Please note that this page reflects the opinion of the writer, and that what they "recommend" might not be the best decision for your particular situation. It is highly recommended that you also seek out other testimonies, etc. and make the most informed decision for yourself.

It is important to note that we will ONLY BE DISCUSSING THE AMCAS® APPLICATION below.

All hyperlinks are colored in blue.

This page is written by Nguyen Le. Last Updated on January 02, 2022.

Legal Disclaimer/Financial Disclosure:

  1. I have no financial relationship or support to disclose. All organizations and products mentioned on this page are discussed based on my experiences and my discussion with other Pre-Med students. The organizations and the owners of the products did not contact or sponsor me to be promoted on this page.
  2. Unless stated specifically, I do NOT have any endorsement or recommendation for any groups, companies, organizations, or products mentioned below.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCE: AMCAS® Tools and Tutorials and Our Slide Decks page

Let say that you are applying for entrance to medical school in Fall 2022. The cycle starts in June 2021 and goes all the way until July 2022.

  • 01/2021 – 05/2021:
    • Write your Personal Statement(s)
    • Ask for your Letters of Recommendation
    • Take your MCAT, if needed
    • Prepare your List of Medical Schools
    • Pre-write your Secondary Essay(s) (not necessary if you have no idea what school you want to apply to yet)
    • The AAMC Primary application will be opened in early May, and the first submission is often allowed on June 01.
  • 05/2021 – 06/2021:
    • Fill out your AMCAS Primary Application
    • Obtain your Letters of Recommendation
    • Submit your transcript(s) to AMCAS
    • Submit your Primary Application in early-mid June
    • Finalize your List of Medical Schools, if needed
    • Pre-write your Secondary Essay(s) (not necessary if you have no idea what school you want to apply to yet)
  • 06/2021 – 08/2021:
    • Write and submit your Secondary Essay(s)
  • 08/2021 – 03/2022:
    • Interview Season
    • First acceptances will go out around Mid-October, depending on the schools
  • 03/2022 – 05/2022:
    • Decision Time / Major Waitlist Movement
  • 05/2022 – 07/2022:
    • Prepare for matriculation, or
    • If you are still waiting for an acceptance, keep praying
  • 07/2022 – Beyond:
    • Medical school, depending on the start date of each school

Most people from California apply to about 40 schools. We will go over why later.

Primary Application Cost:
For AMCAS, the first school costs $170, and each additional one costs $42. As a result, for 42 schools, you are looking at a sum of: $170 + 39*$42 = $1,808

Secondary Application Cost:
Each secondary application costs about $100, depending on the school. As a result, for 40 schools, you are looking at a sum of about: 40 * $100 = $4,000

Interview Cost:
Now, let’s talk interview. Let’s say that you get 10 interviews. Let’s also say that you spend about $200 for plane tickets and $200 for hotels/food when you stay there. For 10 interviews, you are looking at a sum of: 10 * $400 = $4,000

Total Cost:
In total, an application can cost you: $1,808 + $4,000 + $4,000 ≈ $10,000

Of course, this is heavily dependent upon the number of schools that you applied to and the number of interviews that you attended. However, as you can see, the cost of primary and secondary applications alone can run up to $6,000. In other words, it is an expensive process, so you should start saving up.

If you are applying to 40 schools and each school’s secondary application has about 5 short essays to write (~100 words each), you can imagine how quickly the process can overwhelm you. On top of it, the character/word limit will be a major challenge because you will need to constantly write and rewrite to fit (or cut) ideas into a final answer.

Plus, for many people, they find that things get easier after their 5th/6th essays, and based on their later drafts, they can go back and re-edit their earlier works to a higher standard. As a result, leaving enough room for this process of writing and re-writing is extremely beneficial.

I did not prewrite, and the writing process drained a lot of energy out of me. As a result, I am telling you now: if you can pre-write, do it.

For those who qualify, you can apply for the Fee Assistance Program

  • This program will waive the fee for the primary application and up to 20 schools included in the school list ($990 value). In other words, it will waive the original $170 fee + $42 fee for each school (up to 20 schools). If you have more than 20 schools, you still have to pay $42 for each school that you have extra (i.e., if you have 21 schools in total, you need to pay $42 for the one additional school that you have beyond the 20th school).
  • Many medical schools also waive secondary fees for recipients of the Fee Assistance Program. So, this can be a huge cost-saver.

If you are not sure if you qualify, please make sure that you check out this program before you start preparing your medical school applications. The benefits are NOT retroactive, and no refunds will be issued if you already paid for the products/services.

Pre-application Ponders

For ponders related to academic requirements, please head over to our Courses Requirements Page.


GPA and MCAT are important, but they are NOT everything. I have seen people who got into top-tier schools with a GPA below 3.50 and an MCAT score below 510.

What I am trying to say is: if your stats are low, do NOT lose hope. If this is your dream job and this is the best stats that you think that you can get given your ability and/or circumstances, APPLY because you never know. We will be cheering for you, especially if you have tried your hardest and have demonstrated a lot of dedication to becoming the best physician that you can be – despite what your scores might say. Of course, you might have a hard time securing interviews and acceptances with lower stats, but ALL IT TAKES IS ONE SCHOOL TO LET YOU IN.

For a lot of people, gap years are EXTREMELY BENEFICIAL.

Sure, if you enter medical school straight away, there are a lot of benefits, including: reaching the terminal career at an earlier age, long-term financial stability, no need to find a job/apply to things for gap years, etc.

