Applying to medical school is a tedious, challenging, and time-consuming process. There are many moving pieces to keep track of, and everything has to follow the guidelines of the service you are applying through. We compiled a list of medical school application FAQs to answer the questions we hear most often.
We answer the following questions below:
- Where do I submit my application?
- What’s the difference between AMCAS, AACOMAS, and TMDSAS?
- Can I submit my application through multiple services?
- When are primary applications due?
- When are secondary applications due?
- How many schools should I apply to?
- How do I choose which medical schools to apply to?
- How much does it cost to apply to medical school?
- What extracurricular experience do I need to get into medical school?
- How many letters of recommendation are required?
- What makes a good personal statement?
- What GPA and MCAT score is needed to get into medical school?
- When should I take the MCAT?
- What if my grades or MCAT scores aren’t good enough?
- What’s the Casper test and how do I know if I need to take it?
1. Where Do I Submit My Application?
Most medical students will submit their application through the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS). AMCAS is the AAMC’s centralized medical school application processing service and primary application method for first year entering classes for the majority of medical schools in the US.
Regardless of how many schools you apply to, you only need to submit one set of application materials to AMCAS. The service simplifies the already complicated process of applying to medical school by collecting, verifying, and delivering your application materials to the schools you apply to. AMCAS does not, however, have any say in admissions decisions. Those decisions are made exclusively by the individual medical schools.
If you are planning to apply to allopathic (MD) medical schools in Texas or osteopathic (DO) programs anywhere in the US, you will need to use different application services—TMDSAS and AACOMAS, respectively.
2. What’s the Difference Between AMCAS, AACOMAS, and TMDSAS?
There are three medical school application services used in the United States: the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS), the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS), and the Texas Medical and Dental School Application Service (TMDSAS).
AMCAS is the AAMC’s centralized medical school application processing service, which means the vast majority of medical schools across the US use this service. If you’re exclusively applying to allopathic programs outside of Texas, you only need to submit one set of application materials through AMCAS.
AACOMAS is the centralized application service for the US colleges of osteopathic medicine. It’s the primary application method for students who want to study osteopathy. If you are exclusively applying to osteopathic programs, you only need to submit one set of application materials through AACOMAS.
TMDSAS is the primary application service for most medical schools located in Texas, including dental and veterinary schools. The state of Texas has its own centralized medical school application service because they generally only accept about 10% of out-of-state applicants. Texas has 15 medical schools, and 13 of those use TMDSAS. If you are exclusively applying to those 13 programs, you only need to submit one set of application materials through TMDSAS.
View a complete list of every medical, dental, and veterinary school that uses TMDSAS.
If you are planning to apply to programs inside and outside of Texas or are considering applying to both allopathic and osteopathic programs, you will need to use more than one application service. While AMCAS, AACOMAS, and TMDSAS all have similar application requirements, there are subtle differences that you must be aware of.
3. Can I Submit My Application Through Multiple Services?
Yes. You can apply through AMCAS, AACOMAS, and TMDSAS, but you will need to submit separately, and there are slight differences in the application requirements between services.
A few examples of the differences are as follows:
Personal statement length:
AMCAS: 5300 characters
AACOMAS: 5300 characters
TMDSAS: 5000 characters
Letters of recommendation requirements:
AMCAS: 3-10 total letters
AACOMAS: 2-6 total letters (one must be from a DO)
TMDSAS: 3-4 total letters
For more information on each application service, read our comprehensive guide on AMCAS vs. AACOMAS vs. TMDSAS Med School Application Differences.
4. When Are Primary Applications Due?
The AMCAS application typically opens during the first week of May for the following year’s medical school class. As AMCAS submissions don’t open until the end of May or early June, you have a month or so to prepare the application. For example, if you want to begin medical school in the fall of 2023, you’ll need to start the application process in the spring of 2022.
Technically speaking, medical school primary applications close between October to December. After that, you will be unable to apply to medical school until the following year.
However, applying to medical school is an extremely competitive process. Applicants who submit early have the best chance of acceptance. We consider even September too late to submit an application, so if it’s getting to the end of the summer and you haven’t applied yet, we recommend waiting until the following year.
The ideal time to submit your application is within the first two weeks of June, shortly after applications open. Submitting later in June or early July is still fine, but keep in mind that you’re competing against thousands of applicants, many of which will be submitting as soon as possible. Give yourself every opportunity—don’t start the race behind other candidates!
