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Medical School: Application Process


The Application Process

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

  1. The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)
  2. Primary Application
  3. Letters of Recommendation
  4. Secondary Applications
  5. Interviews

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

Always apply to schools that you would actually want to attend! DO YOUR RESEARCH.

  • 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

Assess your credentials realistically and give your school selection careful thought. You can also refer to our statistics for MD and DO schools. 

  • 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 PREview Exam

Association of American Medical Colleges developed the PREview Exam (formerly SJT) for US medical schools to measure medical school applicants' competencies based on AAMC PreProfessional Competencies

AAMC PREview is 75 minutes and is scored from 1 (low) – 9 (high). 

For more information and preparation resources, visit AAMC PREview.

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.

  1. AMCAS:for applying to MD Medical Schools
  2. AACOMAS: for applying to DO Medical Schools
  3. 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:

Recorded presentation

Presentation slides

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 question “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

Letters of Recommendation (LOR)

Letters  of recommendation are extremely important for your medical school application!  This is one of the few pieces of your application that is out of your control, as you are not the writer.  It is critical that you get LORs from people who know you well enough to write not a good letter, but an excellent letter of recommendation.  It is not ever about how well you know them... it's about how well they know you! 

Build relationships with your faculty, supervisors, mentors, etc... EARLY.  Beyond building these relationships, it's also important that you maintain these relationships, because you need to request letters the year that you apply; not the year that you take the class, volunteer, etc.  

Requirements for letters vary between schools, so research schools early and know what you need. Most schools require 3 or 4 letters. 

Typical letter types that will be requested: science professor (BCPM), non-science professor or 2nd science professor, mentor letter (usually from a supervisor from research, patient exposure, service to the community, or employment).  PLAN AHEAD.

Requesting LORs

Committee Letter Packet

The PreProfessional Advising Office  does not provide committee letters for students.  There are several reasons for this, the primary being that we don’t know students well enough!  Applicants should be able to get much stronger letters from those who actually know them well enough to write an excellent letter of recommendation.  If a school requires a committee letter, contact them directly to determine an acceptable alternate letter.

Requesting LORs

  • 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 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

Submitting Letters of Recommendation (LOR)

We recommend students begin talking to letter writers in the early spring semester of they year the student wishes to apply.  Plant the seed early; communicate with your letter writers  about your and expectations.  Although LORs are due at the time of secondary applications, do not delay.  We recommend you consider getting your LORs submitted in early summer. 

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 multiple application services (both MD and DO schools,  MD and TMDSAS, etc.), unaffiliated schools, or an international program, it is easiest to subscribe to a service like which allows you to collect all your letters in one place and have them sent to each application service.

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 DIRECTIONS 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)—5-10 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.


PreMed Mock Interviews Offered Through PPA

The PreProfessional Advising Office offers mock interviews for current and former University of Utah students in two ways: traditional one-on-one or mock MMI.  We will only offer these services in the fall semester for students who have already been invited to interview (for the mock MMIs, those who have at least submitted their secondary applications will be considered, but preference will be for those with an interview invitation). 

Students must choose between participating in a traditional interview or MMI.
We will not allow students to participate in both a traditional and MMI
Traditional Interviews
  • Our tranditional mock interviews are one hour long.  The first half will consisit of the actual interview and the second half consists of the advisor providing verbal feedback.
  • To schedule a traditional mock interview, please call our office at 801.581.5744 to have our reception team schedule this appointment.  Students cannot schedule these mock interviews online; they must call.  If a student schedules a regular 45-minute appointment online, the advisor will not conduct the mock interview


Mock MMIs

PPA offers multiple mock MMIs in the fall semester.  Current medical school applicants are highly encouraged to participate in these interviews

Only those who are current or former University of Utah students will be allowed to participate.

  • Six spots will be available per interview, and is first come, first servedPreference is given to premed students with upcoming interviews.
  • We will contact you if you have been selected to participate.  All virtual interviews will be held via zoom.
  • Due to high demand, we will have a wait list.  If you are selected for the wait list, we will contact you if an interview slot opens.
  • Please sign-up for the PPA Mock MMIs on our events page.




General Timeline

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).

Medical School Deadlines

The AMCAS website (application service for MD schools) has a search tool to help students discover the application deadlines for individual MD schools. AMCAS Deadlines

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.

Check Specific Deadline Dates

For specific application deadline dates, you should always check the AMCAS, AACOMAS or TMDSAS websites depending on what schools you are applying to.

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 Extracurricular Activities

Continue with your volunteer, work or research activities until you have received an acceptance letter from a medical school.

Think you'll be bored after you graduate?  Think again!  You should be very busy continuing to work, volunteer, gain patient care, etc.  

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 get in.


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

It is YOUR responsibility to do your own research on each school you wish to apply to.  This means checking prerequisites, deadlines, application requirements, and much more. 

For MD schools, use the MSAR (Medical School Admission Requirement) database online. To view the important details provided by MSAR,  you need to purchase access to it from AAMC.  See the AAMC website for details.

For DO schools the AACOM website also has a fully searchable (and free!) Choose DO Explorer available.

Always confirm school-specific requirements by checking each school’s website directly.

$tart $aving Money

Continue to save money for the application process.  This sounds obvious, but this is a critical piece of preparing to apply to medical school.  We encourage students to plan on spending about $5000 for the medical school application process.  This includes (but not limited to) such things as MCAT prep, MCAT test, application fees (primary and secondary), interview clothes, airfare/hotel/rentals for in-person interviews,  and more.  

Financial Resources:


The Application Year


  • Primary Application Services (AMCAS, AACOMAS and TMDSAS) open in May. Begin to fill out primary applications as soon as possible. Read instruction manuals carefully.
  • Order and collect official transcripts.

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.
  • CRITICAL:  In October, complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, FAFSA .


  • 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.


Application Workshops

AMCAS Application Workshop (recorded presentation)

AMCAS Application Workshop (slides only)

AACOMAS Application Workshop (recorded presentation)

AACOMAS Application Workshop (slides only)

Acceptance Statistics

Downloadable Resources


how to request letters of recommendation

guidelines for letter writers

personal statement guide


A letter service to collect and distribute your Letters of Recommendation. Helpful if you are applying through more than one application service.

Helpful Websites

Last Updated: 1/9/24