Overview of Application Components

The medical school application process has a number of components, so whether you’re still figuring out which schools to apply to or getting ready to hit send, this is a great place learn more about the process! Also, remember that there is no singular right way to go through the application process, so you can work through a timeline as it’s written, skip around, or create one that works best for you based on your own goals and schedule. If you’re feeling stuck during any point in the process, we recommend meeting with a Career Coach!


  • The application portal, AMCAS, typically opens during the first week of May each year for the following year’s medical school class (for example, the application for Fall 2024 admittance opens in Summer 2023). Since the ability to submit doesn’t open until the first week of June, you’ll have about a month to begin working on your application before you can submit it.
  • Contemplate whether you would benefit from taking one or multiple gap years. They can be beneficial if you would like more time to gain exposure and experience, save money, take a break, build character/maturity, and/or make sure medical school is the right path for you.
    • Gap years are anything but a “gap”, and can be referred to as a year(s) of preparation/transition/growth/enrichment!
    • Fun Fact: The average age of an incoming medical school student is 24. This means that an average student takes between 1-3 years off before going to medical school.

Deciding on Schools

  • On average, students apply to about 16 schools. Since you’ll spend time and money on your primary and secondary applications, and traveling to your interviews if they are held in-person, it’s a good idea to apply only to schools you would seriously consider attending.
    • We highly recommend first identifying which medical schools are in your state of residence and plan to include those on your list, since public schools have a strong preference for in-state students.
    • Also, consider adding osteopathic (D.O.) programs onto your list. If you’re unfamiliar with what osteopathic medicine look like, check out the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM).
  • The Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) provides a comprehensive listing of M.D.-granting medical schools in the U.S. and Canada. While it requires a subscription, each school’s profile shows specific admissions requirements along with national and school-specific applicant and acceptance data. You can use the site to search for schools, compare them side-by-side, sort data, save and rank favorites, write notes, and compare your own coursework to each school’s requirements.
  • Reflect on which medical schools may be the best fit for you based on factors like mission, location, size, teaching style, demographic, and/or ranking, to name a few.
    • While 35 Questions I Wish I Had Asked is aimed at helping prepare for medical school interviews, you can also use these questions to help identify influential factors when deciding what schools to apply to
    • Also consider a tool like the LizzyM Score Application Assistant on the Student Doctor Network website, which allows you to input your GPA and MCAT to see a list of schools that best align with your scores.

Application Components

  • Consider looking through this Q&A about how to Create a Winning Application
  • The AAMC has a comprehensive Applicant Guide with in-depth information about each step in the application process that we recommend reviewing

Requesting Transcripts & Entering Coursework

You are required to submit an official transcript from each institution where you attempted coursework, regardless of whether credit was earned. You will also be required to input all of your coursework and grades earned into your application.

  • Problems with transcripts are the number one cause of processing delays and missed application deadlines, so make sure to follow the all guidelines.
  • AMCAS strongly recommends that you request a personal copy of your official transcript(s) for your use in completing the Coursework section of your application.
  • There are also specific instructions for applicants who received a GED certificate, were homeschooled, or attended high school in a foreign country in the AMCAS Applicant Guide.

Letters of Recommendations (LORs)

  • Start thinking of 3-6 individuals that can speak to your experience and character (ex: professors, employers, supervisors, mentors). Keep in mind that professors are generally preferred by medical schools and some schools have specific requirements about which types of professors they like to hear from, such as science professors.
  • The University of Washington does not offer Committee or Packet letters, so you will be responsible for procuring individual letters.
  • Ask early and give your writer enough time to write a thoughtful letter. It’s recommended to contact them 2-3 months before you start your application. They will forward your letter to your application in one of two ways, which you can read more about on the AAMC’s rundown of the process.
  • If you cannot think of anyone, take the opportunity to start networking, build relationships, participate in extra-curricular activities, and gain leadership experience. Getting a head start on this will benefit the quality of the relationship you build with this person, and often results in a stronger letter.
  • Always follow up with a thank you card or email to your writers.
  • We recommend students look over our Letter of Recommendation Guide if you feel stuck when getting ready to ask for LORs.