Your chances continue to decrease the later you submit due to rolling submissions. Starting early is one of the best things you can do to increase your chances of acceptance.
5. When Are Secondary Applications Due?
You will likely receive a secondary application within two to four weeks of submitting your primary application. It’s imperative that you complete your secondaries within 7-14 days of receiving them. It’s a short turnaround window by any stretch of the imagination, which means it is vital that you prepare well in advance to ensure you submit a quality response quickly.
It’s important to keep in mind that you could receive a secondary application from each of the medical schools you applied to. Secondary applications are a win-win for admissions committees. Although secondaries used to be a sign a school was interested in you, they are now a chance for medical schools to collect extra fees and for admissions committees to see which applicants are genuinely interested in joining their program.
So, if you submit an application to 20 medical schools at once, it’s possible that you’ll receive as many secondaries around the same time. This is a considerable amount of work that comes at a time when many medical students are feeling burned out by the application process.
This is why we recommend you begin to write your secondaries before you receive them. Although the format and specificity of the essay questions you receive will be slightly different from school to school, they often ask the same general questions surrounding why you want to attend that specific program and what makes you a uniquely perfect fit. The similar nature of the questions means you will be able to recycle many of your responses.
For more information and strategies, read our Medical School Secondary Application Guide.
6. How Many Schools Should I Apply to?
According to AAMC, the average number of schools students apply to through AMCAS is 16— but there’s no magic number.
The number of medical schools you apply to will largely depend on how you feel about your application. How confident are you in your personal statement, MCAT score, letters of recommendation, extracurriculars, etc.? If you feel aspects of your application are weak, you may want to consider applying to more programs to maximize your chance of acceptance. On the other hand, if you’re extremely confident in all aspects of your application, you may want to apply to fewer programs.
We consider applying to 20 programs a safe and intelligent choice. Applying to too few programs runs the risk of not receiving very many interviews, whereas applying to too many programs could result in a lot of extra work and extra cost (i.e., the expenses that come with secondary application fees and traveling to interviews.)
Learn more: How Many Medical Schools Should I Apply To?
7. How Do I Choose Which Medical Schools to Apply to?
There are a number of important factors to consider when deciding which medical schools to apply to. It is a time-consuming and painstaking process, and it’s one you should start considering right away—ideally, long before you begin the actual application process, so you have ample time to fully consider and assess your options.
What to consider when deciding which medical schools to apply to:
- Where you have the best chance of acceptance
- School tuition and fees
- Financial aid opportunities
- The cost of living
- School location
- Whether or not you want to be an osteopath
- If you want to attend a Texas medical school
- Personal interests in medicine (specialties)
- Reputation and ranking of the school
- Your own gut feeling
For a full list of considerations and why they’re important, read our comprehensive guide: How to Decide Which Medical Schools to Apply to.
8. How Much Does it Cost to Apply to Medical School?
There are a number of different costs associated with applying to medical school. The MCAT itself costs more than $300 for applicants who don’t qualify for fee assistance, to say nothing of the extra costs that come with MCAT tutoring and MCAT practice questions.
The AMCAS primary application fee is $175 for sending application materials to one school and $45 for each additional school.
There are also secondary application fees to consider, which range in cost. Fees for secondaries are usually around $100 per school, but depending on the prestige of the school, they could range from $30-$200.
You can also expect to spend money on travel expenses associated with checking out the campuses you’re most interested in and traveling to your various interviews.
9. What Extracurricular Experience Do I Need to Get Into Medical School?
Although Work and Activities is the fifth section of nine on the medical school application, it’s often the section that admissions committees start with to get a better sense of who you are and your unique interests.
It’s important to think strategically about what to include in this section. Admissions committees want to see that you have experience in a few core areas: clinical exposure, research, and community involvement. This demonstrates that you have the relevant interests and well-rounded experience to understand whether or not you really want to become a physician.
It’s not necessary for you to spend equal time in all of these areas. Passion is what the admissions committee is most interested in since you are much more likely to take on a leadership role in an activity you feel passionate about. Leadership is one of the most important traits in prospective physicians, so choose activities you are genuinely interested in.
Learn the ins and outs of the Work and Activities section with our AMCAS Work and Activities Guide.
10. How Many Letters of Recommendation Are Required?
The number of letters of recommendation required varies from school to school more than it does from one application service to the next. Regardless of the application service you’re using to apply, it’s most important to find out how many letters are required for each individual school.
You will generally be covered if you acquire 4-5 strong letters of recommendation across science, non-science, and extracurriculars. If you are exclusively applying to medical schools in Texas, you only need 3-4 letters of recommendation.
