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The Anatomy of Medical School Applications

There are many components to medical school applications, but to sum it up, these are the 3 main components of a medical school application that you must complete or partake in before receiving a decision from admissions committees.

  1. Primary Applications

  2. Secondary Applications

  3. Interviews

Before entering an application season, it is important to be knowledgable regarding the different components of medical school application, and what is included and required throughout this process. Thus, let us begin this conversation.

The Primary Application

The primary application is the what EVERY medical school you plan to apply to will receive and where you will designate which medical school you would like to apply to. Thus, nothing in your primary application should be tailored towards a particular medical school because every medical school you apply to will see this document.

The primary application is completed and submitted through at least one of 3 application portals.

  • AMCAS (MD Schools)

  • AACOMAS (DO Schools)

  • TMDSAS (Texas Medical Schools)

The primary application contains your...

  • Biographic information

  • Transcripts (undergraduate, graduate, post-bacc)

  • MCAT scores

  • Work and Activities section

  • Personal Statement

  • Letters of Recommendation

The two written parts of the primary application where applicants have an opportunity to share the experiences they have participated in over the years and help answer the quintessential question of "Why Medicine?", are the Work and Activities section and your Personal Statement.

Work and Activities Section

The work and activities section is a part of the primary application that allows students to share what kind of experiences (such as shadowing, research, volunteering, work, post presentations, conferences, leadership roles, teaching, etc.) they have participated in.

Specifically, this is an opportunity to share what you were responsible for when partaking in these activities, what you learned/gained, and how (if applicable) they have inspired you to pursue medicine or how the skills or lessons you learned will be valuable as a medical student/physician. Do not merely list these qualities, but maximize your character space to highlight your strengths and tie in medicine.

Whether your are applying via AMCAS or AACOMAS, there are different requirements/criteria to follow, as shown below.

Personal Statement

Your personal statement is a KEY component of your medical school application. Along with the work and activities section, it is another grand opportunity to provide medical school admissions committees reasons they want to meet you during an interview. It differs from the Work and Activities section because the personal statement is not another opportunity to re-write your resume/CV. In fact, that is the opposite of what you should do. Instead, you should use this opportunity allow admissions committees to gain insight into who you are and your motivations for pursuing medicine. Everyone, regardless of whether you initially think so or not, has a unique story to share about themselves. We may not all have an "aha" moment, but we had an initial spark of interest regarding medicine at one point, and experiences that followed that solidified this desire.

Do not leave the personal statement until the very last minute. This is something that you should begin drafting months in advance prior to the application cycle, and have peers, family and mentors review prior to submission.

The Secondary Applications

After medical schools receive your primary application, the admissions committee at each medical school with either reject your or send you a secondary application (some schools send secondaries to every applicant, while others have a screening protocol).

Secondaries tend to include a variety of essays on topics such as...

  • Why do you want to receive your medical education at "X" school?

  • What do you view to be a physician's role in a community?

  • How do you think you fit in with our school's mission statement?

  • How will you enhance our school's diversity?

  • If you took a gap year, how did you spend it?

  • Describe a significant challenge you experienced and how did you overcome it?

It is during secondary application where you market yourself to specific medical schools! Thus, do your research on the school's mission statement, research department, curriculum, student life, and service-oriented activities to find events or aspects of the school you think would best suit you and make you an awesome candidate for their school!

When you receive secondaries from medical schools, you should try to send them back as soon as possible. However, do not risk the quality of your secondary essays for the sake of speediness. You are trying to impress schools, secondaries littered with grammatical errors and lackluster essays won't help you even if you send them back 48 hours after receiving them.

Along with medical school specific essays, many secondary applications also include other requirements such as CASPer exams that are used to assess you on a more personal level.


CASPer is a form of situational judgement test. Situational judgement tests (SJTs) are a type of psychological test which presents the test-taker with realistic, hypothetical scenarios and may ask the individual what they would do in the dilemma and why they would do it. Situational judgement tests tend to determine behavioral tendencies, assessing how an individual will behave in a certain situation, and knowledge instruction, which evaluates the effectiveness of possible responses.

CASPer assess for...

  • Collaboration

  • Communication

  • Empathy

  • Equity

  • Ethics

  • Motivation

  • Problem solving

  • Professionalism

  • Resilience

  • Self-awareness

The CASPer exam is made up of 12 sections that contain either video- or word-based scenarios and 3 open-ended questions for you to respond to. Test takers have 5-minuted to type their responses to all 3 questions. This exam takes a total of ~90 minutes to complete with an option 15-minute break halfway through.


Only after you have submitted both your primary and secondary applications, will a medical school assess your application and decide whether or not they will invite you for an interview. There are 3 things that can happen at this point:

  1. Invited to interview

  2. Deferred for later review/put on hold

  3. Rejected

If you are invited to interview at a medical school, be incredibly proud of yourself because this is a huge accomplishment in it of itself and means that medical schools like you enough to meet you. Interview days are exciting because a majority of the day will revolve around you getting to learn more about the school and it's curriculum, its resources, extracurriculars, meeting current students, and seeing whether this school would be a good fit for you. But, just as much as a school is trying to impress you, you are still trying to impress them. Thus, you should prepare for interviews.

There are usually 2 types of interview styles: Traditional or MMI.


An MMI, or Multiple Mini Interviews, is an interview format that consists of a series of 6-10 interview stations, each focused on a different question of scenario. The MMI is designed to measure competencies like oral communication, social and non-verbal skills, and teamwork that are important indicators of how an applicant will interact with patients and colleagues as physicians.

The MMI is a way of assessing your thought process and situational aptitude rather than content knowledge. There are 3 main types of MMI questions...

  1. Ethical scenarios (with or without acting)

    1. "You are a physician who has been taking care of a 45-year-old Native American man who has three teenage children. He has been on dialysis for five years and is now in dire need of a kidney transplant. Fortunately, he is now near the top of the list and is called into the hospital for tests. He then decides to go home to partake in a healing ceremony, a tradition that is very important to him and his family, after hearing this great news; however, after he has left you receive word that a kidney has become available. What do you do?" (Source: Shemmassian Consulting)

  2. Character development (with or without acting)

    1. "What is your greatest weakness?"

  3. Teamwork

    1. You may be asked to reconstruct a pre-built structure using Legos or Jenga and work with teammates to complete it.

Following your interview day, you will await for admissions committees to make a final decision regarding your application (whether you are accepted, put on a waiting list, deferred or rejected).

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