how to report institutional actions feature image

Updated for the 2024 AMCAS Application

If you are new to Apply with Success, welcome!

If you are not yet familiar with the medical school application, I recommend you start with this article. It is titled, This is Why You Haven’t Heard Back from Medical Schools: 2 Tips to Improve your Chances of Getting Accepted. It is a great place to start since it includes an overview of the general admissions process.

Otherwise, keep reading to learn all about Institutional Actions, those blemishes that sometimes happen during the college years.

Here is what to expect in this article.

I start by going over what the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) says about Institutional Actions and then go through each section of the AAMC’s information on Institutional Actions. I have broken everything down into straightforward explanations.

As always with the articles/posts here at Apply with Success, I add my own perspective as someone who has reviewed and evaluated many thousands of medical school applications.

By the end of this article you will have gained the following:

  • a better understanding of Institutional Actions;
  • how Institutional Actions impact your chances of getting into medical school;
  • how to report an Institutional Action; and of course,
  • the number one mistake made by applicants when reporting Institutional Actions.

AAMC's Stance on Institutional Actions

How to Report Institutional Actions: The Number 1 Mistake Medical School Applicants Make 1

The following information can be found in the 2024 AMCAS Applicant Guide. You can grab a copy of the guide here.

Here is the AAMC’s official stance on Institutional Actions:

If you were ever the recipient of any institutional action by any college or medical school for unacceptable academic performance or conduct violation, you must answer Yes to the question about institutional action, even if such action did not interrupt your enrollment or require you to withdraw. Furthermore, select Yes even if the action does not appear on, or has been deleted or expunged from, your official transcripts as a consequence of institutional policy or personal petition.

Failure to provide an accurate answer to the question about institutional action or, if applicable, failure to complete the form provided by the school will result in an investigation.

Medical schools require you to answer the question accurately and provide all relevant information. Medical schools understand that many individuals learn from the past and emerge stronger as a result. Full disclosure will enable medical schools to evaluate the information more effectively within the context of your application.

Additionally, in the event that an Institutional Action occurs after you have already submitted your application, AMCAS requires that you inform your designated medical school(s) within 10 business days of the date of the occurrence.

Institutional Actions Explained

confused stick figure

Now that you have seen the AAMC’s stance on Institutional Actions, let’s examine it in more detail.

It should be clear that the reporting of any Institutional Actions is serious; there is absolutely no wiggle room. If you have an Institutional Action, it must be disclosed in your medical school application.

In fact, if you fail to report an Institutional Action, an investigation will be conducted by the AAMC’s legal team. Those investigations are added to your application materials so that your application readers will be sure to know about both the Institutional Action, and the investigation.

I am sure you do not need me to tell you that you absolutely do not want a formal investigation to be conducted by the AAMC.

So, once again, if you have an Institutional Action, make sure you report it.

How to Report Institutional Actions

How to Report Institutional Actions: The Number 1 Mistake Medical School Applicants Make 2

So, you might be wondering, if you have an Institutional Action, how do you report it? What do medical schools want to see? Does your Institutional Action mean you will be denied and never get to become a doctor?

Let’s start with that last question first. 

Here is a bit of good news. An Institutional Action does not necessarily mean your dream of becoming a doctor is over.

I am not just saying this to make you feel better. While I have denied plenty of applicants who had Institutional Actions, I also invited many who did.

Why do some applicants with Institutional Actions get denied and others do not?

The answer to this question often goes beyond the IA. Now, of course, there are Institutional Actions that are more severe than others; however, more often than not, whether an IA causes an applicant to be denied depends on multiple factors, such as:

  • how the Institutional Action was presented in the corresponding essay; and,
  • the strength of the rest of the application.

Take a look at the other articles on the Apply with Success blog to learn more about how to develop a strong application. You may also contact me if you have any questions or are interested in working with me one-on-one.

Okay, so if how you present your Institutional Action can affect whether you get into medical school, then we better take a look at what makes for a good IA essay.

I have divided the IA essay into three sections. Those sections include:

  • Statement of the Facts
    • explain what happened;
    • when it happened
  • Explanation
    • explain why it happened
    • without making excuses, help your reader understand what led to the event
    • provide context
  • Growth
    • reflect on the incident
    • demonstrate contrition
    • provide a reframe
      • how you have matured, grown, and are better for the experience
      • remember, in every element of the AMCAS application, your task is to demonstrate that, not only are you prepared for medical school, you are someone they would be lucky to have

Statement of the Facts

stick figure with hand over heart

Report your Institutional Action plainly.

What & When

How to Report Institutional Actions: The Number 1 Mistake Medical School Applicants Make 3

In the very first sentence of your Institutional Action essay, you will want to state what happened and when. Do not start with an excuse or an elaborate story.

