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How to Apply to Med School

There are three categories of medical schools with respect to application procedures,: in addition to CASPer, a computer based test required by several medical schools. 

  • AMCAS, for nearly all MD programs
  • TMDSAS, for all Texas public allopathic and osteopathic medical schools
  • AACOMAS, for osteopathic medical schools
  • PREview, CASPer

1. AMCAS Schools

The American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) is a centralized application system for nearly all allopathic medical schools. It is a nonprofit organization that only processes applications. It has nothing to do with admissions decisions and it gives no advice. One hundred fifty-one medical schools participated in AMCAS this year, and you must use AMCAS to apply to these schools. The cost for this service is $170 for the first school and $43 for each additional school. There is a Fee Assistance Program for applicants with "extreme financial limitations" who are unable to pay this service fee. Information on the FAP can be found here.  Applicants whose total family income is at or below 400 percent of the federal poverty level for their family size are eligible for assistance. You must apply for the FAP before registering for the MCAT or submitting the AMCAS.  If you are granted fee assistance, it extends to the end of the next calendar year. 

What is the AMCAS procedure? You provide AMCAS with several types of personal and academic information and an essay. AMCAS processes and verifies this information and sends it and your MCAT scores to the medical schools you designate.

The AMCAS application is online here and must be completed and submitted online. The application is traditionally available in early May, and may be submitted in early June. Successfully completing the application requires organization, attention to detail, patience and careful checking on your part.

Here are some highlights of what the application includes:

  • AAMC ID (the number identifying you for the AMCAS application)
  • Biographic information, contact information
  • Legal residence, citizenship
  • Languages spoken
  • Disadvantaged applicant (social, economic, educational)
  • Work experience/Activities (employment, community service, research, teaching, honors and awards, conferences attended, presentations, publications, athletics, artistic endeavors, leadership, extracurricular activities, hobbies)
  • One-page "Personal Comments" essay (Additional essays for MD-PhD applicants.)
  • Schools attended
  • Course work
  • Medical School designations
  • Institutional action (Were you ever the recipient of any institutional action by any college or medical school for unacceptable academic performance or conduct violation, even though such action may not have interrupted your enrollment or required you to withdraw?)
  • Felony or misdemeanor convictions

The Course Work section of the application deserves some special comment:

1. It is very important to have your transcript(s) in front of you while you complete the Course Work section. AMCAS verifies each application by comparing it with official transcripts. It must agree with those transcripts in every respect.

2. AMCAS computes GPAs based on semester hours. You enter your Swarthmore courses in "course units" (normally 1) and they are automatically converted to semester hours by AMCAS as follows:

AMCAS Conversion
Swarthmore Course Units AMCAS Semester Hours
.5 2
1.0 4
1.5 6
2.0 8

To illustrate, if by now you have earned 20 course units (4 units x 5 semesters), you have earned the equivalent of 80 semester hours (16 hours x 5 semesters).

If you have any questions about reporting grades or courses, call 202-828-0600 or e-mail the AMCAS office in Washington, D.C. (

The Work Experience/Activities section requires you to categorize your most significant experiences and achievements and provide the experience title, and start and end date. It also asks for such details as average hours/week and the name and title of a contact person. You should provide as much information as possible, so that the medical schools will know how extensive your involvement was and the nature of the experience. There is also a place for you to briefly describe each entry. Be as concise and clear as possible, so as not to overwhelm the already overburdened reader with so much verbiage that they lose interest altogether. Out of the experiences that were entered in this section you may select up to three experiences that you consider to be most meaningful. When the selection is made you are given additional space to explain you choice.

The AMCAS application also provides opportunities to expand on the information you provide. There is the “Personal Comments” section, a one-page, 5,300 character essay on what has drawn you to a medical career. If you self-identify as disadvantaged, there are a number of additional questions for you to answer and you will have a quarter-page opportunity to answer, “Explain why you believe you should be considered a disadvantaged applicant by your designated medical schools.” If you are applying to MD-PhD programs, there are two additional essays about your motivation for pursuing an MD-PhD and a description of your significant research experiences.

