First, what’s the AMCAS primary application and what does it have to do with me getting into medical school?
AMCAS is the centralized online application service where most allopathic (MD) schools screen applicants who submit an AMCAS primary application, followed by the secondary app. Your first step when you apply to medical school is to submit a single application through AMCAS. (Osteopathic medical schools and Texas medical schools use a separate online service). This is called your primary application, and is the first introduction you’ll make with the adcoms (admissions committees) at the schools you choose.
Your completed primary AMCAS file will include your undergraduate transcript, MCAT scores, information about your extracurricular activities, and a personal statement. Some medical schools also allow you to submit letters of recommendation at this point in the application process. The AMCAS application process allows you to select from among the 150-some medical schools and 37 osteopathic schools you want to attend, and your application will be forwarded by AMCAS to each of the schools you choose.
When is the primary application due?
You can submit your primary application to AMCAS as early as June 1. The application is available and accessible after May 1. Most medical schools have their own final deadline for submitting information to AMCAS. Regardless of these deadlines, admissions officers recommend you submit your application as early as possible. Even if your MCAT scores aren’t available by June 1, it’s still a good idea to send your application as soon after June 1 as possible. Then, once MCAT scores are made public, AMCAS links them with your application and sends your primary package to the schools you select. Neither your primary or secondary application will be reviewed until your MCAT scores are added to your file. But that shouldn’t keep you from applying early, since the earlier you “get in line” the earlier your application will be in the hands of the adcoms. Since there’s a logjam of applications in early June, it’s possible your application won’t even be touched until after your MCAT has been married with your MCAT score. Plan on a minimum of 4-6 weeks of “reviewing” and “processing” before you’ll have any contact from the schools where you apply.
What’s the cost?
As you might assume, AMCAS charges a fee for this service. The initial application for Fall of 2018 is $160 for the first school, and $39 for each additional school on your list. AMCAS has a program to offer discounted/waived fees in case of need. Procrastinators take note: AMCAS is serious about its deadlines. If an application is late, you’ll get it back without a refund.
How’s the primary application different from the secondary?
You’ve just finished reading about “the AMCAS primary application.” It’s a standardized packet pre-meds submit to AMCAS all at once, after which AMCAS submits it to the medical school(s) you select. After reviewing your AMCAS file, the admissions committees at your chosen schools will likely send you a secondary application, or “secondary” (if you’re a really slick pre-med, you always drop the word “application”).
While most schools send all applicants the secondary, a handful make an initial cut based entirely on GPA and MCAT scores. These tend to be more competitive schools that receive more applications than they have time to thoroughly review. In other words, as much as you think Harvard will be impressed that you cured cancer and saved the Invisible Children Of The World, if your GPA and MCAT scores aren’t up to snuff, you can kiss Cambridge goodbye.
Why a primary and a secondary?
Secondaries typically include a variety of essays on assigned topics. You could be asked to discuss your favorite novel, describe a leadership role you’ve taken or detail your greatest academic achievement. You will also be asked to submit letters of recommendation if you did not do so through AMCAS. Basically, the secondary helps adcoms separate that wheat from the chaff, so to speak, by learning which applicants are the best fit for their school.
I’ve included more information in my post, “How’s the AMCAS primary application different from the secondary?”
Once the adcom reviews your secondary application, they will do one of three things: reject you, invite you to the campus for an interview or hold your application until after the first round of interviews. In my opinion, schools like to send out secondaries mostly because they can charge you a fee for the privilege of getting included in the second round. Without as much as the flick of a wand, schools can send out thousands of secondary applications and charge students $100 or more to send them back, whether the schools seriously intend to review them or not. I’ve heard of people receiving rejections on the same day they sent in their secondaries, as if the school was only waiting for the students’ payment to tell them to give up. Not cool.
Despite the costs, unless you’ve decided not to apply to a particular school, you should complete and return each secondary application as you receive it. And make sure they arrive before the school’s deadline. The cost of submitting secondaries can be prohibitive, so choose your list carefully. (Financial aid may be available by calling the school and requesting a fee waiver if there is a need. If you were eligible for a waiver from AMCAS, you’ll probably be eligible for a waiver from individual schools.)
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