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Health Sciences Program

Applying to Medical School

Choosing Schools

Because public medical schools are heavily subsidized by state legislatures, they are required to admit all or most of each new class from within their own state. Generally admission standards for out-of-state students are considerably more rigorous than for in-state residents, so you should apply to medical school in your home state regardless of the other schools you choose. (Note: MD/PhD programs are generally not subject to this restriction and focus on the academic abilities and research interests of the applicant). Medical schools recommend that you compare your credentials with those of successful candidates at the specific schools you're considering to determine whether the expense of applying is worth it. A convenient source for this information is the AAMC's Medical School Admission Requirements.


The American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) is a non-profit centralized on-line application processing service required by participating U.S. medical schools. The AMCAS is only an application distribution service and does not make any admission decisions. Check the AAMC web site for current fee information, there is a fee waiver application form included in each AMCAS packet for students with demonstrated financial need. As you complete the AMCAS, bear in mind that Hanover College courses translate into 4 credit hours per course.

After you submit your AMCAS application, the Service will check it for accuracy and completeness, and will then copy and distribute it to the schools you have designated, along with your two most recent MCAT scores. (You can send in your AMCAS application even if you have not yet taken the MCAT; the scores from that test will be forwarded to the AMCAS when they become available. However, schools will not generally process applications until they become complete.) It is advisable to submit your AMCAS application by the end of June following your junior year if possible, because, for participating schools, the timing of the rest of the application process hinges on the AMCAS. Most state medical schools operate on rolling admission; that is, the time at which they decide whether or not to admit you is based on when your file is complete rather than on a particular uniform date, so the longer you wait to apply, the longer you will have to wait for an interview, and the fewer remaining slots there will be. Do not wait to receive MCAT scores (especially summer scores!) to submit your AMCAS application or you will push or even miss deadlines.

The AMCAS Essay

A quarter of the AMCAS application is dedicated to your personal statement. This section provides you an opportunity to elaborate on information you provide elsewhere on the application, or to address aspects of yourself that are not covered anywhere else on the form. You should also explain your motivation to enter the medical field and demonstrate your knowledge of the field.

When composing your essay, remember that its readers will be reviewing large numbers of these statements; try to make yours engaging and interesting. While the title for this section is "Personal Statement," many ineffective essays are written by students who approach the exercise impersonally. Avoid distancing your audience by using a dispassionate case-study approach. Instead, consider who you really are and identify the greatest gifts you bring to medicine. Describe yourself interestingly; consider telling an anecdote to illustrate a point or to detail a formative part of your background. Give your essay to reviewers with strong writing skills to check for grammar, and to medical professionals to check for credibility. Remember, too, that the final essay should be flawlessly typed. The Career Center offers an excellent guide to assist you in writing your essay entitled, "Write for Success: Preparing a Successful Professional School Application," published by the National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions.

Secondary Applications

Upon receipt of the applicant's materials from the AMCAS or other service, schools will notify the applicant of any additional information, fees, letters of evaluation, or other items that they may require. These specific additional requirements from each individual school are known as "secondary applications," and may be nearly as elaborate as were the entire applications before the days of the AMCAS. Because some schools send every applicant a secondary application to expedite the application process, secondary applications are not necessarily an indication of interest. The application process can be quite expensive, so, as noted above, it is wise to check admission statistics in the AAMC's Medical School Admission Requirements prior to applying.

Complete your secondary applications by the end of the summer before your senior year as most admission committees operate under the "first complete, first considered" process and interviews are much easier to get if you apply early. Some schools permit you to include supporting documents such as summer laboratory experience; publications; conference presentations; and additional references from physicians, non-science faculty, volunteer coordinators, clergy, etc. However, be sparing; most schools suggest that "less is more." After you mail in all parts of your application, follow-up with each individual school's admissions office to ensure that your file is complete.

Early Decision Programs (EDP)

Early Decision Programs are designed to allow top candidates who are interested in applying only to a single medical school to seek admission ahead of the normal deadlines. In almost all cases, EDP applicants must not apply to any other school while they are in the EDP process. If they are not accepted to the school's EDP, their applications are typically placed in their general pool of applications. EDP programs are highly competitive, with admission standards comparable with out-of-state applications; therefore, medical school admission counselors encourage students considering applying early decision to contact them first to discuss their chances. Bear in mind that the notification date for many medical schools' EDP is October 1; to wait until that time to begin the application process at other schools could jeopardize your chances of admission to any medical school.

Choosing a Specialty Field...or Not

You may be asked in your interview or on secondary applications to identify which area of medicine you plan to pursue and to justify your choice. While medical schools recognize that applicants to medical school cannot definitively declare what their future specialty will be, they can determine something about your decision-making ability by your answer. Whether you say "primary care" or "neurosurgery," for example, is less important than why you made your choice; because there is a dearth of medical students choosing primary care, some medical schools have been recruiting applicants who are interested in that area. Do not tell a medical school that you are seeking a field you have no sincere interest in, and be prepared to discuss any interest you do have by demonstrating a personal knowledge of, or experience with, it. If you have no clear preference at this time, it is best to say so in a way that conveys your commitment to the medical profession in general.