AMCAS Applicant Guide

AMCAS Applicant Guide

Tips & insights from medical school admissions experts

Dear Pre-Med Applicant,

The AMCAS is medical schools’ first chance to get a glimpse of who you are, and it’s a standardized application that is used by many schools at once, so getting it right is a critical first step to get into medical school.  Writing the AMCAS application can be a DAUNTING experience. But don’t worry! The Cracking Med School Admissions team will help you out with every step of the medical school admissions process. This blog will be your AMCAS application guide.

Feel free to get in touch with us if you have any questions or need our help with your AMCAS application!

AMCAS Applicant Guide:

1) What is the AMCAS Application?

2) Our biggest, high-yield AMCAS application advice

3) 5 Common AMCAS Application Mistakes

4) 7 Ways to Maximize your AMCAS Application

AMCAS Application Guide

What is the AMCAS Application?

The AMCAS Application (short for American Medical College Application Service®) is a centralized application processing service that is available to applicants to the first-year entering class of participating U.S. medical schools. Make no mistake, nearly every medical school uses the AMCAS Application as the Primary application method (secondary applications are another matter, which we’ll cover in another post).

No matter how many schools you end up applying to, you submit one primary application through AMCAS, effectively killing many birds with one stone. This is actually Great news, because it saves you a whole lot of work. Imagine applying to 50 medical schools (which one student we advised did in fact do), and having to submit 50 different primary applications! The flip side of this, however, is that you need to work Extra Hard to make sure your AMCAS application is done well.

Start your AMCAS application today! 

What are the different components of the AMCAS application?

1) GPA / Grades

The classes you choose can accentuate your intellectual passions. For example, perhaps you are interested in social determinants of health. You can highlight this AMCAS application theme through the classes you choose (E.G. Public Health & Society) and the letters of recommendations you ask for.

2) MCAT Scores

There’s no way around it, but the schools will look at your grades + MCAT scores to see if you have what it takes to thrive from an academic standpoint. 

3) AMCAS Personal Statement

Most of the successful AMCAS personal statements our Cracking Med School Admissions team has read are stories about the applicant. As the old adage goes, “show, don’t tell.” One common mistake we see is that applicants try to cram too much information about themselves into their application. The AMCAS application, and especially the AMCAS personal statement is not a resume or a bibiliography about your life. Stick to 1-2 main points (themes) you want the med school admissions committee to remember you by, and write about it.

Buy our book for med school personal statement examples from successfully admitted applicants accepted to schools like Harvard, Stanford, and Johns Hopkins.

Cracking Med School Admissions 2nd Edition Cover

4) AMCAS Work and Activities

Your activities will show the admissions officers what excites you about medicine. Highlight the impact of your activities, and reflect on how your activities have shaped you.

For more specific advice about the work / activities section, follow our link here

Aside from your AMCAS activities descriptions, you are also allowed to write short essays for your 3 most important activities. Like the AMCAS personal statement, paint a picture of yourself through stories and relate the experiences back to your themes.


5) AMCAS Letter of Recommendation

Make sure your AMCAS letters of recommendation also give specific details about who you are and what you have contributed. Make it easy for your letter writers by giving them a document that explains the themes of your application and examples they can highlight.

For example, instead of “Sally Was A Great Member Of My Research Lab. She Was An Active Contributor During Lab Meetings.”Your Professor could elaborate, “Sally Worked On Her Own Oncology Experiment. I Worked With Her Closely To Design The Experiments. Additionally, During Our Lab Meetings, She Frequently Asked Insightful Questions That Led Other Lab Members To Consider Modifications To Her Experiments. Sally Would Bring In Additional, Relevant Research Papers To Follow-Up On Discussions We Had In Our Lab.

For examples and advice about AMCAS letters of recommendation, read our Cracking Med School Admissions book.

Our Biggest AMCAS Application Advice

Are you stressed about getting your AMCAS Application to stand out? Don’t worry! Our Cracking Med School Admissions team is here to help you shine.

Here are two big pieces of advice we give our students for their AMCAS Application:

  • Themes, themes, themes: Make sure your entire medical school application highlights 1-3 themes. Are you a global health guru? Love research? Figure out your niche. And highlight these strengths throughout your medical school application.
  • Paint a picture of yourself through stories: Your AMCAS personal statement, AMCAS letters of recommendation can all include stories about you.

5 Common AMCAS Application Mistakes

Our team has worked with hundreds of applicants on their AMCAS applications, and along the way, we’ve met some really amazing people who’ve done impressive things that have changed lives. We’ve been around Olympic swimmers and founders of nonprofit organizations. We’ve also, however, seen our share of critical mistakes made when filling out the AMCAS application. Even some of these amazing people have made key mistakes that have kept them out of the most selective medical schools in the country.

