When Should You Submit Your Medical School Application?

Padya Paramita

When Should You Submit Your Medical School Application?

The AMCAS application opened earlier in May and admission into medical school is no walk in the park. The average medical school acceptance rate is 7% and the medical school with the lowest acceptance rate is ranked in the 100s. 53,030 students applied for the limited number of spots during the 2020-2021 cycle. With high demand and very few spots available, you might be worried about your medical school chances. Don’t panic. Taking it one step at a time is crucial. Completing the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) application is where you need to begin. When it comes to the AMCAS, timing is extremely important. As a result, a question on the minds of a lot of students is, when should you submit your medical school application?

Just like the Common Application for undergraduate colleges, the AMCAS will be sent to nearly every MD program you apply to. With the medical school application process being very cutthroat and competitive, you better prepare in advance. The impact of a timely, correct, and well-done AMCAS application cannot be underestimated, as the process takes almost a full year. So, when should you submit your medical school application? 

The earliest you can submit is May 27, 2021, at 9:30 AM EST for the 2021-2022 application round. In order to understand the AMCAS timeline, I will first take a look at the overall phases of medical school applications. Then, I will look through the stages within the AMCAS itself, and discuss how you can know the answer to the question of “when should you submit your medical school application?” Finally, I will outline tips on how to make the most of your time while you wait for the AMCAS to open for submissions, because let’s be honest, you must always take advantage of any free time you have if you’re preparing to apply to medical school.

Medical School Application Process: An Overview

Before I get to the AMCAS itself, let’s take a more holistic look at the overall medical school application stages because it is crucial to be timely about the entire process, and getting a strong start is a big part of that. 

The medical school application process is divided into three phases: the primary,  secondaries, and the interview, with most programs operating on a rolling admissions basis. The AMCAS is used to submit your primary, which includes your personal statement, your list of activities and experiences with the opportunity to pick the “three most meaningful” among them, up to ten letters of recommendation (although you should try to stay between 5-7), your transcript, and your MCAT score.

Submit your primary materials as soon as the AMCAS application opens at the end of May. Once you have submitted your primary application and it has been verified, you will receive your secondaries, which are essays specific to each of the schools you have applied to. You will not be able to access and answer these questions until your primary has been submitted and vetted. The first secondaries are typically released in July, but you’ll receive them much later if you wait to submit the AMCAS. 

You should ideally take only two weeks to turn all of these secondaries back around. Take a second to think about writing approximately 60 essays in two weeks. Then put your career on the line. It’s a great receipt for stress. But the amount of time you take to submit your secondaries reflects your interest in the school, so make sure you stay on top of your applications! 

While you’re juggling many, many, many essays, some medical schools may require that you submit the CASPer, which is a timed ethical dilemma test. There is no perfect way to prepare for this test, but you should be aware of it and the time it can absorb when you are managing one of the busiest months of your entire life. Once again: how fast you turn around your secondaries impacts your chances of receiving an interview, so there’s not much time left for feeling overwhelmed.

If you make it to the third phase, the interview, congratulations! That is quite an achievement in itself. Interviews typically take place between August and March. Medical schools cut a large number of applicants between the secondary and the interview stages. The first interview invitations will go to applicants at the top of the pile. You guessed it: those are the candidates that were timely with all of their application components.  If you’ve got an interview, your chances of admission increase significantly. Make sure you prepare well for your interview and review commonly asked questions - this really is make or break. The three kinds of interviews are:

  • Traditional - between applicant and faculty
  • Group interview - in groups of applicants and faculty
  • Multiple Mini Interviews - quick interviews with different people

Understanding the overall medical school timeline helps you get a clearer picture of the importance of submitting the AMCAS application on time. It could risk your entire application chances, and that jeopardizes your dream of becoming a doctor! 

Once The AMCAS Has Opened

Let’s zoom in on the primary phase now. The AMCAS submission process goes:

Submission >  Verification > Processed > Sent to medical schools

Step Description
Submission You complete the online application and submit all the application materials to AMCAS; You pay the application fees
Verification Your transcripts are forwarded to AMCAS; Your coursework is verified; Your grades are converted into an AMCAS GPA
Sent to medical schools The medical schools on your list receive your verified application; Your letters of recommendation are sent to each school; MCAT scores are sent to each school as they become available

The AMCAS opened on May 3rd, so you should have already filled it out by now. Once you have carefully entered your demographic information, coursework, experiences, and personal statement and forwarded all your official transcripts and score reports to AMCAS, it’s time. You are finally ready to submit! Note that while you do not need your MCAT scores or letters of recommendation to submit, admission officers will not actually read your application until they have all of the components of the primary.

Again: in the case of submitting your primary, timing is everything. I highly recommend that you submit your primary the very day the application opens. Your timeliness with submitting the primary will dictate the rest of your application, so you do not want to mess up this step in any way. 