Let’s say you received a noise violation for having a loud gathering in your dorm room your first year of college. Here is how you might introduce it:

I received a noise violation my second week in college.

In this brief opening sentence, we learned two important pieces of information: what the IA was for and when it occurred.

Simple and easy to understand.

Explanation

explain why the institutional action occurred

The next section of your Institutional Action essay should address why the situation happened.

Why

sketch of confused guy

Sticking with the noise violation example, perhaps you were having fun hanging out with some people you met in class. You might write something like this:

My roommate and I invited some friends we met in class back to our room. Suddenly there was a knock on the door; it was the Resident Assistant there to inform us that we were disturbing some of our neighbors. We had undeniably been loud and were written up for the incident.

In this section, I added context to the noise violation. Notice I did not make excuses to take the blame off of myself. I am still stating facts and being as honest as possible.

Growth

sketch of a growing tree

Lastly, the essay should have an element of growth. This is where you reflect on the incident, convey contrition, and describe how you have matured. For Institutional Actions that are minor like this noise violation, there isn’t a lot of contrition necessary, so be careful not to lay it on too thick.

Here is how I would close out the noise violation.

I felt bad for disturbing others on my floor and made sure to apologize to them the next day. Reflecting on my experience, I am sorry it happened but grateful for the growth I have since made. I am not the same person I was in my first year of college. In addition to no other incidents or violations, in the years since, I have gone on to serve as co-captain of the swimming team, TA for two general chemistry labs, and an after-school tutor at an under-resourced elementary school. As I look to medical school and beyond, I will continue to grow and make a positive difference in my community.

The last part of the essay demonstrates maturity, remorse, and an attempt to make things right.

Here is the Institutional Action example essay altogether:

I received a noise violation my second week in college. My roommate and I invited some friends we met in class back to our room. Suddenly there was a knock on the door; it was the Resident Assistant there to inform us that we were disturbing some of our neighbors. We had undeniably been loud and were written up for the incident. I felt bad for disturbing others on my floor and made sure to apologize to them the next day. Reflecting on my experience, I am sorry it happened but grateful for the growth I have since made. I am not the same person I was in my first year of college. In addition to no other incidents or violations, in the years since, I have gone on to serve as co-captain of the swimming team, TA for two general chemistry labs, and an after-school tutor at an under-resourced elementary school. As I look to medical school and beyond, I will continue to grow and make a positive difference in my community.

This essay is 926 out of a possible 1325 characters in length. It is concise, avoids excuses, and sets a straightforward and mature tone.

Conclusion

icon stick figure announcer with megaphone

Now that you have read through this post, you should have a good idea of how to report an Institutional Action.

Let’s recap.

If you report an Institutional Action with honesty and maturity, you will minimize the negative effects it could have on your application.

Based on the example essay above, here is a list of guidelines you can use should you ever have to report an Institutional Action in your medical school application:

  • Be honest.
  • Get to the point; don’t preface with a backstory or excuse.
  • Start by stating what happened, and when, in plain, straightforward language.
  • State why the incident occurred (keep it short, just the facts).
  • Convey contrition.
  • Demonstrate growth.

This is the approach I recommend you follow if you find yourself having to report an Institutional Action.

Now that you have read through this article, can you guess the number one mistake applicants make when reporting Institutional Actions?

 

How to Report Institutional Actions: The Number 1 Mistake Medical School Applicants Make 4

Not being sincere:

A sincere response encompasses everything we have talked about. A sincere essay is honest and straightforward (no excuses or backstory that makes it difficult to understand what took place). Finally, a sincere response demonstrates maturity (ownership of the mistake and evidence of remorse).

I hope this article has been helpful.

I wish you the best in all your aspirations.

Sincerely,

Adam Lowrance, PhD
signature

Let me know in the comment section if you found this article helpful.  Where are you in the process? Are you applying to medical schools this cycle, or thinking about doing so in the future?

Table of Contents

Liked this article?

More are on the way.

Subscribe and never miss out.

By entering your email address, you agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

About the Author

Dr. Adam Lowrance headshot
Adam Lowrance, PhD

Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

17 Responses

  1. I recently read your page about institutional actions and would greatly appreciate some advice. Recently I was falsely accused of cheating by a professor. He made me sign a form, but the university did not take any actions because it was my first ever accusation and there wasn’t any tangible evidence to truly prove that I cheated since I didn’t cheat. My first question would be if this situation is considered to be an IA? And then additionally, if it is an IA, I don’t exactly know how to address it in my application. It’s true that I grew from it but I can’t own up to it if I truly didn’t do anything. Thank you.

    1. Hi S,
      I am so glad that you reached out!
      Regarding the accusation of academic dishonesty, I think the first step is to confirm whether the incident rose to the level of an Institutional Action.