However, for most people, we are not ready for medical schools by the age of 21/22 for various reasons. For example, some of us couldn’t take the MCAT because school is busy. Some others want to make money first and save up for applications and tuitions. And some want to take a few years off to grow as a person and/or a researcher.

Whatever the reason is, there is one common theme: people need more time to be ready for medical schools, and that is okay. Figure out what you and your application need, have a plan to get what you need, and execute that plan. Better be a few years late than wasting all your time and money to applying and reapplying [on top of having to explain how your candidacy has changed]. Also, it is pretty good to mature a little more [personally and/or professionally] so you can handle all the stress that medicine will throw at you.

Please note that the programs/companies listed below are merely examples that I am aware of for that particular category of activity. This is in no way a form of endorsement for the programs/companies mentioned. Some gap years activities include:

Other than the clear option to get an M.D. and a Ph.D. separately, you should also check out the following programs:

  • M.D./Ph.D. (e.g., UCLA MSTP) is an 8-year, often fully funded, program where you will do 2 years of medical schools, then 4 years of Ph.D., before finishing up with 2 years of clerkships. It is nice because everything is paid for (and you get a stipend on top of it). However, your clinical interest is not usually formed until after clinical rotations, so there is a chance that your research and clinical interest might not align post-medical school. Also, coming back to the clinical side after spending 4 years in Ph.D. can be brutal because you might forget a lot of things.
  • STAR (e.g., UCLA STAR Program) is strictly for fellowship (i.e., post-residency, with perhaps the only exception being Anesthesiology). They allow you to pursue research during the fellowship and get a doctoral degree in the process (with extra time added to your training, such as +3 instead of a +4 for a Ph.D.). It is nice because at that point, you have an idea of what your clinical interest is, and you can tailor your research accordingly. With this option, there is no gap during your M.D. training. However, you have to pay for medical school. And few institutions offer STAR, or STAR-equivalent.

While there is no clear cut on which program is “better” than the other, one of my old PIs recommend that one should choose one program over the other depending on when they are ready to get more scientific training. If the student believes that they want to get the training right away, do the M.D./Ph.D. If they believe that they want more time and would rather not do 2 things at once (given that both an M.D. and a Ph.D. are incredibly intensive endeavors in their own rights), maybe the STAR program is more beneficial.

The answer depends on your topic of interest and how involved you are. You might not need a Ph.D. if:

  • You are only interested in clinical studies, or
  • You have no interest in running your own lab, or
  • You partner with someone with a Ph.D. for your basic science/translational research

Of course, if you do really good work, a Ph.D. is not a requirement. However, I have been informed that research grants are more and more looking for someone with a Ph.D. because having Ph.D. signifies that that person has received formal, rigorous training (which is also a huge plus). And when someone starts out, having a Ph.D. may help with securing some of the grants aimed at aiding young faculties.

The list is way too long for us to go through it in details. You should spend sometimes checking them out on your own and formulating an idea of what you want to do.

Examples of Special Programs:

  • UCLA/PRIME: 5-year dual degree program focusing on developing leaders in medicine addressing policy, care and research in healthcare for the underserved
  • UCLA/Charles R. Drew Medical Education Program: focusing on transforming the health of diverse and underserved communities
  • UC Davis Rural-PRIME: focusing on producing future physicians dedicated to serving California’s underserved rural community

Example of Dual Degrees: M.D./J.D., M.D./M.B.A., M.D./M.P.H., M.D./Ph.D., Etc.

For some schools, you may be able to apply to a dual degree program AFTER you are admitted. For example, a DGSOM student may apply to the M.D./M.B.A. Program during their 3rd year in medical school. However, for some others, you MUST apply to the dual degree program right at the start. One example includes the M.D./M.B.A. in Health Management at Tufts UniversityAs a result, please be sure to check out the specifics/guidelines for EACH school that you are interested in applying to.

It is a common practice that people apply to D.O. schools just to be safe, especially if they have lower stats. This is because D.O. schools generally have lower GPA and MCAT averages than M.D. schools. In addition, D.O. and M.D. degrees are becoming more and more similar to each other, especially when it comes to residencies. As a result, some people take advantage of this process because to them, becoming a physician is what matters the most at the end of the day.

While this is a practical approach, I personally generally discourage it for the following reasons:

  1. D.O. and M.D. are philosophically different. So, if you only get into D.O. schools and have no interest in their approach, the clinical portions of the curriculum can be brutal.
  2. In a way, this practice degrades of the value of the D.O. programs, and I argue that a physician cannot be judged based solely on whether they have a D.O. or an M.D. degree.

Plus, more and more D.O. programs are asking that in order to apply, you must already shadow D.O.s to know what you are getting yourself into and whether you have a genuine interest in the topic. They may even require a letter of recommendation from a D.O. I personally believe that this requirement is a good idea because through shadowing, some people can change their mind and want to apply only to D.O. programs because the philosophy of osteopathic medicine resonates more with them. That happened to my friend. As a result, if you are thinking about applying to D.O. schools, please be sure to check out the field before you apply.

I only applied to M.D. programs, while many of my friends applied to both M.D. and D.O. schools. If the only thing matters to you is to become a physician, you have the freedom to apply to D.O. schools just to be “safe” – as most people will say. The ultimate decision is ultimately yours to make.

It is important to note that with the exception to M.D./Ph.D. programs and Baylor College of Medicine (and I might very well miss other exceptions), you CANNOT apply to medical schools in Texas through AMCAS. For those schools, you have to go through TMDSAS – with their own set of essays, guidelines, etc.

