Applicants be Warned: not preparing for and violating deadlines for medical applications puts you at a similar disadvantage of survival as breaking your own leg during the zombie apocalypse.
Applying for medical school is more than an application, it’s a process. The process starts as soon as you take your first college level course because these are recorded in your final GPA regardless of where you received credit. Now, if you’re a traditional premed, it’s likely you knew this when you entered college in the first place — heck, I’ve tutored 16 year old’s with anxious parents dumping loads of cash, already bolstering their child’s curriculum vitae for medical school. And then there’s the nontraditional serendipitous premed who’s fate crossed paths with medicine. If you’re a traditional premed then you probably ought to rely on your premed advisor for the best information because they’ll have access to your transcripts and will know how other students in your position from your college fared. With that being said, I will summarize my experience as an applicant following admission timelines. Before I go any further, I high suggest purchasing a book called Medical Schools Admissions Guide, it gives a very detailed layout, and a plethora of advice.
If you’ve been around people frantically applying to medical school then you’ve probably noticed there’s a lot of niche terms, application season is one of them. Application season starts when the Associate American Medical Colleges opens the AMCAS for users to submit their application, this usually happens around the first couple weeks of June. Therefore, no one can officially apply to medical school, that is submit their primary application, for a new academic year until AMCAS allows for the submit button to be hit on their site in June. However, this doesn’t mean you should start working on your application around June, you ought to have a lot done by May to make it in time to apply in June. The season starts to end around April for many schools of the following year. Also, this ‘season’ may seem pretty broad, but don’t be mislead you don’t actually have that much time to apply to medical school, you must be aware of the true deadlines. Now, the deadlines change slightly year to year because of presumably AMCAS administrative reasons, so I’ll give you a general window of dates to consider. But, the onus is on you to verify the official dates for the academic year you are applying for via the official AMCAS site and each respective school you intend to apply to.
Deadlines are very important during the medical school application process, if you do not have an appreciation for timelines now, you’ll either become a scheduling connoisseur, have a nervous breakdown because you procrastinated, or even worse miss the dead lines completely and be left to reapply the next year. Without further fanfare (or fear-fare in this for that matter), the components of the AMCAS application consist of:
- Apply for Financial Assistance Program to waive a bulk of application fees *You may or may not receive this, so plan (work and/or beg for money) accordingly
- Official Transcripts (from every place you took courses, this might take several weeks)
- Letters of Recommendations *you may submit your AMCAS prior to gaining your letters!!
- Data Entry of AMCAS: courses + grades, resume/CV section, personal statement
- MCAT score (automatically put into your application) *you may submit AMCAS prior to receiving the MCAT score
- AMCAS verifies your application
- Select schools/ pay lots of money $$
- Enter your grades/courses showing that you meet that program’s specific prerequisites. (not an official check, more of a way to show that you are aware of what you’re getting into, as some schools have diff)
- Write a number of essays
- Upload a picture *a lot of schools
- Pay money money $$
Interviews, a result of years of hard work
- Accept & schedule interviews
- After acceptance the school that accepted you will verify your transcript
For more information about each category read-on below.
The early bird gets into medical school, the late (bird?) wallows in their own despair, sweat, and tears because they missed a deadline.
Medical schools will usually do what’s called rolling admissions, this is very different from what you’re probably accustomed to. If your school does rolling admissions (most do), then it’s easiest to imagine this type of admissions as a type of musical chairs game. At the very beginning of the song (early June) there’s a lot of chairs, so there’s a large chance you’ll find your seat (matriculate). However, as the song progresses, the possible chairs to seat in diminishes, as does your chances to find a seat. Therefore, the game gets more and more competitive as they song plays, and if you’ve gotten to the end of the song (November) then you’re fighting to the death for that last single chair. With that said, it’s not like you’ll be competing against “slack-jawed” applicants at the beginning either, people who apply early are pretty serious; fortunately, there’s more open seats and schools see your early application as a solid sign of you being interested in their program. The longer you wait, the worse your chances tend to get. If you read nothing else on my blog, please read this “have your completed and polished AMCAS application in by early June”.
