The Right Time to Take the MCAT

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The Right Time to Take the MCATWhen should you take your MCAT? This is the million dollar question.

If your dream is to become a physician, you have to take the MCAT.

Medical schools in the United States and Canada require this exam; as well as many schools in the Caribbean, Australia, Europe, even Asia.

Since the majority of my MCAT students are in the U.S and Canada, I will focus on this timeline. Please speak with your MCAT advisor and conduct your own additional research to verify what you have to do to get into medical school in your area.

When it comes to MCAT dates, there are three things to consider:

  1. There is a verification period after the application is submitted.
  2. Your target medical schools’ specific timeline and deadline.
  3. Whether or not your target schools operate on a rolling admissions basis.

The Med School Application Verification Period

AMCAS’ verification period may take up to six weeks! The peak processing times are August through September, therefore, the wait may be shorter after those dates but could still take up to that long.

The verification process begins:  when you have submitted your application and when AMCAS has received your official transcripts.

From there, the coursework you listed in your application is compared to the official transcripts. If any major errors/omissions are discovered, AMCAS will halt all actions and notify you via email.

Also during this time, AMCAS is converting your undergrad transcript grades into their equivalent grading scale.

Once they have finished verifying all your information you will get an email saying your application has been processed.

AMCAS released a visual diagram, and talks a little in their FAQ section on this.

AACOMAS’ processing (for Osteopathic – DO schools) is similar.

Med School Application Deadlines

The deadlines for each school may vary, so pay close attention to dates as they are crucial in this process.

For example, most U.S. and Canadian medical school classes begin in the Fall. However, there are schools that have a winter starting class which is true for schools outside the U.S. and Canada, such as in the Caribbean.

Hard deadlines are less important when schools operate on rolling admissions, so let’s start there.

What are Rolling Admissions?

The name rolling admissions is self explanatory, in that it implies that applications will continue to be accepted and reviewed on a rolling basis.

For instance, if applications open in June and the deadline is October, they will not wait until all the applications are submitted in October to start review.

Instead, they will start evaluating applications as early as June or July.
If yours is in that early pile, they’ll look at your application well before students applying in August or September.

In other words. They will NOT hold your seat till October if you apply at the last minute.

It is critical to submit you application as early as possible, the sooner the admissions committee reviews your application, the sooner you can receive your secondary applications.

There are several reasons this puts you in a better position:

For one, you are able to submit your secondary essays early and schedule an interview date.

Earlier interview = earlier decision

I’ve had students take the MCAT in April 2016 and receive their acceptance in early September.
I’ve seen students who tested in June 2016 get accepted late September and October.

What does this mean for you?

Every school has a finite number of seats in their upcoming medical school class. The more students they accept the fewer seats remain.

Therefore, the earlier you apply the greater your chances of qualifying for an open seat.

When your application is being reviewed by the admissions committee, keep in mind that there are nearly 100% of the seats to give away.

This means that your chances of acceptance are reasonably high as long as you meet the specific requirements and qualifications for your school of interest.

However, the longer you wait, the more competitive it is to secure a spot.

Picture a scenario where just one seat remains:

They are evaluating your application and they like what they see, but there’s another student with a very similar application and they like them too.

Are your chances still that strong? Not likely.

When a student submits their application early, they aren’t competing with as many students.

If you wait till the end of the deadline in a rolling admissions situation, a very good application may be rejected simply because spots have already been filled. The last few acceptances will have to be quite exceptional.

Don’t give them a reason to turn you away.

I get it, so when should I test?

There’s no hard and fast rule on this.

Instead, I will provide suggestions based on my experience as a full time MCAT tutor and premed advisor.

AMCAS (MD) Applications open early May for submission to medical schools in early June.
AACOMAS (DO) Applications also open early May for submission and medical schools begin receiving applications mid June.

This means that no matter how early you test, you won’t be able to input your application till May and submit until early June.

