An Insider’s Guide to Submitting the AMCAS
A native of Indianapolis, Stephanie Asdell is pursuing her B.A. in Cultural Anthropology, with minors in Biology and Global Health, from Duke University. She plans to attend medical school in fall 2018 and later pursue a Masters in Public Health to further her interests in community and women's health. In the post below, Stephanie outlines the process and timeline of applying to medical school through the American Medical Colleges Application Service (AMCAS).
If you are applying in the upcoming medical admissions cycle, add AMCAS (or “American Medical Colleges Application Service”) to your vocabulary now.
Also known by its informal name, the “primary application” or even simply the “primary,” the AMCAS application is a centralized, online application that serves as the first application round for most medical schools in the United States.
One year ago, I was in your shoes; I had many questions about best practices for submitting my AMCAS application. Now, on the other side of the process, I want to impart my “insider” knowledge to you to help you start yours off in the smartest way possible.
(Before we begin, check out the list of US regular MD programs participating in the AMCAS for the past application cycle. Note that medical schools in Texas as well as the CUNY School of Medicine Sophie Davis Biomedical Education Program do not participate in AMCAS and require alternate mechanisms for primary applications.)
How does the AMCAS generally work?
There are three steps in the primary application process (see Table 1 for a handy visual aid.)
Complete and submit your AMCAS application, paying the requisite fees (which I will address later). Request that all university-level transcripts be sent to AMCAS. Depending on the platform that your university uses, you may also have to pay for an official transcript to be sent to AMCAS. Additionally, it is of utmost importance that you request ALL university transcripts, including transcripts from study abroad courses, courses taken in high school through or at a university/college, or other transfer credit. While this step can be tedious, if a medical school finds out that you failed to send a transcript, it might rescind your acceptance.
After you complete these steps, the application service will review your grades and coursework for accuracy. Your application will only be reviewed once AMCAS has received both your application and all of your transcripts. Therefore, ensuring that your transcripts have been sent to AMCAS before submission can help prevent delays in the review process.
While AMCAS cannot guarantee that the review will be completed in a certain amount of time, the main page of the website publishes the submission date of which applications are currently being reviewed. Due to the varying volume of applications, this process can take a few days if you submit early, or up to weeks during peak submission times (i.e. in the mid-summer.)
All AMCAS GPAs, which are eventually sent to medical schools, are based on a 4.0 scale -- regardless of your home institution’s grading scale.
AMCAS reviewers make necessary changes to the coursework section of your application based on cross-checks with transcripts, and calculate a standardized AMCAS GPA. This means that all AMCAS GPAs, which are eventually sent to medical schools, are based on a 4.0 scale regardless of your home institution’s grading scale.
Additionally, AMCAS reviewers calculate a BCPM GPA, which is comprised of all grades received in fields of biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics. You may have heard of the infamous “science GPA” that is so essential to the medical school application. This official BCPM is what will be sent to medical schools of your choice. Note that courses in other approved science fields can count as part of your BCPM GPA. Information about alternate science courses that are considered in the BCPM GPA can be found here.
When review of your application is complete, AMCAS sends your verified application to the medical schools you designated. If you have not yet uploaded letters of evaluation to your application (which I will also discuss below), they will be sent as AMCAS receives them.
Additionally, if your MCAT scores were not already included in your application due to a later testing date or other reasons, they will be delivered to medical schools when they are available.
When does the AMCAS portal open?
The AMCAS portal opens for viewing and entry on Wednesday, May 2, 2018 if you are applying in the 2018-2019 cycle (in other words, if you are aiming for 2019 matriculation to medical school). After this date, it is advantageous to work through the sections and fill them out as soon as possible.
When can you (and when should you) submit your AMCAS?
The first day you can submit your AMCAS application for review (see steps 1 and 2 above) is May 31. In order to be part of the first group of applicants that medical schools consider in the cycle, it is best to submit your AMCAS as early as possible after this date, if not on that date. This could reduce the review time for your application and get your application out to medical schools faster. As some schools may fill interview slots as they receive applications, being in the first cohort of applicants could only help your chances of being contacted for an interview. This being said, you should prioritize quality over speed. The key is to submit your best application possible as early as possible.
Always prioritize quality over speed. The key is to submit your best application possible as early as possible.
What are the sections included on the AMCAS application?
Here is a list of the broader sections of the AMCAS application:
- Identifying Information
- Schools Attended
- Biographic Information
- Letters of Evaluation
- Medical Schools
- Standardized Tests
- Certification and Submission
What should you have prepared before you fill out your AMCAS?