AMCAS Letters of Recommendation:
- 3-10 total letters of recommendation (we recommend submitting 4 or 5)
- 1-2 letters from science professors
- 1 letter from a non-science professor
- Choose 1-2 of:
- 1 letter from a physician you shadowed or worked with
- 1 letter from an extracurricular or volunteer supervisor
- 1 letter from an employer
AACOMAS Letters of Recommendation:
- 2-6 total letters
- One letter MUST be from a DO
TMDSAS Letters of Recommendation:
- 3-4 total letters
- One Health Professions Committee Packet or three individual letters of evaluation
- (Optional) One additional letter
Read our Medical School Letters of Recommendation Guide for critical information on who to ask, when to ask, how to ask, what to provide, and common mistakes to avoid.
11. What Makes a Good Personal Statement?
A personal statement is your chance to tell an admissions committee your story and demonstrate how your unique experiences shaped your desire and drive to study medicine. Who are you beyond your grades and achievements? Why do you want to become a doctor, and what personal strengths, qualities, and experiences make you uniquely qualified to study and one day practice medicine?
The operative word here is story. A good personal statement presents a cohesive narrative from start to finish. It’s not just forming your CV and extracurriculars into complete sentences, and it’s not simply stating that you have a passion for medicine and helping people—you have to demonstrate your personal strengths and unique qualifications through narrative examples from your life. Plus, you have to do so in 5300 characters or less.
Read our gudie: How to Write a Medical School Personal Statement.
12. What GPA and MCAT Score is Needed to Get Into Medical School?
The GPA and MCAT score required varies from state to state and school to school, so it’s important to check the specific averages for the programs you’re most interested in attending. That said, these are the general averages:
GPA and MCAT averages of matriculants:
AMCAS Overall GPA Average: 3.74
AMCAS MCAT Score Average: 511.90
AACOMAS Overall GPA Average: 3.54
AACOMAS MCAT Score Average: 504.31
TMDSAS Overall GPA Average: 3.79
TMDSAS MCAT Score Average: 510.80
For more details, check out What MCAT Score You Should Aim For?
13. When Should I Take the MCAT?
If you plan on attending medical school immediately after college, we recommend taking the MCAT during the summer after your sophomore year. If you plan on taking a year off after college, we recommend you take the MCAT during the summer between your junior and senior year.
14. What If My Grades or MCAT Scores Aren’t Good Enough?
You must be realistic about your likelihood of acceptance to the medical schools of your choosing. You are going up against thousands of qualified and dedicated med school applicants, and some programs are more cutthroat than others.
A solid GPA and high MCAT score are certainly important, but not as important as you think. Plus, it’s important to keep in mind that there’s no guarantee you’ll perform any better if you retake the MCAT.
Investing in MCAT tutoring from the beginning will evaluate your strengths and weaknesses to provide a study strategy tailored to your individual needs. But it’s not only about your MCAT score. If your grades are lacking, work to improve other aspects of your application, such as your personal statement, and hone your interview skills. A stellar applicant with a perfect 528 on the MCAT can ruin their chances of acceptance with a bad interview, a poorly written personal statement, or by submitting their application late.
15. What’s the Casper Test and How Do I Know If I Need to Take It?
Casper stands for “Computer-Based Assessment for Sampling Personal Characteristics.”
As you may have guessed from the title, Casper is a computer-based test that assesses your interpersonal and intrapersonal skills, professionalism, ethics, empathy, and bedside manner. In other words, Casper measures the kind of person you are beyond your grades and hard skills.
Strong interpersonal skills are vital to a doctor’s success. Yes, a doctor must have a strong foundation of medical knowledge and demonstrate exceptional smarts and cognitive abilities, but they must also be able to communicate effectively with their patients.
Casper was created in 2010 and has only seen a recent rise in popularity, but that popularity grows every year. Dozens of medical schools now require applicants to take the Casper. Here is a complete list of every school and program that requires Casper.
Med School Insiders Can Answer Your Questions
Applying to medical school comes with a lot of questions, and Med School Insiders has the answers. We will help you make all of the right decisions to reach your full potential.
We offer Comprehensive Medical School Admissions Packages designed to maximize your chance of acceptance. We offer one-on-one advising, essay editing, application editing, mock interviews, and more based on key tactics that only the top performing physicians know about. We’ll help you craft a stand out application that will get you accepted at the schools of your choosing.