But, why not use this time to get everything as ready as possible?

If you want to be part of THE FIRST SET of applications you must be ready by Day 1.

This means you want to be working on and completing your application in May to prepare to hit ‘Submit’ in June.

Since it takes about 30 days from test date to get your MCAT scores, you want to take the MCAT BEFORE May. More on this below.

This means testing on or before the final April test date (this article has this year’s list of MCAT dates).

If you’re not ready to achieve around your target score by April, DO NOT TEST in April.

Trust me, a terrible score with an early application does not mean acceptance, it simply means an early rejection.

Not sure? Read this: Should I Postpone My MCAT Date?

You can still be ‘early’ without testing on Day 1.

May and June test dates are still early enough for a reasonable application timeline.
Just make sure you have your applications ready to go the day you submit your MCAT scores.

I advise my students to submit their applications no later than August.
This means testing by July at the latest, if at all possible.

Once you pass August, the competition becomes fierce.

I’m not saying you won’t get accepted.

I’m saying that your chances will decrease with every passing day.

August and September test dates are pushing the boundaries.

Yes. Many schools have deadlines well after September, but remember: they won’t be looking at your application right away and by the time they do, many seats will already be gone.

Should you avoid testing altogether if it’s a choice between August or next year?

Not at all!

One of my Study Hall members tested in August 2016 and received her 2017 acceptance mid-December 2016. Her background and strong application helped her stand out.

Instead, I’m saying that if you’re reading this early enough where you can plan to test earlier, try to test as early as you can.

It’s not just your MCAT date

Your application’s quality and timeliness are important factors.

Together with your MCAT score, these will get you into medical school.

Set aside time to work on your application packet that includes transcript information, your personal statement, letters of recommendation, and experiences even before you know your MCAT score.

The application is NOT simply a ‘check yes or no’ form.

Instead, it’s very, VERY, VERY, detailed. There are several essays and lots of data to input one by one.

Every course’s name, grade, and category must be entered individually.

Every job that you have had, volunteer activity, research experience, and other relevant events will not only be listed, but each one will have a text box underneath it, with a word count/limit for which you will have to describe your involvement.

That being said, treat this task as no less important than your MCAT. And give yourself enough time to draft it and get it reviewed by peers and mentors.

I suggest starting on what you can in advance, even before applications open.

How?

Google the essays and start drafting them in a Word doc.
Get all your data assembled and ready to go. Transcripts, LORs (letters of recommendation) and more.
Then use the entire month between MCAT completion and scores to hone and perfect your application.

If you put off submitting your applications, instead of sending as soon as possible, you have defeated the purpose of testing early.

Remember, you are competing with thousands of other students for a spot and you need to have as much advantage on your court as humanly possible.

The January Deadline Myth

Some schools have deadlines as late as February for the coming Fall.

Let’s quickly clarify the application cycle (explained in more detail in an upcoming article. stay tuned)

MCAT to medical school takes over a year.

For example, if you take an early MCAT and apply in June.
You’ll receive and submit your secondary applications that summer.
Early interviews start in the Fall.
Acceptances go out in the Fall & Winter.
You have to confirm your acceptance by Spring.
To start medical school the FOLLOWING Fall.

That’s well over a year from application to starting med school.

But what about winter deadlines for THAT year?

I’ve seen students jump on a January test date thinking they can start medical school the following fall.

Typically, just to clarify, say you test in January of 2017 you’d be starting medical school in Fall of 2018, NOT Fall of 2017.

Some schools have very late deadlines. This deadline is for students with some connection, bridge program, or conditional acceptance to submit the final components of their application.

If you test in January and apply right before the deadline, chances are you will NOT get accepted.

So why test in January?

If you studied all summer/fall and want the exam over with, January is a good time to test for the following cycle.

Get your scores in February then wait until May to start on your application.

I’ve had students do this so they can travel or study abroad for the spring semester without worrying about their MCAT.

