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The Application Process: Why Apply Early

Last Updated on June 27, 2022 by Laura Turner

Updated on June 10, 2021. The article was updated to correct minor grammatical errors, with technical details added by Aenia Amin, OMS-1.

The application process for medical school is long and intense. It really begins much earlier than when the application portals open and before any deadlines. It includes completion of many premed requirements, meetings with your premed advisor and maybe a premed committee, taking the MCAT, and doing well in all of your premed coursework and extracurricular activities.

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Understanding What Happens is Important

Most medical schools will review applications, as they are submitted, on a rolling basis, will extend interview invitations, and will finally offer spots in their classes in the same way. This means that they fill their classes on a first-come, first-serve basis. Initially, they may have 150 spots to offer. With each passing week of conducting interviews, the admissions committee meets and extends offers, and fewer and fewer spots are available over time. At the same time, the medical school continues to receive more applications; so, the competition goes up with the number of available spots going down. This means that an early application is one sure way of increasing the possible chances of getting accepted – all other things being equal.

Main Events of the Application Process

What to DoWhen to Do ItMore Details
Meet with your premed advisor to discuss your coursework, extracurricular activities, and etc.Freshman year (or when you decide on medicine/premed track).The sooner the better.
Take required coursework.Before taking the MCAT (freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior years if applicable).You need to take general physics, general chemistry, organic chemistry, general biology, introductory psychology, introductory sociology, and first-semester biochemistry for the MCAT.
Complete all extracurricular activities (shadowing, etc.).Before you apply.You want to be able to list these on the application, so they should be completed or well in progress by then.
Take the MCAT.At least a few months before you apply for medical school.Take the MCAT at least a few months before applying if possible, as you may need to retake it before applying.
Interview with your premed committee.Before applying and based on your school’s deadlines. Make sure you know the deadlines in advance to be considered for this interview.If your undergrad school does this, then they may write a letter of recommendation for you or offer a committee letter/committee letter packet.
Fill out the whole application, and write your personal statement, submit your letters of recommendation (LORs), and etc.Right after the MCAT is out of the way. Submit application once ready and once the portal allows you to. Proofread multiple times, and apply to many schools to broaden your chances.It may take you a few weeks to months to work on this and to obtain your LORs, so be proactive. Have some other eyes look at your personal statement and essays for editing and feedback.
Return secondary applications, and have your essays prepared in advance, if possible.Promptly within no more than one week from the day that you receive them.The earlier the better; try to return these within a couple of days, if possible.
Interview invitations and interviewing.Try to accept the earlier interview slots as possible.Earlier interviews are better.
Acceptance offers.Many schools notify you within two weeks, some within a few days, and some take several months after your interview to let you know if you have been accepted, rejected, or wait-listed.

Apply Early, Early, EARLY!!!! Did I say early?

One of the most important aspects of your application relates to timing. You can talk with many applicants who applied late because they took the MCAT late, or they just procrastinated on their applications. They might have submitted their LORs late. You will hear loud and clear that they would recommend applying as early as possible, and I strongly agree. Applying as early as possible, interviewing on the first day possible, etc. gives you a huge advantage.

As time passes with a rolling admissions process, your chance of gaining admission decreases, due to more and more spots being filled with students, and more applicants continue to be considered. Besides this factor of increasing competition, there is also peace of mind when you have received an offer early. Let’s consider each step of the application process in detail now, in light of timing.

Early MCAT

You should take the MCAT at least a few months before applying, as you want to get your scores back in time for the application portals opening or the earliest dates that you can submit them. The exact date for application submissions may vary each year but will likely be sometime in the first week of June. You may need to retake the MCAT, and therefore, having this built-in time for a retake is advisable. You are allowed to take the MCAT up to three times in one year; although, it is generally advised to not retake more than two times if possible. Taking the MCAT later during the summer will put you behind in the application process. Many applicants have already received interview invitations by that point, and some have already been extended offers of admission, as the admission cycle progresses. Most medical schools will only consider a complete application and do not offer interview invitations until your MCAT scores and the rest of your application are received, so timing your MCAT is essential for timing your application.

