By Christian Becker
The application process for medical school is long and intense. It actually begins much earlier than the point where you fill out the application to send to schools. It includes completion of many premed requirements, meetings with your premedical advisor, taking the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), and participating in a variety of extracurricular activities.
Understanding What Happens Is Important
Most medical schools will review applications on a rolling basis, as they are submitted. They extend interview invitations to selected applicants and ultimately offer places in their classes in a similar manner. This means that the majority of schools fill their classes on a first-come, first-served basis. For example, a given school may start the application season with 150 seats to fill. With each passing week of interviews, the admissions committee meets and extends offers to fewer and fewer students. At the same time, the school is still receiving additional applications, driving the competition for the remaining seats up even further. In these situations, all things being equal, the applications submitted early stand the best chance of receiving an offer of admission.
Major Phases of the Application Process
- Meet with your premedical advisor.
Do this first during your Freshman year (or as soon as you decide to pursue medicine. Meet often and keep them apprised of your progress.
- Complete prerequisite courses.
Most schools require two semesters of college biology, chemistry, physics, and organic chemistry. Some schools may require biochemistry or calculus, so be sure to research schools in which you are interested. Plan to complete the bulk of these courses prior to sitting for the MCAT.
- Participate in extracurricular activities.
You want to be able to list these on the application, so you should have participated in them for at least one semester prior to applying.
- Take the MCAT.
Sit for this exam before May, if possible.
- Interview with your school’s premed committee.
Not all schools have these, but the premed committee will often review your application and write a letter of recommendation on your behalf.
- Fill out applications and write your personal statement.
It may take several weeks or months to perfect your personal statement, so start early – right after the MCAT. Have people you trust proofread it and make suggestions; be sure to include your premedical advisor in this process.
- Return secondary applications as you receive them.
Try and turn these around within 7 days from the date of receipt. If possible, return them 2-3 days after you receive them.
Remember that earlier interviews are better, so try and accept the earliest interview date you can.
Many schools will notify you within 2-3 weeks, some even within a few days. Others take several months after your interview to tell you your status: accept, reject, or waitlist.
Apply Early, Early, 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 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.
You should take the MCAT by May 1st so you can get your scores back by June 1st at the latest, which is about the first day you can submit your AMCAS 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 1st 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 online sometime around May 1st each year, although they cannot be submitted until June 1st at the earliest. It is recommended that you submit your completed applications (AMCAS and AACOMAS) within a week of receipt of your MCAT scores. It is critical to submit your applications as early as possible.
Fill out all secondary applications received from medical schools immediately and try to return them in 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 completed the previous three steps promptly (early MCAT, early application, rapid secondary turnaround), you will see early interview invitations and will have the opportunity to interview during the first few weeks of the cycle. 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, 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 really part of the regular admission process. Not all medical schools offer the Early Admissions Decision Program.
This is how it works: You can only apply to one medical school’s early Early decision Decision Program. The medical school has to make a decision by October 1st 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 that year. So, you have to be sure the medical school you apply EDP to 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 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. That’s 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 be offered a spot in the class even 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 admission. Generally speaking, 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.
This article was originally published on studentdoctor.net June 18, 2008.