Texas schools generally favor in-state students. As a result, if you have no connection to Texas, we will recommend that you don’t apply through TMDSAS.

Primary Application

We will focus on the most important topics of this application and glance over other things. Please be sure to check the annual AMCAS® Applicant Guide as you fill out your primary application.


For MD-only programs, you have one (01) prompt: why medicine (5,300 characters).

For MD/PhD programs, you have to write two (02) additional essays: a statement explaining why you want to pursue an MD/PhD program (3,000 characters), and one essay describing your significant research experiences (10,000 characters).

As you write these essays, use stories/anecdotes to clearly illustrate your points. Stories move people more than facts. And when you have stories to back up your claims, they help show that you can accomplish something (or that you really learn something through personal experiences), and it is not just all talk.

In addition, a very common comment that you will see regarding Personal Statement is “show, don’t tell.” In other words, instead of simply listing your characters/traits or tell the stories as lists of facts, use descriptive words to take them back and allow them to be immersed into your experiences. For example, instead of “I meet this patient on one volunteer shift, and we talked about…”, you should describe the experience like “as I stood next to the nursing island in the middle of an extremely clean and quiet environment, I observed a man/woman approaching me, wearing …” (just an example). Then, from your stories, the admission committees will be able to see how you grow as a person, how you can be a good fit with their school, and how you can become an excellent physician in the future.

Most people start writing their personal statements in January. Usually, things don’t come together until the very end, but it is a process.

There are a total of fifteen (15) slots, and for each slot, you can list your work experience, extracurricular activities, awards, honors, or publications. Do NOT feel force that you have to fill out all 15 of them, but you will notice that the space runs out fast, especially if you are focused on your commitments and accomplish a ton. Chances are you will probably need to remove some items from your list.

Yes, you can group things together, especially if they are just lists of items (e.g., all research-related awards into one “activity slot”).

There are 18 categories that you can choose from to designate to each of your activities (1 category per activity):

  • Artistic Endeavors
  • Community Service/Volunteer - Medical/Clinical
  • Community Service/Volunteer - Not Medical/Clinical
  • Conferences Attended
  • Extracurricular Activities
  • Hobbies
  • Honors/Awards/Recognitions
  • Intercollegiate Athletics
  • Leadership - Not Listed Elsewhere
  • Military Service
  • Other
  • Paid Employment - Medical/Clinical
  • Paid Employment - Not Medical/Clinical
  • Physician Shadowing/Clinical Observation
  • Presentations/Posters
  • Publications
  • Research/Lab
  • Teaching/Tutoring/Teaching Assistant

For each activity, you have 700 characters to describe it. Unless it is a list of awards, honors, or publications, you should always remember to include how that activity impacts your growth.

Then, out of your list of activities, you can designate up to three (03) activities as your “most meaningful.” For each of these “most meaningful activities”, you get an additional 1,325 characters to explain why the activity is so meaningful to you. These 1,325 characters will come as AN ADDITIONAL BOX, instead of as a combined 2,025-characters box.

For your research or anything that may involve proprietary information, be sure to check with your PI/advisor/mentor/supervisor/etc. to see what details you can discuss for your application – both for the primary and secondary applications.

Yes, you will have to manually input each class for ALL colleges that you attend (including community college classes that you took as a high school student), including: school name, class number, class name, units, grade, and BCPM categorization (whether or not that class is a science course; BCPM = biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics).

If you decide to exclude certain colleges, it is unlikely that they will hunt you down. However, this is an honor code, and you are off to a bad start already if you do not respect the honor code…

You have to be extremely meticulous and accurate with this step. It is an extremely tedious and frustrating process because you have to manually input each class and categorize it accordingly. The last thing that you want is to have a dispute over your transcript because it will delay the release of your application to schools. As a result, if you are tired, take a break so you do not make any mistake. Once submitted, your application will be MANUALLY verified by an AMCAS Human Employee.

Be sure to check out the AAMC Course Classification Guide.

Of course, there are courses that fall into grey areas, e.g., Engineering classes. It is ultimately up to you, as a class taker, to decide if the class is BCPM or not. If AMCAS disagrees with your classification, it is up to them to re-categorize the classes during the transcript verification process. Then, you can decide whether or not you want to dispute the changes (see below).

For many science-major students, they are most likely able to claim their 199 courses as BCPM. This is a good option to consider if your BCPM GPA is struggling (because of lower division classes for example). Essentially, you are using the higher grades from your upper division courses to rebalance the under-performing grades from your first few years in college.

As a UCLA student, you can use MyUCLA to request your transcript to be sent for free to AMCAS. You can find the instructions here.

If you also took classes at other colleges, be sure to find out what their process is like.

You should request the transcripts early (ideally early May), so that by the time you submit your application, the transcripts already arrived at AMCAS, and they can start the verification step for your application right away.

Once submitted, your application will be MANUALLY verified by an AMCAS Human Employee. They will cross check your school transcript(s) with what you inputted on the application. They have the rights to make change to your application’s transcript if anything is inaccurate (e.g., an incorrect letter grade, an incorrect unit value, or an incorrect BCPM categorization). Then, they will let you know when your application is “verified.”

After your application is verified, you can check if they make any changes to your transcript. If you want to dispute certain details, you will need to submit a request for review. That process will take time (~1-2 weeks) and delay your release of your application to medical schools (and a delay of every step after that). With that being said, if you submit your application on the very first eligible day, there is a high chance that the dispute will be taken care of before the first day when AMCAS releases the applications to medical schools on your list.

However, to avoid this hassle altogether, just remember to be meticulous and accurate with your inputting step.

