Medical School Application: MCAT and Submitting Your Application

Application Timeline

It has been a long time since my medical school application and you may want to consult current guidelines and resources.  You want to take your MCAT as early enough as a junior to allow you the chance to take it again if needed.  You also want to have your score available in time to turn in your application as early as possible.  Interviews occur in the fall of your senior year and acceptances are handed out on a rolling basis.  Early applicants have a higher chance of acceptance because available spots decrease with time.


The MCAT is given many times a year now and I suggest you take it early in your Junior year to leave enough time for you to receive your score and prepare for your application.  I also recommend you take a commercial course in preparation for this test.  It is difficult to really study for this test because the amount of material is just too overwhelming (unlike your midterms or finals) and taking practice tests is probably the only way to help you do well on the exam.  It is possible to do well from self-studying, but I think commercial courses offer the regimented schedule needed to keep most of us on track.


What you need to get on the MCAT was a much debated topic when I was in college.  The scoring system has changed, but scoring in the top 25% percentile will make you a competitive applicant.

Personal Statement

Once you have completed your MCAT, you should start writing your personal statement right away.  The most common mistake people make is they wait until the last minute to start their personal statement.  A statement that is quickly put together can readily be identified by a reviewer and can translate into an instant rejection- why would medical schools want to take you if you didn't even bother to put in the time to tell them about yourself?  I suggest at least 6 weeks to prepare your statement.  You can quickly write a first draft, put it away, and then re-read it several times to edit its content.  The process of re-reading and refining your work is crucial in producing the perfect personal statement.  You definitely should have several other people read your statement to give you suggestions and to correct your grammar.  Reading other people's statements is also helpful.

The content of the statement should reflect who you are and what is important to you, although most people discuss, at least in part, the reason for choosing medicine.  Other common topics may include family, hardships, or a life changing experience. 


The personal statement should be a well structured, succinct, and straight-forward essay that portrays who you are as an individual- a reviewer wants to find some distinct positive human qualities about you which cannot be ascertained from a mere listing of numbers and achievements in your application.  Unless you are an excellent writer, the use of excessive imagery, attempting to be comical, or displaying your literary skill with allegories or poems will not likely to be helpful.


While working on your personal statement, you should also start your resume.  You will need both of these items to ask for letters of reference.  A resume will also help you complete your medical school application quickly.  While you don't need to have it commercially prepared, you resume should be professional. Some schools may ask for a copy of your resume as part of the secondary application.  For content, please contact your school's pre-professional office. Just like your personal statement, your resume should be straight forward and succinct.  However, I suggest you list all your honors and activities, even the ones you consider to be not very important.  Your resume is a conversation starter for your letter writers and interviewers.  Therefore, it doesn't hurt to have additional information for them to find something in common with you.  For activities, I find it helpful to also include a short description (1-2 sentences or phrases) to describe the organization and your level of involvement.

Letter of Recommendation

You should obtain at least four letters of reference- some schools have different requirements but four should suffice for most places.  You should obtain letters from those who know you well and will write a great letter on your behalf.  A common problem with recommedation letters is that students have limited contact with their professors.  Even though this maybe the case, I recommend only one letter coming from someone without an academic title.  Teaching assistants are good resources as well- they may contribute significant input to your letter from your professor (but a letter should not come from them directly).  It maybe advisable to have planned your extra-curricular activities with certain individuals in preparation for recommendation letters. 


Letters of recommendation do carry quite a bit of weight because it is difficult to find out everything about an individual from a 30-minute interview.  Committee members rely on these letters to find out more about your character and to assure themselves that you have the qualities and disposition needed to become a caring physician.


AMCAS stands for American Medical College Application Service.  It is a centralized application processing service with participation from most the U.S. medical schools.  There maybe some medical schools that require a separate primary application.  You should turn in your AMCAS application as soon as possible because medical school admission is done on a rolling basis, meaning that acceptances are sent out once the interviewing process begins.  By the later half of the process, there maybe only a limited number of spaces available to offer!


A common dilemma facing applicants is deciding on how many schools to apply to on their AMCAS application.  The conservative approach would be to apply to more schools initially and then to pick and choose which interviews to accept later.  Here is a general guideline:

  • Outstanding applicants (top 10% MCAT, GPA 3.75+, great letters and extra-curricular activities)- apply to 15 schools but do remember to apply to some 2nd-tier schools as well.
  • Good applicants (top 25% MCAT, GPA 3.50+, good letters and extra-curricular activites)- apply to 20-25  schools with a mix of 2nd-tier schools as well.
  • Average applicants (top 50% MCAT, GPA<3.30, OK letters and extra-curricular activities)- don't give up yet!  This is obvious a generalized guideline but sometimes an applicant maybe a little weak in one of the numbers (i.e. MCAT) but have otherwise an outstanding application!  I suggest you apply to a good mix of schools (30) but do also include some top choices!  You'll be surprised sometimes what types of interview offers you may get!

Secondary Applications

Once your primary application has been reviewed, some schools may send you a secondary application prior to offering you an interview.  Secondary applications typically contain additional personal questions requiring short answers.  An additional application fee maybe required.  Some feel that secondary applications merely generate additional income for medical schools.  I cannot comment on the validity of such an argument, but in general, I would complete the public school secondary applications first- they seem to send out less secondaries in my experience.  You can use secondary applications to gauge how well you are doing with the application process. 

Again, for best results, I recommend sending back any application material as soon as possible.


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