When it comes time to apply, make early transcript requests so the processing of your application is not delayed by the lack of transcripts. It is important to note that you will need to submit transcripts for every U.S or Canadian post-secondary institution where you have ever taken a course, including those taken while you were in high-school, or that appear on your Swarthmore transcript.  This includes institutions that sponsored your study abroad programs. Swarthmore College uses the National Clearinghouse to transmit your transcripts to AMCAS.  There are instructions on how to access the Clearinhouse "order transcript" service on the Registrar's website for both current students and alums. Remember to only request a transcript after all your grades have been posted. You may need to contact each institution you attended to see what process they use to transmit your transcripts. Remember AMCAS will not begin to process your application until they have all of your transcripts.

It is easy to order an unofficial copy of your transcript for yourself as well, as you will need them to complete your applications. Look over your transcripts carefully and make sure the grades, courses, and AP credit all look correct.

The completed AMCAS application should be submitted in early to mid-June, or as soon as you receive spring semester grades. You should start at least two to three weeks ahead of that to complete the application. The electronic application allows you to work through the application at different sittings before certifying it and submitting it. Be careful and accurate in filling out the application – if there are errors, it could delay your whole application or present you poorly to admissions committees. Before you submit your application, check it carefully one last time; once you submit, you can only change your name, ID, sex, next MCAT and contact information and add medical schools to your AMCAS list.

Because AMCAS is processing tens of thousands of applications in a short period of time, mix-ups and mistakes inevitably happen. It is up to you to check your transcript and application status on the Main Menu after you log on to your AMCAS application, and to follow up swiftly on any problems.

Please note that AMCAS does NOT accept any supplementary information except transcripts. AMCAS does not make any admissions decisions or judgments; it simply collects information from applicants and their transcripts, verifies the course work with the transcript(s), translates the information into a consistent format and sends it on to the medical schools.

By faculty regulation, grades for CR/NC courses taken during the first semester of the freshman year or during the spring 2020 term will not be released; you may not include these grades to raise your grade point average. Grade equivalents for courses voluntarily taken on a CR/NC basis after the first semester are not released unless you specifically opt to officially uncover those grades on your transcript, following the procedures and deadlines outlined by the Registrar.  Your shadow grades do not appear on your AMCAS application and are not factored into your GPA.

2. Non-AMCAS Schools, including Texas State Schools

The chief non-AMCAS allopathic schools of interest to some Swarthmore applicants are the University of Texas schools that use the Texas Medical and Dental Schools Application Service (TMDSAS). If you are applying to these schools, you must request that official transcripts and MCAT scores be sent to TMDSAS. (However, several of the University of Texas schools use AMCAS for MD-PhD applicants only.)

3. Osteopathic Schools

To apply to osteopathic medical school, you must go through the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS), which has a centralized application similar to AMCAS. Their application can be completed online through their website. Applications may be submitted in early June; as with allopathic schools, it is very important to apply early. Swarthmore College uses the National Clearinghouse to transmit your transcripts to both AMCAS and AACOMAS. There are instructions on how to access the Clearinghouse "order transcript" service on the Registrar's website for both current students and alums. (See the AACOMAS website for rules regarding foreign transcripts.) You must also send your MCAT scores to AACOMAS by using the MCAT online THx system. As with AMCAS schools, individual osteopathic schools will send you a secondary application to fill out and return with an application fee.

Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine is the one exception. You submit an application to the Texas Medical and Dental Schools Application Service for entry to this school.

It is very important to osteopathic schools that candidates know something about osteopathic medicine, and demonstrate that they are committed to its principles, not simply applying as an easier-to-get-into alternative. All require or strongly prefer a letter of recommendation from a practicing DO, in addition to the Health Sciences Committee letter of recommendation.  If you think that you may be interested in this option but have not had exposure to osteopathic medicine, contact a DO and spend some time with him/her at work. You will find DOs in nearly all medical settings. 

Osteopathic schools calculate both the overall and the science GPA slightly differently than allopathic schools. When calculating the science GPA, the osteopathic schools do not include math grades. Rather, math grades are included in the non-science GPA.