Avoid the pay lots of money part: Apply for the FAP: Deadline: February/March
Certain students will qualify for a fee assistance program called Financial Assistance Program (FAP), if you qualify for FAP then the program will pay for your MCAT, and primary/secondary applications (up to 15 schools). You can start applying for FAP usually way before the interview season starts, in February. To qualify for FAP you and your parents have to be along the poverty level, this will be proven by providing tax returns for both you and your parents. The bad news is that, regardless of your independence status you need to provide your parents information. For me, including my parents taxes disqualified me from receiving assistance in the application process, despite me personally being indigent. So, if you don’t qualify for FAP you probably ought to start knocking over banks to pay for the application process.
Primary Application: Official Transcripts: Deadline: Early May
It’s important that you get your official transcripts mailed to AMCAS (official AMCAS transcript delivery info). It may take a day or two for your school to get around to mailing them, and a week for them to arrive, and it may take several weeks for the AMCAS to align your transcripts with your user profile. After you have submitted your AMCAS (in June, since you’ll be applying early) you application must first be ‘verified’ before you are allowed submit your application to schools. So, if you didn’t work to push your transcripts through then you may be very sad to find after you submitting your application that it’s just sitting around to be verified. Therefore, try to get your transcript at the beginning of May.
Primary Application: Letters of Recommendations (LORs): Deadline: Request writers to submit in May*
You should have two deadlines in your mind regarding LORs: the date that you ask for them and the dates that you expect AMCAS to receive them. You should be looking for LORs, in my opinion, at least a year before you apply. Each school will have a specific requirement about what types of letters, for example some schools want two letters to be from instructors who’ve given you a grade, and the other two should be from advisors. Don’t worry about having a premed advisor, there’s usually a way to substitute for them. You need to be mindful of each schools requirements, because it’d be a waste of money/time/effort for you to apply to a school only to find out you didn’t even meet their LOR standards.
Now, most schools will allow for about 10 letters of recommendation, I do not suggest trying to gather 10 letters unless each makes you look like you won the Nobel Peace Prize. Quality over quantitiy. I turned in four very strong letters of recommendation, and one average LOR (I had no physician LOR), if I didn’t have a strong relationship with my writer I didn’t ask for a letter. In order to get strong LORs you need to move past the usual teacher/student paradigm, i.e. don’t expect your Biochemistry professor to write a glowing LOR even though you aced their course, because, well, they probably don’t know you very much. Also, don’t feel insulted if your LOR writer asks you to make a draft, this isn’t meant to be rude. Instead, your writer recognizes that they have no idea what traits you’d like to emphasize, so they’ll often ask for a draft so they can then extrapolate what you want them to focus on. You also need to keep in mind that it may take several weeks to months to your letter writer to first write you later, then remember to send it off, or figure out how to upload it electronically. Thus, you want to give your letter writer a few months heads up about needing the letter submitted to AMCAS in May, but anticipate some letters coming in later no matter what you do.
However, do not let late LORs delay your application, because the primary application can be submitted prior to you receiving your LORs. However, you’ll be stuck in limbo waiting for your LORs to arrive prior to you being able to submit your secondary application and/or the admissions committee won’t review nor send any invite invitations until your LORs arrive. So, again, you can submit your primary without LORs, it’ll just gum up the process while you’re waiting for the LORs to arrive during secondaries.
Entering the Primary AMCAS: Resume/CV, Personal Statement, Course work : Deadline: finalized in early June*
The AMCAS will provide over 10 opportunities for you to demonstrate you “walk the walk” by listing your noteworthy activities: whether that be academic, research, work related etc. To prove your level of commitment they will also have you list your level of participation by including the hours you’ve been involved (and project to be involved prior to assumed matriculation). There is no format requirement, but personally I used paragraphs for all the entry so I could better wordsmith and control the narrative. If you are a traditional premed then you’ll probably struggle in this section unless you’ve accomplished a lot with atypical leadership experience and scholarly work. This is section where nontraditional premeds have the chance to shine because of their range of non premed experiences.
So, go ahead and list your job promotion because you found a way to connect your jobs IT database together. There is one caveat, you want to be sure slyly affirm how your experience will make you a better physician. For example, using the IT example above, if you did improve that database at your company you could find a way to tie it to the electronic health record system being implemented into hospitals. You probably would want to be more nuanced than the manner that I just introduced it; remember they’re probably really good readers, so construct a narrative that allows them to extrapolate positive conclusions by themselves.