All of the above is for students applying to schools that operate on a rolling admissions basis.

What if your target school has a hard deadline?

Non-rolling Admissions

If your target medical school has a hard deadline the process will be very different.

Hard deadlines are simple:

  • All applications arrive before a specified date
  • On that specified date, ALL applications are considered simultaneously with the same preference given to each applicant regardless of when the application was submitted.

This is true for most schools in Canada and less than a dozen in the U.S.

Just because you have a late deadline does NOT mean you should test at the last minute.

Life has a way of getting in the way.

Don’t wait until the last minute and risk not being ready.
If you can get the exam out of the way early enough, do so!
If you need your summer to study, that’s ok.

I recommend scheduling your test date at least 1.5 – 2 months before the deadline.

This allows you to pivot if life gets in the way!

If you’re not 100% ready, you can postpone your exam for a few weeks.

If something happens and you can’t test, you can postpone.
If something happens during the exam you still have time to take it again.

The last one is out of your hands, but unfortunately too common.

I’ve heard every imaginable story from my students. From testing centers losing power, internet connection issues, natural disasters causing a shutdown (think snowstorm, hurricane, earthquake, and riots).

If you scheduled the very last test day and the internet goes out, you’re stuck waiting an entire later cycle.

Don’t let that happen!

Should You Apply Before Receiving MCAT Scores?

“I want to apply early but I’m not ready to test. Why don’t I submit my application in June so it’s early and let them know that I’m testing in June/July…?”

I do NOT recommend submitting your application before you receive your MCAT scores for two reasons:

  1. Will they look at your application before scores are submitted?
  2. What if you don’t like your MCAT scores?

I want you to picture this scenario:

You work for the admissions committee and have to sort through thousands of applications to fill 100 seats for the upcoming class.

THOUSANDS!

You’re looking to quickly qualify or disqualify applications so that you can narrow down the number of interviews and, hopefully, maintain some sanity over the coming months.

…And here is an application without an MCAT score.

The student says they’re going to take the exam next month, but you’ve seen this before.

Some say ‘June’ and test in July, some test in September.
Sometimes an application is never completed because the student didn’t get around to testing.
And sometimes the score does come in, but you’re looking for a 508 or higher and the scores are in the 480’s.

You’ve seen this too many times before.

Do you review the application and wait for an MCAT score?

Or do you figure,

“I’m not going to waste my time on this right now. Show me an MCAT score and then I’ll decide what to make of this application?”

I like efficiency and systems.

If I was on this committee, I’d say ‘show me a score and I’ll look at your application.’

Getting BELOW Your Target Score

Just because you apply does not mean you’ll get accepted. You should use your scores to gauge if it makes sense to apply.

Say it’s your dream to attend Columbia Medical School.
You have the competitive GPA and everything else on your application matches their admission requirements.
You know you need about a 516 on the MCAT.
If your score comes back at 513, you’d still apply. You’re close enough.
But, if your scores comes back at 502, I’d hold off on the application.

You have 2 options here:

  1. Apply to other schools where a 502 can get you an interview.
  2. Plan to retake the MCAT to earn a higher score.

If you submitted an application prior to receiving your exam scores, that’s it.
The school will see that 502.

I’m not saying you’ll be rejected 100%…

But chances are VERY high.

If you retest and apply again, you’re now viewed as a ‘re-applicant’ making it slightly more difficult the second time around.

However, if you simply withhold your application, retest and earn your 516, you’ll be able to apply with the score the first time around and have a much greater chance at gaining admission.

In conclusion,

Your planned MCAT date has to be accommodating enough so that you can have enough time to prepare, and at the same time, be able to get your score in time to apply early.

Remember, if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.

The admissions process can be long and tedious, but with hard work and good timing, getting accepted to your target medical school could very well be within reach.

When are you planning to take your MCAT?

Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

  1. Christina t says:

    May 19

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