4. MD-PhD and other Joint Degree Programs

Each school has a somewhat different process for MD-PhD and other joint degree admissions. Generally, you will designate on your AMCAS application that you are applying for a "Combined Medical Degree/PhD" for each school for which that is the case. The AMCAS application will include additional essays about your research interests and experiences.  It is your responsibility to be aware of the letter of recommendation requirements at the MD-PhD programs to which you are applying, and to instruct the Health Sciences Office appropriately. It is not unusual for MD-PhD programs to require letters from every research experience. Don't be caught at the last minute having to scramble for letters.

MD-PhD programs are offered at most medical schools and typically offer financial support for the PhD portion of the program. Links to these programs are available at The National Institute of General Medical Sciences financially supports 45 combined MD-PhD programs, known as Medical Scientist Training Programs (MSTP). Duke, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, New York University, University of Pennsylvania, Rochester, Yale, Washington University and Columbia are among the schools offering the MSTP. Because medical school tuition is completely paid for and a stipend is provided for six years, admission to this program is highly selective.  Over the past several years, the average for accepted Swarthmore  applicants to  MD-PhD programs was 3.8 GPA and a 519 MCAT, with extensive science background and research experience. 

Students interested in research but not in a full MD-PhD program may want to consider MD degrees with a strong research component, sometimes over 5 years. One such program is Lerner Cleveland Clinic, a special program of Case Western, which promotes research in all disciplines, and is tuition-free.

MD-MPH, MD-JD and other joint programs are offered at some medical schools. Joint professional degree programs usually do not offer financial support. You can typically apply to these programs once you are a first year medical student, or as part of your initial medical school application.

5. Personality and Judgment Tests

Some medical schools require one of the following tests, in addition to the MCAT, to try to assess the qualitative aspects of applicants such as personality and judgment. Be sure to  check the testing requirements of the schools to which you are applying so that your application is not delayed. Both tests include a full length practice test on their websites, which is a good way to prepare and make sure your computer and internet connection are suitable.  

1. PREview

The AAMC PREview test, or Professional Readiness Exam (formally called the Situational Judgment Test) was administered last year at a small handful of schools on an experimental basis. This year, as of this writing, it is required or recommended at 21 schools, and that list may grow over the next few months. The current list includes schools that are typically of interest to Swatties, like UCLA, UVA, UC-Davis, George Washington, and Geisinger. Registration for the test opens in April. The flat fee is $100. You can locate more information here .

The exam was developed to provide medical schools with an assessment of pre-professional interpersonal  and intrapersonal competencies including service orientation, social skills, cultural competence, teamwork, ethical responsibility, resilience and adaptability, reliability, and capacity for improvement, among others. 

The format for the 100 minute test is that you are given 30 scenarios that present hypothetical  dilemmas linked to the eight core competencies that medical schools desire in their students. For each scenario, you assume the role of a medical student.  There is a practice exam booklet that you may want to review prior to taking the exam. You will be given a score and the score will be sent to the medical schools. You may only take the test once/year. 

The test is administered on specific dates. To find about PREview eligibility, registration, preparation, accommodations scoring and for the list of medical schools that require or recommend it, you can find information here . The  test can be taken on any desktop or laptop computer that meets the specifications. A good way to prepare is take a full length sample test which you can find on the website. 


Many medical schools are now requiring the CASPer, an on-line situational judgment test, so check the school list on the CASPer website, which is part of ALTUS, to see if it is required by any schools to which you are applying.

The format of the 90 minute test is that you are give 12 different scenarios (8 videos, 4 non-videos) followed by three questions. You will have 5 minutes to word-process your responses to these questions. Spelling and grammar are not a factor.  You will not be given a score.  The fee is $85 to take the test, which includes sending you score to 8 schools at no additional charge.

The test is only administered on specific dates, so go to their website to see the dates and register here . The test can be taken on any computer, but be sure to check the requirements and ensure that yours qualifies. A good way to prepare is to take the full-length sample test which you can access on their website; it will also be a way to ensure that your computer and internet connection are suitable.