US medical schools admit students once a year in the Fall.
Applications are submitted 12-15 months before the desired medical school enrollment date. However, the timing depends on when you will complete your degree and the necessary premedical coursework (and successfully take the MCAT). All degrees must be posted to your transcript prior to starting medical school, and the timing is sensitive.
While applying early in the cycle has advantages, the best time for you to apply is when your application is the best it can be.
Medical schools requirements vary from school to school. Research schools early for specific information on their requirements.
Before any submitting application, have people with an unbiased eye go over each entire application to catch any errors. Your PreProfessional advisor is happy to do this for you.
Medical School Application process includes 5 main components
- The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)
- Primary Application
- Letters of Recommendation
- Secondary Applications
Follow social media of programs of your interest, visit their website, attend webinars, and visit their campus if possible.
Choose schools that are of serious interest to you, but give your list enough variety to maximize your chances for admission.
Types of Schools to Consider
- one or two “reach” schools where your GPA and MCAT might be on the low end
- at least one to two solid "back-up" schools at which your chances are very good
- several school where you are likely competitive, but in the middle of the pack
On average, students apply to 12- 15 schools. You can find a list of medical schools and their requirement on the AAMC website.
- Size of School and size of individual classes.
- Location and environment--do you prefer a large metropolitan area or a smaller city atmosphere? What about surrounding area, quality of life, etc.?
- Simulation labs and other facilities--quality of simulation labs, tutoring and other academic support services, adequate staff, study/meeting space, open hours, etc.
- General “personality” of School--what are your impressions from their faculty representatives you meet? Are you looking for an intense, more competitive environment or more of a community feeling?
- Special interest areas: combined degree programs; specialized courses, clinical programs, publications or student organizations in your area of interest; early decision program availability, early residency match, etc.
- Student/faculty ratio.
- Student body--How do you fit in with GPA and Standardized Test Score averages of students previously admitted? How balanced and diverse is the student body? How is the student morale? Do students have input in operation of School?
- Faculty diversity—Are they largely all from the same background or relatively diverse with respect to race, creed, gender? Are they well-balanced in educational experiences or only from the same School or schools? What is the extent of their research and professional activities?
- Faculty-student relationships--Are faculty accessible and committed to teaching? Is there an “open door” policy?
- Opportunities for clinical programs, research, international clinical rotations, student-run free clinics etc.
- What student support programs are available? If applicable, what minority or disabled student services are available?
- What placement services are offered for summer research opportunities?
- What assistance is offered to help you decide your residency options?
- What are the board certification exam passage rates?
- Tuition costs. You cannot ignore the cost, but neither can you use it as your only criterion. Consider the cost and potential indebtedness along with the other factors, and make sure you are choosing the right schools for the right reasons.
The MCAT is administered in January, and March through September. Taking the exam by spring will enable you to apply earlier. September is the last MCAT accepted by many schools for the following Fall’s entering class.
The MCAT is divided into four multiple choice sections:
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Living Systems
- Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
You can obtain the most updated information on the AAMC website.
Medical schools incorporate a variety of tools in their assessment in order to gather a holistic view of their applicants, to make sure they are not only academically capable but also possess the characteristics of someone who will likely succeed on the job. One such tool that is used by a few medical schools is CASPer®, which is a situational judgement test designed to assess how an individual will behave in certain situations.
CASPer® assesses for 10 characteristics: Collaboration, Communication, Empathy, Equity, Ethics, Motivation, Problem Solving, Professionalism, Resilience, and Self Awareness.
It is a 60-90 minute virtually proctored assessment, made up of 12 sections. Each section contains a video-based or word-based scenario and three open-ended questions. Test takers have five minutes to type their responses to all three questions.
Further information is on the CASPer Website.
AAMC Standardized Judgement Test (SJT)
Association of American Medical Colleges developed SJT for US medical schools to measure medical school application’s pre-professional Competencies based on AAMC Pre-Professional Competencies. In the 2021 application cycle, UC-Davis and University of Minnesota Medical School Twin Cities are the only schools that participate in this pilot program. Applicants to these schools are strongly encouraged to take the AAMC SJT.
AAMC SJT has 95 – 105 minutes total session time (75 minutes exam time) and will be offered in September 2020. It is scored from 1 (low) – 9 (high). Unlike CASPer Test, students will receive a test score for AAMC SJT.
For more information and preparation resources, visit AAMC Standardized Judgement Test (SJT) website.
Primary Applications are processed through a central processing services and are sent to every school affiliated with that service. There are three centralized application services processing primary applications for US medical schools.
