patients, being a doctor is pretty much all I’ve ever decided. I’ve thought about it countless times, and I’ve decided to become an OB/GYN. As I’ve researched it, I realized that I wanted to specialize in one specific area of medicine, kind of like my mom, only I want to narrow it down even more. An eighteen-year span for treatment is too broad for me. I wanted to be part of one specific stage of life. My decision to become an OB/GYN is because of the ability of the female body to bring new life into this world. I think it’s amazing and borderline miraculous, and it’s an experience I want to be part of over and over again. 

I believe that I know exactly how I can help any woman who crosses the threshold of my office. By studying obstetrics and gynecology, I will be equipped to counsel women on topics like hormones, birth control and pregnancy. I’ll help newlyweds enjoy their marital bliss until they’re ready to grow their family. I’ll be there for expectant mothers, from their first visit in my office to when they give birth. I hope that my patients will trust me because I want to relieve as much of their anxiety as I can. After all, bringing a new life into this world is already anxiety-inducing. 

My grandmother has since passed away, but her story remains with me. And both of my parents are retired, so now it’s my turn to continue the legacy in my family. I want to be a doctor for multiple reasons. No doubt, my family has influenced my decision. But my desire to become a doctor is because I want to help patients. I hope that my desire, paired with my background and my grades, will be enough for me to be accepted into at least one medical school so I can fulfill my dreams.

This essay comes in at 807 characters, so it’s well within the 5300-character limit. If you’re convinced that you need to write exactly 5300 characters, don’t be. The word limit is designed to keep essays at a reasonable length for the admissions committee since they get so many applications. It’s also designed to ensure that the essay is long enough to answer the question.

This prospective student did well in her answer to the personal comments essay. She chose to discuss a personal experience. She knew she wanted to be a doctor, but it took time for her to decide what field she wanted to study. And while she cites her grandmother as her inspiration, she also has her own reasons for choosing the field of obstetrics and gynecology. This essay meets all the requirements and presents a well-prepared student to the admissions committees. 

Standardized Exams

This is where you’ll report your test scores, including the MCAT, GRE and CASPer. Be sure to include the following information:

  • What test you took
  • The date you took the test
  • The test section
  • Your score

Here’s an example:

  • Test taken: GRE
  • Date: 11 January 2020
  • Section: Math section
  • Score: 610

Once you’ve submitted all your test scores, you’ll be finished filling out your AMCAS application! We won’t deny that it’s a lot to fill out. That’s why we highly recommend beginning your application as soon as it opens and diligently working through it until you’re done. Don’t rush it, though. It takes, on average, a month to completely fill out the application.

AMCAS Quick Links

AMCAS provides the following tools to help prospective students as they prepare to submit their applications.

My Document Statuses

You can keep an eye on your letters of evaluation and transcripts from your dashboard. This saves you the trouble of going into the application to see what’s there.

International Medical Aid

The American Medical College Application Service is here to make your college application process a little easier through its centralized system. If you find yourself needing help with it, International Medical Aid is here for you. We offer comprehensive consulting services.

We can…

  • Review your primary and/or secondary applications.
  • Read your essays for your secondary applications and provide pointers for improvement.
  • Conduct a mock interview to help prepare you for the real deal.

If you’re still considering whether medicine is the right field for you, consider going on an international trip with you. We take students with us to South America, East Africa and Haiti. You’ll get to provide healthcare to underserved populations who need medical attention. If you decide medicine is the right field for you, you’ll have experiences to write about for your secondary applications! 

Finally, if you are considering which medical schools to apply to, check out our comprehensive guides for multiple schools. We update our blog regularly, so check back often to see what schools we have listed. 

We wish you the best of luck in your medical school journey! Remember, International Medical Aid is here for you. We’d be honored to help you, wherever you are in your journey. You can contact us via our website at any time. We look forward to working with you!