For students from California, you should aim for at least 30 schools. Most people try to go for 35-40.

The reason is that: each school has about a 2% admission rate. Assuming that the events occur independently and they are not mutually exclusive, by having 40 schools on your list, your chance to get into at least one medical school is: 1 – (0.98)^40 ≈ 0.5455 (or around 55%).

To generate your school list, we highly recommend that you use the free Prospective Doctor’s Medical School Chance Predictor

You will input your GPA and MCAT. Then, based on your stats and the out-of-state/in-state acceptance rate, the site will give you a list of schools, ranked by:

  • Far Reach – slim chance, apply with prayers
  • Reach – not a bad chance, dependent on the rest of your application
  • Target – your scores fall within their statistical ranges
  • Undershoot – your scores are slightly above their stats, apply to be “safe” or compensate for weaker areas of your application
  • Far Undershoot – your scores are way too high for their stats. These are NOT your safety schools because now, they think that you will get admitted somewhere else, so they will not even “waste” time interviewing you

This is a good place for you to START.

From here, you need to check out the school’s requirements, up-to-date statistics, and mission statement, by utilizing to the Medical School Admission Requirements™ (MSAR®). The medical schools update this database on an annual basis. The subscription cost is: $28 for 1 year, or $36 for 2 years.

Then, after you check those details, you can put together your final list. You should aim for: 25% Far Reach + Reach; 50% Target; and 25% Undershoot + Far Undershoot. For example, if you have 40 schools on your list, you should aim for: 3 Far Reach, 7 Reach, 20 Target, 7 Undershoot, and 3 Far Undershoot. Of course, your numbers can vary based on your risk tolerance. This is simply a suggestion.

It is important to note that you do NOT need to finalize your schools list by the time that you submit your primary application for verification, if you are running out of time. It is NICE to have it finalized, but you are NOT REQUIRED to. You only need to have one (01) school on the list for the application to be eligible for submission. For example, you can add “David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA” on there and submit the application.

Then, when the application is in the verification process, you can add more schools to the list, without affecting your “queue” position. Essentially, you just submit the application to claim a better position, and work through the list as the queue moves. By the time that the application is verified, you ideally should already finalize your list. Then, AMCAS will use that list to send your primarily application the appropriate institutions which you are interested in applying to.

For each of the letters that you will get, you will need to create an entry on your AMCAS application. Then, for each entry, you will either have to:

  1. Give the letter writer the Letter Request Form (which includes your AAMC ID and Letter ID) and ask them to submit to the AMCAS Letter Writer Application Portal, or
  2. Link the letter to the appropriate one on your Interfolio Dossier (given that you already asked your Letter Writer to submit to Interfolio in the first place) – MORE COMMON METHOD

For how to create letters entries, please visit the AMCAS® Tools and Tutorials webpage (video titled “AMCAS Application Tutorial - How to Add Letter of Evaluation Entries & Assign them to Medical Schools”).

For how to use Interfolio, please follow their instructional videos.

Please do NOT mass assign letters to all the medical schools that you are applying to because each school has a different letters requirement. For example, some ask for a 2 science + 1 nonscience, while others just ask for any 5 letters. Go through each school and assign appropriately.

For instructions on how to assign letters to each medical school, please visit the AMCAS® Applicant Guide as well as the AMCAS® Tools and Tutorials webpage (video titled “AMCAS Application Tutorial - How to Add Letter of Evaluation Entries & Assign them to Medical Schools”).

There is an important distinction that you need to understand. These are two different dates:

  • First Day for Submission: this is when you submit your application to AMCAS for verification purposes (i.e., transcript verification). Often late May/early June.
  • First Day for Sending to Schools: this is the first date that AMCAS sent verified applications to schools on the applicants’ list. Often late June. This process is automatic.

The length of the verification process greatly varies. If you are one of the first people to submit your primary application (i.e., on the morning of First Day for Submission), you will be at the front of the queue, and your application will get verified relatively quickly (within a few days). However, if you wait, the queue gets exponentially longer. For example, if you submit the next day, it might take them a week to verify your application.

For this reason, it is important that you submit your primary application as early as you can. The bottleneck lies in the verification process.

On a side note, someone put together a graph that tracks “Days until Processing” vs “Date Marked Ready for Review” (usually around the same day as the Submission Date). You can visit this graph here if you are curious. As you will see, applications submitted on the first day may take 5-15 days to be processed/verified, when applications submitted just 5 days after (~June 5) may take 15-20 days to be processed/verified.

Thankfully, they often leave about 3 weeks between “First Day for Submission” and “First Day for Sending to Schools.” Thus, if you need some time to wrap up your primary application, it is possible for you to take a few more days to put in some finishing touches, submit the application, and get it verified right around when AMCAS is ready to send verified applications to schools (i.e., “First Day for Sending to Schools”). Personally, I needed a little bit more time to finish up my application, so I ended up submitting a little later. However, do NOT take forever. The more you delay submitting your primary, the later you will get verified. Then, everything will be pushed back: your secondary invite, the review process for your application, your interview, and ultimately your admission decision. As you get later into the cycle, it is harder to get into medical schools because spots are gradually filled with rolling admission. As a result, you need to be efficient.

The bottom line is: If your primary application is not good, your chance of getting into a medical school decreases dramatically. It is okay to take a little more time, but you still need to try to submit your primary application within the first 10 days, counting from “First Day for Submission”.

