By: Ben Nguyen, USC Keck School of Medicine
If you’re thinking of applying to medical school, then you’ve probably already heard about what a long and confusing process it can be. But you can make it far less painful if you plan out your path far in advance! Here’s a handy timeline to help you do it if you’re planning on starting Medical School in 2019 (Yes you should think about it this far ahead!):
Jan - Dec 2017 - Take the MCAT, and do other preparation work (see the chart)
Jan 2018 - Make your school list
March 2018 - Write your Personal Statement
May 2018 - Submit AMCAS Primary
July 2018 - Submit AMCAS Secondaries
September 2018 to April 2019 - Interview Season
May 2019 - Confirm and commit to a medical school. Waitlists will move significantly in May as students commit to schools.
Summer 2019 - Have fun!
Fall 2019 - Med School Starts
FAQ on Med School Application Timing
When should I start planning all of this?
You should plan and map out the application process 2-3 years before you want to start medical school. For example, if you wish to start medical school in Fall of 2019, then you should start planning in early 2017. Yes, this seems like a long time in advance, but as you will soon see - the process of applying to medical school is long and arduous. The reason you want to start so far in advance is that you need time to strategize and course correct if you need to. Time is an essential asset.
When should I ask for letters of recommendation?
A good rule of thumb is that you should ask them for a letter of recommendation within 6 months of the time that you worked with them, but the sooner the better. This is because they undoubtedly work with countless other students, so to maximize the chances that the letter will be personal, you should ask them for it while you are still fresh in their minds.
What if I don't plan on applying to medical school for a while? Should I still ask for the letter?
Yes you should! it’s okay to ask for a letter far in advance (years). You can upload it to a service such as Interfolio, where you can keep it until you decide to apply to medical school. It’s better to ask for a letter early and store it away than to ask for a letter late and receive a lukewarm letter that isn’t personal because your faculty member doesn’t remember much about your work.
When should I take the MCAT?
You should take it during the calendar year before you start the application cycle. For example, if you are going to start med school in 2021, then you will start your application cycle in 2020. This means you need to take the MCAT between January and December 2019. The rationale for taking it early is that you can course correct and make adjustments to your plan if you score poorly. If you take it in March of your application year and receive your score in April, then you don’t have very much time to change your strategy should you do poorly because AMCAS opens in May. One month just isn’t enough to re-study for the MCAT, and it’s definitely not enough to make other changes to your strategy - keep in mind that a change in strategy sometimes entails more than just a retake of the MCAT. You may choose to ramp up your extracurriculars, or seek new research pursuits if you have a borderline score where you don’t want to retake the MCAT, but you still need to strengthen your profile.
Can I apply to medical school while working full time?
Yes (I did that), but keep in mind that you will need to travel during interview season. If you know this, then you need to work this out with your employer in advance. Our recommendation is that you be open with your employer - many of them will be very supportive of you and will understand that you need to travel for interviews.
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