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Frequently Asked Questions about Applying


Q: Should I take the MCAT/DAT for practice?

A: Practice tests are available online. You should use them. It is better to only take the actual test when you feel prepared. Programs will see all your attempts so it is best to only take the test when you have studied for it.

Q: Should I take an MCAT/DAT test prep course?

A: This is entirely up to you. Generally, you can prepare on your own with a commercial review book and the online practice tests and save yourself a lot of money. However, this works best for students who have the motivation and control to make themselves study for an hour or two every day without fail in preparation for the MCAT/DAT.

If you would have trouble forcing yourself to do this, a test preparation course might be helpful as it keeps you on task with homework assignments and practice exams built in. At about $1,800, you should also consider the cost factor. Applying to medical school will cost from $1,000-$2,000, so you need to decide if a test preparation course is in your budget.

Kaplan and other commercial test prep providers do have some scholarships and offer loans for their courses. With or without a test prep class, remember that preparing can take 15 hours a week so it is like having another class in your schedule. Plan accordingly.

Q: Should I retake the MCAT/DAT?

A:  If you are below national average in any section, you might want to consider retaking the test.  But there are many variables. You need to think about some of the following:

  • How well did you prepare?
  • Are you motivated to review/practice again?
  • How do you tend to perform on standardized tests?
  • How competitive are other aspects of your application?
  • Where would you like to go to medical/dental school?
  • What happened to others who re-took the test?  You can find this information for the MCAT at the Association of American Medical College's website.
  • What opportunities would you miss out on while taking time to prepare again?  Could you strengthen your candidacy in other ways?

Other aptitude tests are trickier to interpret and not viewed in the somewhat standard way the MCAT and DAT are seen. Your best bet to help you decide on this is to talk to a pre-health advisor and/or contact admissions offices in the programs you are interested in.

Q: Does taking the September MCAT hurt my chances of being offered an interview?

A: No. However, taking the MCAT in September will delay review of your application.

Q: Will the January MCAT be accepted?

A: In general, MCATs taken after September are not accepted. Please review the test policies of the schools to which you intend to apply.

Q: What are the oldest MCAT scores accepted?

A: In general, MCAT scores are good for two years. Please review the test policies of the schools to which you intend to apply.


Q: When should I apply?

A: Applications are accepted through AMCAS from June 1 – Dec. 1. Most schools will review applications as they become complete. It is best to apply as early as possible.

Q: I’ve applied through AMCAS. When will I receive my secondary application?

A:  For schools with automatic secondaries, you will receive the information as soon as your verified application is received from AMCAS. For schools that filter before secondary application, it might take several weeks. Please review the secondary application policies and practices of the schools to which you intend to apply.

Q: What are primary and secondary/supplementary applications?

A: Your primary application to professional school will likely be completed online. Most professional schools participate in a centralized application service that hosts the primary application. The primary application will include biographic information, lists of your activities and awards, list of all the schools you have attended and all the college level courses you have taken, a personal statement and a list of the schools to which you will apply. The applications "go live" in mid-May. Generally you have about a month to work on the application before you can submit it. Your credit card will be charged once you hit the submit button. It is important to apply early, but it is equally important that your application be error-free. You need to edit very carefully.

As part of your primary application, you will print a transcript request form for each school at which you have taken college-level courses and turn that form in to the appropriate registrar's offices to have copies of your transcripts mailed to the application service directly. If you open a letter file in the Career Services Center, your letters will be transmitted for you.

After you complete your primary application online and it is sent out to your chosen schools, the schools take over the application process. They will contact you directly (often by email, so use your UC Merced email address or another one that sounds professional –– do not have them emailing you at 

Some schools send out secondaries to all applicants. Others are more selective about who is given a secondary. This information is available in the school’s website. You will need to follow their directions carefully and return your secondary materials on time. Most secondaries will also require more money to be sent directly to the school to continue review of your application.

Schools have differing policies on supplemental applications. Some ask you to send additional materials at the same time you submit your online application. Others want you to send further materials only when they request them. Still others combine both approaches. Most supplemental applications ask for more money, essays, and sometimes transcripts.

Q: Will I be notified when my file is complete?

A: No. For most schools, you will need to check your application’s status online through their web portal.

Q: How will I know if I am invited for an interview?

A: For most schools, you will receive an official letter and/or e-mail notification. You may also see your status on-line.

