Health Professions Advising

Leslie Bell
Interim Health Professions Advisor


Applying to Medical School


The American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS), run by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), is a web-based, centralized application processing service that was developed to simplify and standardize the process of applying to U.S. allopathic (M.D.) medical schools. All but a handful of these medical schools currently participate in this service (contact Leslie Bell for information on applying to non-participating schools). What this means is that you only need to submit one set of application materials, no matter how many medical schools to which you apply. Once you submit the required information, AMCAS will collect, verify, and process your applicant data and transmit it to the schools you designate. Individual medical schools are then free to review your application and send you any secondary or supplemental applications that they may require.

Submit Your Application As Soon As Possible!

Although the early decision deadline is August 1 and the normal decision deadlines begin in October, your application will essentially be dead on arrival if you wait to submit it anytime near these deadlines. Most schools have a "rolling admissions" policy, meaning those applicants who are reviewed first will be given the first interviews, and subsequently, be granted admission before other candidates. Consequently, you should submit your application as soon as possible, ideally on or around June 1 (the earliest date you can submit your application). Remember that AMCAS can take 4-6 weeks to process your application, so the earlier submit your application, the better.

Plan Ahead Before You Begin Your Application

You should begin gathering your application materials together and become familiar with the application process long before it becomes available online on May 1. Planning ahead will not only make you aware of the application requirements with sufficient time to respond to them, but it will also make you aware of the attributes and gaps in your evolving application. Here are some things you should be thinking about prior to beginning your application:

Complete Your AAMC Registration

Because AMCAS is entirely Web-based, you will need to create an account so you can log onto your application. If you have previously registered for the MCAT or other AAMC services, you will already have an AAMC username, password, ID that you should continue to use.

Get to know AMCAS

Spend some time familiarizing yourself with the AMCAS Website. Make sure you look at all it has to offer, such as links to key steps in starting an application, an application worksheet that previews the application content, an application timeline/checklist, important FAQs, and other helpful application resources. You should also make sure to read the AMCAS instruction booklet so that you know how to correctly fill out your application, understand all relevant policies, and recognize your responsibilities as an applicant.

Begin collecting required materials and information

Once you get a sense of the scope and type of information the AMCAS application asks for, begin collecting the required materials and information you will need to complete it. Your goal should be to have everything ready to go when the AMCAS application becomes available online so you can just enter the information.

  • Make lists of all your clinical, research, community service, extracurricular, and work experiences as well as all of you honors, awards, and publications.
  • Begin writing your personal statement in January so that you have ample time to revise it and have others read it over.
  • Begin soliciting letters of recommendation early enough to meet the February HPAC questionnaire deadline and to give your recommenders enough time to write a good letter. Make sure you also schedule your interview with Leslie Bell for the Committee Letter without delay.
  • As soon as the AMCAS application becomes available online, fill out the "Identifying Information" and "Schools Attended" sections so you can generate a Transcript Request Form. Get this form to the Registrar right away so that there is no delay in AMCAS receiving your transcripts.

The Nuts and Bolts of the AMCAS Application

The AMCAS application consists of nine sections, which may be saved and completed during multiple sessions:

  • Identifying Information
  • Schools Attended
  • Biographical Information
  • Course Work
  • Work/Activities
  • Letters of Evaluation
  • Medical Schools
  • Personal Statement
  • Standardized Tests

While most of these sections are fairly straightforward, there are a few that merit further mention:

Course Work

Use this section to enter information, grades, and credits for every course you have enrolled in (or are currently enrolled in) at Hamilton or any other U.S. or Canadian post-secondary institution. Applicants commonly make mistakes entering information into this section, so make sure you carefully read over the appropriate directions in the AMCAS instruction booklet to make sure you fill out everything correctly. Remember that AMCAS will verify the information you enter here using your transcript (and may change it accordingly), so make sure the information you provide is accurate and the same as how it is listed on your transcript.

For each course, you will have to provide the following information: where you took it, when you took it, what type of course it is, its course number, its name, the number of credits it was worth, and your grade. Classifications can be tricky for some courses, so make sure you refer to the instruction booklet to ensure that you are making the correct designations. You should use the complete official course name (as written on your transcript or in the course catalogue); if you can't fit the entire name, then use a logical, unambiguous abbreviation. For those courses that include a lab component, add the words "and Lab" to the course name and answer "yes" when asked if the course included a lab component. In terms of credits, a semester-long Hamilton course is equal to 1 course credit.


