April 30, 2020

The Difference Between AMCAS vs AACOMAS Medical School Applications

AMCAS, AACOMAS, TMDSAS
Ryan Karmouta MD, MBA

AMCAS VS AACOMAS: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

If you are a prospective medical school student, you probably know that the AMCAS is the standard application for allopathic medical schools in the US.

However, if you're considering applying to osteopathic (DO) programs, AACOMAS is the equivalent version.

So what is the AACOMAS exactly and how does it differ from AMCAS?

WHAT IS THE AACOMAS?

As you may have been able to insinuate, the AACOMAS stands for the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service. It is the centralized system for those applying to osteopathic medical schools in the United States. undefined

SHOULD YOU APPLY TO OSTEOPATHIC MEDICAL SCHOOLS?

Well now we're getting a little off-track. The short-answer is: heavily consider it!  Osteopathic programs are excellent options to becoming a physician.  You learn the same medicine and additional osteopathic principles. The statistics for acceptance are typically lower than allopathic (MD) equivalents. Check out more on what osteopathic medical schools are all about and whether you should apply to both.

THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN AACOMAS AND AMCAS APPLICATION


There are 3 key differences between the DO (AACOMAS) and MD (AMCAS) applications. In essence, the applications are very similar; so similar that if you already have AMCAS almost completed, you can repurpose and reword a lot of the material to fit the AACOMAS application guidelines or vice versa. If you are planning to apply to both, here are 3 key differences that you should be aware of divided into 3 main sections:

  1. Letters of Recommendation
  2. Activities
  3. Personal Statement
aacomas vs amcas

YOUR LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION MAY BE A LITTLE DIFFERENT

AACOMAS (DO)

The AACOMAS application typically opens in early May every year and releases the application to medical schools some time in June. Letters may be submitted electronically through the AACOMAS application or directly to the schools using alternative services such as Interfolio. The letter of recommendation you upload goes to every school and you cannot choose which letter goes to a specific school. Although most schools require 1 letter from an MD or DO, it is highly recommended you choose 1 letter from a DO physician to show schools that you have some exposure to osteopathic medicine or have shadowed a DO physician. 

Many programs have strict guidelines for submitting letters and vary from different schools. Look at specific schools you are interested in to make sure you are submitting the letters according to the school’s guidelines. For example Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine requires at least 2 letters of recommendation while Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in California requires at least 3 letters of recommendation. Letters may be submitted electronically through the AACOMAS application or directly to the schools using alternative services such as Interfolio. For help in getting started with letters of recommendation for your application, check out this starter guide

AMCAS (MD)

AMCAS also typically opens in early May and begins transmitting mid-June. Letter writers can upload letters electronically via the AMCAS Letter Writer Application or Interfolio. Like AACOMAS, the number of letters depends on the school, but typically requires three letters of recommendation, with some schools accepting as many as five. For example, Stanford requires 3 letters of recommendation while UCSF allows you to submit up to 5 letters of recommendation. You can choose which schools get specific letters of recommendation (unlike AACOMAS).

THE WORKS & ACTIVITIES SECTION DIFFERS SLIGHTLY BETWEEN AACOMAS AND AMCAS

AACOMAS (DO)

There is no limit to the number of activities you can write about in AACOMAS. As far as character limits, there are 100 fewer characters per activity than AMCAS, so make the most out of the 600 characters per activity. There is no section where you can designate your most “meaningful activities,” but AACOMAS does break the activities into “experiences” and “achievements.” There is no section on the AACOMAS to explain your disadvantaged status. Instead AACOMAS asks a series of questions on whether you are economically disadvantaged, live in a medically-underserved area, or are the first generation in your family to attend college. There is an additional “Influences” section on the AACOMAS where you can list family members who are DOs or MDs that influenced your commitment to medicine. If applicable, you need to disclose any prior criminal offenses and write an “Institutional Action” essay, which you are given 500 characters to explain if you’ve ever been on academic probation or convicted of a felony. 

AMCAS (MD)

You can write about up to 15 activities, and there is a maximum of 700 characters for each activity. You can choose 3 of your activities as “meaningful experiences.” For the “meaningful experiences,” you are given an additional 1325 characters (more than the standard 700 characters) to discuss the 3 activities and how they impacted your life. There is a disadvantaged essay section where you can write about a social, economic, or educational disadvantage or hardship you have experienced in your life. If applicable, you have to explain if you have ever been discharged from the military, convicted of a felony, or have been on academic probation in an “Institutional Action” essay, in which you are given 1,325 characters to write an explanation. 

YOU'LL NEED TO MAKE SOME PERSONAL STATEMENT TWEAKS

AACOMAS (DO)

The character limits are the same for both AACOMAS and AMCAS, which is 5300 characters. You can easily change parts of your AMCAS personal statement and turn it into your AACOMAS personal statement, so you don’t have to start completely from scratch. The big difference between the two essays is the AACOMAS essay should not just answer the question "why medicine?", but specifically "why osteopathic medicine?". Include a few sentences addressing your interest and exposure to osteopathic medicine. The personal statement is shared with all DO programs you apply to. 

AMCAS (MD)

The character limit for the personal statement is 5300 characters and the personal statement is shared with all MD programs you apply to.

STATISTICAL DIFFERENCES

Let’s get the nitty gritty out of the way.  Everyone loves to talk numbers!

In 2017, matriculants to DO programs nationwide had an average MCAT score of 503.05 (58th percentile) and an average total GPA of 3.56.  Compare this to MD matriculants in the 2018-2019 cycle: average total GPA of 3.72 and average MCAT score of 511.2 (83rd percentile).  Those are definitely notable differences for applicants who may not be competitive for MD programs.

Now, how do they compare when it comes to residency placement?  In 2019, US seniors from allopathic (MD) medical schools had a match rate of 93.9% into a first year residency program.  2019 also marked the record for number of osteopathic (DO) applicants, number of DO applicants who matched, and match rate.  6,001 DO’s applied for first years positions and 5,076 matched, with a match rate of 84.6%.  That’s an excellent match rate.  Compare this to US citizens who are attending international medical schools (such as programs in the Caribbean) who had a match rate of 59.0%.  What’s even more impressive, DO applicants even had matches into classically competitive specialties including orthopedic surgery, plastic surgery, and dermatology.

IN THE END, THEY ARE NOT ALL THAT DIFFERENT

do vs md application differences

If you already have your AMCAS application for MD schools completed, and you are considering applying to DO schools, then good news! The AMCAS (MD) and AACOMAS (DO) applications are very similar. You can re-work and repurpose a lot of information from your AMCAS application to fit the AACOMAS application guidelines easily. Keeping in mind the few key differences in the letters of recommendation, activities, and personal statement sections, you can easily expand the number of medical schools you apply to if you do submit both applications. Especially if you believe you are a less competitive applicant, it is a good idea to consider applying to both MD and DO schools to increase your chances of getting into medical school. The advantage of this is that you do not have to re-work your AACOMAS application from scratch and add more safety schools to your list.

Although there may be some different wording, deadlines, and modes of acceptance, these applications are pretty similar.

Both applications are designed with one thing in mind: to find medical students that will one day become excellent and well-rounded physicians.

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