The Premed Prescription

Take this advice PRN, apply liberally.


The Application

The American Medical School Application Service (AMCAS) and the Texas Medical and Dental Schools Application Service (TMDSAS) are the two main application services that you will become intimately acquainted with when applying for med school.  You might think, “I’ve heard of AMCAS, but TMDSAS?  I don’t want to go to school in Texas…” I will tell you why you should apply to Texas schools later on.

The AMCAS application opens usually sometime at or around June 1st, and the TMDSAS application opens a month earlier in May.  Make sure you are aware of when the application becomes available, because YOU MUST SUBMIT YOUR APPLICATION THE DAY IT OPENS.  I cannot stress this enough.  Here’s why:

 Most medical schools have a rolling admissions, meaning that applicants are interviewed and accepted at a “first come, first served” basis.  Think about all the thousands of type A premed overachievers that are applying to med school the same time you are.  You can bet your life that on the first day the application opens, thousands of applicants will be submitting their applications!  Do you really want to wait a week, a day, or even an hour and have thousands of more students ahead of you?  In addition, it takes some time for your application to be reviewed by AMCAS before it is sent to med schools, and if your application comes back with revisions that need to be made, you will be even more behind.

 You might think that I am exaggerating.  You might think, “Hey, one extra day to polish up my application will actually help me.”  Wrong.  I applied late the first time because I didn’t know my MCAT score yet and I was scared that I had failed, and also because I wanted to polish up my personal statement a little more.  If I had been more prepared (like I was the second time), I have no doubt that I would have at least gotten an interview and maybe even an acceptance.

 You may be wondering to yourself, “How can I finish the application all in 1 day?”  Fear not, the application is actually open about a month in advance so you can fill it out.  Give yourself at least 2 weeks to fill out the application.  It is so long that you will surely lose motivation, so extra time is necessary.  Also, you will likely have a lot of questions, so I suggest filling it out close to your pre-med advisement office.


 This is the application that most med students are familiar with.  To summarize, there are 9 sections to the application:

1. identifying information
2. schools attended
3. biographic information
4. course work
5. work/activities
6. letters of evaluation
7. medical schools
8. essays
9. standardized tests

Both the AMCAS and the TMDSAS take FOREVER to fill out, so just be aware that you should not wait until the day the application opens to fill it out.  In fact, I believe that both services allow you to start filling out their applications about a month before they are open to submission.

As I mentioned in my extracurricular section, you should list hours of service and shadowing performed.  The application itself is quite detailed: it will ask you for starting and ending dates, average hours per week involved, contact information, and locations for every activity.  Thus, keep a good log of your hours and dates.

 Also, AMCAS is really nit-picky about your coursework and college info.  Make sure you are copying your course names, credits, and grades exactly as they appear on your transcript or they will send your application back to you.

 The essay section is basically your personal statement of why you want to be a doctor.  For tips on how to write a good personal statement, check out my personal statements page.  If you are applying for an MD/PhD, you have to write two extra essays.  I believe one is about your undergraduate research and the other is why you want to pursue a career as a researcher.

 Lastly, something I did not know the first time: admissions committees see your application exactly as you do when it is printed out.  There is some leeway in how you can fill out your extracurricular activities: don’t be afraid to use lists (especially in the shadowing section) to make the description look clean and organized.


 The Texas application is pretty much identical to the AMCAS.  The only real difference is that it asks for your SAT and ACT scores and has 3 essays instead of 1.  Also, it doesn’t work in Google Chrome (fail.).  In my opinion, it takes longer to complete than the AMCAS.  So why do it????

 1. Once you have completed the TMDSAS (a month early), you will be even more prepared to complete the AMCAS quickly and correctly.

 2. Only 2 Texas schools require secondaries.  Say what???  You heard me.  This is HUGE!  As you will soon find, secondaries are much worse to complete than the AMCAS or the TMDSAS.

 3. Applying is cheap.  As are the schools!  Applying to Texas schools is much cheaper than applying through AMCAS, especially since there are no secondaries (and I think both of the 2 secondaries are free?… can’t remember now… if not, they were probably only $50).