- AMCAS:for applying to MD Medical Schools
- AACOMAS: for applying to DO Medical Schools
- TMDSAS:for applying to schools in the University of Texas system
These services are very similar, but not identical. They open online in early May each year to allow applicants to start building applications, and begin accepting submissions on or around June 1st. Deadlines vary between services and also by school and range from October-March.
The information you will be asked to provide is very similar, although the way it is organized in different ways. READ ALL INSTRUCTION MANUALS AND DIRECTIONS CAREFULLY!
All Three Application Services will require:
- Your MCAT score
- A list of all college classes taken, as well as official transcripts from each college where you have earned credit.
- A list and descriptions of your activities since graduating from high school
- A Personal Statement outlining your motivation for pursuing a career as a physician
- Letters of Recommendations
NOTE: To help us advise other students, we would appreciate it if you would release your statistical information from your applications to the Health Professions Advisor when prompted. This information will always be kept confidential.
PreMed Application Workshops:
The personal essay is about you and your motivation for pursuing a career as a physician. Remember, why you want to be a physician is different from how you were inspired to become one. Describe your current passion for the field with specific examples from recent experiences. Try to choose a theme rather than random thoughts. The primary application activities section provides a list of accomplishments. Your personal essay is an opportunity to provide additional, more in-depth information.
Remember, your audience is smarter, has more medical knowledge, and knows what is like to be a physician. Don’t try to impress them with your knowledge of the field.
Get feedback! Have 3 or 4 people you can trust to be honest with you (professor, doctor, medical student, parent, advisor, Writing Center, tutor, etc.) read your essay and offer feedback. Do not ask too many people to read it. Having too many opinions can become confusing.
Use our Personal Statement Guide for more information.
DO answer the questions “Why do you want to be a physician?”
DO concentrate more on actual experiences rather than speculation about future accomplishments.
DO focus more on what you can give rather than on what you can get by becoming a physician
DO limit the number of “I” statements you use
DO share your background if it is appropriate
DO describe meaningful experiences
DO use all five senses as you tell your story
DO pay careful attention to grammar, spelling, and punctuation
DO NOT devote too much space to writing about other people (family, patients, doctor you shadowed)
DO NOT summarize or simply repeat what is on the activity list on your primary application
DO NOT use overly flowery language or words you do not know how to use
DO NOT overuse medical terminology or abbreviations
DO NOT assume everyone knows what you know
DO NOT try to make jokes
DO NOT use foreign language
DO NOT begin your essay with a quote
Submitting Letters of Recommendation
All three Application services have a letter of recommendation service that allow you to submit your letters through them and have them distributed to all schools to which you have applied. However, application services do not share letters: Be sure to plan ahead regarding where to have your letters sent.
- Applicants who plan to apply only to AMCAS, AACOMAS, or TDMSAS affiliated medical schools most should take advantage of the Letter Service provided by those systems.
- If applying to both MD and DO schools, or including TMDSAS schools, unaffiliated schools, or an international program, it is easiest to subscribe to a service like Interfolio.com which allows you to collect all your letters in one place and have them sent to each application service.
Requirements for letters vary between schools, so research schools early and know what you need. Most schools require 3 or 4 letters.
Requesting Letters of Recommendation
- Ask if potential writers if they feel capable of writing a supportive letter. If anyone is hesitant, you should probably try someone else.
- Get business cards with your recommenders’ contact information.
- Ask if recommenders would welcome any written background material. You could include a brief biographical sketch or resume, your interests and activities, career goals, and motivation toward your intended profession. You could also include a snapshot, a copy of a paper or assignment from their class, or transcript.
- For recommenders who are unsure of how to write a good letter, the PPA Advising office provides a Guide for Letter Writers.
- Always give recommenders ample time. Two to three weeks at a minimum. Follow up to make sure that your letters have been sent.
- Send thank you notes.
- For more detailed information check out our “How To” Guide.
Once medical schools receive your Primary Application, they will send out Secondary Applications and request your Letters of Recommendation from the Application Service they use. You will generally have a month to complete them. These are specific to each school, and vary in length and structure, but often require one or more additional essay, or ask you to list certain experiences in a specific format. FOLLOW DIRECTION CAREFULLY.
Some Schools send Secondary Applications to every student who submitted a Primary Application. Other schools will screen Primary Applications first and only send Secondary Applications to students who make the cut.
Secondary Applications usually have a fee attached, so it is a good idea to reevaluate your list of schools at this point. If you have changed your mind about applying to a school, you do not have to complete their Secondary Application.
