Medical School Early Decision Guide

This article will focus on the Early Decision process as part of the medical school application process. This particular avenue into medical school is relatively uncommon due to its narrow qualifications, however it still warrants a brief discussion to see if early decision is right for you! Simplistically, Early Decision is an application option reserved for highly competitive applicants to apply to a singular medical school with the goal of shortening their application cycle or cut down on application costs. This program may be of interest to pharmacy applicants who have high medical school statistics (MCAT/GPA) and are more likely to have stronger ties to a particular region (already started a family, mortgages, etc.). We will explore more of these details below and show you the various pros and cons of this unique pathway into medical school.

The Medical School Early Decision Guide

What is Medical School Early Decision?

Early decision programs offer highly competitive students the option to solely apply to a single medical school with the promise that if they are accepted, they will attend the program. To simplify, this is the perfect example of "putting all your eggs in one basket." The benefit is that students who apply to this program are frontloaded into the application process by the admissions team. By participating in one of these programs (selected in AMCAS), your application is given priority review over the large swaths of regular cycle applicants. Students are required to submit their application no later than August 1st. There is no wiggle room for late applications so you need to be on top of your application timeline!


From a medical school admissions perspective, students who apply with early decision are highly valued because the very nature of the program guarantees that the individuals in question are truly dedicated to the program. This small cohort of highly motivated applicants, with razor sharp medical school statistics, and verifiable dedication to a program, fit all the basic qualities of the ideal medical school applicant. This is not to suggest that regular season applicants won't be passionate about a future program, however, they haven't shown an equivalent level of dedication as early decision participants. That level of commitment, or bravado has its merit! With that said, demonstrating passion for a medical school will not guarantee you a seat. As you will see moving forward with this "all or nothing attitude" can put you in a pretty bad position if things don't go your way!


Additionally, In an effort to be courteous to applicants who are not accepted by early decision, medical schools are required to offer a final decision on your application no later than October 1st. This, in theory, gives the rejected applicants some time to scramble and apply to other medical schools. If you've been reading some of my other posts, you can probably recognize the significance of an October 1st Decision Date. Applying to other medical schools in October is officially LATE and puts you at risk of not getting into any medical school. Rolling admissions can make even the strongest applicants crumble. A way to combat this is to pre-write your secondary's for other medical schools you anticipate applying to. While you are not allowed to formally submit further applications until you receive a final decision from your program, you can always try to get ahead to avoid further cycle delays. This gives you a little bit of a cushion so that you can add schools, finish their secondary, and enter their "completed" application stack as fast as humanly possible.


What Medical Schools Offer Early Decision?

Over 90 allopathic medical schools offer an "early decision program (EDP)" option for applicants to apply to. Take a look at the Early Decision Program List created by the AAMC to see if your top choice schools offer this option!


Who Should Apply to Early Decision and How?

Generally speaking this option is reserved for highly competitive applicants with compelling rationale to attend the medical school in discussion. This process is highly unpredictable and you need to give yourself the best possible chance of getting in. You may be asking "what defines high statistics?" There isn't a perfect definition for this example but I usually recommend having an MCAT score of 3-4 points above MSAR average and a strong GPA to back it up.


Applying via early decision is fairly similar to how regular season applicants apply with a few minor tweaks in their approach. Your personal statement should still reflect your life story and address why you want to become a physician, however you also should discuss why you are such a great fit for your program of interest! Talk about how your experiences will add to the diversity of the medical school, how you can help other students along the way, and what you can offer to current organizations/clubs. Also, your secondary application needs to be stellar, considering this is your only secondary you will hopefully complete for the cycle. I generally endorse quick secondary turnaround times but this is the one exception where I think you should consider taking 1-2 weeks perfect your responses.


Do Osteopathic Medical Schools have Early Decision?

Yes! There are currently 6 programs that offer Early decision for students. These programs are almost identical to allopathic pathways and follow a very similar timeline. Keep in mind that you cannot apply to an early decision program for both allopathic and osteopathic schools in the same cycle. The stipulations are very clear that you will not be considered if you have sent applications to more than one medical school (MD or DO) in a cycle.


The list of Osteopathic Medical Schools Offering Early Decision Programs:

  • A.T. Still University Kirksville College of Medicine

  • Campbell University Jerry M. Wallace School of Medicine

  • Edward Via College of Medicine

  • Marian University College of Medicine

  • Rowan University School of Medicine

  • University of North Texas Health Science Center Texas College of Medicine

Early Decision Summary:

Pros:

  1. Shortens the admissions cycle timeline. You will know if you've been accepted to the medical school of your choosing by October 1st.

  2. Reduces cost. One application fee, one secondary fee, one interview travel expense and you are off the hook financially. Alternatively, regular applicants can multiply those fees by 15-25x. It adds up quickly!

Cons:

  1. Doesn't change your chances of getting into a program. Some may argue it even lowers your odds (statistically speaking) since most schools limit the number of early decision seats available every cycle. Instead of competing for 180 available positions, you may be fighting for as little as 5!

  2. You must be 100% committed to a school. If you are given an acceptance, you are 100% committed to going to the program. With this in mind you might find yourself stuck if you come to realize you don't really like the school, the administration, the curriculum, or find out your peers are far less collaborative than you originally perceived them to be.

  3. The October 1st decision date can cause you to enter the regular admission cycle late. As mentioned, most medical schools employ a rolling admission process meaning seats are filled progressively as the cycle trudges along. Each day you delay your submissions is another potential seat that has been filled. When you apply late you are in line behind thousands of other regular season applicants whom may have already been interviewed and offered acceptances!

  4. You need to be a top tier applicant to consider this approach. Let's look at a example to better articulate this point. Let's say a program only reserves 5 seats for early decision applicants, and there were a total of 20 applicants who decided to participate in the program. By convention there is a 25% chance of getting one of the coveted seats. The problem is that you are competing against the best applicants in the entire application cycle pool with the highest metrics, and most compelling experiences. Operating out of this vacuum of 20 students, the school has to make 15 very difficult decisions on who to send home. 15 applicants must get the chopping block and there are no "waitlist life rafts" to cling on to. The irony is that the average MCAT scores of these 20 applicants likely surpasses the schools average by a good 4 points. Those 15 who get chopped would probably never have been rejected if they had applied as a regular applicant (absent any major personality flaws). Essentially, if those same 15 highly qualified students chose to apply in the regular cycle, they would have a far better shot of getting accepted. The school isn't under the same regulatory constraints or mandated to offer a final decision by October 1st. Theoretically, the program could add them to a waitlist, mull their application over for a few months and then decide to grant them a seat as the application pool thins. If you aren't a top tier applicant, and decide to apply via Early Decision, you might be setting yourself up to fail. Early decision has a reputation for rejecting applicants with metrics far exceeding their MSAR reported averages so don't get discouraged if it happens to you. Tread carefully when applying as an early decision applicant. You have been warned!

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