Welcome to the FAQ!

  1. Introduction

  2. Considering Medicine

  3. Getting Ready to Apply

  4. Choosing Schools

  5. All about the AMCAS

  6. The Waiting Game

  7. Applying from a Cal State school

  8. Other FAQs and Resources


These questions are intended to be used as a resource for those students who are considering applying to medical school, are in the process of applying, or are deciding on one or more schools.

They are, by all means, not meant to be the final say in medical school wisdom but, rather, simply a compendium compiled and detailed by current and former medical students, physicians, faculty, administration, members of Admissions Committees, and innumerable web resources. Feel free to take what you like from them and critique what you don’t.

The process of applying to medical school is a grueling process. It's okay to be confused, discouraged, worn out, fatigued, pooped - shall I stop? But remember, if you want it, you can do it! YOU CAN DO IT!

You will find the process to be full of inconsistencies and time-consuming redundancies. You won't be the first. The medical school application process is difficult in part to discourage normal, rational folk from applying, and also, to ensure that applicants have the appropriate amount of commitment and fastidiousness required to practice medicine. Enjoy!

Considering medicine

OK, so I’ve seen Grey’s Anatomy and House and love them, but I’m still not really sure what the deal is, so…Why medicine?

  • Ability to provide service and support to others
  • Flexibility - through medicine one can do clinical work, research, consulting, policy, or teach
  • Save lives (sometimes)
  • Continuous learning
  • Appreciation for medical science
  • Teach students and patients about medicine
  • Rewarding and societal respect and appreciation
  • Decent salary, and usually good job security and easy to find a job

I’ve also heard stories from friends that don’t sound all that flattering, so What are the downsides to being in medicine?


  • DEBT
  • Spend several years training and preparing at schools and hospitals (e.g. medical school, internship, residency)
  • Long process to acquire a license
  • Difficult
  • Stressful
  • Depressing when you are unable to help
  • Time consuming
  • A great deal of responsibility
  • Managed care means more difficulty earning a high salary

Q: That all sounds swell, but I’ve been out of school for a while, am working a job, supporting a family, am too old, etc. When is it too late to enter medicine?
A: It's sort of Never too late… but you do need to keep in mind the length of training… 4 years of medical school plus 3 – 5+ years of Residency/Fellowship
There are many individuals in their late 30s who decide to attend medical school. Just remember, it's a long process and one must be seriously committed!

Q: On the contrary, I just graduated from Princeton University and have yet to reach the age of 11. Is it ever too early to enter medicine?
A: Maybe, maybe not. The process of going to medical school and becoming a doctor requires a good deal of emotional maturity. Life experience, even just a little, allows one to better communicate with patients and interact in medical teams. It is certainly common for people to go to medical school directly out of undergraduate but remember that the average age of new medical students is 24, suggesting that most students take at least one year off.

Q: I’ve tried thinking about it on my own but still haven’t been able to come to a decision, so Who can I talk to, where can I go, and what can I do to get a better idea of whether medicine is right for me?
A: Take advantage of the CSUMB pre-medical societies on campus. Participate in service learning in a medical setting. Consider shadowing physicians in the community, or becoming a volunteer at a local hospital or clinic (esp. Natividad medical center) in Salinas.

Q: I don’t know whether being a doctor per se is the best fit for me. What are other professions in health care or science that I should consider?
A: Physician assistants and nurse practitioners have a shorter training, less debt, and the ability to see patients and prescribe medications. These careers are also typically oriented toward primary care as opposed to surgical or procedural specialities. Because PAs and NPs are considered 'mid-level practioners,' they require supervision by an MD or DO. Check out this useful set of links on other options: http://www.swarthmore.edu/x8852.xml

Other careers include:

i. Certified Nurses Assistant
ii. Registered Nurse
iii. Nurse Practitioner
iv. Nurse Anesthetist
v. Physical Therapist
vi. Respiratory Therapist
vii. Radiology Technician
viii. Clinical Psychologist
ix. Dentist
x. Pharmacist
xi. Optometrist
xii. Podiatrist

Getting ready to apply to medical school

In the 2010 application cycle, 42,742 applicants competed for an opportunity to be one of the lucky 19,641 acceptees, representing a 46 percent national acceptance rate. For acceptees, the average composite MCAT score was 31.1 and average GPA was 3.67, up from 29.7 and 3.59, respectively, a decade ago. However, applicants with a strong B+ average and a 30 MCAT can be reasonably confident that they will get into medical school. The top schools typically look for students with A- averages or higher. You can get an excellent medical education at any U.S. medical school.