Work & Activities Section

Before starting on the personal statement, take some time to reflect on how you’ve demonstrated the AAMC Core Competencies in the things you’ve done along the way. The Work and Activities section is kind of like the “resume” of the application, where you can list up to 15 activities, from clinical and non-clinical paid and volunteer experience to artistic endeavors and hobbies. Twelve of these are very short (700 characters, including spaces and punctuation!) and you can designate three experiences as your Most Meaningful, for which you have 1,325 additional characters to reflect on what you learned from these experiences. It helps if an applicant starts with these, so that they don’t feel the need to write about ALL of their activities in the Personal Statement, which has other jobs to do for you.

Write a Memorable Personal Statement

The personal statement is a VERY important part of the application. It is the heart of your application, so… Get personal. What is your story? What are your interests and goals? Why medical school specifically (as opposed to being a PA, for example)?  What experiences made you want to become a physician? 

  • Ask yourself:
    • “What’s an important topic or event from my life that will represent who I am?” Medical schools want to see who you are and what drives you through your experiences (really emphasize why you want to go to medical school).
    • Why have you selected the field of medicine?
    • What motivates you to learn more about medicine?
    • What do you want medical schools to know about you that has not been disclosed in other sections of the application?
  • In addition, you may wish to include information such as:
    • Unique hardships, challenges, and obstacles that may have influenced your educational pursuits.
    • Comments on significant fluctuations in your academic record not explained elsewhere in your application.
  • Start drafting this early to allow enough time to ask people to review and proofread it before you apply. Many students end up writing 3-6 drafts. Keep in mind that there is a 5,300 character limit.
  • You can meet with a Career Coach to look over it and/or someone from one of the UW Writing Centers before submitting.

Secondary Applications

This is an additional school-specific application completed after a medical school receives your primary application. It helps explain why you’re interested in that particular institution; how your goals, experiences, and plans align with their mission and goals; and how/what you would contribute and develop as a learner at that institution. Questions often focus on “Adversity” (overcoming obstacles/challenges/failures) as well as “Diversity” (how you will contribute to the diversity of their cohort or the profession). They also include “University” questions — why do you want to come to this school? Applicants are encouraged to submit these within 2-3 weeks from when they received them.

Because essay prompts can be similar between schools and across years, students may choose to “pre-write” some content. You can research prompts from previous years and look for common themes. Prospective Doctor offers a database of previous medical school secondary essay prompts.

Pre-writing can be a great way to get a “head start” on your secondaries, as long as you go into it knowing that it will be accompanied by a lot of re-writing, too.


One of the most essential phases of the application process is a successful interview. There are different kinds of interviews, such as video interviews, in-person one-on-one interviews, and multiple mini interviews (MMIs). You’re being evaluated, but this is also an opportunity for you to evaluate the medical school, tour the campus (if in-person), and ask questions.

  • Each of your interviews will be unique, but most medical schools will be looking for similar attributes as you a chance to share details about yourself that may not have been as easy to put across on paper, such as maturity, professionalism, and genuine interest.
  • The AAMC has a lot of wonderful resources and tips about how to best prepare for medical school interviews on their Preparing for Interviews page.
  • Because you are also going to be evaluating the medical school during your interview, it is important to come prepared with good questions to ask them. Here are 35 questions to get started with if you’re looking for inspiration.
  • Consider scheduling a mock interview with one of our Career Coaches.

Check Eligibility for the Fee Assistance Program

The AAMC Fee Assistance Program (FAP) assists those who, without financial assistance, would be unable to take the Medical College Admission Test® (MCAT®), apply to medical schools that use the American Medical College Application Service® (AMCAS®), and more.

Read the Fee Assistance Program Essentials to learn more.