This blog post was written by Alexa Johnson.
Congratulations on reaching this point in your educational career! You are going to join an amazing community of individuals and make wonderful memories. My name is Alexa, and I am a second-year medical student at an osteopathic program in San Antonio, TX. My background is non-traditional as all of my experiences, successes, and failures have helped me to get to where I am today.
Below you will find information about the application process, required and recommended coursework, and the MCAT as you prepare yourself for application season. We are currently in the middle of applications for the 2021-2022 cycle; however, this can still be a source of information for people currently in applications or those who are preparing to apply next cycle (2022-2023)!
Required Pre-requisite Courses
- 1 year of General Biology + 1 year of lab
- 1 year of General (Inorganic) Chemistry + 1 year of lab
- 1 year of Organic Chemistry + 1 year of lab
- 1 year of Physics + 1 year of lab
- 1 semester of Biochemistry** (Can vary by school)
- 1 year of English
- 1 semester of Statistics
- 1 semester of Calculus
- *This differs according to institution.
- Foreign language
Application Timeline and Components
What is the difference between a primary and secondary application?
The primary application is a general overview of your background information, activities you have been a part of, GPA, coursework, awards received, and your personal statement. This is sent to all schools you indicate on the application.
After submitting the primary application, your application is first processed by the application service to ensure all portions are completed adequately. On a specified date, it will be released to the schools you are applying to.
You may or may not receive a secondary application from the institution you applied to. The secondary application is school specific. It may have short answer or essay prompts or ask for more general information about yourself.
What happens after the secondary application?
When does the primary application open?
When is the best time to take the MCAT?
That is completely your decision based on your schedule and comfort level with the exam! Most people will take it in the Spring and have their score ready for submission with their primary application in May.
When should I submit the secondary application?
As soon as possible! The sooner you submit your secondary application, the better chance you have of getting an early interview invitation.
What are the dates that everything opens and is due?
2021-2022 AMCAS Application Cycle
- AMCAS application opens: May 3, 2021
- Last day to take the MCAT without delaying your application: May 20, 2021
- First day to submit AMCAS: May 27, 2021
- First date that processed applications are released to schools: June 25, 2021
- AMCAS Early Decision Program Deadline: August 2, 2021
2021-2022 AACOMAS Application Cycle
- AACOMAS application opens: May 4, 2021
- Applications released to schools: June 15, 2021
- TMDSAS application opens: May 3, 2021
- First day to submit: May 17, 2021
- Deadline: October 30, 2021
Typical (general) timeline for applications
- May – primary application opens for completion
- May – primary application submission opens
- From date of submission, takes 6-8 weeks for verification of your application
- June through the Fall – secondary applications sent out
- Fall/Spring – interviews
- Fall/Spring – admission decisions sent out
You may be asking yourself, where do I even start?
Here is a run-down step by step of what I consider to be the best way to go through the process! Start this process in January of the year you are going to be applying.
1. WHERE TO APPLY
I think the best place to start is to consider the kind of programs you want to apply to. Allopathic (MD) and Osteopathic (DO) programs will both get you to your goal.
Prior to the primary application opening, start researching schools you wish to apply to. This is where a spreadsheet comes in handy.
Some things to consider when deciding on schools:
- What is the overall mission of the school and what goals does it have in the community?
- What kind of clinical exposure do you get during your didactic years?
- Average GPA and MCAT scores for admission
- Does the school have a holistic process of reviewing applications?
- Research opportunities
- Does the school use a pass/fail system or grades?
- Pass rate for board exams
Once the primary application opens, make sure you are applying on the correct application service.
- Allopathic schools use AMCAS
- Osteopathic schools use AACOMAS
- **For Texas residents – TMDSAS
2. PAY ATTENTION TO DEADLINES!
Use an excel spreadsheet to map out your deadlines! Many schools will have a specific date in which they want their primary application submitted by.
Many schools are on a rolling admission timeline. The sooner you submit your primary and secondary applications, the better chance you have of an acceptance.
3. COURSEWORK, TRANSCRIPTS, GPA
One of the most tedious parts of the primary application is indicating prior institutions that you have taken classes at, the courses you took there, and the grade you received.