      Make a formal inquiry at your university. Contact your advisor and/or office of student conduct/dean of students. They should know how to help you verify whether you have an IA. In the event that you do have an IA, cover it just as I discussed in this blog post. Contact me if you need any help.

      I hope you have found my website helpful. Let me know if you have any other questions or topics you would like me to cover on an upcoming blog post. Feel free to contact me if you would like additional help.
      I wish you all the best,
      Adam

      1. Hello Dr Adam,

        In regards to this response. Does it matter whether their school considers it an IA or not. I am in a similar situation but I was confused on whether to report it since I’m not sure if it’s an IA or not. But then I read online that so far as there was an action (like being invited to a meeting by prof) AAMC wants it reported whether or not your school considers it one. Need help determining what to do please

        1. Hi Minda,

          If I understand correctly, you are unsure if your situation rises to the level of an IA.

          The AAMC’s instructions for reporting institutional actions can be a bit tricky as the official language is a bit unclear.

          So what counts as an IA? An IA encompasses any official incident. It doesn’t matter if the incident resulted in a punishment such as a grade reduction, suspension, or any required learning/growth exercises. It also doesn’t matter if the incident is expunged from your record, or if the school simply says, “look, this happened, but we are not going to put it in your official record.” In all of those cases, the AAMC requires you to report what happened.

          However, if your faculty took mercy on you and decided not to report the incident, and instead opted to handle it with you one-on-one, then that individual made the decision that whatever transpired did meet university guidelines for further action. The particular part of the AAMC’s instructions to pay attention to is as follows:

          “… select Yes even if the action does not appear on, or has been deleted or expunged from, your official transcripts as a consequence of institutional policy or personal petition.”

          Not appearing in your record because the incident didn’t rise to that level is not the same as not appearing because of some sort of appeal or institutional policy.

          I recommend that you contact your office of student conduct for a definitive answer, as they will be able to tell you if there is anything in your record. Whether you have an IA or not, it is always good to get it in writing from your school. This is the best way to feel confident about your decision regarding whether or not you have an IA to report.

          Additionally, I recommend reaching out to your professor to ask if there is anything you can do to demonstrate your sincere contrition. Who knows, through this experience you might build a stronger relationship with this individual.

          I hope this has been helpful. If you need any additional help, feel free to email me and I would be happy to discuss your circumstances in greater detail.

          I wish you all the best.

          Sincerely,
          Adam

  2. Hi! Do warnings count as institutional action?
    – I received a warning with a threat of probation because I forgot to hand in a COVID test one week at the beginning of the school year.
    – I received a warning for violating of the University’s copyright policy (downloaded a movie from the internet). “This warning does not affect your status at the University, nor will it appear on any official record…. however… a second violation of the copyright policy will result in a minimum
    of six months of disciplinary probation”

    Moreover:
    – I was once fined by housing for my room being too messy.
    – I received 2 parking tickets (“university parking violations”)

    1. Hi Sarah,

      Thanks for your questions.
      To start with, let me first state that, it is always best to get an official response in writing (email is fine) from your university, that way you have something to support either why you did or did not report an Institutional Action.

      On to your specific questions:

      Warnings likely do not need to be reported. I use the word “likely” because it depends if the warning was documented. If the warning will not be included in your record, and you have that in writing, then you should take it for what it was, a warning, no need to report it.
      If both the COVID test situation and the movie download each resulted in warnings and clear statements that they do not rise to the level of further action or appearance on your record, I see no need to report them in AMCAS (same goes for AACOMAS and TMDSAS).
      Regarding parking tickets and messy rooms, you are likely fine there as well.
      I smiled when I read about the messy room…I think we have all been there before, but I can safely say that in the many thousands of applications I have evaluated for different medical schools, I have never read an Institutional Action essay about messy rooms (or parking tickets for that matter).
      In closing, I appreciate your questions. It does not look like you have anything that rises to the level of an institutional action. With that said, I will re-state the importance of checking with your university. Get it in writing. Send them an email. Share with them that you will be applying to medical school and you will be asked whether you have been the recipient of any Institutional Actions.
      If you need anything else, feel free to message again, or reach me via email: [email protected]
      I wish you the best!

      Sincerely,
      Adam Lowrance, PhD

  3. Hello Dr.Adam!

    Thank you so much for this informational passage, this gave me much needed insight about Institutional Action and medical school. This past semester, I was given a point (my college has a point system, 10 points leads to suspension) for trespassing campus during winter break. (Students are not allowed on campus during winter break.) I was on campus because my friends dropped something off in front of my dorm so I went to go pick it up but was fined for trespassing. Based on your point of view, how severe would you consider this case? I am very worried that this could affect me as a candidate. Thank you in advance!

