Most of the accredited U.S. medical schools use a centralized online application service (The American Medical College Application Service, AMCAS). (Medical schools participating in AMCAS.) Once you have completed the online application (i.e., fees paid and no errors or omissions on the application itself), and once your transcript(s) has been received by AMCAS, your application will be processed by AMCAS and forwarded to the medical schools you designate. Note that you must request that Clark’s Registrar’s Office send an official copy of your transcript so that it is received by AMCAS no later than two weeks following the deadline specified by the medical school to which you are applying (see below). If you have attended other schools, you must do the same for them. You can begin the online application usually in early May, and it must be completed by dates specified by individual schools. AMCAS Medical School Application Deadlines. Early Decision Program Information.
It takes more time than you might imagine to complete this application; start early! There are three key factors to keep in mind: accuracy, completeness, and an effective personal statement. You will be provided with an online set of instructions and a worksheet with all the questions to be answered that you can print out. If you have questions about the application, you may contact AMCAS directly (202-828-0600 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org). The later you wait to ask questions, the more difficult it may be to get a timely response.
All parts of your AMCAS application are important. However, there are two sections that stand out: Experience and Personal Comments (essay).
In the Experience section, you can list up to 15 specific experiences or awards that provide evidence that you have what it takes to become a doctor. It is crucial that you use this section wisely, and that you convey the many (hopefully) extracurricular activities that demonstrate that you know what you are getting in for, as well as your many (hopefully) personal character strengths. For each experience, you are given 700 characters (including spaces) to summarize what you did and briefly reflect on it. For three experiences that you designate as your most meaningful experiences, you are allotted an additional 1,325 characters to convey what you learned and what you gave; i.e., this is a chance to more extensively reflect on what you did and convey how you have grown as a result. Do not include experiences that are not directly related to your journey into medicine or growth as a person. Do not ramble. Try to convey your message in a clear, concise, and complete manner.
The heart of your AMCAS application will be your personal statement (essay). This is your first (and possibly your only) shot at convincing the medical school admissions committee that you are the type of person they would want as their doctor. Arguably, this is the most important page (5,300 characters) that you will ever have to write in your life. It will play a major role in the admissions decision and will most likely be read very carefully by your interviewers. Please refer to the Personal Statement section for a detailed description of how to approach writing your personal essay.
The essay should be informative, engaging, clear, and grammatically correct (including spelling). You can readily find examples of “good” essays online or in books about the application process, but DO NOT READ THEM, at least until after you have written several drafts of your own. Why? Because this should be your personal statement, and you may find it very difficult to be original after having read the essays of others. You should also be aware that medical schools are probably very familiar with these publicly available essays, and any hint of plagiarism will destroy your viability as an applicant.
After you have given your best shot at writing and revising your essay, seek feedback, read some essays others have written, and be critical of what you wrote. Don’t be afraid to drastically change your current version if you (or others) think it will help. You should consult the Premedical and Predental Advisory Committee so that we can work closely with you. The sooner you begin writing your essay, the better off you will be; early in the spring semester of your junior year is none too soon.
As described in more depth in the Personal Statement section, one can imagine at least three different styles of essays, including biographical, introspective, and inspirational. Biographical essays tend to be a chronological description of relevant life experiences, but such essays often lack flair or distinction. Introspective essays can be especially revealing, but may be very difficult to write or relate to practical aspects of medicine. The dramatic essays usually entail some sort of “I want to save the world” and should be avoided unless you can cite convincing evidence that you actually have saved the world (several times). Frequently, a combination of the biographical and introspective approach can be effective.
The late Dr. Edward Trachtenberg, a longtime premedical adviser and professor of organic chemistry at Clark and former editor of the Premedical Advisor’s Reference Manual, liked to make the analogy between your essay and an NMR spectrum. It must have both a baseline and peaks. A baseline is necessary for any of the peaks to be meaningful. In your essay, there should be a “baseline” that makes it clear that you enjoy, or are at least comfortable with, science, and that you care about the health and well being of others and want to help them. Similarly, the peaks in an NMR spectrum provide the evidence that identifies unique aspects of the sample. In your essay, you should try to provide evidence that defines you as a unique individual and that justifies why you are qualified to become a doctor. Another useful analogy is that your essay is similar to what you would want to convey about yourself when meeting a potential friend for the first time. You have personality traits and skills that cannot be discerned from GPA, MCAT scores, and letters of recommendation from faculty. It is up to you to convey at least some of these in your personal statement.
Following receipt of your AMCAS application, medical schools will send you their own application, called a secondary application. They will charge a fee and will ask you to submit additional information, including why you are interested in their particular school. You should complete these applications as soon as possible, in part to convince the school that you are truly interested in them. However, you should take the time to answer the questions carefully and work with the Premedical and Predental Advisory Committee to avoid saying something that could be misinterpreted. Most schools will waive the secondary application fee if you have received an FAP waiver for the AMCAS application and/or MCAT registration.