Early Applications

Make sure you start working on your AMCAS (MD)/AACOMAS (DO)/TMDSAS (Texas schools) primary applications as soon as possible, and immediately after taking the MCAT if you didn’t have time for this before you took the MCAT. It takes a few months to get the applications put together, so you should ideally start about two months before June 1 to fill out the applications or at least gather the required information and start working on your personal statement and essays as possible. For the secondary applications, you can find the old essay prompts online, such as on the SDN Forum pages for previous application cycles, and use those to prepare and plan your essays. The online application portals are made available generally around May 1 each year, although they may not be able to be submitted until later in the month at the earliest. It is recommended to submit your completed applications (AMCAS/AACOMAS/TMDSAS) within the first week after you receive your MCAT scores. It is critical to submit your applications as early as possible.

Early Secondaries

Fill out all secondary applications received from the medical schools immediately and try to return them within less than seven days, ideally within two days, along with the money and other information they require you to submit. Turn these around as fast as possible, and advance preparation does help with this. Some secondaries are more involved than others, and the majority do cost money. Do not procrastinate. To obtain early interviews, turning these around quickly is a must!

Early Interviews

If you have done the previous three steps expediently (early MCAT, early application, fast turnaround of secondaries), then it increases your chances of getting interview invitations very early and having the opportunity to interview during the first few weeks of the interview cycle, maybe even during the beginning of the school’s interview cycle. Try to pick the earliest day possible for interviewing that the school offers. Ideally, you want the first day available on their schedule to interview, but realistically the first few weeks of interviewing are all excellent.

Early Offers

Many medical schools extend offers within two to three weeks. However, the notification time varies greatly from school to school. Some take only a few days (literally) and others take up to six months.

Why the Hurry?

You should know the answer to this question by now. If not, re-read this post again from the beginning! Do yourself a favor and do things early. It’s the one factor of your application you have complete control over – and it really pays off!

Early Decision Program (EDP)

Don’t confuse the Early Decision Program (EDP) with applying early.  This is a separate admissions program and not a part of the regular admissions process. Only AMCAS and TMDSAS offer this program, and not all medical schools participate, but for those who do, this is how it works:

You can only apply to one medical school’s Early Decision Program. The medical school has to decide by October 1 and notify you of acceptance or rejection. If you are accepted to the school, you are obligated to attend that particular medical school and cannot participate in the regular application cycle at any other medical school for that application cycle. So, you have to be sure the medical school you apply to with this program is really the school you want to attend since there is no changing your mind later.

There are also some huge drawbacks to the Early Decision Program, as you might have already guessed since you can only apply to one medical school. If you are not accepted, you have wasted valuable time in not getting your application submitted to the other medical schools.

You cannot start applying to other medical schools until you have received a rejection letter from your Early Decision Program school by October 1. That is two to three months late in the application cycle! You are essentially in the same spot as if you had taken the MCAT late or completed your application late.

Note that if you were rejected during the Early Decision Program, you can still apply to the same medical school through the regular admissions process again, and you will be considered for regular admission independently from the Early Decision Program decision. You may even get a spot in the class that way if you were rejected for Early Decision Program admission.

The Early Decision Program can be useful for very strong (exceptional) applicants or for candidates who have specifically been encouraged by the school to compete for early admissions. Generally, if you are a strong enough applicant for a spot through the Early Decision Program, you will also get a spot in the class through the regular process.

Early Decision Program Drawbacks in Summary

Personally, I think the Early Decision Program only limits your choices and is not very useful. Especially if you apply early (not through the Early Decision Program), you can also get offers by the middle of October. Also, the timing issue is a huge disadvantage, putting you way behind in the admission process if you are rejected. I would therefore strongly discourage going through the EDP at any school. Therefore, applying early is critical and only increases the odds of getting an offer of acceptance from a medical school, and this article should help you to do so! Good luck with applying early.

