Why it’s Important to Apply to Medical School Early

Written and edited by the MCAT Self Prep Tutoring Team

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Current applicants, medical students, and medical admission consultation companies often talk about the importance of applying early to medical school. However, it can be confusing if you are hearing that for the first time. Are they saying I should apply at a younger age? Should I apply as a junior instead of a senior in college? Should I apply early in the application cycle? Why should I be doing this? And, if I were to do this, how would I apply early? While you may not have asked yourself all of these questions, you may still be wondering why it is important and how to apply early. In this post, I will go over the importance of applying early, explain what it means to apply early, explain the medical school application timeline, and what the timeline of an early applicant looks like. If you need extra guidance, lots of students choose to prepare for and organize the medical school admissions process using our customized Medical School Admissions Consulting.

1. Why Is It Important to Apply Early?

Most medical schools are on a rolling admissions timeline. Imagine musical chairs, but the music starts as soon as the first people show up and stops before everyone gets there. The people that get to this imaginary game of musical chairs first have a better chance of making it to a chair. Schools start sending out acceptances to applicants before they have even interviewed everyone they will interview. They will typically have more accepted applicants come from earlier in the interview season than from later in the season. For example, the medical school will interview from October to February. Each week they interview 30 applicants. They will start accepting students in December. They will send out half of their acceptances in December, 30% in January, then 10% in February, and then the final 10% in March.  Those that interview in October will typically be looked at for each successive wave, increasing their chances of acceptance, while those interviewing in February will only have the opportunity to be accepted in March. So, even though they interview the same number of applicants each week, they are not accepting the same number of applicants each week. They accept more applicants earlier on in the process. This is why it is crucial to apply early in the application process so that you can likely get an earlier interview and increase your chances of acceptance. 

2. Understanding the Application Timeline

If you are applying to MD granting medical schools, you will use AMCAS (American Medical College Application Service). DO schools use AACOMAS. And schools in Texas use TMDSAS. While each application service has its own individual timeline, I will focus on AMCAS, and the same principles will apply to the other services just with slightly different dates. The AMCAS application will be open so that you can start filling it out on May 3, 2021. The application cannot be submitted until May 27, 2021. This month allows you to fill in the application, get your letters of recommendation submitted, submit official transcripts, and proofread the application. After the application is submitted, AAMC, the Association of American Medical Colleges who makes the MCAT and is in charge of AMCAS, needs to process the application. Processing the application can take up to six weeks, though it typically takes less time if the application is submitted within the first week that one can submit, and it also is processed faster if submitted later on in the year, such as in September or October. On June 25, 2021, AAMC will send processed applications to medical schools. Once medical schools get the application, they will request a secondary application. After the secondary application has been submitted, schools will review the applications and start sending out interviews. The earlier the medical schools get your application and secondary application, the sooner you will be able to get an interview, and the higher chance you will get accepted.

3. An Early Applicant’s Timeline

Now that I have explained what the overall timeline is for applying, I will explain how you as an applicant can apply early and what is considered “early.” I first want to give a disclaimer that you should not apply earlier than you are ready! If you don’t feel like your application is ready by these dates, then it might be wise to consider taking a gap year so that you can still apply early the next cycle but with a prepared application. To be prepared to apply early, you will want to start thinking about who can write you good letters of recommendation and make sure to keep a good relationship with them 4-12 months before the application opens in May. You will also need to start working on the personal statement in January. By beginning on the personal statement in January and working on it for only 1-2 hours a week, your personal statement will have an excellent start come April. That way, when you ask mentors for a letter of recommendation, you can give them a relatively-polished personal statement for them to review. When I gave my personal statement to my letter of recommendation writers in March, they were all impressed with the progress I had made in my personal statement, and they all said that it helped them when writing my letters. In March, you will want to ask for letters of recommendation. By asking this early, you will give the letter writer time to write you a good letter and time for you to remind them if they are behind at writing the letter. During April you will spend much more time working on the personal statement and writing descriptions for the activities you decide to include in your application. 

When May 3rd comes, you will want to start filling in the information for your application, while continuing to edit and revise your personal statement and activities description. The week of May 3rd you will want to make sure that all of your letters of recommendation are done, or that they are at least very close to being done. Remember, if your school does not have a committee letter, you only need to have your letters of recommendation submitted before your application is sent to schools on June 25th, 2021, not by the time you first submit your application. You will also want to make sure that you know where to order your transcripts and if they can be sent online or if they have to be mailed in. If the transcripts can only be sent in the mail, they will need to be sent as early as possible because those can take longer to process than electronic transcripts. You will need transcripts for every college and university you have taken classes from, so know the procedure for each school’s transcript system. 

A week before May 27, 2021, you should be making sure that everything in your application is spotless, with your recommendations in so that you can submit on the 27th (you can also add letters of recommendation later if needed). You will want to have your MCAT score back before June 25th, so that you can know what schools will be in your range. However, you can apply and submit your application without an MCAT score. Theoretically, you could take the MCAT on May 24th, apply to one school on May 27th to get your application verified, receive your MCAT score and add all your other schools on June 24th, and on June 25th when your application is sent to medical schools, the schools that you added later will think that you added them on day 1. 

The final step to being an early applicant is submitting your secondary applications within two weeks of receiving them, but it is better to submit within one week. This can be stressful because so many secondary applications from different schools are sent all at the same time, so prewriting secondary prompts is a good idea during the month of June while you are waiting for your application to be sent to schools. I pre-wrote about 80% of my secondary application essays and even though some of the prompts changed, it really saved my life. I was able to submit my secondaries within one week for most of my secondary applications and wasn’t stressed when they all came at once. Once your secondaries are submitted, you just need to wait and prepare for interviews!

In conclusion, you want to submit within the first week of the application opening, which is May 27th this year. Then make sure to have the secondary applications submitted within one to two weeks of receiving them. If you are feeling overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to reach out to me or another tutor for a FREE phone consultation. MCAT Self Prep also has an amazing Medical School Application course to help you get on the right track, and our admission consultants can help you meet these deadlines with ease and help with any aspect of your primary or secondary applications. We’ve seen massive success with the applicants that we work with. You want to do this right the first time! Good luck applying!

Warm Regards,

Hayden Smith

MCAT Admissions Consulting

Hayden scored in the 100th percentile on his MCAT after using MCAT Self Prep to master the science content and passage strategies. He has years of teaching experience and knows MCAT Self Prep and the admissions process inside and out!

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