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The Medical School Admissions Cycle: A Month-by-Month Guide


When should you apply to medical school in the United States? The medical school admissions cycle is longer than the typical college admissions cycle—longer and more complicated, because it has a primary and secondary application process. Fortunately, it follows a predictable pattern that begins in May of each academic year. Understanding this pattern can help you plan how to prepare your application. It can also help you decide whether you should strengthen your qualifications with a post-bacc program.

This article offers a month-by-month timeline of annual medical school admissions milestones. Note that this timeline assumes you’re applying as a traditional undergraduate (usually a college junior). Your timeline may look slightly different if you’re applying as a non-traditional student.

August to December of Junior Year – Evaluate Your Readiness and Plan Your Approach

At the beginning of your junior year, you should take stock of whether you’ll be ready to apply to medical school the following spring. There are four main points to consider:

  • The current state of your science GPA and overall GPA: Is it on track to be within the range most medical students achieve? If it’s on the low side, how can you adjust your study habits to bring it up to scratch?
  • How you’re doing with extracurriculars: Have you been able to volunteer, shadow, or work in a healthcare-related job (such as medical scribing)? Will you be able to gain some research experience? If necessary, find opportunities to enhance your resume on this front.
  • Who your potential reference-writers might be: How are your relationships with professors and advisors? Start sounding them out now as to whether they are willing to write you a letter of reference in the spring.
  • Planning for the MCAT: Most medical school applicants try to take the MCAT between January and March (sometimes April) of their junior year. By planning and blocking out time for your MCAT prep several months before then, you’ll give yourself the best chance at success.

During this period, you can also start formulating a list of schools you plan to apply to. According to the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC), students apply to 16 schools on average.

January to March of Junior Year – Focus on the MCAT

Winter of junior year is when the rubber hits the road for MCAT prep. Because it takes about a month for scores to be released, you’ll want to choose a test date that is no later than the end of April to give you time to make your application in May.

Be disciplined and structured about your MCAT study approach. If you can afford one of the expensive test-prep programs, that’s great, but you will still need to study on your own. Make sure you take practice tests that give you a ballpark estimate of what your score will be. The AAMC helpfully publishes a detailed breakdown of the scores new medical students achieved each year. Compare your practice scores to these to help you adjust your study approach if possible.

Don’t forget to prepare yourself physically for test day, too: turn up as well-rested as you can be and adequately fueled for an entire day of answering questions.

While the MCAT should be the focus of this three-month stretch, it’s also a good time to start brainstorming and drafting your personal statement for your application in May. You can also check in with your potential references, update them on your progress, and remind them of when you’ll need their letters.

April of Junior Year – Primary Application Material Prep

During April, you should be preparing to make your primary applications. Make use of the AAMC’s Medical School Admissions Requirement database to understand your target schools’ prerequisite requirements better. Finalize your list of schools with help from a pre-health advisor, if your school offers one.

Also get a concrete idea of which system you’ll be using to apply. While most MD programs in the U.S. use the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS), some public schools in Texas use a separate application service, the Texas Medical and Dental Schools Application Service, or TMDSAS. Osteopathic schools of medicine (DO programs) have yet another system, the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS).

While all these systems generally open in the same season of the year, they may have different specific dates when they will begin accepting applications. Double-check the dates online so you are ready as early as you can be.

May and June of Junior Year – Primary Application Submission

AMCAS typically opens for primary applications in early May, and it’s best to apply between late May and late June to receive additional consideration from schools. Use early May to:

  • Finalize your personal statement
  • Gather transcripts and letters of recommendation
  • Authorize the release of your MCAT scores to the schools you want to apply to

You can also enter your activities, work, and demographic information into AMCAS, TMDSAS, or AACOMAS.

Once you have all your materials, you can submit your primary application. As soon as that is done, it’s important to start preparing for secondary applications.

June to August of Junior Year – Secondary Application Prep and Submission

Each of the schools you have applied to will send a secondary application—questions designed to further gauge how you would fit in their program, plus a request for letters of reference. Secondary application questions vary by school, but it is possible to find past prompts from each school online to help you write rough drafts. Then, when schools send you the actual secondary prompts, you’ll have something you can revise if needed, instead of having to start from scratch.

Completing and submitting secondary applications promptly demonstrates your interest and commitment. Many schools ask for a two-week turnaround time on secondary applications. Since you’re likely to be submitting upwards of 15 secondary applications, pre-writing essay responses is essential.

Once you have sent out your secondaries, it’s time to start preparing for interviews.

September to November of Senior Year

You are likely to begin receiving interview invitations in the autumn of your senior year. Some of these may take place online, but it is likely you will have to travel for some of them. Prepare for common interview questions, such as explaining why you want to be a physician or addressing weaknesses in your application and how you have improved since then.

After your interviews, send a follow-up letter thanking the school for the opportunity. If you have any meaningful updates on your progress as a student, include them in this letter.

December to May of Senior Year

Medical schools will begin sending out acceptance decisions as early as December of your senior year. You will need to follow up on any acceptance offers—even if you’re waitlisted—with updates about your progress as a student.

Once you are accepted to medical schools, you may be invited to attend “second look” events at each school. These are intended to help you decide which school to choose and often occur between March and May of senior year. It’s generally a good idea to make your decision as quickly as you can after attending a second look event.

Accepting an offer promptly helps you and the school. You are doing the school a courtesy by helping them prepare for your arrival if you say yes, or allowing them to offer your spot to someone on the waitlist if you say no. It also gives you plenty of time to complete the admissions process by paying your deposit and arranging financial aid.

Once you’ve finalized admissions, congratulations! Enjoy graduating from college and preparing for the exciting, challenging adventure that is medical school.

Beyond May of Senior Year

If you weren’t accepted to medical school in this cycle, don’t give up. Reflect on your application and your process and start planning for your next attempt. If you need to boost your academic qualifications, a post-bacc program could be the right choice for you. Find a pre-med post-bacc program that suits your needs and goals in our database!

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