I keep hearing words like allopathic, osteopathic, naturopathicWhat is an allopathic doctor and medical school and how are they different from osteopathic or naturopathic doctors and medical schools? Where can I go to learn more about the specifics of applying into these programs?

i. Naturopathic Medicine
  1. What is Naturopathic Medicine? A:http://www.aanmc.org/about-aanmc/naturopathic-medicine-faq.php#naturopathic
  2. Where Can I Find Out More? A: Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges http://www.aanmc.org/

ii. Osteopathic Medicine
Osteopathy is a branch of medicine focusing on healing the whole person, and using physical manipulation as one form of diagnosis and treatment. While osteopathic physicians are in every medical specialty, most are oriented towards primary care. Osteopathic training is similar to allopathic training, with 4 years of medical school leading to a D.O. degree, with residency following. Osteopathic schools are often slightly less competitive to get into, so if you think you may be interested in this approach, you should investigate osteopathy further.
  1. What is Osteopathic Medicine? A: http://www.aacom.org/about/osteomed/Pages/default.aspx
  2. Where Can I Find Out More? A: American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine http://www.aacom.org/

iii. Allopathic Medicine
Allopathic medicine refers to the practice of conventional medicine that uses pharmacologically active agents or physical interventions to treat or suppress symptoms or pathophysiologic processes of diseases or conditions. Allopathic medicine often refers to "the broad category of medical practice that is sometimes called Western medicine, biomedicine, evidence-based medicine, or modern medicine." An allopathic medical schools awards an MD degree. Want more info on allopathic medicine? (Yes, this is a link to Wiki) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allopathic_medicine and https://www.aamc.org/

iv. I’ve decided that allopathic medicine is the best fit for me. What should I start doing and how long will it take me?

That depends… likely a few years. The time is dependent on how long you take completing the following
  1. Prerequisite Courses - for more information see general advice and the application process
  2. MCAT
  3. AMCAS - see separate section on AMCAS

v. I’m not sure whether I have taken the right courses or not.What courses do I need to apply to an allopathic medical school?

i. https://www.aamc.org/students/applying/requirements/
ii. One year of biology with lab
iii. One year of physics with lab
iv. One year of English (school dependent)
v. Two years of chemistry (through organic chemistry)
vi. Some schools may have additional requirements. For school specific requirements, check the school’s website or the MSAR. Some schools require:
  1. genetics
  2. biochemistry (this is a good class to take before medical school even if schools don't require it)
  3. english
  4. psychology (not too often)

Choosing schools

Q: I didn’t know there were so many accredited medical schools in the United States. Exactly how many medical schools are there, and where are they?
A: Currently, there are 159 medical schools in the United States, 133 of which award MD degrees, 29 of which award DO degrees. They're all over the place!

Q:I would love to get into XYZ School of Medicine, but don’t know if I can. What are ‘dream’ schools, ‘reach’ schools and ‘safety’ schools, and what are the caveats of relying on the MSAR to choose schools?
A: This depends on your personal profile (GPA, MCAT, volunteer/research/leadership experience). Even for the most qualified applicants, top tier research institutions like UCSF, Stanford, Harvard, and Johns Hopkins are dream schools. In addition to an excellent GPA and highly competitive MCAT you need "something special" to get an interview at these schools, be it undergraduate publications, extensive volunteerism and leadership (like, starting an NGO), or some fancy national fellowship. A reach school is a solid, but not extraordinary school. You should have a GPA and MCAT that matches that schools average. It's best to apply to mostly reach schools. In general most schools are reach schools, because getting into medical school isn't easy. A safety school depends on the quality of the applicant. One might consider DO programs as a reach school as these are traditionally easier to get into than an MD program.

