PART II: The Medical School Application Process

Compiled by Prof. Stephen George , Chair, Health Professions Committee,
and Dean Carolyn Bassett, Health Professions Advisor

This is the third page of Part II of the Guide. At the end of the page are navigation buttons to help you get to other parts of the Guide and other Health Professions pages.



The Medical College Admission Test is a 4-hour exam given by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) that tests specific science knowledge as well as reading and quantitative skills. Every U. S. medical school now requires applicants to have taken the MCAT. The science material is what the AAMC assumes is covered in the required premed courses, i.e. introductory and organic chemistry, introductory biology, and non-calculus physics. Three of the four parts of the test (Verbal Reasoning, Biological Sciences, and Physical Sciences) are multiple choice tests, while the fourth is a "Writing Sample" in which you are asked to write on two non-technical essay topics.

"If at all possible, you should take the MCAT by June in the year you're applying. If you take the later MCAT, by the time medical schools begin to consider your application, as much as 75% of the class may already be filled! In addition, admissions standards are generally a little more lax early on in the process, because schools are not yet swamped with paperwork and don't know how many total applications they are going to receive. You will decrease your chances of being accepted if you wait until the August test date. "

-Amherst alumnus M.D. who is also on a medical school admissions committee

When to take the MCAT

In 2008, the MCAT will be given electronically on 23 dates during the year. An MCAT calendar can be found on the MCAT website. (There are 2 dates in January, 3 in April, 4 in May, only 1 in June, 3 in July, 5 in August, and 5 in September.) The test is administered by a commercial testing company, Thompson Prometric, which has test sites located around the country. The only one in Western Massachusetts is in East Longmeadow, near Springfield, which is inaccessible by public transportation. Ideally you should take the test in time to know your scores before selecting schools to apply to; that would mean taking the test before June 1. If that isn’t possible, take it in June (there is only one test date that month - the 13th) or, at the very latest, July (test dates are the 8th, 10th, and 18th). If you take the test any later than that, your scores won't be out until after the start of the admissions cycle, putting you behind appolicants whose MCAT scores are known at the beginning of the application process, and adding one risk factor to your application. Registration for the dates through May 2008 opened in December 2007. Registration for June and July dates opens in February. Spaces in any any given test site may fill up quickly.

Bottom line: plan ahead! As soon as possible, visit and study the MCAT website, to get details about locations and registration. It costs $210 to take the exam.

Why you need to prepare

It is absolutely necessary to set aside time over many months to prepare for the MCAT exam. First, you need to be familiar with the format of the test and the types of questions and passages it contains, because these are very similar from test to test, but different from exams in Amherst science courses. Also, you have to work up the stamina required to concentrate for the duration of the test, which is longer than tests you probably have taken before such as SATs and exams in courses.

In addition, you would be very unusual if you remembered everything from your introductory science courses, so you'll need to relearn some of it. Finally, a number of subjects on the MCAT aren't covered in Amherst's introductory science courses, at least not in the detail required to do well on the MCAT. Examples of these subjects are buoyancy, optics, nuclear chemistry, organ physiology, and basic immunology.

Preparing for the MCAT

There are three ways to prepare: (1) entirely on your own, (2) with a student-organized study group at Amherst, or (3) by taking a commercial review course (Kaplan or Princeton). Outcomes for Amherst premeds show that good science students can prepare successfully without taking a commercial course, but many such students take Kaplan or Princeton courses anyway. If you are not planning to take a commercial course, contact the Career Center in December about getting access to self-study materials and perhaps forming or joining a study group. If you do take a commercial course, you will receive all the materials and help you need - you won't have time to do justice both to a commercial course and also to materials borrowed from the Career Center.

1. Preparing on your own

Advice about doing this can be found on our MCAT Self-study page. The AAMC's MCAT Student Manual, MCAT 2008 Essentials, and one practice test are available through the AAMC. Several other practice tests, and access to online tests, can be purchased via the above website. Printed copies of older actual MCAT tests are also available in the Career Center Library. These older tests were done on paper and involved a longer test day. They are similar to the new electronic tests in content, but the number of questions and the timing of each section will be different in the electronic version.

Several other useful MCAT preparation books are available; search for "MCAT." You may also come across used Kaplan or Princeton Review materials. In addition to outlines and sample passages and questions, these materials contain practice tests, but not actual released MCATs like the ones from the AAMC.

2. Forming an Amherst study group

The Career Center has several sets of MCAT preparation materials from the AAMC, including practice tests, that are made available to students during interterm. These materials are for students who will not be taking a commercial review course. Students can get together to form study groups. Contact the Career Center in December to check as to the availability of these materials.

3. Commercial Review courses.

Stanley Kaplan and Princeton Review will gladly take your money (over $1000, with a possibility of small fee reduction based on income), and they do provide a service. They give you study guides and practice exams, as well as a series of classes, sometimes reported by students to be of poor quality. If you are willing to spend the money, want a structured study plan, and are worried about the exam, consider this option. For what it's worth, the MCAT folks did a study of those who did and didn't take a commercial course, and they say the study shows that the "gains derived from commercial review courses are small."

"What score do I need to have?"

Scores on the three main sections of the MCAT, (Verbal Reasoning, Biological Sciences, and Physical Sciences) are reported on a scale ranging from 1 to 15. On each section, the national average score is scaled to be approximately 8, and each point above and below 8 represents one standard deviation. Individual circumstances differ, e.g. with state residency and ethnicity, but during the past decade Amherst applicants receiving a total of 28 points on the 3 sections were usually admitted to one or more schools. It is also best to have no score below 9, e.g. 10-9-9 is preferable to 11-9-8, although in recent years Amherst applicants with one score of "8" and a total of at least 28 have sometimes been accepted. A higher total, say around 32, is usually needed at private medical schools with mid-range selectivity, and a total in the mid-30s is usually needed at the half-dozen most selective schools. The score on the Writing Sample, reported as a letter between "J" and "T," seems to be largely ignored by admissions committees.

