A Step-by-Step Guide to the AMCAS Application System
May 4, 2021
A Step-by-Step Guide to the AMCAS application system
As a pre-med candidate, you’ve worked throughout college on your prerequisites, and ventured onto volunteering, shadowing, research, and more. Now, it’s time to actually create an AMCAS application system account and start filling out the application. As you probably already know, the AMCAS is a centralized system created by the AAMC which enables you to send your primary materials to each of the MD programs on your list.
The first step is to register for an account on the AMCAS website. Once you’ve finished creating your profile, you will have to fill out the following sections:
- Identifying Information
- Schools Attended
- Biographic Information
- Work and Activities
- Letters of Evaluation
- Medical Schools
- Standardized Tests
In this blog, I will guide you through each step and section presented by the AMCAS application system as you prepare to submit your files — from registration to the final steps before submission.
The Different Application Systems
As a centralized application system, when you send your files through the AMCAS application system, the platform makes your information available to your selected institutions — given that they are part of the AMCAS. You’ll be able to choose from the 150 AMCAS member schools, which don’t include programs that fall within the AACOMAS (used by DO schools), Caribbean medical schools, and TMDSAS (Texas) institutions. Below is a list of all the medical institutions that do NOT accept the AMCAS and their governing application systems. If the schools you are applying to are in the table below, this blog is not for you!
Students applying only to MD schools will encounter at least one (or maybe even 20) members of the AMCAS — but there may be some programs on the Texas app that also grab your attention. If you’re considering both MD and DO programs, you’ll also have to fill out the AACOMAS.
The first step is very basic. To ensure that you’re able to fill out the AMCAS application system, you need an account. Once you’ve included your name and email address, you’ll have to answer a couple more questions: whether you are a pre-med or undergraduate student, if you’re applying to medical school, and whether you’ve previously used the AMCAS or other AAMC services to apply.
Once you’ve filled out this introductory information, you’ll have to choose a username and verify your email address so that you can start filling out the actual primary application that will be sent to medical schools. A lot of these steps might seem straightforward, but programs use your answers to understand more about who you are, the experiences you’ve had, and how you might fit in with their institution. So, don’t take these lightly. Without further ado, let’s take a look at sections 1 through 8 so that you gain a better understanding of what the AMCAS expects as you fill out each portion.
Filling Out the AMCAS
Before you sit down to fill out the AMCAS application system, make sure you’re prepared. You’ll need the following information:
- A list of all your college courses, along with the grades your received in them
- A list of your extracurriculars and work experiences
- Your parents’ educational background
- Your MCAT score and GRE score (if applicable)
- Name and contact information for your recommenders
- Your high school and college address
- $170 for processing the AMCAS and additional $40 for each school you add
- Your AAMC username and password
- The AAMC number that appears on your MCAT
Section 1: Identifying Information
The first section asks for fundamental information about yourself, such as your name, birth, sex, gender identity, any ID numbers, and other documents that you send via the AMCAS.
- Name – Your name should already be filled out from when you registered. Check to see whether you’ve spelled everything correctly!
- Legal Name – If you go by a name different from what’s on your legal documents such as your passport or birth certificate, this is where you let the AMCAS know.
- ID Numbers – This is a number used for verification purposes. The AAMC is the organizing board behind the MCAT. If you’ve already taken the MCAT, you’ll have received a registration number. This is where you put in that number so that the AAMC can connect your MCAT score to your AMCAS application system. If you haven’t taken the MCAT yet, you may insert the student ID that’s attached to the top of your transcript, so that medical schools can verify that you’re the same person!
- Birth & Sex – This sub-section enables you to elaborate more on your identity. Alongside pinpointing whether you were assigned male or female at birth, you also have a spot to specify your gender (you can click multiple options) as well as preferred pronouns. This can provide admissions officers with more context on who you are and help ensure that they use the correct terms when referring to you.
- Birth Country – The final addition to this section is your country and city of birth. You may have been born somewhere different from your nationality and citizenship (which you’ll get to add later). Admissions committee members want this information simply for more context on you and your family.
Section 2: Schools Attended
The second section is divided into the following parts:
- High School
- Previous Matriculation
- Institutional Action
High School – As the name suggests, this is where you enter the name of your high school. The AMCAS application system wants to know the name of the school, alongside your graduation year and where it is located. While high school should not be a central focus of your application, the AMCAS asks about it for more context on your background — to understand where you grew up, the resources your school had, and who your peers were.
