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
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
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
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
- explain why it happened
- without making excuses, help your reader understand what led to the event
- provide context
- 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
Report your Institutional Action plainly.
What & When
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.
The next section of your Institutional Action essay should address why the situation happened.
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.
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.
Now that you have read through this post, you should have a good idea of how to report an Institutional Action.
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?
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.
Adam Lowrance, PhD
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?