According to AMCAS®, after you submit your application, you can edit the following sections:

  • Your ID numbers.
  • Your name, including full legal name, preferred name, and alternate names.
  • Your contact Information, including your permanent address, preferred mailing address, and e-mail address.
  • Your alternate contact information.
  • Your date of birth and sex.
  • Letters of evaluation (although please note that you can only make additions of up to 10 letters, and you must notify AMCAS if you have a letter you wish to no longer be sent to medical schools; you cannot delete letters of evaluation from your application).
  • Your next MCAT testing date.
  • The addition of medical schools and the altering of existing program types (deadlines, restrictions and an additional fee may apply).
  • The release of your application information to your prehealth advisor.

EVERYTHING ELSE IS LOCKED IN AS OF SUBMISSION (e.g., Essays, Work/Activities, Transcript, etc.). As a result, please do NOT try to submit your application and then, say, finish your essay and work/activities sections because you will NOT be able to edit them afterwards.

Secondary Application

Yes, you can actually pre-write your secondary application answers.

The prompts rarely change from year to year. As a result, you can prepare your secondary applications (to a fairly decent degree of accuracy) by looking up prompts that your schools of interest used in the past through this Prospective Doctor’s Medical School Secondary Essay Prompts Database.

When writing your essays, you should make sure that:

  • You have researched the school well.
  • When appropriate, you can mention specifically what stands out to you about the school and why you can be a good fit there.
  • Whenever you talk about an experience, remember to mention its significance, and when appropriate, how it will make you a better physician in the future.

You should submit your secondary applications within two (02) weeks of receiving it. Some schools (such as UCs) have a hard deadline of one (01) month (or shorter).

It is important that your secondary application MUST be in good quality. Otherwise, you will not get an interview regardless of how early you submit it. As a result, do NOT rush the secondary application in if it is not ready. However, medical school admission is a rolling process, so the earlier you submit, the better. In other words, you need to balance the risk and rewards appropriately. Besides, many schools start accepting students beginning in mid-October. If you can get admitted by then, that is such a wonderful peace of mind.

The short answer is YES. Of course, many schools do not screen because secondary applications help them pay their reviewers (and there are a lot of reviewers because of the applications volume).

However, there are some schools that are known for screening:

  • Based on your primary application: GPA, MCAT, Essays, Activities, etc.
  • Based on your geographical affiliation: Northern California, Out of State, etc.
  • Whether you are a non-traditional student (e.g., non science, career changer, etc.)
  • Whether you are committed to caring for the underserved populations
  • Etc.

Obviously, when you write the responses to these secondary applications, you CANNOT paint yourself as someone whom you are not. For example, do NOT try to appeal to a school that you are a non-traditional student when you are 21 years old and just graduated from UCLA with a degree in Biology. That will look bad on you (exceptions exist obviously).

It is important to remember that medical school admission is a two-way relationship: schools find students that fit them, and students find schools that they want to go to. As a result, you must put in the efforts to find out where you would see yourself going. And if certain schools decide not to give you a secondary application, so be it. You are not a good fit there anyway.

Some schools do require that you take a certain test as a part of your secondary applications. These tests are meant to test your professionalism, critical thinking, decision making process, etc. To some extent, this is similar to when an interviewer asks you “what would you do in this situation?”, but now it is in an exam-format, and you have to do it on a computer screen.

As of the writing of this page, there are two prominent tests for this purpose:

  • Altus (CASPer): used by schools such as Boston University School of Medicine, New York Medical College, etc.
  • AAMC Situational Judgment Test: used by schools such as UC Davis School of Medicine, University of Minnesota Medical School

You should definitely take their practice tests to see what they are about and familiarize with their formats. It is hard to prepare for them given that we do not talk about them a whole lot, but you might want to check out MMI resources mentioned below. There are also resources out there that you can look up and read more about these tests, such as this webpage from the Pre-Health Advising office of the University of Colorado Boulder.


Generally speaking, there are three main types of interviews:

  • Open (Files) Interview: this is a traditional interview format where you will have a one-on-one conversation with a faculty member, an admission officer, or a student. In this case, the interviewers already read your files (primary and secondary applications) and may elect to ask specific questions regarding your application, e.g., “tell me about this one activity that you listed here and why it is significant to your growth as a physician.”
  • Closed (Files) Interview: this is a traditional interview format where you will have a one-on-one conversation with a faculty member, an admission officer, or a student. In this case, the interviewers did NOT read your files. They are meeting you for a first time and have no idea who you are and what you have done in the past.
  • Multiple Mini Interviews (MMIs): this is a stations-based interview format. You will rotate through multiple stations, and at each of them, you will be asked to solve a specific question/scenario. Most of the time, you will have 1-2 minutes to read the prompt before entering the interview room. Then, once you enter, you will have about 5 minutes to either discuss your thoughts in a certain topic or work with an actor/co-applicant to carry out a certain task. Finally, you will exit the room and proceed to the next one (and repeat until you have visited all the rooms/stations). The length of each station can change depending on the school.

There are obviously other formats (e.g., interview with a panel of faculty members, interview as a group with your co-applicants, etc.). However, they are encountered less frequently.

Based on past trends, we would say that there are generally two (02) big surges: Late July – Early November, and January – Mid February.

Some invites are sent out during Mid-November – December. However, there is Thanksgiving, and schools like to wrap up their first part of the interviews while preparing for the second part (for January – March) before leaving for Christmas, so not many are sent out during this time. Then, after Mid-February, the number of interview invites dwindle significantly as schools wrap up the admission cycle.