Prepare your essay (or personal statement) and letters of evaluation well in advance of the submission deadline. It is extremely wise to ask multiple trusted editors to review your personal statement. For example, my university’s Writing Center helped me focus the content and organization of my essay. I encourage you to seek out such resources if you have them, or to consult the wealth of knowledge available regarding the preparation of a personal statement for medical school.
How and when should you ask for letters of evaluation?
Begin thinking of who you will ask to write a letter of evaluation months before you plan to submit your AMCAS. Then, leave at least one month before your intended submission date for your evaluator to respond.
Ideally, you should ask your evaluator in person and possibly follow up with an email that outlines how and when he/she should submit your letter. Make sure to provide your evaluator with a CV or resume, a copy of your transcript (even unofficial), and your personal statement.
If your university writes committee letters, it is of utmost importance that you contact them to coordinate this process. If you apply from a school that writes committee letters for their students without such a letter, it will reflect poorly upon you.
Because of this timeline, it is best to start your personal statement well before you ask for letters, meaning that you should start your essay up to several months before the application deadline. Last, but not least, you should send a thank you note. Personally, I prefer an old-fashioned snail mail card because it stands out among the hundreds of emails my evaluators receive daily.
Letter submission varies greatly from school to school, so contact your pre-health advising office to clarify their preferred process. Some university advising offices use individual letters of evaluation to compose a committee letter that will actually be the only letter sent to AMCAS. If your university writes committee letters, it is of utmost importance that you contact them to coordinate this process. If you apply from a school that writes committee letters for their students without such a letter, it will reflect poorly upon you. Other universities do not compose such a letter and request that all individual evaluators submit their letters to AMCAS directly. AMCAS is aware of which schools do and do not write committee letters, and it is up to you to be equally informed and proactive.
Who should you ask for letters of evaluation?
This is often a matter of medical school preference. Refer to schools’ individual websites to see if they have specific requirements for the types of evaluators who write your letters. In general, it may be safe to assume that you will need a letter from one or two science faculty members who instructed you, a research mentor if possible, and another instructor. If you have been heavily involved in other extra-curriculars such as service organizations, campus paramedic services, etc., asking a faculty/professional (non-peer) mentor for a letter may benefit you as well.
To reiterate, each medical school and each university provide their own guidelines for the overall number and types of evaluators they seek. Be sure to check these requirements thoroughly at least a few months before you plan to submit your AMCAS.
How much does submitting the AMCAS application cost?
The AMCAS processing fee is $160 and includes submission to one medical school of your choosing. If you would like to add additional schools (talk to your pre-health advisor beforehand to work out how many schools you should shoot for), sending your application to each school is an additional $39. You can pay through the AMCAS portal itself via credit or debit card, or through the AMCAS Fee Assistance Program.
AMCAS attempts to provide financial assistance to those who would not otherwise be able to apply to medical schools or take the MCAT. Eligibility guidelines for this program can be found here.
What is the suggested timeline for submitting the AMCAS application?
Considering all of the information above, here is a suggested timeline for preparing and submitting your AMCAS by May 31.
February - March
- Meet with health professions advising resources to determine how your institution would like you to submit letters of evaluation and to determine which types of schools and how many schools to which you should apply.
- Brainstorm your personal statement. Evaluate what is important to you to include. Begin working through outlines or other forms of planning your writing.
Draft your personal statement and seek others aid in revising and editing.
- Finalize your personal statement.
- By the end of the month, reach out to your evaluators and provide them with your CV/resume, transcript, and personal statement (the best draft possible). Communicate the date by which you would like them to submit letters clearly.
- May 2: Log in to AMCAS using your AAMC account, which you should have created if you took the MCAT beforehand. Otherwise, create an AAMC account. Review the sections.
- During the month, complete all sections possible.
- Request transcripts from all institutions from which you received college level credit.
- May 31: SUBMIT!
In conclusion, I cannot stress enough that submitting your best work as early as possible gives you the chance to be reviewed first by your medical schools of choice and considered for some of the first spots in their class. Now that you know the many components you need to complete your application, begin to gather them before the application opens in May. Throughout this months-long process, maintain contact with your pre-health advising office and other helpful resources, such as peer editors. Crafting your best AMCAS is a marathon, not a sprint.
For more information on the AMCAS application, see the PDF guide for applicants.
A native of Indianapolis, Stephanie Asdell is currently pursuing her B.A. in Cultural Anthropology, with minors in Biology and Global Health, from Duke University. She plans to attend medical school in fall 2018 and later pursue a Masters in Public Health to further her interests in community and women's health. In her free time, she enjoys being a foodie, dancing, and working on fashion photo shoots for a campus publication.