Writing a good personal statement is pretty difficult, you have to tell a story, in around a page, describing how you are the best thing since sliced bread, while at the same time you’ll have to say”but, bread isn’t that special”. Writing a good personal statement takes time, so don’t expect to expect anything worthy of submission until maybe your 10th draft. For this reason, it’s important to start on your personal statement very early. For myself I had a draft sitting around where I just brain dumped everything down onto some monstrosity well over the character limit provided. I then sat down and tried to construct the narrative about myself that was both true, yet could project to the admissions board that I’m a good pick. My nontraditional life led me to work as a contributing writer for a year, so I was accustomed to writing at the crack of a whip so constructing a narrative was par for course. However, if you have a hard time seeing your narrative, I suggest having a friend that knows you intimately read your personal statement and try to see what story they see there.
After I constructed my narrative, I then tossed out as much superfluous bits I could find. I had some writing convention gleaned from a book called Elements of Style that I abided by:
- A turd with a top hat is still a turd: a sentence becomes better because of the content and impact of the clauses that composes it. It’s totally cool to check the thesaurus to remind you of a word that was on the tip of your tongue, it’s another to go back ex de facto and try to substitute your own language for words with more syllables. For those nontraditional premeds who studied for the GRE you probably quite a few random words up your sleeve, try to reduce your verbal onslaught; make it readable.
- Reduce redundancies, if something is more appropriately addressed elsewhere in my AMCAS (resume/CV section, and LORs) then I made sure not to say it again in my persona statement. It was okay to make a cursory mention of it, if it was necessary as part of the narrative.
- Simplify structures as much as possible. Some things are better said in the present tense, or more directly. Avoid flowery structures unless you have experience using them to your success. That which could be said in three succinct sentences is better than that which is said in twelve meandering ones.
Probably by the time I had a version I felt less embarrassed to show to friends it was already my fifth draft or so. Then I formed a ‘committee’ so to speak. I advice all people to form a personal statement committee. On my committee I had a grammar sentinel, non premed/science reader, content/structure checker, and a person with editorial/style writing experience. I heeded their board’s advice, but the writing and decisions were all up to me. However, if you are not used to being criticized extensively then this process might not work for you, I was used to being kicked in the stomach by harsh reviews because of bench research so it worked for me. Chances are you’ll have a lot of criticism coming your way while in medical school, residency, and while being an attending, so you might as well learn how to take things with a stiff upper lip now.
First, after constructing a working draft, I sent it to my non premed/science major friend (who was also a good reader), had them check for how interesting it was. Took their suggestions I liked, and made another draft, got it past their approval, then moved onto my content checker friend. My content checker should had with having to write her own personal statements, for her PhD program (nontraditional perk). After it cleared their sniff test I moved it onto my grammar sentinel, by this time there were actually very few mistakes, however I wanted to have it as clean as possible before submitting it to someone who has editorial/style writing experience. I found someone on twitter (@RCwriter), I saw some of her work online and I really enjoyed her style, so I asked her to help me work with my style for my personal statement. After she helped jazz my personal statement up, I returned I sent the final version to everyone who helped me. If they all approved then I was done. I have gotten compliments about my personal statement at each school I’ve interviewed at, so I think the panel idea works. But, it’s a lengthy process, that’s why you need to have your personal statement started perhaps a month or two before June at the latest to make it easier on yourself.
Again, your goal is to have it done by the end of May, so you have a final version to submit in the beginning of June. However, it would be better in my opinion to delay your application by a few days or weeks if the delay would result in a much better personal statement. Turn in a quality product.
Coursework Data Entry
If you are a traditional premed, and on a semester system, then well this part is a breeze. Just print an unofficial copy of your transcripts, and do some good ole’ fashioned data entry. I myself am a nontraditional, so had transcripts from two institutions, one was a junior college on semesters, while another was my university that was on quarters. So, it was quite laberious to enter my transcripts. But, if you visit the AMCAS site you’ll find a way to convert units into academic years. I’ll save you some searching:
You’ll need to classify each course by a category, for example if you took Urban Planning then you’d classify that course as GOVT. Here’s the AMCAS official quick guide: https://www.aamc.org/students/download/181694/data/amcas_course_classification_guide.pdf
Here’s even more information about how to enter your course work and more: https://www.aamc.org/students/applying/amcas/how_to_apply/130652/entering_your_course_work.html
My biggest suggestion is to enter the courses exactly how you see them on your transcripts. And remember the best suggestions are those made by AMCAS, don’t let anecdotes lead you astray. The higher quality your data entry, the less likely it is to be returned by AMCAS, and returned applications only lead to you applying later. AMCAS allows for you to start entering your grades usually in early May, so you better get cracking at the very beginning of May if you want to be ready for the June opening.
