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An Overview of the Medical School Admission Process and Use of Applicant Data in Decision Making: What Has Changed Since the 1980s?

Monroe, Alicia MD; Quinn, Erin PhD, MEd; Samuelson, Wayne MD; Dunleavy, Dana M. PhD; Dowd, Keith W. MA

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e31828bf252
Research Reports
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Purpose To investigate current medical school admission processes and whether they differ from those in 1986 when they were last reviewed by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

Method In spring 2008, admission deans from all MD-granting U.S. and Canadian medical schools using the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) were invited to complete an online survey that asked participants to describe their institution’s admission process and to report the use and rate the importance of applicant data in making decisions at each stage.

Results The 120 responding admission officers reported using a variety of data to make decisions. Most indicated using interviews to assess applicants’ personal characteristics. Compared with 1986, there was an increase in the emphasis placed on academic data during pre-interview screening. While GPA data were among the most important data in decision making at all stages in 1986, data use and importance varied by the stage of the process in 2008: MCAT scores and undergraduate GPAs were rated as the most important data for deciding whom to invite to submit secondary applications and interview, whereas interview recommendations and letters of recommendation were rated as the most important data in deciding whom to accept.

Conclusions This study underscores the complexity of the medical school admission process and suggests increased use of a holistic approach that considers the whole applicant when making admission decisions. Findings will inform AAMC initiatives focused on transforming admission processes.

Dr. Monroe is chief academic officer and vice dean, Educational Affairs, University of South Florida Health Morsani College of Medicine, Tampa, Florida.

Dr. Quinn is associate dean of admissions emeritus and codirector, Primary Care Community Medicine Program, Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California.

Dr. Samuelson is vice dean for education, University of Utah School of Medicine, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Dr. Dunleavy is manager, Admissions Research, Association of American Medical Colleges, Washington, DC.

Mr. Dowd is measurement research specialist, MCAT Research, Association of American Medical Colleges, Washington, DC.

Supplemental digital content for this article is available at

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Dunleavy, Admissions Research, Association of American Medical Colleges, 2450 N Street NW, Washington, DC 20037; telephone: (202) 862-6011; e-mail:

© 2013 Association of American Medical Colleges