Applying to medical school

Applying to medical school is complicated, but we are here to help! Advisors at the Health Professions and Prelaw Center can help you develop your best strategy and troubleshoot problems you encounter in your application. Make sure to attend our Personal Statement Writing Workshops and Medical School Application Workshops so you’ll be in the know.

Primary application #

To apply to most medical schools, you will need to submit a centralized "primary" application that is sent to multiple medical schools. For allopathic (MD) medical schools, you use the AMCAS application to apply.  Osteopathic schools use the AACOMAS application. Expect to spend several weeks working on the application. Applications open in May each year.

On the application, you will fill out information regarding every college course you have taken, so you will need to refer to transcripts from every college or university you have attended. You will also need to order official transcripts from all colleges and universities you have attended to be sent to the application service.

AMCAS and AACOMAS will not process your application without all of your transcripts. You can check the status of your online application to see if your transcripts have been received.

At IU Bloomington, you can order your transcript from Student Central.

Personal statement #

As part of the primary application process, you will need to submit a personal statement. The admissions committee will read your personal statement to learn why you want to become a physician.

Writing a personal statement requires that you reflect on your motivations and the personal experiences that have shaped you. An effective approach is to write about the series of events in your life that have led you to medicine. What started you on the path toward becoming a doctor, and what kept you on that path once you started, even at times when it wasn’t easy? Drawing material from your premed journal can provide useful insights and help bring your writing to life.

Admissions committees will be evaluating your application based on your ability to express yourself coherently and effectively, as it may correspond to your ability to communicate with patients later.

Make sure to attend one of the Personal Statement Writing Workshops offered by the Health Professions and Prelaw Center. Schedule an appointment with a HPPLC advisor for feedback on a draft of your personal statement.

Personal statement and application essay podcast #

Need some coaching on writing application essays? Check out the podcast episodes HPPLC has created below for some help on the process.

  1. Understanding the Med School Personal Statement
    Are you just getting started and want to understand how the medical school personal statement fits into your application and how it differs from the essays you commonly write for other grad programs? Listen to "Understanding the Med School Personal Statement."
  2. Quick Personal Statement Exercise
    Are you having difficulty starting your personal statement and just feeling stuck?  Try the "Quick Personal Statement Exercise."
  3. Turning Your Ideas into a Draft
    Have you completed the exercise above but you are still having trouble turning your ideas into a draft? Check out the "Turning Your Ideas into a Draft" podcast.

Experience section #

The primary applications (AMCAS and AACOMAS) include a section where you can provide information on work experiences, extracurricular involvement, volunteering, research, awards, honors, and publications that you would like to bring to the attention of the admissions committee. Shadowing of physicians and medically-related volunteering should also be listed here.

You do not just list experiences, but you are asked to write and reflect on them too. For each activity you’ll be given the space to write several sentences describing and reflecting on your experience. A recommended approach is to briefly describe in a few sentences what you did and then in one or two sentences at the end reflect on what you gained from the experience.

The AMCAS application also asks you to identify up to three of your experiences that you consider the most meaningful experiences. For the three that you designate, you will be given additional space to write a brief essay. AMCAS advises that for these brief essays "you might want to consider the transformative nature of the experience, the impact you made while engaging in the activity and the personal growth you experienced as a result of your participation."

It is as important to write something significant about your accomplishments as to list them. The space provided gives you another opportunity to communicate to the admissions committee, so it is to your advantage to spend some time crafting descriptions of your activities that reflect well on your preparation for a career in medicine. Concise but substantive entries will allow the admissions committee one more opportunity to "hear your voice" through your writing.

Secondary application #

Many medical schools have individual applications that supplement the primary application, called "secondary applications." Most medical schools contact all applicants and invite them to submit secondary applications, though some review the primary application before selecting their top candidates to invite to submit secondary applications.

Most schools will not review student files until all materials (including secondary applications) are submitted. Completing the secondary application quickly signals your sincere interest in the school to the admissions committee.

Many of the secondary applications include additional essays related to your preparation for medical school and career in medicine. Your premed journal can be helpful when writing these.

It is important to follow up in a timely manner. It doesn't matter how early you submit your primary application if you submit your secondary applications late.

Letters of recommendation #

Medical schools require that you submit letters of recommendation written by others on your behalf along with your application. Letters of recommendation can provide admissions committees insights into your personal qualities. Recommendation letters can tell them about your communication and interpersonal skills, and your readiness for medical school.

Requirements for letters vary by school. Most medical schools require a minimum of three letters of recommendation. Some have minimum requirements for how many must come from science faculty. Make sure to research the requirements of the schools where you plan to apply ahead of time. HPPLC suggests obtaining at least two from science instructors, one from a nonscience instructor, and one personal letter of recommendation.

Developing relationships with your professors is an important part of your intellectual growth and will help you obtain strong letters of recommendation.

Choose your recommenders wisely and request recommendations from them early. Consider opening an Interfolio file for your letters of recommendation by your sophomore year. Interfolio is a service that can help you collect your letters ahead of time so you’ll be able to complete your application in a timely manner. 

  1. one letter from an instructor who taught you in a biology, chemistry, or physics course
  2. one letter from an instructor who taught you in a nonscience course (ideally an A&H or S&H course)
  3. one personal recommendation from someone who has not taught you in a course(possibly from a supervisor at a volunteer agency, a physician you have worked with or shadowed, etc.)

Please note: In addition, IU School of Medicine requires that you submit one Dean of Student’s Evaluation form. You will receive this form from IU School of Medicine after you apply. You will need to submit this form to the Office of Student Ethics and they will return it to IU School of Medicine.

Interview #

Before admitting you, medical schools want to meet you in person so they can evaluate personal qualities they can't observe directly in your written application. Selected applicants are invited for an interview. You should prepare carefully for this crucial component of the admissions process.
Medical schools use interviews to gain insight into how you would interact with patients. Schools also use the interview to assess factors such as motivation and ability to cope with conflict. They want to know how likely it is you would take a spot if they offered one, so it is important that you express your enthusiasm and sincere interest in the school!
Medical school interviews often involve a more profound psychological dimension than most job interviews. In a job interview, the most important question for your interviewer is probably, "What can this person do for our organization?" For your medical school interviewer the most important question may be, "Would I trust this person as my own physician?"
One of your most important goals is to demonstrate you have the ability to connect with others on a personal level. As a physician you will need to be able to walk into a room, meet a stranger, establish trust, and build rapport within a few seconds so that person may open up to you to help you make a correct diagnosis.
To prepare, review your personal statement, activities listed on your application, and secondary application essays. It's helpful to practice responding to interview questions (obtain a list of questions in the HPPLC office). You may be asked situational ethics questions that require you to think through how you would respond when faced with difficult decisions in medicine. Study the school's curriculum via its website and prepare to ask questions about the school’s program in the interview.

Make sure to attend one of the HPPLC-sponsored Interview Skills Workshops in the fall semester and schedule an appointment with a HPPLC advisor for a mock interview.

Financial aid for medical school #

Resources are available to help pay for medical school. Most medical students finance their educations through a combination of student loans and scholarships. As part of the acceptance package, many medical schools make offers of scholarships to those admitted students they are most interested in recruiting.

The American Association of Medical Colleges provides excellent resources on financing your medical education.

Early financial planning during college can help you manage and minimize debt. IU’s Money Smarts resources can help you gain control of your finances now.