Filling out your AMCAS application

The AMCAS report for is an effective summary of you, entailing your identifying, contact, and other biographic information. Some sections, like the “Disadvantaged” or “SES Disadvantaged,” give you opportunities to explain how your road to medical school might have been impacted by marginalization. There are also a few sections that allow you to share why you might be reapplying or received institutional action or convictions. The bulk of the application consists of grades and test scores, and of note, descriptions of your experiences. Note: Public Texas MD programs and all D.O. programs have their own app.

The AMCAS application opens in early May and can usually be submitted at the end of May. I submitted my transcripts in late-May and my AMCAS application in the first few days of June. I had a committee letter that was sent in mid-June. My AMCAS application was approved at the beginning of July, and I received my first secondary on July 2nd. It usually takes about 3-4 weeks to have your application approved; you definitely want it in as early as possible to increase your chances of getting interviews.

Academic Record: Have a copy of all transcripts, including study abroad and cross-registration. Be sure to double check your entries, and distinguish which courses were accompanied by labs. When you submit the application, AMCAS will verify your grades and credit hours. The verified GPAs will be automatically uploaded after your application is processed.

Experiences: The purpose of this section, in my opinion, is to help the admissions committee see if you embody or practiced competencies desired in medical students. Consider quality over quality. If you fill up your experience section, that’s great. If you don’t, that’s also great. You just need to make sure the quality of your descriptions is consistent and be critical of what you write. For example, if you volunteered on a farm for a few days, that might be less meaningful than a consistent volunteering effort in which you demonstrated not only your altruistic motivations but also leadership potential in that you increasingly took on leadership roles. I think that less important experiences can dilute the overall impression.

For any of your experiences, you will need to describe its type, and provided details such as the dates you engaged with the activity and your titles. You will be asked for the total number of hours, and if you didn’t keep a log, don’t fret. Look back at planners or job descriptions; genuinely derived estimates will do. (You can also double check this by taking all of your time commitments and calculating how your average day broke down; if it calculates reasonably, with basic time commitments such as sleeping met, then you can feel confident about your autobiographical detective work).

You will also need a contact name & title; for some of the activities that did not have a staff mentor, I asked my Dean of Students for permission to list him as the contact. Most importantly, you will need to describe the experience and delineate if its the most meaningful (max: 3). Some tips:

  • Make a list of all your activities: Choose 15. It’s very rare that someone should include a high school activity. Consider including a breadth of clinically-related, leadership, and service activities; particular schools seem to prioritize particular experiences, such as service.
  • Describe the organization: Your first sentence might be what the activity was, especially if it’s a pretty niche experience. More common activities like Model United Nations require less background information.
  • Ask yourself: What drew you to the experience and why did you continue pursuing it? How did you impact other people? How might you contextualize the challenges and rewards of the experience in a bigger picture? Why was/is the experience critical to your personal growth? Were you exposed to people different than yourself; how did you develop relationships with them? What learning curves existed in the job and how did you fare? Did any of your activities push you outside your comfort zone? Are there any activities you wouldn’t want to do again; what would you change?
  • Tell a story: Some people like to write in a real account into the description, but don’t feel obligated. You can just as quickly get the message across by sharing what you learned or how your responsibilities changed over your involvement. If you can connect it back to your passion for medicine, that’s all the better. Most importantly, you should describe how the experience made you a more capable and compassionate individual.
  • Use active verbs: Just like in a well-written resume, you want to use verbs that adequately describe your responsibilities but also signal to desired competencies. Lean away from flowery language.
  • Proofread: By now, you’ve poured over your personal statement and probably run it through a spell check several times. Give the same attention to detail in your activity descriptions. If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, ask a friend or consider a subscription to Grammarly.

Below is an example of what I wrote to describe my undergraduate research. It’s not perfect, but I think it motivated quite a few interview questions.

Description: I investigated the protein corona formed around gold nanoparticles (NPs) exposed to human serum, across two summers, four semesters, and a year dedicated to an honors thesis. The novel work required me to integrate new research methods, collaborate across the biology and chemistry departments, and synthesize information as I formulated hypotheses. I feel fortunate to have presented six times, one for which I was named a Fowler speaking finalist. Submitting three abstracts, twice as the first author, at annual American Chemical Society meetings were rewarding experiences, as was successfully defending a thesis that would serve as a manual for future labmates.

Most Meaningful Experience Remarks: During long hours in the lab, I wondered how as a doctor I would explain nanomedicines to my patients. As a freshman, I hesitantly approached Professor Flynn, though I was passionate but uncertain about engaging with science. He invited me to conduct independent research in his lab, and my confidence to conduct science grew. My project evolved from designing nanoparticles to “investigating the protein corona of novel nanovehicles in model biological fluids,” as my honors thesis was titled. The 88-page thesis was a culmination of research methods, adapted protocols from literature, and many failures. It documented how I grew comfortable with setbacks, and leaned towards resiliency. As I bridged the gap between my textbook and practical knowledge, I wanted to share my enthusiasm and mentored high school and undergraduate students to enable them to pursue their own scientific inquiry. Researching prepared me for medicine: pursuing scientific inquiry, translating science, and synthesizing information from the cutting-edge. It also taught me how to collaborate: a practice I hope will do me well among diverse health professionals. I may not see nanomedicines in clinical trials just yet, but researching taught me how to think and better communicate scientific discovery.

The last two significant sections involved copy&pasting your personal statement and selecting medical schools (which you can always add to later). With that, you are done with this big step! Congratulations! Take a break, and we can start talking about preparing secondaries a little later.

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