There’s three scenarios you could be with the MCAT and your application, note that you can submit your primary AMCAS application prior to taking the MCAT and/or knowing your score:
- You took the MCAT prior to even attempting the AMCAS application, and already know your score and are satisfied with your score.
- You are scheduled to take the MCAT for the first time in the mist of your AMCAS application, therefore do not know your score yet.
- You took the MCAT before, you are not satisfied with your score, and you are schedule to take it in the mist of the AMCAS application, therefore you don’t know what your new score will be but you know the old score.
Ideally you probably want to be in the first category, you would of scored a 30 or above, and you’ll never speak of the test again. It takes about a month for scores to release after you take the test, and schools usually won’t send out secondary invitations until they’ve seen your MCAT score. Don’t worry about uploading your score, it’ll automatically appear in the AMCAS application if you use the correct AAMC number/name you used when taking the MCAT in the first place. If you’re in situation two or three, then even if schools are interested in you there’s a good chance they’ll wait to see what your scores are. Without knowing your score it makes it difficult for you to choose which schools to apply to, for example your list if you scored a 24 is going to be very different than your list if your scored 34. The 2015 MCAT uses a different scoring and amended learning objectives, but overall uploading it to your AMCAS application will probably be more or less the same as it’s always been. However, pay attention to the AAMC page for official announcements regarding score releases, they also tweet announces so if you have Twitter be sure to check out their AAMC MCAT account. If you want to make sure your MCAT scores comes in time for the opening of application take your MCAT early on, for example in April and at the worst May.
AMCAS verifies and processes your application
After you’ve slaved away at entering your coursework, verbatim from the transcripts, and should you hit the submit button, AMCAS will then take up to 6 weeks to verify your application as legit. They’ll verify your transcripts match your entries, assure you made the right course classifications, and academic year assignments. If they found something, they’ll either change it themselves, of if it’s grave send your application back to you for you to make corrections or clarifications. If they change something and you don’t agree you have about 10 days to petition it, by the way I petitioned something and they changed it to what I wanted the next day. Once you’ve hit the submit button, you can’t edit most things anymore, pretty much the only thing you can do is have LORs uploaded — so be sure that your application is finalized before submitting it. After it’s verified, and the petition period is over you’re stuck with your application for better or worse.
Select schools / Pay lots of money
If you qualified for FAP congratulations, if you didn’t well have a small nest egg set aside. After verification (free) it comes time to use your application to apply to medical schools (this is what the actual primary application is). The whole application package that you just went insane over is submitted to each school you pick at the ease of you checking off a box and copious amounts of cash. The first school you apply to will set you back about around $235, then it will cost $35 for each additional school. It’s said that a very strong applicant to “afford” to apply to as little as 10 schools, while a normal applicant 15, and a worried applicant up into the 20s. I wasn’t sure where I was on that scale as a nontraditional, so I did 20 primaries or so.
Secondary Applications: Deadline: school dependent*, but expect so start seeing them pop up in July if you applied early
Each program has it’s on specifications about how to do their secondary. The easiest and least fulfilling is when they just ask for a check. Some require a number of short entries, similar to your CV/resume section. Some may ask for one or two robust essays. Some will also require you to reaffirm your medical prerequisites on their website, some will also ask you to upload a picture. You can probably upload a picture later, and focus on putting in a quality essay for secondaries. Try your best to individualize secondaries as much as possible, and be sure to not be redundant by repeating information already stated in your primary application or personal statement — it get’s a lot harder than it sounds. I went with a two week rule, that is I would return applications at the latest two weeks after I had received them (it was always by email). I put in a lot less secondaries than the primaries, primarily because I started getting interview requests from schools early on so I had to change my financial focus. Each secondary ranges from about 75 dollars to 150, so my wallet decided for me actually. I probably finished around 12 secondaries, this resulted in 6 interview invites, and I’m still waiting to hear back from any school in my home state (California is notorious for ignoring Californians for medschool at the beginning of the season).
Hopefully you’re still alive after reading this lengthy post about deadlines, best of luck, and remember apply as early as possible without dropping in quality too much!
And remember the most reliable source of information when it comes to concrete decisions is the AMCAS website.
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