Early Decision for Medical School - what are the advantages and disadvantages of applying early

Applying Early Decision to Medical School: Pros and Cons

As you prepare to apply to medical school, you may notice that there are many ways to gain admission to some of the most selective graduate programs in the country. Ranging from BS/MD programs to early assurance programs such as Mount Sinai’s FlexMed, these alternative routes have many benefits to the stressful and long traditional route to applying to medical school. Early Decision Programs (EDP) provide the opportunity to secure an acceptance from one Early Decision Program-participating medical school by October 1st, while still allowing you time to apply to other schools if you are not accepted. To determine if a medical school has an early decision program, visit the school-specific page on the Medical School Admissions Requirements portal (MSAR) curated by the AAMC.

Even for extremely competitive applicants with high GPAs and MCAT scores, gaining entry to medical school is not guaranteed. While EDPs, which function similarly to Early Decision or Early Action for students applying to college, have many positives, there are drawbacks that could hinder most applicants from applying early decision.

In this article, we will answer the following questions:

What are the requirements to apply early decision?

Since EDPs allow for students to have the first shot to be accepted by a medical school, there are additional requirements and deadlines. There are four requirements to be aware of if you are wondering if you should apply early decision to medical school:

  1. Students must apply to only one U.S. medical school by August 1st with all requested materials and cannot apply through EDP if they have already submitted an initial or secondary application to a U.S. medical school for the current entering class
  2. If accepted, the student is bound to attend that medical school and cannot apply to any others
  3. Students cannot apply to any other medical schools until they receive a rejection or are formally released from their EDP agreement, which occurs no later than October 1st
  4. Students must abide by any school-specific EDP policies in addition to those imposed by AMCAS

Although individual schools have different dates for their decision releases, it is important to remember that you cannot apply to other medical schools until you have been rejected or released. Failure to abide by these requirements could lead to the rescinding of acceptances or premature rejections at schools you applied to normally.

You can look at all the latest requirements and updates on AAMC’s website about Early Decision. 

Pros and Cons of Applying Early Decision to Medical School

Advantages to Applying Early Decision to Medical School

Now that we have reviewed the regulations that you must abide by if you chose to applying using EDP, we will highlight four of the main advantages to applying early decision to medical school: the streamlined application process, lower cost, increased consideration, and less stress during your senior/gap year.

 

  1. Streamlined application process. Since EDPs require you to designate only one school to apply to initially, a major benefit of this program is that you could possibly mitigate the need to complete time-consuming secondary applications for the 20+ schools that are necessary for the traditional route. This would allow you to focus your energy on making this singular secondary application as strong as possible. You would also minimize any time that you would need to take off from work or school for interviews since you are only considering one school. This could be a major benefit if you have a particularly restrictive course load or job. EDPs are similar to ED or EA programs for college as you would receive an admissions decision before you would need to submit applications to other schools.
  2. Lower cost. Applying to medical school can be an incredibly costly endeavor. When applying using the AMCAS application, the first school you apply to costs $170 and every school after that costs $40. That means that submitting a primary application to 25 schools costs $1,130! This would be before you would factor in the cost of secondary applications, which routinely average $100 for each school, bringing the total cost up to ~$3600. In contrast, applying using EDP would only cost you about $250, 93% less than applying to all 25 schools. Nonetheless, if cost is not a factor, applying to additional medical schools may be worthwhile since it provides a better chance of acceptance and it is only a small part of the cost involved in becoming a physician.
  3. Increased consideration. Applying through the EDP program is a great chance to show your enthusiasm for one particular school. If you have dreamed about attending a particular medical school for a very long time, this might help provide a slight edge to demonstrate your commitment to this school.
  4. Less stress during your senior/gap year. Since you would receive your medical school admission decision on October 1st, you would get more time to enjoy the rest of your senior year or gap year as compared to anyone who applied through the traditional path. Nonetheless, many schools can begin admitting students through the traditional pathway from as early as October 15th, which is not much later than October 1st.

Disadvantages to Applying Early Decision to Medical School

Although there are benefits to applying early decision to medical school, there are also many real concerns that make applying EDP much less popular than applying ED or EA to colleges. The main drawbacks to applying early decision include: binding yourself to one school, restricting yourself in an unpredictable process, competing for only a few spots, and entering the traditional admissions cycle late.