One of our goals here at Cracking Med School Admissions is to make sure the people we work with get into the best medical school possible. The AMCAS application is a long and daunting task that can trip up even the most talented applicants who aren’t careful. We wanted to take this time to go over some of the most common mistakes we have seen across applicants we’ve worked with, that would have derailed their chances at a top school had we not stepped in. Read along carefully and take notes!


Common AMCAS Application Mistake #1: 

Talk too much about the activities themselves instead of what YOU did to make an impact

One of the things that we’ve seen a lot of is applicants failing to keep the focus of their medical school application on THEM. When filling out the AMCAS application, remember to explain WHY you did something and your personal motivations. One of the key components of a good application is the ability to weave the entire application into a coherent story. Explaining your motivations is a great way to connect your past experiences to your future goals and aspirations. It’s also a great place to talk about your personal reflections on how you’ve grown as a person.


Common AMCAS Application Mistake #2: 

Duplicate information in your secondaries that was already in your primaries

To be successful on your AMCAS application, you must combine a variety of stories together to explain why you are a good match for a medical school. Avoiding redundancy is key here, which goes to say that you do NOT want to be repeating information an admissions committee already knows about you. This seems obvious, yet you’d be surprised how many pre-med applicants either re-state information in their secondaries, or complain that they don’t have enough unique stories to craft a winning application. The thing to remember here is that medical schools aren’t necessarily looking for quantity as much as they are looking for depth and breadth of experience. For example, you may be able to reflect upon one experience in multiple ways to show different facets of your candidacy. You could use a hospital shadowing opportunity to write both about the rigors of the emergency room, and separately about a personal interaction you had with a patient. Although both of these experiences came from shadowing, they reveal totally different yet essential qualities of a medical professional.

Email us at if you have questions about your AMCAS application.


Common AMCAS Application Mistake #3: 

Spelling and Grammar Mistakes in your AMCAS Application

No matter how many times some people are told to proofread and get essays edited, spelling and grammar mistakes always seem to slip through the cracks on the AMCAS application and on secondary applications as well. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make them an excuse, and spelling and grammar mistakes will be looked at unfavorably and taken as carelessness. It’s simple – get your essays edited! 


Common AMCAS Application Mistake #4:

Forgetting to put some of your Activities in your AMCAS Work and Activities Section

This happens more commonly than you think.

Some pre-med applicants have expressed that they feel they shouldn’t put non-medical related activities in their application because it may be perceived as a lack of focus and doesn’t contribute to their medical school candidacy. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, going “too deep” on a certain activity and not showing a variety of experiences can contribute to not getting any secondaries! Don’t feel bad to show you are well-rounded! However, also remember that there is a difference between a well-rounded applicant and an unfocused applicant. You should be able to explain how your diverse experiences have shaped you as a person and how these experiences will help you succeed in medical school and beyond.


Common AMCAS Application Mistake #5:

Not showing depth or commitment with your AMCAS Work and Activities

There are many opportunities for you to show commitment and passion with your activities in your primary application. Your activities section is a good place to do this. Be sure to enter the number of hours you’ve committed to each activity, as well as a detailed description of the activity and any leadership roles you’ve taken on. It goes without saying that you should choose activities you’ve spent a considerable amount of time on across a long time horizon. Read: activities picked up 3 months before applying to medical school won’t cut it. Furthermore, your description of the activity is just as important as the activity itself. Our team has assisted hundreds of students with editing their AMCAS activities section, and focuses on creating winning activities descriptions.


Contact Us For AMCAS Application Help

7 Tips to Maximize your AMCAS Application

1. Become Familiar with the AMCAS Application

The first thing you should do after you read this post is to go to the AMCAS Application Website and set up your online account with AMCAS. Then, peruse the AMCAS application and get a feel for the amount of work you have in front of you. Create a roadmap for filling out certain parts of your application, and stick to your timeline so you don’t end up a week before the deadline with half the application still blank. Also, list out the external materials you will need to submit with the application. 

The Cracking Med Admissions team can help you create this roadmap and manage you through it from start to finish. Check out our medical school application packages.

2. Gather External Materials Early

We all know “that person” – the one who underestimates the amount of time it takes to get things done, and ends up scrambling at the last minute, depending on other people to deliver against tight deadlines, when he or she could have prevented all that pain by front-loading everything. Don’t be “that person!” Recognize that a lot of the external materials you need to include with your AMCAS application can take 3-4 weeks to procure, or longer. Once you make a checklist of the external materials you need, follow that up by listing a source for each, and reaching out to that source to request the materials. Successful applicants on our team liked using Google docs or a simple Excel spreadsheet to keep track of these things. Doing this early will save you a lot of grief later on, and can keep you in the good graces of the people you reach out to for help.

