Princeton Review Medical School Essays

Medical schools share a general application process, but individual schools can vary significantly in how they evaluate candidates. Here’s what you need to know about your primary and secondary med school applications to stay on track.

Applying to Medical School

Most U.S. medical schools participate in the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS), a centralized, third-party organization that administers and processes medical school applications. The majority of medical schools admit students on a rolling basis, which means that spaces in the program are offered to qualified students until all the spots are filled.

Primary Application

  • First, you'll submit a single application, usually through one of three centralized online application services:
    • AMCAS (for MD admissions)
    • TMDSAS (for Texas Medical Schools)
    • AACOMAS (for DO admissions
  • Your primary application provides medical schools with enough information to make an initial screening of applicants. A completed primary application includes:
  • Each medical school sets its own final deadline for applicants submitting information through the application service. Regardless of these deadlines, our med school admission experts recommend you submit your application as early as possible. Applications that are submitted early in the cycle are reviewed first and therefore have a better chance of acceptance at almost all schools.

  • Procrastinators take note: these application services are serious about their deadlines. If an application is late, you'll get it back without a refund.

  • If any of your chosen schools have interest, they will invite you to submit a secondary application.

Secondary Applications

  • After reviewing your AMCAS file, the admissions committees at your med schools will either reject you or send you a secondary application. Some schools send all of their applicants a secondary. Others go through an initial cut that is usually based entirely on GPA and MCAT scores.

  • Unless you've decided not to apply to that school, you should complete and return each secondary application as you receive it. Most med schools will reject any application that arrives after the deadline.

  • Secondaries typically include a variety of essays on assigned topics. You could be asked to discuss your favorite novel, describe a leadership role you've taken, or detail your greatest academic achievement. You will also be asked to submit letters of recommendation if you did not do so through AMCAS.

  • If the cost of sending back secondaries is prohibitive, you can call the school and request a fee waiver. If you were eligible for a waiver from AMCAS, for example, you will probably be eligible for a waiver from individual schools.


  • Once the committee reviews your secondary med school application, they will do one of three things: reject you, invite you to the campus for an interview, or hold your application until after the first round of interviews. Final decisions are usually made after the interview.

  • The standard U.S. interview season is between September and February (occasionally March).
  • Med school interview policies and formats vary. At some schools you'll interview one-on-one, and at others you'll interview by panel.

  • The interview is another opportunity to stand out to med schools! Practice with our list of classic medical school interview questions.

  • A school might decide that they want to see what the rest of the applicant pool looks like before they admit you. If a med school puts you on a "hold list," you can can send in supplementary material (a short one-page description of recent academic or extracurricular achievements) to bolster your application.

Alternate List

Once all the med school class places have been filled, additional qualified candidates are placed on the alternate list and are granted a space only as accepted students decline their acceptance. While it’s rare, some students do drop out of the program in the initial days which can open up additional places.

Med School Application Services

Most U.S. medical schools participate in AMCAS. But there are other application services you may need to be aware of depending on the types of med schools you are applying to and their locations.

What Is It?American Medical College Application Service Texas Medical & Dental Schools Application Service American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service
Who Uses It?Applicants to most allopathic medical schoolsApplicants to medical, dental, and veterinary schools in TexasApplicants to most osteopathic medical schools
Important Deadlines
  • May 2: AMCAS opens and begins accepting transcripts
  • June 1: AMCAS begins accepting application submissions
  • June 30: AMCAS sends first batch of processed applications to med schools
  • August 1: Submission deadline for Early Decision Programs
  • May 1: TMDSAS opens
  • August 1: Submission deadline for Early Decision 
  • September 29: Submission deadline for application to medical, dental and vet programs
The application cycle opens in May and closes the following April.

Deadlines vary by college so be sure to confirm deadlines for the schools to which you are applying.
Fees$160 for the first school, $38 for each additional school. $150 flat fee for all applicants regardless of the number of schools applying to$195 for the first school, $40 for each additional school. 

Want to get an edge over the crowd?

Our admissions experts know what it takes it get into med school. Get the customized strategy and guidance you need to help achieve your goals.

Med School Admission Counseling

The Staff of The Princeton Review

For more than 35 years, students and families have trusted The Princeton Review to help them get into their dream schools. We help students succeed in high school and beyond by giving them resources for better grades, better test scores, and stronger college applications. Follow us on Twitter: @ThePrincetonRev.

Even if you are naturally charming and charismatic, resist the temptation to wing your medical school interview. You will be miles ahead if you have already given any serious thought to common interview questions beforehand.

Our list of classic medical interview questions represent all the questions an interviewer might pose from your decision to pursue medicine to your views on universal healthcare. The key is to think through your answers to the more difficult questions here before you walk through the door.