You MUST ensure that the course name, grade, and credits that you are indicating on the application matches exactly what is on your official transcript. If it does not match, your application will be sent back to you during the verification process. Start the process of sending your official transcripts right away when the application opens.
Here are some helpful links:
4. LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION
During the application cycle, your prior professors, colleagues, managers, etc. will most likely be bombarded with emails about letters of recommendation. Get to work on these early! Some will work very quickly on these letters, while others may need more than one month to have it completed. You may have up to 10 letters.
Types of LOR:
- Committee Letter: letter authored by a pre-health committee or pre-health advisor
- Letter Packet: set of letters assembled and distributed by your institution (often by the career center)
- Individual Letter: a letter submitted by a single writer
A large portion of the primary application is called “Work/Activities” in which you list out all of your clinical, non-clinical, leadership, volunteer, etc. experiences and explain their significance along with the number of hours accumulated. Compile a list of these activities that you have done and categorize them into the following categories:
- Community service (medical or non-medical)
- Artistic endeavor
- Military service
- Paid employment
- Physician shadowing/clinical observation
- Paid employment (medical/clinical OR not medical/clinical)
You can have up to 15 examples, but it is completely ok if you cannot fill each type of category! Additionally, you will choose up to 3 of these experiences that are the most meaningful to you and explain why.
For all experiences make sure to compile:
- Start and end dates
- Organization name/location
- Total hours completed
- Contact name, phone number, and email for supervisor, manager, or mentor, etc.
- Description of your responsibilities
It is important to show yourself as a well-rounded applicant. What does that mean? It means that you have a wide range of activities and experiences and that you have longevity in those experiences.
What are some meaningful experiences that will make you stand out?
- Extended period of time volunteering with an organization that you are passionate about
- Shadowing in different specialties
- Leadership roles
- School organizations
6. PERSONAL STATEMENT
This is arguably one of the most important parts of the application. This is where the admissions committee can see YOU for who you are. Have multiple people read your personal statement. Make sure it shows who you are and why you want to be a physician.
Checklist for things to compile for the application
- Official transcripts
- Letters of recommendation
- Personal statement
- Experiences (leadership, clinical, non-clinical, volunteer, etc.)
- Awards, honors
- MCAT score(s)
Important tips 💡
- The verification process ONLY requires the following:
- Demographic information
- Work and Activities section
- Personal statement
- Grades and official transcripts
What does this mean? It means that you can submit your application prior to receiving your letters of recommendation or MCAT score, so you can start the process of verification.
About the MCAT
Let’s start off by saying that you are not alone in your worries about the MCAT. I remember feeling so overwhelmed by that exam and feeling like my entire future was dependent on it.
I struggled with that test. I took it 3 times.
However, I was accepted, I am succeeding in medical school, and you will too! Have comfort in the fact that all of us at Med Mentors have been in your shoes with this test and we are now where we are supposed to be.
Here is a link that will direct you to this year’s MCAT schedule.
Testing begins in January and usually the last date for tests will be around September. In a single year, you can take the exam three times. In a two year period, you can take it up to four times. In a lifetime, you can take the exam up to seven times.
Timing: When should you take it?
- The short answer: whenever you feel ready!
- The long answer: This test is not one size fits all. I think the smart approach is to give yourself enough time to take the exam twice in case your first score is not exactly what you envisioned. Ideally, you take the exam once and you get your goal score! However, if you do not, then you would still have enough time to take the exam again and have an on-time application submission.
- If you are applying to AMCAS, you DO NOT need to send them your MCAT scores. It will be available to schools automatically through this service.
- If you are applying to AACOMAS, you need to manually send your scores to the application service through the AAMC website.
- All MCAT scores will be visible.
Suggested MCAT timeline:
- Take the exam in January or February
- Wait 1 month to receive your score
- Score received in February or March
- If you need to take it a second time, register for March or April (if dates are available)
- Wait 1 month to receive your score
- Score received in April or May
- Your primary application can still be submitted on time!
As you go through this process, remember how many of us have done this (sometimes multiple times). We did it and we made it and you will too. Keep yourself organized and don’t forget your ultimate goal at the end of all of this! If you have any questions about the application process, advice on schools to apply to, editing questions on your personal statement or activities section, etc. please do not be afraid to reach out to your Med Mentor!