9 thoughts on “The Application Process: Why Apply Early”

  1. Yes, you should apply early enough so that everything else in your application is a go before your MCAT scores come back.
    This means that you should have your AMCAS application submitted, transcripts verified, and as many secondaries as you have access too done by the time your MCAT scores come back. Remember that it can take up to 6 weeks to have your primary AMCAS app verified, so you’ll need to take that into account. If everything in your application is complete and verified by the time your MCAT scores come back, then schools will begin to get your application right away. If you wait until your MCAT Scores come back to submit your AMCAS application, then it will take another 6 weeks before you are actually “Complete”.

  2. Should you still apply early (i.e. June) if you’re writing the MCAT in Aug or late July? I can’t write it in May & still do well. I need the extra study/prep time. Waiting a year to apply isn’t an option for me.

  3. Hopefully if I submit AMCAS in June and write the MCAT in early Aug, I don’t get an automatic reject based on my grades: My grades are on the low end and I’m relying on a good performance on the MCAT to get me into medical school.

  4. Schools probably won’t even review your application until your MCAT is added to the file, let alone make a final decision to reject you. Therefore, by all means submit in early June so that you can have almost immediate turnaround from your MCAT to being complete at your schools.

  5. I am torn between what I should do next year. First off, I am taking the MCATs June 18. For next year, I have an opportunity to do a one year MS program that’s aimed for pre-health professional students to improve their academic credential. I also have an opportunity to do an research-based internship with an Emergency Dept. physician at one of the level 1 trauma centers in Indianapolis, who happens to be an associate faculty for IU SOM. My GPA was mediocre, but I have extensive clinical experience by working as an EMT through college, running a campus EMS for 2 years, ample shadowing experience, and 1.5yrs of undergraduate research. Which one of the two is a good route?
    If you choose to apply in the EDP, is there a clear place on the AMCAS to choose this option?
    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  6. Very good point about the EDPs. It makes sense that those programs be extremely competitive because the schools are taking the risk that they could get more qualified candidates later that they’ll have to turn down. And if you’re qualified enough to get in EDP then you will very likely get in regular admissions so its lose-lose for the applicant.
    Dip, I don’t know very much about post bach programs like the MS you mentioned but I would think a high profile research experience that may very well give you an opportunity for more clinic hours would be more useful than a cookie-cutter program. Also, I would put off the MCAT until later in the summer if you aren’t applying until next year anyway. Take it later and give yourself another month or so to prepare.
    Also, I think Becker’s article was excellent but I would add that you should absolutely take additional science electives if possible before the test. I had endocrinology, neurobiology, and a higher level anatomy class before the MCATs and there were several points in the Biology section where I felt I could have answered the questions without even reading the passage. Even if that extra material doesn’t directly apply it might give you added confidence.
    Maybe a final point I might add is, Becker is absolutely spot on on getting things done as early as possible, but you might need to weigh some options that could change the balance. In my case, the spring of my junior year was extremely stressful for a variety of reasons and my MCAT studying did not start until may. Because of this I took the test mid july. If I took the test in may I probably would have scored just under a 30. The extra 6 or so weeks translated into me shattering a 30. My apps got in alot later, but the extra 8 or so points definitely were more useful than the lost couple of months time. Things to think about anyways…

  7. I have a question regarding applying. I am taking the June 18th MCAT, so since I won’t receive my scores until mid-July, can I still submit this application in June? And when I receive my scores, can I update the application with the score? If I submit the application without scores, will medical schools see my application at that time or only after my scores are in? I was just hoping that I could do everything in the application that is time consuming sooner, so that all that verifying could occur while I’m waiting for my scores. Is this possible? Thanks for the help… Sorry if these are silly questions.

  8. Good question StealYourCarbon…I have a similar one. I’m retaking my MCAT early in July and am wondering if it’s better to just apply to the schools of my choice with my old scores or to wait until the July scores come out. (I’m almost certain my new scores will be an improvement over my old, but by how many points, I’m not sure) Is it possible to send in an application in June and “update” it when the new scores come out? Is there any way I could indicate on my app that I’m retaking the MCAT again so “ignore” the old scores until the new ones come out? Thanks so much for your help, I learned a LOT from your article.

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