It depends. That is true for some schools, but not for all. As a result, just work your hardest and lean on the safer side. Otherwise, you just wasted a great opportunity to present yourself as a good fit to the school.

Let’s say that you are traveling to Chicago for an interview. It is possible for you to call schools [that you applied to] in the area and ask if they would consider review your application and make a rather-early interview decision. The only caveat is that the schools need to be on the same caliber. For example, if you are interviewing at Northwestern, you can ask Pritzker if they would consider interviewing you within the few days that you are there for another interview. If the schools are not on the same caliber, this method probably will not work.


There is no one universal way to prepare for the interview. However, I generally recommend that you accomplish the following tasks:

  1. Start the preparation early. Read through the resources below. I recommend that you start at least four (04) weeks in advance.
  2. Read your primary and secondary applications again – know your files and who you are as an applicant. Any detail that you wrote down is fair game for questioning.
  3. Prepare a 2-3 minutes answer to the question: "Tell me about yourself." Personally, I recommend that you do this as a 2-segment answer. The first segment should be about academics and extracurricular activities (and you should address why you want to be in medicine). The second segment should be like fun facts (e.g., hobbies, outside interests, etc.). These segments do not have to be equal in length (i.e., second segment can be super short if you want it to be).
  4. Prepare a 2-3 minutes summary of your research, if applicable. This summary should include motivation of your work, a broad overview of your project, your exact contributions, and results (if appropriate). This summary should be simple enough that you can use to explain your work to a person who has some scientific background but not an expert in your field (i.e., skip all of the small details but know them in case for follow-up questions). Again, be sure to check with your PI to see what details you can discuss during the interview.
  5. Practice, practice, practice – you should do mock interviews with friends and family. Or at least you should film yourself giving answers to questions and watch for how you word things and your subconscious body language.

As you prepare your answers, remember:

  • There needs to be a structure to your answer: that you go from A to B to C. You should definitely use transition words such as "First," "Then," "Next,", "However," etc. to guide the flow. Just in case you are rambling too much or people zone out during your answer, these transition words can really help the listeners catch on to what you have to say.
  • Stories/anecdotes are important. Stories move people more than facts. And when you have stories to back up your claims, they help show that you can accomplish something (or that you really learn something through personal experiences), and it is not just all talk.
  • For many of you, you need to break the scientific habit of thinking about the solutions right when you encounter a problem. Medicine is a field of the people. Thus, the order should be: (1) patient safety, (2) patient autonomy (including acknowledging their feelings), then (3) solutions. (1) and (2) are very close to each other, and there are arguments on both sides to rank one over the other. However, they both “beat” out solutions, in order of importance.

And, as you give your answers, remember:

  • Energy is important – Think of it as like you have a question for a person, what kind of person you would like to talk to? Or if you are a patient, imagine the personality of a physician whom you would like to see.
  • Of course, you have to be mindful of the topic and mood. If you are talking about a solemn topic (e.g., passing away of a person), obviously don’t smile. Just generally speaking, you should show your personality, kindness, passion, critical thinking ability, and of course, that you know what you are talking about.
  • When a school invites you to an interview, they like you enough in the first place. They just want to meet and learn a little more about you from the interview experience. So, there is not much to worry about, e.g., whether you “deserve” to be there. You might as well enjoy the experience. Go have some fun and show them what you are capable of.


Unfortunately, there is no magic number for you to hit. You need to give a sufficiently detailed answer without rambling. This is where transition words such as “Then,” “Next,” “Whatever,” etc. can really help guide the flow. With a structure, your answer is less likely to be perceived as rambling, and you have a better idea of where you are going with your response.

For MMI, I don’t think that you need to take up the entire time. As long as you are able to present both sides, you should be okay (exceptions exist – but usually there is always something to argue ethically for the other side).

If you tend to like to keep your answer super short, there are some risks to consider:

  1. Most of the time, you do not present both sides of the arguments and/or you do not give a sufficient amount of details for your answers.
  2. You tend to rely on follow-up questions from the interviewers. This is something that I don’t recommend because you are leaving someone else at the driver seat instead of yourself. There is no way for you to know if you will be getting:
    1. Someone who is really interested in what you have to say and ask really good and detailed follow-up questions – BEST CASE SCENARIO
    2. Someone who likes to twist things around and put you in a hard place, e.g., they will use your words against you
    3. Someone who would rather finish their list of questions and has little interest in continuing the conversation with you – Probably worst case scenario?
  • Given those scenarios, I tend to recommend that you prepare longer and more detailed answers so you can be more at control of the situation.


I typically recommend a 3-parts response to any MMI question:

  1. The main argument – generally what you agree with or consider more likely to be okay with
  2. The counter argument – i.e., “I can also see that…”
  3. The conclusion – pick a side and stick with it

  • For many MMI scenarios, it is extremely rare that you cannot find an ethically plausible counter argument. As a result, always consider going for this 3-parts structure because it allows others to see that you have thought carefully about both sides before making a decision.

    Also, you should always try to pick a side. Very, very rarely a student can pull off an ambivalent “both sides are okay” answer. Therefore, unless you have an off-the-chart very compelling answer for why you don’t want to pick a side, you should go with the safe route and make a definitive selection at the end.


As mentioned, I have no financial conflict of interest to disclose. In addition, if you are going to buy these resources from Amazon, please consider buying them from instead. At no additional cost to you, Amazon will donate 0.5% of your eligible purchases to a charity of your choice.