Questions about your Education

  1. Why did you choose your undergraduate major?
  2. How have you tried to achieve breadth in your undergraduate curriculum?
  3. How has your undergraduate research experience, if any, better prepared you for a medical career?
  4. How have the jobs, volunteer opportunities, or extracurricular experiences that you have had better prepared you for the responsibilities of being a physician?
  5. How do you envision using your medical education?

Questions about Your Character and Personality

  1. What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
  2. What travels have you taken and what exposure to other cultures have you had?
  3. Thinking of examples from your recent past, how would you assess your empathy and compassion?
  4. As a pre-med, what skills have you learned to help manage your time and relieve stress?
  5. If you could be granted three wishes for making the world/society/ your community a better place, what would they be and why (or, If you were given a million dollars to achieve three goals, what would you work on and why)?
  6. What do you do for fun?
  7. What is “success” in your opinion? After 20 years as a physician, what kind of “success” would you hope to have achieved? Please explain
  8. What qualities do you look for in a physician? Can you provide an example of a physician who embodies any of these ideals? How do they do this?
  9. What kind of experiences have you had working with sick people? Have these experiences taught you anything that you didn’t know beforehand?
  10. Do you have any family members or role models who are physicians?
  11. What family members, friends, or other individuals have been influential in your decision to pursue a medical career?
  12. If you could invite four people from the past to dinner, who would they be, and why would you invite them? What would you talk about?
  13. Does your academic record reflect any major challenges? If so, what are they and why did they occur?

Medicine-Related Questions

  1. What excites you about medicine in general?
  2. What do you know about the current trends in our nation’s healthcare system?
  3. What do you believe to be some of the most pressing health issues today? Why?
  4. What do you feel are the negative or restrictive aspects of medicine from a professional standpoint?
  5. If you had to choose between clinical and academic medicine as a profession, which would you pick? What do you feel you might lose by being forced to choose?

Society Related Questions

  1. What do you feel are the social responsibilities of a physician?
  2. What do you consider an important/the most important social problem facing the United States today and why?
  3. How do you think national health insurance affects physicians, patients, and society?
  4. In what manner and to what degree do you stay in touch with current events?
  5. What books, films, or other media come to mind as having been particularly important to your sciences/non-sciences education?
  6. Can you think of any examples in our society when healthcare is a right? When is it a privilege? When is it not clear?

Questions about Ethics

  1. Are you aware of any current controversies in the area of medical ethics? List and discuss some of these.
  2. Have you personally encountered any moral dilemmas to date? Of what nature?
  3. How do you feel about euthanasia or medically assisted suicide?
  4. What different feelings and issues might you experience with a terminally ill patient, as opposed to other patients?
  5. How would you feel about treating a patient who has tested positive for HIV?
  6. What are some of the ethical issues that our society considers in regard to teenage pregnancy?
  7. Assume there are limited resources available and you must make decisions in a major emergency with a wide assortment of patients from all ages, backgrounds, and degree of injury. Assume also that there is no “right answer” to this question, only considered and unconsidered responses. Who would you direct to receive the treatment first and why.

Questions about Diversity

  1. If you are a minority candidate, how do you feel your background uniquely prepares you to be, and will influence your role as, a physician?
  2. If you are a woman, how has your gender impacted your decision to pursue a medical career?
  3. If you are not a minority, how might you best meet the needs of a multiethnic, multicultural patient population?
  4. If you are economically disadvantaged or have limited financial means, how has this adversity shaped you?
  5. To what extent do you feel that you owe a debt to your fellow man? To what extent do you owe a debt to those less fortunate than yourself? Please explain.

Questions about Medical School

  1. What special qualities do you feel you possess that set you apart from other medical school candidates? What makes you unique or different as a medical school candidate?
  2. What kind of medical schools are you applying to, and why?
  3. Pick any specific medical school to which you are applying, and tell the interviewer about it. What makes this school particularly desirable to you?
  4. What general and specific skills would you hope an ideal medical school experience would give you? How might your ideal school achieve that result?

Questions about Your Motivation

  1. Discuss your decision to pursue medicine. When did you decide to become an MD, and why?
  2. Why did you decide to choose medicine and not some other field where you can help others, such as nursing, physical therapy, pharmacology, psychology, education, or social work?
  3. How have you tested your motivation to become an MD? Please explain.
  4. What will you do if you are not accepted to medical school this year? Have you an alternative career plan?
  5. Is there anything else we have not covered that you feel the interviewer should know about you or your interest in becoming a doctor?

Want to get an edge over the crowd?

Our admissions experts know what it takes it get into med school. Get the customized strategy and guidance you need to help achieve your goals.

Med School Admission Counseling

The Staff of The Princeton Review

For more than 35 years, students and families have trusted The Princeton Review to help them get into their dream schools. We help students succeed in high school and beyond by giving them resources for better grades, better test scores, and stronger college applications. Follow us on Twitter: @ThePrincetonRev.

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