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How to Successfully Time Your Medical School Applications

Successfully timing your medical school applications can improve your changes of generating acceptances rather than waitlists or refusals. Submitting medical school applications early requires planning and stamina. So when and how should you start to prepare in order to hit your application target dates? The following tips can help keep you on track throughout this long process:

  • Be ready for a long haul. The application cycle takes almost a full year. If you plan to go straight from college to medical school, you submit your application at the end of your junior year, interview and hear decisions from fall to spring of your senior year, graduate in the spring and start med school that fall.

    If you instead apply at the end of your last year in college, you have a gap year prior to starting medical school. You can use a gap year to improve your MCAT scores, take advanced classes that improve your academic record, or to work at a job (or as a volunteer) in clinical medicine, research, or health.

  • Start researching the admission process and medical schools the year before you apply. The year you apply, you have your hands full managing the application process, gathering letters of recommendation, and taking the MCAT. Use the year prior to start perusing the application instructions, digging up details on the schools, plotting your strategy, and identifying and correcting weaknesses while you still have time.

  • Take the MCAT by the end of May of your application year in order to have the scores available when AMCAS and AACOMAS open. As of 2013, scores take approximately 30 days to be released.

    If balancing your classes plus MCAT studying is too much during the school year, you can take the MCAT the same summer you submit the application.

    You can submit the primary application without MCAT scores; however, this strategy has some risks. Some applicants handle this situation by initially selecting only one or two schools and then adding the rest of the schools when the scores come out. Others take the opposite approach, applying broadly and withdrawing their applications from some schools after receiving their scores and narrowing the list.

  • Aim to submit your application as close to the first day of the cycle as possible. AMCAS and AACOMAS begin accepting applications in early June; TMDSAS opens in May. Know, though, that the application process isn’t precise enough that a few days or even a few weeks during the first part of the cycle will make a significant difference.

    If waiting until mid or late June allows you to finish up finals so that you can devote your full attention to producing a superb application, you should hold off until then.

  • Start filling out your application ahead of the cycle. AMCAS and AACOMAS applications become available online in early May, approximately one month before they may be submitted. This timing means that you can begin entering your information onto the application then so that you’re ready to hit “submit” when the cycle opens.

  • Allow at least a month to complete the application, and longer if your time is split among multiple activities such as school, MCAT preparation, and work or volunteering. You should start the personal statement at least two months before you plan to submit, especially if you’re out of practice writing anything more creative than an abstract for a scientific paper.

Begin the application process by reviewing the application and gathering the information you need to fill out each section. Break down the application into manageable parts and start the most-difficult sections early.

Because the personal statement is the most time-consuming aspect of the application, start brainstorming for ideas several months before you plan to submit. As you’re generating ideas for the personal statement, you should also be taking the following steps:

  • Develop your list of schools. This step can begin a year or more before you plan to apply. When researching schools, go beyond reading the school websites.

    Is the doctor you met volunteering in the ICU an alumnus of your favorite school? Ask him about it. What did he like (or not) about the program? What does the program look for in prospective students? Would you be a good fit there?

    Contact the friend of a friend who is a third year in med school to get the insight on his program even if it’s not on your list of dream schools.

  • Two months before you plan to apply, order a copy of your transcripts for yourself from every college or university you’ve attended. Check these documents carefully for mistakes. Although rare, errors do occur on transcripts.

    One applicant had the unwelcome surprise of finding a course on his transcript that he’d never even enrolled in. The worst part: the F grade that came with it. Fortunately, this story had a happy ending, but getting the mistake corrected took weeks. By reviewing your transcripts a couple of months before the application is due, you have time to address any problems you find.

    Have official transcripts sent to the application services when they begin accepting them, usually in May. If you’re still in school, you may need to wait until the spring semester ends and your latest grades are posted if you want those grades included in the AMCAS GPA.

  • Collect the information that you’ll need to fill out the application. This step may require you to look up everything from the name of the volunteer coordinator for the ER to the number of hours you put in during a summer research internship. Get all the data in place and organized so that you aren’t scrambling for information you need to finish the application.

  • Register for the application service online so that you can begin entering information into the application as soon as it becomes available. You can begin working on the AMCAS and AACOMAS applications about a month before you can submit them.

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