The path to becoming a physician comes with many twists and turns, all of which can be overwhelming without prior research. The application process to medical school alone is multifaceted and requires years of preparation and planning. We have outlined the application process step-by-step below to ensure that you are well informed when it is your time to apply. If you’re not ready to apply yet, but are already thinking of how to gain the necessary experience, check out our undergraduate guide to medical school article first.
What’s in an Application?
Applying to Medical School has a number of different stages of application submissions and requirements for each. The standard steps are outlined below, with variability for things like coursework, GPA, MCAT scores specific to the Medical School. Be sure to research your targeted schools for their specific requirements.
Undergraduate degree with science pre-requisite coursework/labs completed
Sending transcripts and MCAT score
Letters of Recommendation/Evaluation
Background Review by School
Acceptance/Waitlist/Decline from Schools
First and foremost is the completion of an undergraduate degree from an accredited school with an emphasis in specific science pre-requisite coursework and labs. Undergraduate majors do not have to be science related, as long as science pre-requisites and labs are completed. Regardless of major, graduating with a high cumulative and science GPA is crucial to getting into your desired medical school.
Specific science coursework and lab requirements may vary between medical schools, however a standard overview of courses are listed below. Science pre-requisites require general level and upper level coursework with labs.
General Biology (with lab)
General Chemistry (with lab)
Organic Chemistry (with lab)
Physics (with lab)
Encouraged liberal education courses include but are not limited to: English, history, philosophy, psychology, sociology, gender studies, foreign language, and so on
In addition to an undergraduate degree, you will need to complete the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) exam, which is a standardized entrance exam required to apply to Medical Schools. The exam assesses problem solving, critical thinking, knowledge of scientific concepts and written analysis. Test scores are usually valid for 2-3 years. Undergraduate coursework, in addition to independent studying with test MCAT test booklets are encouraged.
Applying to Medical Schools is housed in through a central application service, American Medical College Application Service® (AMCAS®) for MD Schools and American Associate of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) for DO Schools. Centralized applications allow you to apply to multiple schools with the same application. The AMCAS® opens on May 2nd for transcripts and you can begin filling out the primary application sections. Application submissions begin on June 1st.
The first step to completing the AMCAS® or AACOM is to complete the Primary Application.
The Primary application includes filling out general information, coursework completed with credits and grades, activities, volunteer, research, work experiences, hobbies, etc. There are 15 spaces to list activities and experiences. The submission of official transcripts and MCAT scores must also be sent to AMCAS® to be validated and sent with your application. Send transcripts and MCAT scores early to ensure their receipt at schools.
A Personal Statement or Personal Essay is also included in the Primary Application. This is an essay to express why you are pursing medicine, crucial experiences, and why you will be a great physician. Personal Statements do not have specific criteria on what you can or cannot write about yourself. Crafting a compelling statement that will help separate yourself apart from other applicants.
Letters of Recommendation/Evaluation
Letters of Recommendation or Evaluation are also required in the application process and are a confidential letter sent directly to AMCAS® by the reference outlining your qualities, characteristics, and capability as a future physician. Letters of Recommendation may be gathered from professors, supervisors, providers, or individuals who can vouch for your character and intention to pursue medical school.
Medical Schools review applications and screen for specific GPA/MCAT scores before sending secondary application essay prompts to the applicant. Not every Primary Applicant will receive a Secondary Application. Secondary Applications are specific to the individual medical school, and cover how well you align with the school’s mission, vision, and values. Schools want to evaluate your specific intent to attend their medical school versus others. Pre-writing Secondary Application essay questions is highly encouraged to expedite answers back to schools for review. Once the Secondary Application has been reviewed, schools decide to either extend interviews or decline to interview.
Each Medical School has a specific application review and interview process and timeline. Interview types range from individual to group interviews, Multiple-Mini Interview (MMI), or panel. Interviews are typically held from September to December with variance between schools.
After interviewing, schools review candidates and decide whether to extend an offer of acceptance, waitlist the applicant, or decline. Many schools review applications and fill the medical school class on a rolling basis. Rolling admissions means that schools review applications as they arrive. Schools do not wait to review all applications at once. The sooner you submit your applications, the sooner you are reviewed and can secure an interview.
Acceptances can occur at any time during the process for DO Schools, and at any time for MD Schools after October 15th.
Being waitlisted means that the school liked your interview enough to potentially offer a seat in their class, however they want to interview more applicants before making a decision. You have the option to accept or decline being added to a waitlist. Applicants can be pulled from a waitlist as late as May or June with classes beginning shortly thereafter.
Declines from schools are an unfortunate part of the process. Applying to more schools casts a wider net of possibilities. If you are not accepted to medical school the first time you apply, do not be discouraged. Numerous applicants take the extra year to gain additional medical experience, research experience, retake classes, improve MCAT scores, and apply again early in the following cycle.
If you find yourself having to re-apply, consider working as a medical scribe with EPPA to gain clinical experience while also having access to our professional development workshops. Also check out our undergraduate step-by-step guide to medical school.