Applying to Medical School: Ten Best Practices


Applying to medical school is a long, multi-stage process and can be potentially daunting for some students. The first step to applying to medical school is completing your primary AMCAS application (American Medical College Application Service), followed by completing any school-specific secondary applications you receive. In this post, we provide a list of ten best practices to follow when completing your AMCAS primary and secondary applications so as to maximize your chances of acceptance.


1 | Be Early For Everything

Be early for everything! Medical school admissions are rolling, so applicants who apply early have a statistically higher chance of being accepted. Plan to start preparing your application at least 3 months before the AMCAS opens. For instance, the 2020 AMCAS application (i.e., for students wishing to matriculate in fall 2020) opens for submission on May 30, 2019. People applying in this application cycle should start asking for letters of recommendation, writing their personal statements, and putting together their list of schools starting in February. This principle is integral to many other best practices on this list and cannot be stressed enough.


2 | Ask for Letters of Recommendation From Diverse People Early

It is advisable to ask for letters of recommendation at least 2-3 months before the AMCAS submission date. This should give your recommenders plenty of time to write and submit their letters. Remember to ask if they are willing to write you strong recommendations and to not only ask for recommendations from professors but also from coaches, supervisors, and other individuals qualified to comment on your accomplishments and personal attributes.


3 | Create a Wide-Ranging List of Medical Schools Early

Start formulating a wide range of schools to which you want to apply 2-3 months before the AMCAS submission date. Subdivide your list into safety, target, and dream schools. A rough method to do this is to look up the average GPA and MCAT scores of matriculants for specific medical schools on the MSAR (Medical School Admissions Requirements). If you are well above the average, it is a safety school. If you are around the average, it is a target school. If you are below the average, it is a dream school. I recommend applying to a minimum of 15 medical schools, with ~50% of those schools being targets, ~25% safeties, and ~25% dreams.


4 | Submit Your AMCAS Early

Aim to submit your AMCAS 2-3 days after the application system opens. Do not submit your AMCAS on the day the system opens, as it has purportedly crashed in previous years due to high traffic. Being among the first to submit your AMCAS does not necessarily provide any added benefit. Submitting your AMCAS 2-3 days after the system opens will still ensure that your application is processed in time to be included in the first wave of applications sent to medical schools on June 28, 2019 (i.e., a one month after the AMCAS opens).


5 | Start Preemptively Writing Secondaries

Start brainstorming and/or writing your secondaries before you actually receive the topics, especially for your target and dreams schools. After submitting your primary AMCAS, you will still have about a month before the AAMC transmits your application to medical schools. Give yourself a week off, then spend the remaining three weeks getting a head start on secondaries. You can look up secondary prompts for particular medical schools online. While some schools change their prompts annually, other schools have not changed their prompts for years and are not likely to start. Your time is usually not wasted even if you do not get the same prompt this year or fail to receive a particular secondary, as you should be able to recycle an essay for other secondaries. Remember to change the names of medical schools and other identifiers if you are recycling essays!


6 | Submit Secondaries Expediently

For dream schools, aim to submit secondaries within 2-3 days after you receive the secondary via email. For target schools, aim to submit secondaries within a week. For safety schools, aim to submit secondaries within 2-3 weeks. Writing secondaries is analogous to triage. The secondaries for schools that you care about most are prioritized and go out first, while the secondaries for schools you care less about are left on the back burner. However, triaging does not mean you should skimp on the quality of writing. Secondaries are an important piece of your application to every medical school and should be very high-quality.


7 | Present The Best Version of Yourself

When writing about yourself, it is best to honestly and genuinely present the best version of yourself. Admissions committees are staffed by people who have read through hundreds, if not thousands, of applications over many years and make a living discerning the character of potential applicants based on how they describe themselves and their accomplishments.


8 | Show, Don’t Tell

Show the admissions committee your personal attributes through stories drawn from your life. Take some time to reflect on your life and journal about experiences that demonstrate attributes that you are proud of and/or that define you. This exercise will yield a trove of anecdotes that you can weave into your personal statement and secondary essays. Remember: stories, not statements, are more memorable and convincing to admissions committees.


9 | Polish and Proofread Everything

Polish and proofread every section of your AMCAS primary and secondary applications multiple times. Once you have a workable draft, plan to ask at least three people who know you well and three who are merely acquaintances to read your application. People close to you can comment on the genuineness of your application, while the opinions given by acquaintances (i.e., people who do not know you well) will most closely mirror the impressions made on admissions committees. Inconsistent and/or redundant information are red flags and a waste of precious space. Grammatical and spelling errors are unacceptable.


10 | Curate Your Social Media Presence

Plan to curate a professional social media presence on all of your online platforms. For Facebook and Instagram, turn on all your privacy settings, change your name, or change your profile picture so it is at least semi-professional. For LinkedIn, update all your information and get a professional headshot taken and uploaded as your profile picture. For Twitter, avoid posting anything inflammatory. For your email, make sure you have a neutral-sounding email address.


Final Remarks

Applying to medical is a long and complicated journey. Following these ten best practices will ensure that you put your best foot forward and boost your chances of getting interviews and ultimately getting into your top medical schools. Good luck!


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