Use this section to enter information on up to 15 work or extracurricular activities, awards, honors, or publications that you would like to bring to the attention of the medical schools to which you are applying. For each entry, you will be allotted around 1300 characters (1/4 of a page) to "describe" each of these experiences. You should use this space to clearly explain what you did, why it was important to you/what you learned from it, and how it reflects your values. At the same time, however, you should be as brief and succinct as possible in your description and try not to use all of the allotted characters. When writing your descriptions, make sure you show the same excellent writing skills you used in your essay. Medical schools assume that you had your essay edited and will likely look carefully at the writing in these descriptions to compare your writing styles.

Although you may enter 15 experiences into this section, you do not need to use them all. Medical schools are more interested in quality over quantity, and you should only include significant or meaningful experiences. You should enter repeated experiences only once. For example, if you were on the Dean's List multiple times, you should list "Dean's List" as an experience and then use the description area to note the semesters in which you earned this honor. If you find that you don't have enough room to list all of the experiences that you want to include in your application, you may also consider grouping related experiences together to save space. For instance, if you worked as a tutor in many different areas, you may wish to list "Tutor" as an experience and use the description area to elaborate on your numerous tutoring experiences.

Letters of Evaluation

Most Hamilton students and graduates will apply with a "Committee Letter" from Hamilton (click here for more information). The Committee Letter is actually a packet of letters consisting of (1) a letter of evaluation written by Leslie Bell that reflects the Health Professions Advisory Committee's opinion of your candidacy and (2) all the individual letters written by all the recommenders you asked to write for you. The important point to remember is that you do not have to list all these people as writers on your AMCAS application. Instead, simply select "Committee Letter" and designate "Leslie Bell, Chair of the Health Professions Advisor Committee" as its author. This single entry will include all the letters contained within the Committee Letter. You will now have 9 additional entries for other letters. Use these slots for any individual letters you wish to send to specific medical schools separate from the Committee Letter.

For each letter you enter into your application, AMCAS will assign you an AMCAS Letter ID number. You will need to print out a Letter Request Form, which contains both the Letter ID Number and your own AAMC ID number, for each letter and send it to the person writing that letter. For the Committee Letter, give the letter request form to Leslie Bell (all of your individual recommenders whose letters will be included in the Committee Letter should send their letters directly to Leslie). Leslie transmits your Committee Letter via "Virtual Evaluations," a very effective and timely service that Hamilton pays to use.  Remember, if you add new medical schools to your list throughout the year, you must inform Leslie of the change or these additional schools will not receive your recommendations.

Medical Schools

If you wish to send your AMCAS application to additional medical schools after your initial submission, you will need to add these medical schools to the "Medical Schools" section and then re-submit/re-certify your application.

Standardized Tests

You may submit your AMCAS application prior to taking your MCAT. After you take the test, you can upload the scores to your application and re-submit it. ;Medical schools prefer that you have your MCAT score ready prior to submitting your application, but don't delay submitting your application early in the summer just because you are waiting to take the test.

The Application Fee

Upon submitting your application, you will be asked to pay a fee via either credit card or Internet check. The amount you will need to pay will depend on how many schools you apply to: AMCAS charges $130 for the first school and $31 for each additional school. (On average, students apply to about a dozen schools, which adds up to a $471 fee.) The AAMC offers a Financial Assistance Program (FAP) to MCAT examinees and AMCAS applicants who, without financial assistance, would be unable to take the MCAT or apply to those medical schools that use the AMCAS application. Applicants whose total family income is 300% or less of the poverty level for their family size are eligible for fee assistance. More details on FAP.

Completing the AMCAS Application: A Step-by-Step Approach

  1. Complete "Identifying Information" and "Schools Attended" sections.
  2. Complete and print "Transcript Request Forms." You must request that an official college transcript be forwarded to AMCAS by the registrar of every U.S. post-secondary institution which you have attended. Prior to submitting this form to the registrar's office, review it carefully to ensure that the information is accurate and that the registrar's address is current. When you submit the form, make sure you inform the registrar's office to attach this form to the transcripts when they are mailed back to AMCAS. (Requesting a transcript from the Registrar's Office.)
  3. Complete all of the other sections.
  4. Print out "Letter Request Forms" and give one to Leslie Bell. If you will have someone writing a letter of recommendation beyond those that will be included in the Committee Letter, give a request form to that individual as well.
  5. Check over your application to make sure it is complete, accurate, and error-free. Print it out to make sure that everything you wrote is formatted correctly, especially your Personal Statement. (Keep this printed copy for your records.)
  6. Have Leslie Bell review your application by either printing out a second copy of your application or by giving her your login information (this latter method is preferred). If you will not be on campus during this time, make sure to give Leslie your contact information so she can contact you over the summer.
  7. Certify your application and submit it.
  8. Pay the application fee.
  9. Monitor the status of your application. AMCAS provides a welcome page that details the status of your application. You are responsible for checking this page and addressing identified errors and omissions. You are also expected to thoroughly review changes made by AMCAS during the verification process and alert AMCAS to any issues regarding these changes. You may change certain information on their application and apply to additional medical schools after the initial application has been submitted; each add/change requires that you recertify and resubmit your application.