Q:I want to stay in Northern California at all costs. No, wait…I just want to get into any medical school anywhere! What is an appropriate number of schools to apply to?
A: Most students apply to about 15-20 schools.

Q:My friend picked the top 20 research schools in the US News and World Report rankings and just applied to those schools. Are there good and/or bad strategies for choosing which schools to apply to?
A: You may know that you would prefer a case study approach to learning, or a focus on research, or an urban setting, and these considerations should enter into your decision-making. You should plan on a mix of schools where you are likely to be a very strong candidate, schools where it is a bit of a reach, and a handful of "dream" schools. (You may want to purchase the on-line Medical School Admission Requirements publication ($15) from the AAMC, which has the most accurate and authoritative information on individual medical schools.) There is a description of each medical school, which includes median overall and science GPAs and MCATs of the first year class. You should apply to all the schools in your home state, and not to schools in other states that accept few out-of-staters.

All about the AMCAS

Uhh, yeah…What is AMCAS? The American Medical College Application Service. AMCAS is a non-profit, centralized application processing service that is only available to applicants to the first-year entering classes at participating U.S. medical schools. Most medical schools use AMCAS as the primary application method. It's basically a fancy online application process that streamlines applying. There are a few allopathic schools that you must contact directly for an application and Texas state schools have their own application process.

What is AACOMAS?

AACOMAS is a similar centralized service that is used for all but one of the osteopathic (D.O.) medical schools. If you are considering applying to DO schools you should plan to complete both the AMCAS and AACOMAS.

Q: How long does it take to fill out the AMCAS?
A: A week or two if you work diligently and quickly.

Q: I’ve got all of my letters of recommendation writers working day and night. What do I do with my letters of recommendations?
A: I highly recommend INTERFOLIO to manage your letters of recommendation. Your letter writers submit the letters online to the website, and then they can be electronically released to AMCAS. See http://www.interfolio.com/candidates/premed/index.cfm for more details.

Q: I think I’m all about finished up. When is the ideal time to submit? Am I at a disadvantage because I applied later than usual?
A: APPLY EARLY! You can submit your AMCAS application in early to mid-June, and that is what you should aim for, no matter when the actual medical school deadlines are. Most schools evaluate applicants on a rolling basis, so naturally, it is best to have your application complete when there are many seats to fill. Also, you will find it easier emotionally to be one of the first to have interviews and acceptances, rather than one of the last.

Q: And…it’s sent! What happens after I submit?
A: You submit your AMCAS application, and have all your transcripts sent to AMCAS. They process your application and then send it on to the schools that you indicate. When they receive your AMCAS application, most schools will automatically send you a secondary application, which should be completed and sent back within 2 weeks. A handful of schools only send secondaries to applicants who make it through an initial cut. Once schools have received your completed secondary application and your MCATs, they will evaluate your application and decide whether to invite you for an interview. After the interview, they will accept you, reject you, or put you on "hold" or on a wait list. This may happen within a few weeks, or you may not hear anything at all for months.

Q: I’ve really been working hard and I just cannot afford all of these costs. What is the AMCAS Fee Assistance Program (FAP)?
A: Applying to medical school is very expensive. AMCAS charges approximately $160 for the first school and $33 for each additional school that you apply to, and most schools then have additional fees as part of their secondary applications. You should plan on spending about $2,300 on application fees alone. If you have extreme financial limitations, you can apply for a waiver of those fees, but waivers are rarely granted. You must also plan on the cost of traveling to interviews.

The waiting game

Q: I submitted my AMCAS last week. How long does it take to get verified?
A: During the Verification process, AMCAS verifies your course work against your official transcripts, ensuring that the course information entered in your application matches that on your official transcripts. This process usually takes 4-6 weeks.