If your total is less than 28 you most likely won't be admitted anywhere, and you should plan to re-take the MCAT. Consider postponing your applications for a year in order to improve your scores. (Underrepresented minority students may be successful with somewhat lower scores.) As recommended many times in this Guide, don't think your life is over if you don't begin medical school just weeks after graduation from Amherst. The median age for first year medical students is almost 25; take your time and do it right, so your application is as strong as possible!

By the way, the Health Professions Committe's recommendation is completely independent of your MCAT score--we leave it to the medical schools to take the MCAT into account. We usually are not even aware of MCAT scores when compiling recommendations. However, we do ask that you check the box on the test which releases your score to us, so we will have data on which to base our advice for future applicants.



The American Medical College Application Service is an organization providing a centralized application service to which most medical schools subscribe (notable exception: Texas state schools). Applications are done on-line, and will become available in May, 2008. Check the AAMC's web site, and Dean Bassett will also keep applicants who have registered with the Health Professions Committee updated by e-mail. Submit your AMCAS application early - no later than the end of June!

As part of the AMCAS application, you will request an official transcript from the Registrar, using a form you will download as you work on the application. Only a student himself or herself can request an official transcript, so this is your responsibility, not the job of the Health Professions Committee.

An important source of information about applying to medical school is the book entitled Medical School Admission Requirements, published by the Association of American Medical Colleges. This book is available in the Career Center library. The "2009-2010" edition will come out by early May, and you should buy a copy of that edition for yourself, either from a local bookstore or from the AAMC. This book has important information about U.S. medical schools, and addresses you may need as you apply.

Secondary and non-AMCAS applications:

It would be great if the AMCAS application were the end of it, but you will also have to complete "secondary applications." Most schools which participate in AMCAS require an additional application fee ranging from $50-$100, plus additional application material. This may be substantive such as additional essays, or it may be a trivial form to fill out, perhaps an attempt to disguise the fact that it's really the money they are interested in!

Schools that do not participate in AMCAS (e.the Texas state schools) have their own forms which you must request individually. The addresses can be found in Medical School Admission requirements, or via the individual schools' web sites. Again, the application fees for each school range from $50-$100. Sometimes a secondary application will include a mailing label to give to your premedical committee for use in mailing its recommendation. However, this does not apply to Amherst applicants, so you should discard any such labels. For our regular August mailing, we send all recommendations to each medical school in a single package using the correct mailing address.

Personal statement:

The personal statement you prepare for Dean Bassett can be the basis for your AMCAS personal statement, but probably you will edit it, and make sure it is within AMCAS length limit of 5300 characters. Make the statement interesting, honest, clearly written, and grammatically correct. This is the only chance before you are granted an interview to tell admissions committees something you think is important about yourself and your interest in medicine. Some secondary applications include a required additional essay on a specified topic.

Have friends, parents, or professors read over your personal statement and make suggestions and corrections. Go to the Career Center or the Writing Center and get a copy of the pamphlet Composing Yourself: The Graduate School Application by Susan Snively, Coordinator of the Writing Center. If you need further help, arrange to meet with Dean Snively or with one of the Writing Counselors in the early Spring.


The earlier you complete your applications, the earlier they will be considered, and the better will be your chances of being accepted. Most schools have a rolling admissions process, which means that places are filled as they review and interview applicants. Medical schools are often more willing to accept a particular candidate in October, when they have still not been flooded with applications and paperwork, than in March, when there are only a few spaces remaining in the class. In addition, completing applications once the fall semester has begun (if you are applying during senior year) is a huge hassle, often taking on the proportions of a fifth class. You will be much better off if all of your applications, including secondaries, are completed no later than September 1!


Only a few applicants will be authors of scientific or other publications, so if you aren't, don't worry. If you are, however, it is useful to include these in your AMCAS application, especially if they are "refereed" publications--if you don't know what that is, consult your research supervisor or Prof. George. It is also important to use one of the standard citation formats. These always include all authors, the complete title, journal name, volume number, and page numbers. For example,

Konradi, C., J. C. Leveque, and S. E. Hyman. "Amphetamine and dopamine-induced immediate early gene expression in striatal neurons." Journal of Neuroscience 16: 2123-2130 (1996).

List "in press" publications only if that is really true, i.e. the publication has been accepted for publication and is in the process of being published - not in the process of being revised for eventual publication. Presentations at scientific meetings may also be listed, along with abstracts also identified as such.

Documenting Advanced Standing:

Occasionally an Amherst applicant will need to document advanced standing, usually in Math but possibly in biology, chemistry, or physics. As noted in Part I of this Guide,many medical schools do not accept AP credit in fulfillment of requirements, especially in biology, chemistry, and physics, so you should take those courses at the college level. . However, However, most schools that require math do accept placement, although some will ask for documentation. In that case, contact Prof. George and ask for a letter from the Health Professions Committee that you can send to medical schools.


Keep records of the dates you send out materials and receive notification of their receipt. It is your responsibility to ensure that your application file is complete. If you have not received notification of your file's completion within a reasonable period of time, you should contact the school. Admissions offices sometimes misplace pieces of very necessary paper in the shuffle of thousands of applications. Your application will not be reviewed until your file is complete. Also keep copies of all your applications for future reference.

("Selecting Medical Schools; Early Decision; Reapplying; MD/PhD")
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Last Modified: 1/12/07