Colleges – Up next, we have the slot for your undergraduate institution. The AMCAS application system requires information about every college that you attended, including ones that you may have transferred from or where you went if you studied abroad for one or more semesters. The portal asks you what degree you received, when you graduated, and what your major(s) and minor(s) were at each university.
Transcript – The AAMC requires that you include official transcripts from colleges that you previously attended. Using the “create a transcript request” form, you should provide the applicable registrar’s offices with the information necessary for sending your transcript to AMCAS. Requesting a transcript can take time. Send the request in advance (at least two weeks) so that you aren’t held up when attempting to submit your AMCAS.
Previous Matriculation – If you’re not a first time matriculant and had previously attended medical school for any period of time, this is the place to put that information. If this was the case for you, it will be essential to inform schools on the context of your departure, discuss why you have decided to resume this path, and show your continued dedication towards the field.
Institutional Action – The AMCAS application system wants to know whether you’ve faced any disciplinary action due to violations in conduct — even if it may not appear on your transcript or did not disrupt your enrollment in college. Most schools provide an additional information section in their secondaries to explain the situation or circumstances surrounding actions like this.
Section 3: Biographic Information
This area of the AMCAS application system helps provide more background information so that admissions committees can understand where you come from, what your family is like, where you grew up, the languages you speak, and more. It is divided into the following:
- Address and Contact Information
- Citizenship and Legal Residence
- Childhood Information
- Military Service
- Disadvantaged Status
- Parents and Guardians
Address and Contact Information – Here, you have to include your preferred address, your permanent address, and your phone number. Medical schools may use these to contact you and send you letters of acceptance. It is straightforward, but make sure you don’t mix up any digits on your phone number or accidentally put in your dorm address instead of your home address!
Citizenship and Legal Residence – For the next part, you have to add your citizenship and legal residence details. If you’re a permanent resident of the United States, but not a citizen, make sure that’s clear when filling out the AMCAS! The MD process is incredibly competitive — but even more so for international students. Some schools do not admit international students at all. Knowing what passport you hold will impact the applicant pool you’ll be placed in significantly.
Self-Identification – The “self-identification” question may sound daunting, but it simply asks what ethnicity you identify as — and includes a wide range of options covering most groups, as well as the option to include multiple ethnicities if that is the case for you.
Languages – In the medical profession, you interact with patients from a lot of different backgrounds. The AMCAS application system enables you to add the different languages you speak and your proficiency levels for each to learn more about you as well as get a sense of who you’d be able to communicate with as a physician in the field.
Childhood Information – Medical schools want to know about your family’s economic situation. Through questions about how much aid you received for post-secondary education, your household income growing up, and whether you’ve used federal or state assistance programs, adcoms receive more context on your background. Make sure you answer these questions accurately without any exaggeration! You’ll also have to fill out the FAFSA to convey your demonstrated need, which then goes to the financial aid office of each program. The AMCAS questions exist to provide more context for the admissions committee when reading your application.
Military Service – Some medical students use their gap years to join the military or decide to apply to MD programs once they’ve spent some time in the army or navy. If this applies to you, fill out this section to outline the history of your service.
Felonies and Misdemeanors – These parts of the AMCAS application system provide you with the chance to provide background on any felonies or misdemeanors that may appear on your record. If you answer yes to either of these, you’ll receive a box with a 1,325-character limit to explain further. Be succinct and honest about any charges you have faced and explain the context better so that the adcom members can understand what happened. If space allows you, it is also valuable to explain how you’ve grown from the incident and worked to improve.
Disadvantaged Status – The next question asks whether you consider yourself to be socially, economically, or educationally underserved. The qualifiers for these are:
- If you believe based on your own experiences or the experiences of family and friends, that the area in which you grew up was adequately served by the available health care professionals
- If there weren’t enough physicians, nurses, hospitals, clinics, and other health care service providers in your area growing up
- If you or your immediate family receive state or federal assistance programs
Carefully consider each question and answer “yes” for disadvantaged status if you believe these resonate with your conditions.
Parents and Guardians – Next, the AMCAS application system system wants to know about your parents, the highest level of education they received, and what their occupation is.
Siblings – If you have any siblings, the AMCAS asks that you include their age and sex.
Dependents – For the final part of this section, let the AMCAS know if you have any dependents, or people whom you support financially, including children and siblings.