Q:I received a secondary application the morning after I submitted. What is a secondary application and when do I receive them?
A: Once you submit your primary application, the secondary application process begins. At this stage, each school follows its own process of reviewing applications, interviewing applicants, and making offers to them, within certain guidelines set by the national organizations of medical colleges. Many medical schools have individual applications that supplement the primary application, referred to as secondary applications.

Some medical schools contact all applicants automatically inviting them to submit secondary applications, while others do an initial review before selecting only their top candidates to invite to submit secondary applications. Some medical schools may contact you by email and have you fill out an online secondary application, whereas others will send you secondary forms by postal mail. If you have questions you should check the school's website for additional instructions on their procedures, or call or e-mail the admissions office at the school.

You should be aware that many schools will not review your file until all secondary application materials, including letters of recommendation, have been received. In essence what this means is that you have not actually applied to the school until you have completed your secondary application, even if you selected the school months earlier on your primary application.

You should endeavor to complete the secondary applications as quickly as possible so that your application can be moved into the next stage of evaluation. Many schools will give you a deadline to return the secondary applications, but do not wait until the deadlines to submit materials. The sooner you return your secondary application the sooner you will move into the next stage of evaluation. Completing and returning the secondary application quickly signals your sincere interest in the school to the admissions committee. Remember that schools do not wait on late applications to fill their classes.

Many great applicants do not do as well in the admissions process because they fail to follow-up in a timely manner. Applicants who submit their primary applications early in the summer often gain an advantage in the admissions process, but if you subsequently submit your secondary applications and letters of recommendation late, you have lost all the advantage you had in the beginning as an early applicant, as your application will now be reviewed after students who submitted their secondary applications and recommendation letters before you. It can really be to your advantage to follow-up in a timely manner and stay determined throughout the entire application process.

Q: My friend who submitted June 2nd already has three interviews lined up and I am not even verified yet. What does it mean to have ‘no news?’
A: No news could mean that their is a glitch in your AMCAS application or that your secondary was not submitted, or submitted with incomplete information. Check and see that all aspects of your application were completed appropriately. If there is some doubt as to whether a school has your completed portfolio, it is okay to call them and ask if they have your full application. They will likely be busy and not particularly nice to you on the phone, but that's okay. If the school has the completed application and has taken a few months to get back to you, focus on other things, such as other schools that have offered you interviews. Sometimes you will be offered an interview many months after a completed application was submitted. In other words, don't freak out, just be patient.

Q: I feel like it is getting late in interview season and haven’t heard at all from some schools. How long does interview season run?
A: Typically from early September through March. The earliest a medical school can admit an applicant is October 15, and the latest they can admit is the first day of medical school! Most medical schools begin in August.

Applying from a Cal State school

UCSF, the top medical school on the West Coast, has a number of graduates of the CSU system. If you are a qualified applicant (GPA, MCAT, extracurriculars), the top medical schools will consider your application. That said, undergraduate name recognition is important in applying to any graduate school. Performing well on the MCAT - a standardized exam required of all applicants - is a way of objectively demonstrating to medical schools that you are a qualified applicant and as competitive as any other student. If you are a good student, there is a place for you at either an allopathic or osteopathic school in the United States. You will get an excellent education at ANY medical school and become a great doctor.

Other Useful FAQs and Resources

Don't forget the numerous powerpoints developed by UCSF medical students for CSUMB undergraduates.

StudentDoctor.net is a highly neurotic, but comprehensive, resource on the medical school application process. The Interview Feedback forum (
http://www.studentdoctor.net/schools/?view=allopathic) contains up-to-date lists of questions one could face during the formal interview process. Otherwise, use this website with a grain of salt: some of these pre-med students are too stressed out to take seriously.

Swarthmore maintains a very useful and easy to read pre-medical guide. They also have a list of useful websites regarding other pre-health avenues.

A quick google search for "medical school FAQs" yields some useful resources. Beware as some of the information may be out of date, and remember to double-check any fact that could influence your application timeline or process (i.e., double check deadlines to make sure they are correct!).