Secondary/Supplemental Applications

Most medical schools will send you their own secondary/ supplemental application after receiving your AMCAS application. While some medical schools send applicants secondary/supplemental applications after reviewing their AMCAS application, most send it to every applicant. These applications vary in length and what they ask you to do. Some simply require some additional personal information; others require you to respond to one or more essay prompts.

As with the AMCAS application, pay no attention to the deadlines for submitting secondary/supplemental applications. You should try to send them in as soon after you receive them as possible. In the era of rolling admissions, the earlier you have your application file complete, the better. Many schools also view your level of interest in their institution by how rapidly you respond.

For those secondary/supplemental applications that require you to respond to an essay prompt, make sure you're succinct and that your best writing/communication skills are on display. As a rule of thumb, follow the same rules that govern writing the personal statement, but avoid repeating the same information that you included in your personal statement. Most importantly, however, make sure that you show sincere interest in the school and its academic program. Do some research on the school beforehand so that your answers are tailored directly to the school.  Don't be lazy and just cut and past the same response into every secondary/ supplemental application you receive, even if they ask the same questions. You should also feel free to use material that you could not fit into the personal statement or that covers things that have happened since you wrote the AMCAS application as long as the material is relevant to the question.

Before sending in your secondary/supplemental application, make sure to check it over to make sure it is complete, accurate, and error free. You should also have Leslie check it over. Make sure that you also print a copy of your application for future reference. When you finally do submit your secondary/ supplemental application, you will have to pay a fee. If you qualified for the FAP, then the school will likely waive this fee. Make sure that you contact the medical school to make sure that it received all of your application materials and that your file is complete.

Miscellaneous Application Tips

  • Every person who applies will have strengths and weaknesses. But it's how you present your strengths and weaknesses that counts. The key to presenting yourself in the best possible way on the AMCAS is organization – carefully planning a coherent presentation from beginning to end and paying attention to every detail in between.
  • E-mail will be your primary mode of communication with AMCAS, so make sure you keep your e-mail address up to date at all times. You can change it as often as necessary on your web application.
  • Admissions officers are amazed at how many applicants simply refuse to follow directions. Don't think that you're an exception to the rule. If the application asks for X, given them X, not Y.
  • It really does pay to go to the trouble to apply early, particularly in the era of rolling admissions. If you delay and submit you applications late in the season, schools may have no openings left.
  • Read directions and make sure you are familiar with your responsibilities as an applicant and all applicable rules/regulations. 
  • Triple check you application for spelling errors. 
  • Check for accidental contradictions. 
  • Prioritize all lists. When you're asked to list your honors and awards, don't begin with fraternity social chairman and end with Phi Beta Kappa. Let the admissions committee know that you realize what's important – always list significant scholastic accomplishments first.
  • Account for all your time. If you've been away from school for longer than a semester, didn't enter college directly from high school, have been out of college for some time, or had other breaks in your education, be sure that your application shows what you were doing during that period. Don't leave gaps.
  • Don't overdo listing extracurricular activities. Don't list every activity you've ever participated in. Select the most significant and, if necessary, explain them. Admissions officers are suspicious of people who list 25 time-consuming extracurriculars and yet still manage to attend college.
  • Don't mention high school activities or honors. Unless there's something very unusual or spectacular about your high school background, don't mention it. However, do list health-related work or volunteering.
  • Clear up any ambiguities.
  • The medical school application process ordinarily takes a full year. If you apply in June 2010, you may still be waiting for decisions in June 2011. Do not get frustrated or discouraged. The process is slow, deliberate, and out of your control. Buckle up and get ready for a long ride!
  • Be honest and don't exaggerate.
  • Early Decision plans are available at many schools but are appropriate only in exceptional cases. Unlike the undergraduate admissions process, which rewards your willingness to commit early to one school, the medical schools offer no preference to ED applicants. If you apply ED to one school, you cannot apply to other schools until October—when you have a decision from the ED school—putting you at a disadvantage and very late in the process.