AMCAS Series- Developing a School List

I think this was probably the hardest part of the cycle for me. Previously, I had been awarded a fee waiver through AAMC’s Fee Assistance Program and I knew my plan of attack had to be specific and meticulous. As a new applicant, I had no idea what lay ahead. Sure I had heard of well-known schools, but I had no idea which schools to choose. All in all, I found a method that worked for me and allowed me to apply to schools where I felt I would be a good fit. Thought I’d share it with you.

dear applicant

I’m sure you feel the pressure. Some of you may feel like Katniss Everdeen atop her station as she waits nervously for the 10-second clock to wind down.

10… Am I really ready to apply?



7… Are my stats good enough?


5… “Oh I hope that C in Biochemistry doesn’t get me screened out” 


3… Am

2… I

1… Ready for this?

Like Everdeen, you understand that leaving your platform too soon without proper preparation has detrimental consequences, and if you’re too late well… prepare for an all out battle against the masses. So how can we help you to create your strongest application? How do we help in creating a targeted school list that will help to increase the odds that are in your favor?

Before you do anything, STOP!

Yes, I know that was a bit dramatic, but go with me here. I want you to stop, and think about why you want to go into medicine. Are you interested in serving rural or underserved areas? Are you interested in dealing with minority health disparities? Is there a specific population you’d like to work with? Do you want to go into academic medicine? Would you like to pursue a joint degree?

After your moment of reflection, you’ll notice that you have developed and become aware of your personal mission. With your mission in mind, grab a copy of MSAR and check out a few schools. Are there schools whose mission aligns with yours? Remember, the name of the AMCAS game is “fit.” You want to make sure that you are a great fit at the schools you are applying to. I mean, you wouldn’t apply to a job without making sure the job description/qualifications are ones that you can and are happy to meet, right?


If you have time, create a spreadsheet of the schools you’re interested in.


  • School Name
  • Quantifiable data (MCAT/GPA percentiles)
  • In-state/Out-of-state acceptance rates (Some schools do not accept OOS applicants or accept very few)
  • Coursework requirements (This can be a yes/no section where you list whether or not you will meet criteria.)
  • BUZZ Words (These are words that stand out in a school’s mission. I’ll talk more about BUZZ Words in a later post. Stay tuned!)
  • Primary/Secondary deadlines
  • FAP acceptance (Does the school waive secondary fees?)
  • Deposits upon acceptance (Is a deposit required to hold your acceptance? Is it refundable etc.)

It is perfectly fine to research schools and feel like you’re a fit at 80 of them. (I did it lol!) Remember that this is a list that can, and most likely will, be shortened before you submit your primary application. If possible, set a limit for yourself in regards to the number of schools on your list. (You don’t want to write 50 mediocre secondary applications, when 20 secondaries of substance might have fared better.)

Keep me posted on how things are going, and may the odds be EVER in your favor 🙂

Your first step. Source

Your first step. Source

8 thoughts on “AMCAS Series- Developing a School List

  1. Melissa says:

    Love this! Coming up with my list of schools has been difficult because I’ll read their missions and come away feeling like they all sound similar. I’m interested to hear what you have to say on buzz words. I do have my massive spreadsheet to record and organize schools’ pros and cons. 😛

    Liked by 1 person

    • Operation: Med Student says:

      I’m telling you the spreadsheet is absolutely golden! 🙂 Yeah, I felt that way as well. A lot of schools will sound relatively similar, so you’ll have to consider the additional factors. That’s why it’s important to list the GPA/MCAT percentiles etc. Also, once you’ve developed that primary list of schools you can visit the school websites and see if they have programs that will help you to fulfill your personal mission. For example, are there student interests groups? Are there ample amounts of research opportunities? Would you be happy there geographically? Those are also things to consider.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Melissa says:

        Thanks for the tips! One of the factors I’m considering is whether the school has a student run clinic or not. I love that at some schools, even M1 students get to provide care for those who otherwise might not have healthcare access. Location is also important to me; I really hope to end up in a large city, but I’m sure I can adapt to different settings. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Melissa says:

        Not sure how to reply directly to your comment below, but yes I am! I attended college in Los Angeles, and I’m from another big CA city.


      • Operation: Med Student says:

        Nice! Well, I hope this post was helpful in terms of giving you tools on how to generate a good list that meets your needs. I know that being a Cali native can be difficult, because many of our schools do not show in-state preference, but I am sure that you will do well this cycle!

        Good luck, and feel free to ask me questions if you have any!


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