Most people would rather do just about anything else than go through the involved process of filling out an AMCAS (American Medical College Application Service) application. However, this is an important standardized form—as are the AAOMCAS for doctor of osteopathic medicine (D.O.) applicants and the TMDSAS for applicants to Texas schools—so to improve your chances of preparing a competitive application, it would behoove you to become familiar with common reasons many of these applications don't even make it beyond the first screen.
Completing the AMCAS application, along with applications from the other standardized application services, can seem like a mostly tedious exercise for medical school applicants. Having to send in all of your college transcripts, enter your grades manually, and describe the duties of your extracurricular activities can get old pretty quickly. However, it's a system that's not going to disappear anytime soon.
Applications to medical school get rejected for a multitude of reasons. However, there are three key reasons AMCAS (and other) applications are thrown out every year.
1. Grades: Though medical schools value individual applicants' personal qualities, the reality is that schools place great importance on your academic record.
Some schools (such as the University of California system's medical schools) screen applicants based on minimum GPA and MCAT scores before secondary applications are sent. Applicants with disadvantaged status or other special circumstances may be specially selected for interview, but they need to be prepared to address any perceived academic shortcomings, without seeming defensive.
If you had other personal circumstances occur that resulted in a dip in grades, showing an upward trajectory in GPA in later years can help that period of time be seen as nothing more than a blip on the radar.
2. Extracurricular activities: Medical schools like to see that applicants not only know what they're pursuing (i.e., the field of medicine), but also that they've demonstrated some commitment, and ideally some leadership, while they've been undergraduates.
Though applicants don't need to choose a specific specialty, they need to not only be able to talk about their aspirations in an informed way, but they also ideally need to show a longitudinal track record of involvement in activities. If not, it could lead to a "slippery slope" on your application—leading to weak AMCAS mini-statements, and even worse, a weak, forgettable personal statement.
3. Choice of schools: Unfortunately, every year, there are students who don't apply to a wide enough or appropriate range of schools for their record. For example, an applicant with a 3.4 GPA and a 30 MCAT score who limits his or her applications to Harvard Medical School, Duke University School of Medicine, and Stanford University School of Medicine may be left empty-handed in April.
Students who may not have access to premedical advising services may want to consult the AAMC's (Association of American Medical Colleges) Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) webpage to get an idea of the range of schools to which they should apply.
Students should always apply to a few of their dream schools, but they should also consult the MSAR, or individual schools' websites, to determine a list of five to seven additional schools at which they would be competitive grade-wise. Students should also create a list of three or more schools at which their academics are on the very high end, to maximize the chance of securing an acceptance.
With medical school admissions growing more competitive every year, it is important to be mindful of the most common and potentially avoidable reasons applications are rejected. That way, yours will be less likely to end up in the rejection pile.
Ibrahim Busnaina, M.D. is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and coauthor of "Examkrackers' How to Get Into Medical School." He has been consulting with prospective medical school applicants, with a special focus on minority and other nontraditional candidates, since 2006.
Corrected on 2/14/12: An earlier version of this post misstated what information medical schools can obtain through AMCAS.