 

  1. Binding yourself to one school. As we discussed above, applying through EDP to a particular school is a great opportunity to show a school that it is your first choice. However, while you may benefit from some increased consideration, you may be binding yourself to a school when your priorities could change. Usually, applicants continuously reassess factors such as the location, size, or educational mission of each medical school they apply to and what matter most to them. By committing yourself to one medical school without being able to compare it to others, you may not be able to make the most informed decision about your medical education. Also, you may not be able to benefit from comparing financial aid or scholarship offers that you may receive if you are accepted at multiple medical schools.
  2. Restricting yourself in an unpredictable process. Although GPA and MCAT scores can be helpful to show where you are competitive, the depth and breadth of your extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, and the power of the narrative you put forth in your personal statement are all integral to the medical school admissions process. Many schools may perceive your background and accomplishments very differently and this may lead to wildly different admissions outcomes for schools that seem to be similar in terms of selectivity.
  3. Competing for only a few spots. While many top-tier colleges can fill up to half of their entering class through Early Decision or Early Action, medical schools fill a much smaller portion of their class through EDP. Furthermore, medical schools do not admit students through EDP that they would not have admitted during the regular admissions cycle. This is compounded by the fact that medical school classes are much smaller than college classes and you are competing for much fewer positions in the entering class. Therefore, EDP is best suited to push an already excellent application over the edge.
  4. You enter the traditional admissions cycle late. Although AMCAS says that receiving an EDP decision by October 1st will still provide enough time to apply to other medical schools that have final deadlines between November 1st and December 15th, submitting your application this late in the rolling cycle would put you at a clear disadvantage as compared to your peers who had submitted their applications as early as July. Furthermore, unlike college admissions, there are no “safety schools” and admission to medical school is highly unpredictable so applying to a wide variety of medical schools as early as possible provides the best opportunity for success.

Cracking Med School Admissions Tip

If you are applying Early Decision to medical school and applying Regular Decision to other medical schools in the same application cycle, we strongly encourage you to apply to other medical schools before the decision date, October 1.

What If I Don't Get Accepted Early Decision?

Unfortunately, much like the traditional application route, when you are deciding should you apply early decision to medical school remember that there are no guarantees with EDPs and it is possible that you will not receive an acceptance. If you receive either a rejection or a formal release from an Early Decision Program commitment, you must change the type of program which you are applying to regular and then re-certify your application.

 

Since you are now applying via the traditional route, you will have to choose a new list of schools and complete all of the required secondary applications. However, it is important to keep in mind when you will be entering the timeline. Many medical schools have deadlines to submit all parts of your application in November and December and will not review applications that are not complete by their final deadlines. This may mean that you will be faced with an extremely short period of time to organize and complete any secondaries or other aspects of their application. In addition, as we have discussed above, you are at a disadvantage submitting your materials around the deadline as it is likely that many interview slots may have already been filled by earlier applications.

List of Medical Schools That Have Early Decision

Here’s a list of 20 medical schools with Early Decision programs that our Cracking Med School Admissions advisees apply to. We included links to each school’s early decision information page so you can easily compare programs. List is in alphabetical order. If you have questions or need help with your medical school applications, contact us down below. 

Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Boston University School of Medicine

Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine 

Central Michigan University (CMU) College of Medicine

Eastern Virginia Medical School

Florida State University College of Medicine (FSU)

George Washington School of Medicine & Health Sciences

Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM)

Louisiana Shreveport (LSU Health Shreveport)

New York Medical College

Rutgers New Jersey Medical School

SUNY Upstate Medical University

Texas Tech University HSC School of Medicine (only in-state applicants can apply early decision)

University of Alabama

University of Cincinnati College of Medicine

University of Massachusetts (UMass) School of Medicine

University of South Carolina Greenville

University of South Florida (USF) 

Yale School of Medicine

Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra / Northwell

Final Thoughts:

Now that we have assessed the advantages and drawbacks, should you apply early decision to medical school?

In light of the pros and cons, the answer is that most applicants should avoid applying early decision unless you are an extremely stellar applicant (3.9+ GPA, 520+ MCAT, and excellent works and activities) and have a very compelling reason for attending a specific school.

Even if you are a stellar applicant, exercise caution when considering this option as it is not in your best interest to apply through EDP as you bind yourself to one school, take a big chance in an extremely unpredictable process, and are competing for very few open spots. Although it would be amazing to be accepted into the program of your dreams early in the application cycle, this is not guaranteed and restricts your options significantly. Also, while you may not receive a decision from your dream school, many medical schools do begin accepting students as early as October 15th every year, so the extra two weeks may be a worthy trade-off to put yourself in the best position possible to get accepted to medical school.

Written by Prateek S.

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