The final state of the application process is the interview. If you receive an invitation for an interview, that is an indication that a schools has decided that you are a qualified applicant and they want to get to know you better. Most medical schools hold “interview days” that where they bring in a group of applicants for a day that may consist of some or all of the following: Interviews, written essays, the Standardized Judgement Test (SJT), school tours, and opportunities to meet students and faculty. Remember, the entire day is the interview, not just those times when you are in a formal meeting. Be on your best professional behavior all day!
Interviews can take many forms, so it is important to research your schools and be prepared for each kind. The PreProfessional Advising office can help you with preparation tips and practicing your interviewing skills.
The most common types of interviews are:
- One on one interview—Usually one or two 30-45 minutes interviews
- Multiple Mini Interview (MMI)—7-10 rooms with a different prompt or scenario posted on the door. You are typically given 2 minutes to think about the prompt before entering a room, and 5-8 minutes to respond to the prompt and any follow up questions, or play out the scenario with a trained actor.
- Group interview—Either one applicant interviewed by several interviewers, or in a group of applicants interviewed by one or more interviewer.
- Standardized Video Interview—This is new interview method being used by the University of Utah School of Medicine. Before interview day, applicants are sent a link to a site where they will be asked to provide 4 timed video responses to questions and 1 timed written response.
When to Submit
Applications are submitted 12-15 months before the desired medical school enrollment date.
However, the timing depends on when you will complete your degree and the necessary premedical coursework (and successfully take the MCAT).
The AMCAS website (application service for MD schools) has a general timeline that covers an applicant’s four years at a college or university: AMCAS Timeline (PDF)
Create your Timeline
It is helpful to create a timeline for yourself when applying to medical school but your timeline should be flexible.
Course scheduling, extra-curricular activities, deadline changes, etc. all contribute to the need of having flexibility in your timeline.
Prior to Applying
Letters of Recommendation
Talk to potential writers of your Letters of Recommendation. Give them plenty of time to write the letters.
See below for helpful information on asking for letters and guidelines that you can give to your writers.
If you plan to apply through more than one Application Service you may wish to use a letter service such as Interfolio.
Continue with your volunteer, work or research activities until you have received an acceptance letter from a medical school.
Do not stop these activities until you have an official offer of admission. It may take two or more application cycles to gain admission, so you need to be continually improving your application until you do.
Prepare for and take the MCAT.
Register and choose from approximately 20 dates but should try to take it by May/June of the year that you submit your medical school application.
Research Specific School Requirements
Consult online Medical School Guides to see requirements for each school.
For MD schools, use the MSAR (Medical School Admission Requirement) database online. To view the MSAR you need to purchase access to it from AAMC. See the AAMC website for details.
For DO schools the AACOM website has the Osteopathic Medical School Information Book available. Always confirm school-specific requirements by checking each school’s website directly.
Continue to save money for the application process.
The Application Year
June – July
- Make final decisions on which medical schools to apply to and submit primary applications.
- Order official transcripts from ALL colleges and universities that you have attended to be sent to the appropriate Application Services or Interfolio
- Application Services verify primary applications, and notify applicants of verification or problems with verification
- Medical school begin sending secondary applications to applicants (if invited to complete a secondary application, begin and submit sooner rather than later).
- Continue working on and submitting secondary applications.
- Begin to check medical school application status websites for schools where applied.
September – April
- Prepare for and attend interviews.
- The PPA Advising office offers mock interviews so you can practice. If you have an interview scheduled, call the office 801-581-5744 and ask to schedule a mock interview.
- Continue to complete and submit secondary applications (check deadline dates).
- Send medical schools application updates if acceptable.
- Continue to check medical school application status website for each individual medical school.
- Medical school admissions committees meet and decide status: accept/reject/waitlist. Applicants notified.
- Complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, FAFSA , in October.
- Newly admitted applicants must notify Application Services and the medical school that they plan to matriculate of their decision by May 15th.
- Admits with multiple acceptances must choose one school by May 15th and withdraw their application from other schools.
May – August
- Applicants on waitlists are notified of an admission offer (typically, medical schools confirm their class by the end of June).
August – September
- Medical school orientation and school year begins. An applicant on a waitlist can no longer be offered a position at another school once orientation begins at a medical school.
AMCAS Application Workshop (recorded presentation)
AMCAS Application Workshop (slides only)
AACOMAS Application Workshop (slides only)
A letter service to collect and distribute your Letters of Recommendation. Helpful if you are applying through more than one application service.
- AAMC: Association of American Medical Colleges Information on the medical school application process and the MCAT
- American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM)
- DO Doctor Search
- University of Utah School of Medicine
- Student Doctor Network This non-profit organization provides information and forums for students interested in Doctoral Level Health fields.