3. Request Official Transcripts from your University

There is a difference between transcripts that you can generate online from your university’s website and print out, and Official transcripts. Official transcripts often come in an envelope, sealed with a stamp from your university. Transcript requests can take several weeks for your university to process, and that time frame is not really in your control at all, so make sure to front-load this task, at the very least. Once you have your official transcripts in hand, you’ve checked off one of the things you have the least control over on your AMCAS Application.

4. List Out All Your Extracurricular Activities

The extracurricular section of the AMCAS Application can be daunting for applicants because the application gives you 15 slots to list your extracurricular activities. Don’t despair. These slots are not necessarily meant to be 15 Distinct Activities, but can instead be used to describe in detail your involvement in a few Select Activities. Regardless, the most important thing to do as a first step is to list all the extracurricular activities you have been involved in, and have a 1-on-1 brainstorming session with yourself. Go through each year of college, starting with freshman year, and think about what you were involved in. Typically, applicants we have worked with will forget about an extracurricular involvement because they didn’t think it was important enough, and their mind has filed it away in the trash. One candidate we worked with – David – had helped organize a cultural music festival on his campus, which ended up being the first such festival ever held in that city. However, he didn’t list it or remember it until we probed him for it, because he thought it was a one-off activity, not an extracurricular involvement. Make sure to list EVERYTHING before you start narrowing down your most meaningful activities. The highest impact activities you were involved in may not be the activities you think!

Email us at if you have questions about your AMCAS application.

5. Don’t Exaggerate Your Credentials

In applying to medical school, applicants can often get bitter when they hear of friends or classmates who were admitted to great medical schools. Sometimes we feel like that person Didn’t Deserve all the acceptances they received. It’s easy for students to feel they’re a victim of their own circumstances, and try to make up for it in the application by exaggerating their achievements and credentials. Once again, Don’t Be “That Person!” Consequences for lying on the AMCAS application are quite severe, and most admissions committees view it as an academic integrity issue, similar to plagiarism. If there are red flags in your application that you feel put you at an unfair disadvantage, use the supplementary essay to Explain Those Circumstances, and reflect on how you’ve grown since them and turned around your situation. Schools regularly conduct reference and background checks and you don’t want to be caught red handed, as it could derail your entire medical career. Be honest and accept responsibility for any shortcomings, and admissions committees will take note of your growth and maturity.

6. Consult with those who know you best

Use the people around you as a resource to help piece together your application profile. You’d be surprised what redeeming qualities people notice or remember about you that you may think are inconsequential. It’s important during the application process to maintain a constant dialogue with your family, close friends, and professors. This extends to all facets of the application. Rachel, one of our rockstars here at Cracking Med Admissions, routinely involved her family and friends in her application by asking for feedback on her personal statements and AMCAS activities. Consequently, she was accepted at most of the top 5 medical schools in the country. The people close to you are often personally invested in your success. Take advantage of this to gain new perspectives on yourself that can frame you in a great light on your AMCAS application.


7. Tell a Compelling Story on your AMCAS personal statement

The personal statement is often the last thing applicants like to tackle in the AMCAS application, and to those especially science-focused applicants, the personal statement is a painful process viewed as a necessary evil. Let us give you a little hint: don’t approach the personal statement this way! The AMCAS personal statement is your chance to show your humanity, to stand out and be remembered by the admissions committee. Of course, with great opportunity comes great responsibility. A bad personal statement can shut the door on you for certain medical schools, but a good personal statement can open doors that previously would have remained closed. The most important thing in the personal statement is to tell a compelling story. This means connecting your past achievements with your future aspirations. Coherence is key, and a coherent path told by a great storyteller will leave a permanent mark on admissions officers. In order to do this, you need to brainstorm and reflect on your past, present, and future. Once again, engage your friends and family for ideas. Run drafts by people from a variety of backgrounds, especially your non-science friends. This varied feedback can help your personal statement resonate with people from different walks of life, which is exactly what you want. Build an outline from your brainstorming, and use this outline to help you craft your paragraphs. The Cracking Med Admissions team has edited thousands of essays for applicants to medical school, business school, and undergraduate institutions. 

The AMCAS application is no doubt a time-consuming and labor-intensive process. However, preparing early, reflecting on your accomplishments, and involving those around you can increase your chances for scoring an interview and getting admitted to your dream school.

Feel free to reach out to us with questions at

Contact Us For AMCAS Application Help

Dr. Rachel Rizal

Author Dr. Rachel Rizal

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