    1. Hi Maria,

      First off, sorry for the late reply.
      Thank you for sharing your situation.
      While it is clear (which I gather you already understand) that you have an IA to report, based on what you shared, it is not something I would consider as serious. As long as you are/were open and honest about what happened (no excuses), this Institutional Action is minor and should have a commensurately minor impact (if any) on you competitiveness.

      I hope all is well and I wish you the very best Maria!
      Reach out if you have any other questions, or if you need additional help.

      Sincerely,
      Adam Lowrance, PhD

  4. Hi Dr. Adam!
    My first year of college I went with a friend to her friend’s birthday party to make sure she would be okay and look out for her. Apparently there were drinks in the room and I hadn’t noticed as they were only in one area of the room. The RA came the first time for a noise complaint and left (not seeing the alcohol as I did). My friend and I, who us both do not drink, were about to leave when the RA came again and saw someone have a canned alcoholic drink (which I had no idea was alcohol either). Everyone in the room was written up and received emails for conduct service. I attended the meeting and was found not guilty and told by my institution this was not a violation and the violation will not be present anywhere and I would not have to report it on AAMC. Would I still have to report this incident as I received an email and went to the meeting but it was decided that I was not in violation of their conduct and will not show up in transcripts or records?

    1. Hi Lamar,

      Happy New Year.
      I hope your 2023 is off to a wonderful start.

      Thank you for sharing your story.
      While the AMCAS instructions stipulate that all institutional actions must be reported, even if forgiven or expunged as a matter of institutional policy, in your case, since you were found “not guilty” and that your involvement did not rise to the level of a violation, it sounds like, based on your description, your involvement at the party will not show up in your records.

      Put simply, based on what you shared, this is not something that you need to report when applying to medical school.
      Feel free to send me an email if you have any other questions or would like to talk more.

      Sincerely,
      Adam

  5. What if there was an investigation on your record but you were found not in violation of the student code and received no formal discipline. Do I still have to disclose the investigation? Could it count as withholding information?

    1. Hi Cairie,

      Great question!
      There is no doubt that the instructions for the Institutional Action section in AMCAS are ambiguous at best. I think we all would like to see some improvements to the wording on this section of the application.

      For you, the key word to focus on in the official instructions is “recipient.”

      “If you were ever the recipient of any institutional action by any college or medical school for unacceptable academic performance or conduct violation, you must answer Yes to the question about institutional action, even if such action did not interrupt your enrollment or require you to withdraw.”

      The IA reporting requirements are specifically in place for applicants who were found guilty of some violation, however minor. The instructions go on to make clear that even if an incident has been removed from an applicant’s records, they are still required to report it. However, I want to reiterate, applicants who go through a review process at their school and are found to be not guilty do not need to report an institutional action.

      Lastly, I always recommend reaching out to your school to get an official response in writing (email is fine). You can share with them that you will be applying to medical school and you want to make sure that you do not have any institutional actions, conduct violations, or any other incidents in your record or on your official transcript.

      I hope I have addressed your concerns. If you have other questions or need additional help, feel free to reach out to me via email.

      If you think you might benefit from more help, one-on-one advising, and/or in-depth work on your primary and secondary applications, I have a few slots left for the 2024 application cycle.

  6. Hi Adam,

    Thank you for the insightful words! I am currently finishing up a gap year. I have two institutional actions, both of which were in october of my freshman year (almost 5 years ago). One was for possession of a fake id (although I was not using it) and the other was for witnessing destruction of campus property in my freshman dorm. I am curious about what medical schools will think of these. I believe I have learned from them and will write a good essay with your advice, however, I am worried about how my IAs look from an objective standpoint. Please let me know your thoughts

    1. Hi Jack,

      Thank you for your question.
      When I meet with students about IAs, I explain that we can think of them in terms of 2 key variables—

        severity and recency. The more severe, and the more recent an IA, the more likely it is to adversely impact your chances of acceptance. 

        Institutional actions are two points of data. You have the qualitative component——the details of the incident explained in your essay. There is also the binary data point, that pesky little “Y” or “N” in a spreadsheet column labeled IA.

        No matter how minor an IA, simply having to check that box has the potential to bias reviewers at the medical schools where you apply, at least until/if they put their actual eyes on your application and spend the time needed to learn whether or not your particular IA(s) are severe enough to impact your competitiveness. I recommend applying more broadly because of the IA. Think about applying to at least 25 schools.

        Because your IAs were 4+ years ago, during a significant transition period in your life (first-year college student), and, do not sound overly severe to begin with, you should expect to receive a fair review from your medical schools. Use your IA essay as an opportunity to show how you have grown/matured. Remember to show more than tell – provide examples of the kinds of work/service you have engaged in that help others navigate difficult transitions and find appropriate outlets (that don’t require a fake ID for example).

        Let me know if you have any other questions. Feel free to email me if you need anything else.
        Best of luck!
        Dr. Adam
        Adam Lowrance, PhD

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *