Joan Davis, currently an Accepted editor and formerly head of pre-med advising at the University of Rochester, is contributing this post. If you would like to have Joan or any of Accepted’s editors edit your AMCAS essay, you can take advantage of Accepted’s early-bird medical discount and save 10% by purchasing on or before May 31, 2007.
When you’re applying to medical school, timing is everything.
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of timing in the medical school application process. In this context, “timing” has two meanings. The more obvious relates to beginning the application process as early as possible and completing each step with all deliberate speed. Being among the first to apply won’t guarantee you acceptance, but being late may very well guarantee a pile of the dreaded “thin envelopes.” If you don’t complete your applications until late fall or winter, you may be looking at no more than a place on waiting lists, no matter how strong your qualifications are.
Let’s back up a few steps to consider “timing” as it relates to the quality of your application. Are you the best candidate you can be now, or would another year or two make a significant difference? Be honest, and prepare yourself for some tough decisions. You’re eager to move ahead with your plans. If you’ve just finished your junior year of college, your parents may prefer that you enter medical school right after graduation. There’s the matter of student loans and how your repayment schedule will be affected if you take a break from full-time study. If you’re an older premed who has family obligations or has given up lucrative employment to prepare for medical school, you don’t want to delay any longer than is necessary. “Necessary” is the key word. Applying when you’re not at your best leads to rejection, which means that you won’t be in medical school next year anyway. Why not let the choice to take a year off and improve your qualifications be your own?
If you apply when you’re not at your very best, you may be looking at two years off rather than one. As a group, reapplicants to medical school have a significantly lower acceptance rate than first-time applicants. A school that didn’t find you attractive the first time around won’t consider you seriously until you present a substantially different application. Given that the new application cycle begins while the rejection letters from the previous cycle are still going out, how different can your second application be? You may need an additional year to make meaningful changes.
Consider delaying your application if any of the following apply to you:
- Your science GPA is borderline and you have more science courses to take during the coming academic year.
- You have not completed all of the science courses necessary for a good performance on the MCAT, so that you must either learn new material while reviewing old or attempt the test when you’re missing one or more large chunks of subject matter. It’s especially risky to try to prepare for the MCAT while you’re enrolled in a summer offering of biology, chemistry or physics. You may be so overextended that neither the test nor the course ends successfully.
- You have little or no experience in patient care settings. You need this experience in order to make a well-informed decision about medicine. In addition, schools give more weight to what you have done than to what you intend to do after you’ve sent off your applications. Two completed summers of emergency room volunteering make a much better impression than one which hasn’t yet begun.
“Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” It’s a very old saying, but it couldn’t be more appropriate to the competitive process of applying to medical school. You’ve waited this long and you’ve worked hard. What’s wrong with taking an additional year when it might make all the difference in your future?