Section 4: Course Work
This is an extremely important section, as the AAMC uses what you insert for your grades to calculate your AMCAS GPA. The AMCAS GPA is a standardized way for the board to compare all candidates’ backgrounds in a fair way. You have to add every class that you’ve taken in college and at any other undergraduate and post baccalaureate levels, plus any AP or IB classes you have used for college credit.
The form wants to know:
- The academic year in which you took the course
- The term
- The year in school (freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, post baccalaureate, graduate)
- Course classification (this includes options such as biology, history, English)
- Credit hours
- Transcript grades
- Whether it had a lab section or it was lecture-only
Revisiting every course can seem like a tedious task, but you want your GPA to reflect all your efforts, so make sure you read each question carefully. Medical schools will use this information for transcript verification and ensuring that you completed all the necessary prerequisites, so fill it out thoughtfully!
Section 5: Work & Activities
Now we come to one of the sections prospective medical candidates are more familiar with — the work and activities questions. Here, you have to include up to 15 extracurriculars that demonstrate your interests and how you spend your free time. For each activity, you’re allowed up to 700 characters, including spaces. You don’t have to fill out all 15 slots if you believe 12-14 capture your background and impact well enough. You can select up to three of these as your “most meaningful experiences.” For each of these three, you get an additional box with a character limit of 1,325 (on top of the 700), including spaces, to further elaborate on the activity.
Your activities don’t all have to be directly related to the field of medicine. While it certainly should include any volunteer activities, shadowing experiences, research jobs, and other initiatives that have provided you with a glimpse into the medical profession and a chance for patient interaction, your other interests also matter.
Section 6: Letters of Evaluation/Recommendation
Your recommenders are busy people, so you would probably feel guilty if they spent a lot of time sending recommendation letters individually to the 25-30 schools that should ideally be on your list. The AMCAS application system makes it easy to centralize all of your letters by allowing them to add their recommendations to the portal and sending them to each of your programs once you submit. You can choose to submit committee letters, a letter packet assembled by your undergrad institution, or an individual letter.
Your pre-med committee, professors, and supervisors can all upload their recommendations electronically once you include their contact information. After you’ve submitted their name, the AMCAS will contact them to provide the necessary documents. You want the letters to be sent at the same time as when you’ve submitted your file, so make sure you ask them far in advance. You can find more details on medical school letters of recommendation here.
Section 7: Add Medical Schools
Next, it’s time to add the medical schools that you wish to apply to so that the AMCAS can send your documents to them once your application has been verified. Because the medical school admissions landscape is so competitive, we advise that you apply to 25-30 schools to provide yourself options. While medical schools do have deadlines for primary applications, ideally you want to be among the first candidates whose documents are sent to programs. Make sure that you prepare your application as soon as possible.
Section 8: Personal Statement
The eighth section of the AMCAS is where you insert your personal statement. This essay — within a limit of 5,300 characters, including spaces — should ultimately capture who you are and why you want to go to medical school. This can be daunting to write!
While it may have been motivated by one or more particular moments, ask yourself whether the perspective you’re presenting is truly unique to you. Thousands of medical school candidates receive rejection letters every year. To be one of the ones that is accepted, you must articulate what motivates your passion for medicine, how you’ve prepared to become a doctor, and what you can bring to the field of medicine. As you brainstorm topics, also consider ones that you should avoid. Once you’ve gone through many drafts, copy the final polished version to the AMCAS application system and you should be all set to submit your application to medical schools!
Section Nine: Standardized Tests
Finally, you must include your MCAT score, along with when you took it — this includes your overall composite score, the sub-scores from each section, and the number of times that you sat for the test. Since the AMCAS and MCAT are both under the AAMC, if you’ve got an MCAT score associated with your account, this will appear already in this section. Make sure you transcribe the additional information accurately, as MCAT scores are released automatically to the AMCAS once your results come out. This means that you also can’t withhold any scores from the system, so make sure to include sub-scores and composite scores for every sitting!
If you have any upcoming test dates coming up, this is also the place to put when you plan to take it. The AMCAS also has a section to upload results from any additional exams you may have taken, such as the GRE.
The AMCAS application system might seem like an intimidating portal to complete at first glance. However, if you think about it, you’ve been preparing the majority of what you need since you took the plunge to prepare for MD programs. Carefully read the instructions in each section, review what you’ve typed to check for errors, and work hard to present why you’re a unique candidate who would meaningfully contribute to the profession of medicine. Hopefully, you’ll receive one or more of those coveted acceptance letters from medical schools on your list. Best of luck!