Great Resources:

Good Summary: maybe useful in super crunch time but not as complete as the above two, so if you already finish those aforementioned books, you might not need this one

Additional Resources:

Resources - in case you are wondering, but I have personally not read:


Important Take-Home Point: People know that interests do change over time. As a result, do NOT be worried that the school administrators will hold you to your word. They will NOT track you down after 12 years to make sure that you become a neurosurgeon because you said so during the interview.

All that people are asking when you answer that question is:

  • Regardless of whether you have 1 or 5 current career interests, you showed your genuine enthusiasm for those topics.
  • You explained clearly:
    1. what drove you to learn more about those subjects,
    2. what you have done in the past to explore the topics, if applicable, and
    3. what you hope to accomplish in the future (if possible, you should also explain how being at their institution specifically will help you achieve your goals)

  • In addition, I suggest that you keep your answer in an open-minded tone. Unless you have a very specific reason for why you are going to discard as a certain career choice, adding a phrase such as “I look forward to exploring during clinical rotations” can be extremely beneficial. Given how interconnected the body systems are, you want to show that you are there to learn as much as you can because the more connections that you can understand, the better doctor you will become, regardless of your career choice. Plus, we don’t want to offend anybody, e.g., if you just happen to hate the specialty that your faculty interviewer is currently licensed/trained in.


ABSOLUTELY NOT OKAY. You MUST always prepare some questions (aim for 3-5, but at minimum, 1), and the questions CANNOT be answered by a quick google search.

The questions can be about anything: curriculum, future direction, etc. Even a simple question to the interviewer about “What brings you to the school?” is better than asking nothing at all. Obviously, you need to prepare questions that are specific to the school that you are interviewing at, so please do your research diligently.

If you are really stuck, you can try to ask to be connected to a current student before your interview. Then, through your conversation with them, you can find out the strengths and weaknesses of the school, which may later help you better formulate your questions to the interviewers.


If you want to write “thank-you” cards to your interviewers, you can. It is generally recommended that you do, and you should write them early. Some of my friends wrote them on the plane as they traveled back from their interview sites. Remember to follow the instructions as to where to you submit the thank-you cards. If you have multiple interviewers at that one school, obviously you need to write separate cards for each interviewer, and their contents MUST be different from each other.


First, let’s talk about the “Turkey Rule.” There is a general consensus that if you do not get an interview invite (i.e., not necessary that you already had an interview) by Thanksgiving, your chance of getting in during this cycle is extremely slim. While there is some truth to that, it is not always the case. I have an anecdote of someone getting in with an interview invite that came in January (just an anecdote because I don’t want to be a victim of survivorship bias, of course).

Given those details, my recommendation is that if you don’t receive any interview invite by:

  • Thanksgiving, maybe even early November – you should start thinking about what you want to do in case you don’t get in; just start planning and maybe act on a few of your plans if they have associated deadlines (e.g., advanced degree). The reason why I say “early November” is that if you are planning to go for an advanced degree, you need to give enough time for (1) your writer letters to update their recommendations and (2) yourself to write the application essays, so that everything is ready to submit by around December 1.
  • February – you will most likely not make it during this application cycle, unfortunately; therefore, you should spend a lot of time thoroughly reviewing your applications first. Then after you spot what you perceive as weaknesses on your applications, you develop a plan on how to improve on those shortcomings and put that plan into actions. That may mean going for a post-bac, or getting more clinical experiences, etc. Please see section below on “You Get Rejected 😭.”


Update Letters / Letter Of Interest / Letter Of Intent

Please note that some schools DO NOT ACCEPT update letters, or they only accept update letters within a specific window (e.g., 2 weeks following the interview).

​As a result, you need to check their rules and FOLLOW THEM. If permitted, you should only send update letter for SUBSTANTIAL UPDATES, e.g., get a publication and/or a major award. Getting a straight A quarter usually is not an important update.

To see a different point of view regarding these letters, please visit this Prospective Doctor's The Anatomy of The Anatomy of a Letters to Medical School Admission.

For schools that you haven’t heard back since the submission of the Secondary Application, most people send an update letter around November/December, in anticipation of the January surge (or at least hope that they can get an invite during the months of November or December). Be sure to mention why you think the school and you are a good fit for each other.

Letter of Interest:
For schools that you haven’t heard back since the Interview, most people send a Letter of Interest AFTER they got put on the wait list, outlining why they think the school and them are a good fit for each other. In that Letter of Interest, you may choose to include updates that you have had since the secondary application and/or interview.
The reason why most wait until a decision is reached is that a Letter of Interest only makes an impact when you are truly on a verge of Wait Listed/Accepted. Moving from “Rejected” to “Wait Listed” is still a very far long way until one can reach the “Accepted” pile. As a result, many choose to wait and see their standings before deciding on whether they should send a Letter of Interest. Of course, you may choose to send a Letter of Interest before the school reaches a definitive conclusion for your application – just that you should wait at least a few weeks before doing so.
Exceptions exist. For example, if School A only allows you to submit an update letter during the two weeks post-interview, and you already have updates for them at that point, do send those in [instead of waiting until a decision such as “WL” arrives] because that is your only chance. Just remember that we are only talking about the general trend here. You must be flexible based on your situation.

Letter of Intent:
If you already interviewed at and feel very strongly about a particular school, you can send them a LETTER OF INTENT – telling them that if accepted, you will attend, regardless of other offers. You can send a Letter of Interest to multiple schools, but you can send a Letter of Intent to ONLY ONE school. And of course, in the Letter of Intent, you may choose to include updates that you have had since the secondary application and/or interview.

1-2 pages (I will also say that 2 pages is a HARD limit).

