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The Primary Application



Medical Schools & Applications

by Michael Davies

Graduated from Stanford; currently medical student at UCSF 


The official instructions for applying to medical school through AMCAS can be found at: https://www.aamc.org/students/applying/.  This outline is meant to assist applicants by providing tips and suggestions relevant to the different sections of the primary and secondary applications.

I. Identifying Information:


The first three sections of the primary application ask for basic biographical information and should be very straightforward to fill out.  Just be careful to enter all information accurately.

II. Course Work


Here you are asked to list all coursework that you have taken at all the universities that you have attended.  In this section, you must carefully enter your course information as it appears on your official transcript.  Discrepancies between listed course work and the official transcript have been known to delay application processing by AMCAS.  Certain things to note while filling out this section:

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"Course Number" refers to the abbreviated title of a course (including the number), for example "BIO 41," while the "Course Name" refers to the full title of the course, for example "Genetics, Biochemistry, and Molecular Biology"

  • You can indicate AP/IB classes taken during high school that appear on your transcript by checking the appropriate box at the bottom of the course entry page.  These classes should be listed during the first quarter/semester of your freshman year in college.
  • If you are applying before you have fulfilled all of your premed course requirements, you should enter the courses that you plan on taking to fulfill these requirements and indicate that they are "current/future" course at the bottom of the page.
  • In filling out each course entry, remember to make sure that it corresponds to the correct year, correct quarter/semester, and correct school.
  • Classes taken during the summer should be added to the following semester/quarter  (i.e. first semester or autumn quarter of the following school year) when they are entered on the coursework page.
  • Your course work will be verified by your official transcript, and your application will not be processed until this verification occurs.  Thus, it is important to submit your official transcript to AMCAS as soon as your most recent grades are available.  Usually the process of sending transcripts is managed by a college's Student Services Center, Career Development Center, or a similar organization within the university. 

III. Work/Activities


This is the section were you are asked to list up to fifteen activities that you would like medical schools to know about.  There are many different categories for activities, including paid employment, clinical volunteer work, non-clinical volunteer work, research, awards, poster presentations, conferences attended, leadership positions, artistic endeavors, hobbies, and athletics among others.  Although students may list up to fifteen activities, it is by no means necessary to fill all fifteen slots (according to one Stanford premedical advisor, 8-9 activities is plenty).

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For each individual activity, you are required to give the following information: experience type, experience name, start and end dates (or until present), contact's name, contact's title, and contact's phone number or email.  You may also include the average number of hours spent on a given activity per week as well as the name of the organization, etc.  For all activities, you must provide a short description (700 characters max). It is recommended that students list activities that they do purely for fun along with those that are more specific to medicine.

For up to three activities that you designate as your most important, you may include an extended description (~1300 characters max) that details why the activity is important to you and gives in-depth information about the activity.  In describing why the activity is significant, you might want to consider skills that you have gained, lessons you have learned, and specific tasks that you performed during your involvement.  It may be advantageous to emphasize activities that are considerably different from one another and thus showcase a variety of experiences and skills.

IV. Letters of Evaluation


This is one of the few sections of the application that you will be able to continually update even after you have submitted your primary application.  In this section, you are asked to provide the names and contact information for the individuals who will be writing you letters of recommendation.  You are given the option of listing information pertaining to individual letters, or indicating that your letters will be sent to AMCAS as a single packet.

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Please note that this section of the application does not need to be completed prior to submitting the primary application.  You may continue to add letters of recommendation as you fill out the secondary applications.

Some tips:

  • The best letters of recommendation come from individuals who know you well and can provide specific anecdotes that attest to your strength as an applicant.  People who fit these criteria might include employers, research advisors, major advisors, and professors whom you have gotten to know well.
  • Most medical schools require at least three letters from professors.  Usually, two of these letters must be from science professors and the third can be from a professor of a non-science subject.
  • Choose letter-writers who you think can truly provide a strong, personal letter, because vague or non-specific letters can be detrimental to your application.
  • It is recommended that you contact potential letter-writers at least 8-10 weeks before you think you will need the letter (i.e. by the time you are ready to submit secondary applications).  People appreciate being notified in advance, and it will help to ensure that your letter-writer does not write a hasty letter of recommendation.
  • After an individual has agreed to write a letter, you should set up a meeting to provide any information about yourself that you would like your recommender to consider as they write your letter.  You should also send all of your recommenders a copy of your personal statement, transcript, and resume/CV.  This information can provide recommenders the background needed to write a strong letter.
  • Finally, don't forget to thank all of your letter-writers.  If one of your letter-writers seems slow in submitting your letter, a thank-you note might remind them that they need to finish your recommendation.

V. Medical Schools Summary


This is the section where you must indicate all of the medical schools that you are applying to.  You will eventually need to designate which letters of recommendation will be sent to which schools, but you are not required to do this before submitting the primary application.  You may continue applying to schools even after you have submitted your primary application, however you must select at least one school to which you are applying.

Note that applying to medical schools can be expensive, and thus you should not apply to schools that you don't think you would attend if you were offered admission. That being said, most people apply to at least ten schools and many apply to twenty or more.

VI. Personal Statement

The personal statement is your opportunity to allow medical schools some insight into who you are beyond your statistics and list of activities.  It is your chance to answer the question of why you want to go to medical school in approximately ~5300 characters (that is actually what the prompt asks you to address in your essay).  There are many tips and suggestions pertaining to the personal statement that can be found online or in college career development centers, and below are some of the most prevalent.  The personal statement is one of the most important aspects of the application beyond the bare statistics and letters of recommendation, so it should be thoughtfully written and carefully proofread.

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  • The first, most basic tip that I stumbled across in writing my personal statement was the old adage "Show, don't tell."  Many premeds have similar reasons for wanting to enter the medical profession (i.e. an interest in making a positive difference in peoples' lives, the intellectual challenge of medicine, the excitement of recent biomedical advances and the chance to add to these, etc.) and therefore it is important to back these reasons with personal anecdotes that will demonstrate one's passion for the medical field beyond simple clichés such as "I want to help people."
  • Include any details about yourself as an applicant that you would like medical schools to know that do not appear elsewhere on your application.  If you have had remarkable or unusual life experiences that have shaped your decision to become a physician, the personal statement is the place to share these experiences.  Keep in mind, however, that having a remarkable back-story is by no means essential to writing a good personal statement.  It is more important to remain sincere throughout the essay—a highly exaggerated, over-the-top story runs the risk of sounding contrived and inauthentic.
  • Have fun while writing the personal statement and feel free to be creative, but don't forget the essay prompt: you must ultimately address why you want to go into medicine.
  • Share your personal statement with a variety of people who you believe will provide you with useful feedback.  I highly recommend asking premedical advisors to read your personal statement.  Their vast experience in reading personal statements allows them to tell you whether or not you are on the right track in writing yours.

VII. Test Scores


This section displays your MCAT scores (which are automatically uploaded once they are released), as well as any future MCAT test dates.


Contact PCPR

General Contact:
Vy Tran

Mailing Address:

Premedical Career Pathway Research 
PO Box 19456
Stanford, CA 94309 

Phone/Fax: 626-487-6797

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