Post-baccalaureate Programs

Q: What are post-baccalaureate programs?

A: Post-baccalaureate programs (most often referred to as post-bacs) are essentially graduate-level bridge programs for students who need to work on their academic credentials before attending medical or dental school or other health programs. Some students choose these programs before applying to a professional program. Others decide to apply after not being accepted to a professional program. Several types exist: academic record-enhancement programs, underrepresented* student programs and programs for people changing careers (offering undergraduate prerequisite courses).

These programs also differ in the types of degrees awarded. Some grant certificates, others offer a traditional master's degree (generally two years, require a thesis, academic focus on "hard" science), and some are special master's programs (one to two years, no thesis and focused on either applied or medical science).

For more information on post baccalaureate programs, visit the AAMC's website.

Things to consider with post-bac programs:

  • Think critically about the gaps in your application record. Is your science GPA at least a 3.3? If not, one of these programs might work for you. If your overall GPA is a problem, you might need some other undergraduate non-science credits to help your GPA.
  • You might also need to consider replacing some of your undergraduate grades instead of a post-bac program.
  • Ask yourself: Would my record and my knowledge base benefit from a year of two of intensive science study?
  • Check what you can do with the degree if you don't get accepted to medical/dental school following the program.
  • Think about timing. If you are applying to professional school during your first year of post-bac study, you will not have grades in time to show the professional school any improvement.
  • Talk to the admissions offices at medical/dental schools if you are not accepted. They are generally willing to have a frank discussion of your application and tell you what they would like you to work on.

Q: How is underrepresented defined?

A: Some post-bac programs are intended for underrepresented students. These programs define this differently, but they often base it on students coming from medically underserved communities. Being medically underserved is often based on socioeconomic level and/or ethnicity. Medical and dental schools also use the concept of a disadvantaged status, which they define as being from a medically underserved population and/or being on state and/or federal assistance.


Q: What about international medical schools?

A: International or offshore medical schools include those in the Caribbean and Mexico and a few in Europe. Students who are not admitted to U.S. programs sometimes don't want to wait to apply again or have already applied several times and sometimes consider these programs. Some are better than others. One study of physicians brought up on disciplinary charges found that more of them had attended offshore schools, so you do want to be careful here. Some things to consider:

  • What is the gap in your application that has prevented you from being accepted? Is it something you could consider fixing then reapplying to U.S. schools?
  • Is a poor MCAT score the reason you didn't get in to a stateside school? If you have problems with standardized tests, an offshore program might not be the best place for you. In order to get the residency you want, you will need to score especially well on the board exams, which are standardized tests. These will be especially important coming from an offshore program.
  • Will you be able to be away from family for extended periods? 
  • Do you feel strong enough to handle the cultural differences and different rhythm of life in another country? It may look like paradise, but living in other countries can sometimes be frustrating.
  • Have you checked out the first-time pass rate of board examinees?
  • Have you checked out the financial aid situation thoroughly?
  • Are you considering primary care? About one in four of all new primary-care physicians are coming from Caribbean schools these days.

Q: Where do I get more information about medical/dental schools?

A: The "Medical School Admission Requirements" is a book published annually by the American Association of Medical Colleges. Besides a great deal of general information, the book includes details about each medical school including the number of instate/out-of-state students they admit, the median GPA and MCAT scores and the required prerequisite courses. You can purchase a copy of the book through the AAMC or through outside vendors such as Amazon (just type in MSAR).

Similar information on osteopathic schools is available online.

Dental school information is in the "ADEA Official Guide to Dental Schools" published annually by the ADEA.

Q: Can I go to a U.S. medical school as a non-U.S. citizen?

A: It is very difficult. Only a small number of international students are granted access to U.S. medical schools. You should research the process very carefully before applying. Many medical schools that say they take international students, for example, mean they will consider students from Canada and only Canada. Others want two to four years of tuition up front. That is a hefty sum to be able to set aside.

Dental schools are often more open to international students and simply consider you as an out-of-state student if it is a state school. Still, when you look at acceptance numbers in the "ADEA Official Guide to Dental Schools," few international students are listed.

Please review the policies of the schools to which you intend to apply.

Q: Can an accepted applicant request deferral of matriculation?

A:  Deferrals may be possible.  Please review the policies of the schools to which you intend to apply.