You should apply to med school ONLY when you are ready! If you are not at the top of your game, and as prepared as you can be, you are not your most competitive self for a VERY competitive process!
Being “ready” includes:
- Having the strongest GPA possible for you
- Having the best MCAT score possible for you
- Having strong letters of recommendation from people that know you and your strengths
- Having all your documentation and paperwork (application, transcript, etc) in place and ready
- Knowing the process of application and being on top of deadlines
- Having participated in appropriate experiences – shadowing, volunteering, clinical experiences, service, etc
- Knowing why you’re doing this, and what you’re looking for in a medical school and career, and being able to articulate that! If you’re ready, then jump in and apply! But if you’re not quite ready, then take the time to get yourself ready. Consider a “gap” year…
Should I Take a Gap Year?
A so-called “gap” year (we like to think of it as a bonus year!) is one or more years between graduation from college and matriculation at medical school, during which students can engage in a number of activities which can significantly strengthen their application and likelihood of acceptance. Gap years can:
- Provide additional time to prepare for the MCAT
- Enable your 4th year grades to contribute to your GPA
- Provide an opportunity for post-baccalaureate study to improve grades or supplement areas of study
- Provide an opportunity for additional, stronger letters of rec
- Provide an opportunity for closer attention to the application process
- Provide an opportunity to earn some money for med school
- Provide an opportunity for experiences – volunteering, research, clinical, travel, learning new skills, etc.
The average age of the first-year med student is ~25, so clearly most students are taking a gap year or more. Almost without exception, students who took a gap year were glad that they did, allowing them time to prepare, relax, engage in other activities, and mature before embarking on the medical school journey.
And don’t worry – We’ll still be here, and will hold your letters and your file until you’re ready to apply.
Earlier is better
Giving yourself the added time of a “gap” year can definitely increase your chances of gaining admittance to medical school – but gaining additional time by waiting until the “last minute” in an application cycle will definitely NOT increase your chances! Due to the huge number of applicants to a relative small number of seats at MD programs, it is best to have your application and materials into the application service (and therefore ready to be forwarded to your selected schools) sooner than later in the application cycle. This does not mean you have to have everything in by the first week that the portal is open! But you should aim to have your application in among the “first summer” wave of applicants – ideally before August – but definitely before the beginning of the fall semester. Applying during the fall semester means that your application may be reviewed after all of those that were submitted over the summer, and there may be fewer options open.
The deadlines are slightly delayed for DO programs, as their application cycles are slightly behind those of the MD programs; and the dental and optometry programs have somewhat different submission deadlines. But it is always good policy to apply earlier than later for the best chance at a positive outcome.
What about applying “Early Decision”?
If you are absolutely sure there is only one medical school you are interested in attending, then you can consider applying to it “early decision.” In doing so, you promise to apply to only one medical school by August 1, and that school in turn promises to provide its answer to you no later than October 1. If you are not accepted, it places you at somewhat of a disadvantage for applying to other schools at a later point in the application cycle. However, many schools (like NJMS) often announce their ED acceptances much earlier than October 1 – and their rejections as well.
Early assurance programs
The College of New Jersey is a participant in the Early Assurance program for the Upstate Medical University at the State University of New York at Syracuse.
This program allows sophomores to apply to the SUNY Upstate med school and gain guaranteed acceptance early in their junior year. Applicants must meet certain criteria, have taken pre-requisite courses, earn a suggested 509 on the MCAT by August 31 of the year prior to entry, and complete their remaining two years of college before matriculating at SUNY Upstate. The application is open from March 1 to July 1. Information about the program is on their website.
SUNY Buffalo has a similar Early Assurance Program for students interested in pursuing careers in dentistry or pharmacy.