 4. Texas schools are a great option if you are applying to out-of-state schools.  Most Texas schools offer in-state tuition to accepted out-of-state residents.  Guess how much tuition is at Texas public schools? Only $15,000-18,000/year!!!! That’s cheaper than most state schools.

 Now a tip on the essays:  The first essay is pretty much the “why do you wanna be a doctor,” essay.  The next two essays are “optional.”  In my opinion, why not write them too just to be safe.  One of them asks you how you will contribute to the diversity of the student body, and the other asks you to write about any unique experiences or circumstances not previously mentioned in the application.  The two optional essays have a word count of 2,500.

 Selecting Schools

 This is a difficult choice, and it is something that can help or hurt you.  I recommend applying to at least 12 schools.  Have a good handful (7-8) of average schools, 1-3 reach schools, and 2-3 low schools.  If you know your MCAT score, this choice will be a lot easier!  Also, BYU has a record of med schools that students were accepted to in recent years, so I recommend basing your application pool largely on those schools.  If you’re not from BYU, check with your pre-med advisor to see if a similar list exists for your school. This helped me a lot the second time around.  My theory is that schools that have a good relationship with your alma mater will be more likely to know what kind of a student you are and what kind of a med student you will be.  All of the schools I have been accepted to so far have a lot of students who graduated from BYU.

The first time I applied, I did not follow this advice. I thought that my scores and extracurricular activities were good enough to get accepted anywhere, so I applied to a lot of top tier schools and only a few mid-ranked schools. As you can tell, applying to schools that traditionally accepted a lot of BYU students helped A LOT.

 Secondary Applications

 This is where applying to med school really becomes a pain in the butt.  Some schools make you basically fill out another AMCAS, others make you write five bajillion essays, and others just make you send them money.  But here’s the secret: you can know what is on most supplemental essays before you get them!  I suggest snooping around and looking up past secondary applications for schools you are applying to.  When you receive supplemental essays in your email varies with each school–some send them to you automatically, others screen applicants and so it may take a week or two before you get supplemental applications from some schools.  Thus, it is very likely that you will be getting several secondary applications all at the same time.  The key to having a quick turnaround time with these secondaries is having the essays and materials prepared beforehand and doing some triage–do the applications for the schools you really like first, and then do the really easy ones before tackling the long ones.

My second time applying I actually applied to many schools that did not require essays in their secondary applications.  I knew that I would be busy working during the summer and wanted to make sure I wasn’t late in submitting my secondaries.  I also made a goal to finish my secondaries a day or two after I received them, finishing the easy ones first and moving on to the longer ones.

Make it Count… The First Time!

Unless you come from a wealthy family, you will be intimidated by the cost of applying for medical school.  Applying alone I spent probably around $2,000.  However, I strongly suggest applying to a lot of schools to increase your chances of going to one that you would want.  As mentioned by the White Coat Investor in his post on The Hero Complex, not working a year as a doctor because it took you an extra year to get accepted into med school can cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars.  The entire point of this blog is to help you get accepted the first time, so please consider my advice!


1. Fill out the AMCAS and TMDSAS applications BEFORE the applications are open for submission.

2. Submit the AMCAS and TMDSAS applications the day they are open for submission.

3. Apply to schools that have accepted a lot of applicants from your university in the past.

4. Research secondary applications beforehand so that you can submit your secondary applications 1-2 days after receiving them.  Finish the important ones first and then move on to the easy ones.


4 thoughts on “Applying

  1. I’m a little confused – because there’s a TMDSAS, does that mean you can’t apply to Texas schools via AMCAS?

    1. That’s correct. The only Texas school application available through AMCAS is Baylor. If you’re applying to Texas, remember that the TMDSAS opens about a month earlier than the AMCAS!

      1. I had no idea until now! Thanks so much for the information – I was definitely planning on applying to a couple of schools in Texas so without this post, it would have been a huge surprise!

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