After you submit the AMCAS, you enter a waiting period for verification. During the verification process, AMCAS compares your official transcripts to what you have entered on your AMCAS application. AMCAS will also convert your grades to AMCAS grades and an AMCAS GPA to provide a standardized GPA to medical schools. Once this is completed, the application is considered processed and is delivered to the medical schools indicated on your application. Letters of recommendation are delivered on a rolling basis. MCAT scores are automatically received and delivered to the indicated medical schools. Even with these, sooner is better.

When Should You Submit Your Medical School Application in 2021?

In case it wasn’t clear already, let me say this one more time: You need to submit your AMCAS application as soon as possible! During peak periods from June to September, it will take approximately 6 weeks for AMCAS to process your application. Don’t forget, the earliest you can submit the AMCAS application this year is May 27th, 2021. The early decision program has an absolute deadline of August 1st for all medical schools. Regular medical admission deadlines range from October to December. You can see the AAMC calendar with important dates here. The bottom line is: the earlier you submit your application, the more spots will be open and available, and the greater chance you have.

When Am I Ready to Submit My AMCAS Application? 

If you feel that you have done everything, and are absolutely ready to send your AMCAS application, ask yourself the following questions to figure out if the time has truly come.

Is my personal statement and my experiences section in its best and final form?

Make sure your personal statement depicts you in every sentence. It shouldn’t talk about why your uncle was a doctor, it shouldn’t talk about how your hero changed medicine forever. It should talk about you. It should talk about why you are passionate about the field of medicine and what qualifications you would bring to the table. Medical school admissions committees read applications from the very best candidates around the country. Be as specific as possible and avoid cliches. In order to stand out, you need to deliver on what makes you truly unique. 

There is always room for edits. Has your personal statement been revised, edited, and revised again? Once you have submitted the essay and experiences section, they cannot be edited, added to, or removed. These are critical parts of your application, and you should feel confident that they are in their best and final form before you submit them. Always make sure a second set of eyes has looked it over. There is no word processing software within the AMCAS application, so double-check for spelling and formatting. A sloppy early submission is worse than a polished later submission.

Do I have all my official transcripts?

Do you have all the final grades you want to include? If you have had a recent upward trend in your grades, or you are enrolled in a post-baccalaureate course, you may want to wait for your most recent grades to appear on your official transcripts, so they are included in your submission.

Is my information entered correctly?

The most common reasons for a delayed application include the failure to correctly list coursework as it appears on your official transcripts. If there are errors, your application will be returned to you and this will ultimately hold back your application and may cause you to miss deadlines. Check and double-check to make sure that you have all of the information the AMCAS asks for, including agreeing to the certification statements and paying the application fees.

What changes can I make later?

You can only change certain things once you submit your application. Make sure you are aware of what AMCAS allows you to change after submission: Your name, your ID number, your date of birth and sex, your contact information, letters of recommendations up to ten, your next MCAT date, additional medical schools, and the release of your application information to your pre-health advisor. You should also be aware of what can be added to your application later. You can usually ADD up to twelve letters of recommendations and you can assign new letters to certain medical schools, but you cannot remove a letter previously assigned to a medical school. You can also add a new MCAT test date and score.

When Is It Too Late to Apply to Medical School?

With all that said, if you don’t finish your application by the 28th can you still apply to medical school during the 2021-2022 cycle? The answer is yes, but you’ve got to work hard and bring your A-game. Thousands of candidates would have already submitted their AMCAS applications. If you believe you need a little more time — whether to put the final touches on your personal essay or to finish a certain number of hours in a new, remote extracurricular environment—you’re left wondering what your chances truly are. 

Although June is ideal, submitting by mid-July should be safe, especially if you’ve got a strong application. September is indeed too late to submit your medical school application because most schools would already choose their interviewees by then. August isn’t as extreme, but your chances may be a bit more narrow. If you absolutely can’t submit before August, make sure that you have incredibly strong grades, unique extracurriculars, and a highly compelling personal statement that helps you stand out in order to make up for the lost time. However, the odds are not in your favor, especially with the competitiveness of the admissions landscape.

More than half of the total number of students who apply to medical school every year get denied and have to reapply to medical school. Even if you applied at the earliest possible time — with the intense level of competition — your chances would still be low. Pushing your deadline later than July isn’t the most ideal, especially if you believe you could prepare more this year, and wait until next year’s cycle to submit. 

So, when should you submit your medical school application? The bottom line is that the earlier you submit, the better. Keep in mind that some medical schools may start sending acceptance letters as soon as October. Once a medical school has begun filling its class, the admission committee will be more discriminatory with the available spots they have left to fill. Late submission is a common mistake that may have a significant impact on your chances for admission to your top choice schools. Do not hold yourself back from submitting early. When it comes to submitting the AMCAS and taking the right first step to applying to medical school, timing is everything. 

Once you’ve prepared to submit a strong application, make sure to submit it on time. Even if you have a fantastic application, any hesitation or delay can slow down the entire process. Do not hold yourself back from submitting early. When it comes to submitting the AMCAS and taking the right first step to applying to medical school, timing is everything.

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