The application process for medical school is long and intense. It really begins much earlier than when you actually fill out the application to send to the schools. 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.
Understanding What Happens Is Important
Most medical schools will review applications as they are submitted on a rolling basis, extend interview invitations, and 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. At the same time, the medical school still receives more applications, so the competition goes up and the number of available spots goes down. This means that an early application is one sure way of having the best possible chances of getting in – all other things being equal.
Main Events of the Application Process
|What to Do||When to Do It||More Detail|
|Meet with your premed advisor to discuss your future||Freshman year (or when you decide on medicine)||The sooner the better|
|Take required course work||Before the MCAT (freshman, sophomore, junior years)||You need physics, chemistry, organic chemistry, and biology for the MCAT|
|Complete extracurricular activities (shadowing, etc.)||Before June of your junior year, when you apply||You want to be able to list these on the application, so they have to be completed by then|
|Take the MCAT||January through September of junior year||Take the MCAT before May 1 if at all possible|
|Interview with your premed committee||Before applying, junior year||If your undergrad school does that-they usually write a letter of recommendation for you|
|Fill out applications and write your personal statement||Right after the MCAT is out of the way||It may take you a few weeks to months to work on this, so start immediately after the MCAT is done|
|Return secondary applications you receive||Promptly within no more than 7 days from the day you receive them||The earlier the better; try to return these within a couple of days, if possible|
|Interviews||Try to accept the first possible days for interviewing||Earlier interviews are better|
|Acceptance||Most schools notify you within about 2 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 (August) or they just procrastinated on their applications. You will hear loud and clear that they would recommend applying as early as possible. I strongly agree. Applying as early as possible, interviewing on the first day possible, etc. gives you a huge advantage.
As already mentioned, 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 still arriving 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 (by May 1)
You should take the MCAT by May 1 so you can get your scores back by June 1 at the latest, which is about the first day you can submit your AMCAS medical school application. The exact date may vary each year, but should be sometime in the first week of June. Taking the MCAT later during the summer will put you behind in the application process. Many applicants have already received interview invitations and some have already been extended offers as the admission cycle progresses. Most medical schools will not consider your application and do not offer interview invitations until your MCAT scores are received, so timing your MCAT is essential for timing your application.
Make sure you start working on your AMCAS (MD) and/or AACOMAS (DO) applications right after the MCAT is out of the way 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. The online applications are made available sometime around May 1 each year, although they cannot be submitted until June 1 at the earliest. It is recommended to submit your completed applications (AMCAS and AACOMAS) within the first week after you receive your MCAT scores. That would be roughly the week following June 1. It is critical to submit your applications as early as possible.
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. Some secondaries are more involved than others and all cost money. Do not procrastinate. To obtain early interviews, turning these around quickly is a must!
If you have done the previous three steps very speedily (early MCAT, early application, fast turnaround of secondaries), you will have interview invitations very early and will have the opportunity to interview during the first few weeks of the interview cycle, maybe the first week or even the first day interviews begin. Try to pick the earliest day for interviewing 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.
Most 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, reread 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 really part of the regular admission process. Not all medical schools offer the Early Decision Program.
This is how it works:
You can only apply to one medical school’s Early Decision Program. The medical school has to make a decision by October 1 and must 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 schools 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 to get 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 EDP 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.
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 EDP decision. You may even get a spot in the class that way if you were rejected for EDP 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.
EDP 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.