You need to be succinct because the admission committees are busy, so the last thing that they want to do is to read hundreds of letters that are 10-pages long. If you are clear, to-the-point, yet still very persuasive with your reasoning, you will be able to stand out more.

I personally believe that there is not much difference between the 3 kinds of letters because:

  • Like in an Update Letter, a Letter of Interest and a Letter of Intent can include some sort of updates that you have had since the secondary application and/or interview, if appropriate.
  • Like in a Letter of Interest or a Letter of Intent, an Update Letter should include, in one way or another, a reason for why you and the school are a good fit for each other. Just providing strict updates does not make the letter very personal, and that in turn does not help you stand out more.
  • The only kind of letter that is distinctly different from the others is the Letter of Intent. That is the strongest commitment that you can make because you are essentially telling them: if accepted, I will go, regardless of other offers. As a result, you can send this to only ONE school.
  • The “Update Letter” is simply different from a “Letter of Interest” in that an “Update Letter” is sent before an Interview, when a “Letter of Interest” is sent after an Interview.

Of course, other people have different viewpoints on the differences between these kinds of letters. For more on that, you should visit the Prospective Doctor’s The Anatomy of a Letters to Medical School Admission.

Success rate varies. I have seen some people who submitted a Letter of Intent and never got off the waitlist, while some others did not submit any Update Letter and got off the waitlist very early.

It is my personal belief that these letters only make a difference if you are truly on the verge: Not Interview vs. Interview; Wait Listed vs. Accepted; etc.

Of course, there is no way for you to know truly, so you might as well send the letters in. Please just note that more often than not, they might not work to your advantage because the probability that you land right at the cusp of two decisions is pretty slim. To put that into concrete numbers, let’s say that you are randomly assigned a number between 1 to 100. Any number above 80 (i.e., 81 to 100) is good. The probability that you land a number that is between 81 and 100 is 20/100 = 20%, when the probability that you land a number that is not ideal (i.e., 1 to 80) is 80/100 = 80%. However, the probability that you are on a cusp of getting a good number (i.e., 78 to 80) is simply 3/100 = 3% (very low).


Exact words: you get accepted to at least one medical school.

Congratulations, you have made it! Now, make sure that you finish all the paperwork on time. That is the least that you can do. Otherwise, you will waste so much money and have to reapply with no guaranteed re-admission (you actually have to explain why you have to reapply and how your candidacy has changed). It’s annoying, so don’t find yourself in that situation.

  • Make sure that you comply with the AMCAS guidelines and schools’ guidelines on how to accept your acceptance (i.e., when to make a final decision, what paperwork to turn in, financial aid and housing, etc.)
  • Finish all the classes required prior to matriculation, if necessary. You might elect to take community college classes to fulfill such requirements – check with your school(s) if they have any instructions/recommendations.
  • Inform your letter writers and thank them (with a handwritten card + a small gift). If you are worried about the gift part, a gift card can work too, but at least try to be somewhat creative first. They helped you a lot with their letters.
  • Inform and thank your mentors, family, and friends who have helped you along the way. You did not make through this process on your own, no matter how hard you try to convince yourself otherwise. Those who believe in you deserve at least an acknowledgment.
  • FINISH THE ONBOARDING PAPERWORK (e.g., vaccination status, safety training, etc.)
  • Take a break before school starts. Medical school will hit like a truck with its sheer volume of materials. So, make sure that you get some rest before you restart. This might be your last ever real summer break because after this summer, there will be research, rotations, and then residencies (i.e., work).

Exact words: you get waitlisted at 1+ medical school and have 0 acceptance.

Keep praying (or if you are not religious, keep hoping)! Schools actually do accept people all the way until the week of orientation. I had a friend who got off the waitlist in July. Chances theoretically dramatically decrease after May, but hope is still hope. Be sure to periodically check in with the school(s) to show your interest and if appropriate, commitment to attend there. You can do so with a phone call, a Letter of Interest, or a Letter of Intent. Just please be sure to not spam them with too many phone calls.

Exact words: you get rejected from all medical schools that you applied to.

I am sorry that you happen to be in the 50% of applicants from UCLA who did not get accepted anywhere… This is a tough process that is unpredictable a lot of the time. With that being said, do NOT lose hope! Many people had to reapply and got admitted in their later attempt(s).

Here are what you should do:

  • Update your letter writers and thank them for their help (with a handwritten card + a small gift). If you are worried about the gift part, a gift card can work too, but at least try to be somewhat creative first. Even though things did not work out, they still spent a lot of their time writing you the letters.
  • If appropriate, update your mentors, family, and friends who were with you during the application process. They still cheered for you after all.
  • Re-evaluate your application and see what parts of your application were weak. Some schools may even allow you to contact them to ask about your applications’ weakness, so IF THE SCHOOL ALLOWS IT (i.e., please make sure that you check the school’s policies), you should reach out and schedule a meeting with them. After finding out what the weaknesses are, have a plan to improve upon them. For example, you can:
    • Pursue a post-baccalaureate program to improve the grades of your classes
    • Get more clinical experiences, whether through volunteering or work

The biggest question that you will have to answer when you reapply is: “how has your candidacy changed since the last time you applied?” You have to be able to answer this question clearly. As a result, self-evaluation and successful execution of the improvement plan are critical to the success of your next application attempt. Since you need time to improve [and get tangible results to show for it], I generally do NOT recommend back-to-back applications. You might want to consider taking 1-2 years to obtain “proofs” of your “improvements” before you try again, but of course, exceptions do occur (i.e., some people reapplied right away and got in).