When to Apply

Sophomore Early Assurance 

I've heard there are programs for Princeton sophomores to get accepted to medical school early. I'm not sure that I'd want to go to any of the schools that offer these programs, but I want to keep my options open. Should I apply?

None of the early assurance programs require you to commit at the time of acceptance. Both the Penn Med and Rutgers - Robert Wood Johnson Medical School programs provide opportunities to spend time on campus in the summer to get a feel for the vibe before making decisions. For all of the programs, you can hold your acceptance unless you take the MCAT, at which point you must release it. Every application process that you do, you learn something about yourself and about how to present yourself, so we encourage you to put in applications for programs that you qualify for. 

Regular application cycle

What's HPA's opinion about applying to medical school Early Decision?

The med schools that offer Early Decision (ED) programs - and not all do - typically select 5-10 students by this means. This number is quite a bit lower than the number of ED candidates admitted to most undergraduate colleges.  One applies at the earliest moment possible in June, and med schools are not obligated to notify applicants until October 1.  No one should apply "ED" without checking with the med school about the competitiveness of his/her credentials and discussing your idea with advisers at HPA.  A med school dean or director of admissions should tell you that your grades and MCAT scores are competitive for their ED program, or at least what the numbers of last year's admitted ED candidates were.  Applying early is very risky because when you submit your initial AMCAS application you may indicate only that one school.  If you get deferred into the "regular" pool of applicants - and you won't know until Oct 1st -, or if you're outright rejected, only then may you apply to other schools.  Applying to these other schools in October gives you a very late start, and will put you at a disadvantage. 

At Princeton we typically have 0-1 person apply ED each year, usually to their state school.  They have spoken to us and to admissions people beforehand, and their numbers are well above the averages for accepted applicants at that school.  For a vast majority of applicants, however, the risks of the ED option (delaying your application at other schools) outweigh the benefit of focusing on one school.  

I noticed that most medical schools have application deadlines in the fall, but HPA tells us that we should apply in June. Why is this?

Of course, we can’t 100% predict who’s going to get into medical school in any given year. There are way too many schools and way too many factors at play. But, based on data and our own experience, we do know that there are certain actions that applicants can take to optimize their chances, and one is to apply earlier rather than later in the application year. The application can be submitted on or around June 5 (with or without an MCAT score) and our advice is to aim to submit within around two weeks of that opening date (and to take the MCAT no later than June; mid-May if you want to know your score before you submit the application). Here are some of the reasons:

  • There is a significant lag time between the time that you submit your common application and the time that arrives at schools (due to processing time that you can’t control). Applying earlier will reduce that lag time and give you the chance to get evaluated, interviewed, and accepted earlier.
  • Many schools operate on rolling admissions policies. This means that they will start letting students in early and will continue to do so until they have filled their class. The earlier you’re in the applicant pool, the more shots you have at getting one of those acceptances.
  • Schools that don’t operate on rolling admissions still offer interviews over a set range of dates with the bulk of interviews in early September through early January. Based on our data from recent years, about 50% of interview invitations went out in August and September, and only about 20% in December and later. So if you submit your application in November, you’re vying for fewer interview slots than those who had applied earlier.
  • Applying early reflects well on your professionalism: it can give the impression that you were well organized, punctual, managing your time well, and committed to the application process. Applying right at the deadline could give the impression, whether it’s true or not, that you were unsure of your candidacy or your interest in medicine, or otherwise unprepared to apply.
  • Knowing you’ve done everything you can do to apply early can give you a sense of control in a process where you often don’t feel in control.

We’ll talk more about this at our Applicant Info Session this fall!

I know I want to go to med school but I also know I’m not ready to go right after I graduate, so I hope to apply this year and ask for a deferral. I’m just trying to get the process done ahead of time. Is that okay?

It is a common misconception that going through the application process while on campus, then deferring, is the simplest way to go for applicants who know they want another year. We do not recommend this course of action. Not all medical schools have deferral policies, so you would be limiting where you could apply (never a good idea if you’re trying to maximize your competitiveness). Of the schools that do have deferral policies, they vary considerably in terms of what they will accept as a plausible reason for wanting another year. Their goal is to fill next fall’s entering class, and they generally view your request to wait another year with a critical eye.  Some schools only accept deferral requests from individuals who have been accepted to internationally known programs like the Peace Corps or Teach For America, or have received a Rhodes or Marshall, or have a family emergency that prevents them from being able to matriculate in their intended Class. It is best to plan to apply to medical school in the spring of the year before you really want to attend.  Whether you’re on campus or not really isn’t an issue. The interview with our office can be done online or at a time when you’re back on campus. Letters of recommendation can be gathered in large part before you graduate. The application process itself is done entirely online and can be done from anywhere in the world. By all means, come talk to us about your individual case, if you’d like. Generally speaking, however, wait until the spring of the year before you’re prepared to matriculate. 

I know a lot of people are deciding to take time off between graduation and medical school. When do they usually decide that that’s what they’re going to do?

Good question! Some students decide very early – freshman or sophomore year – and plan their premed-related activities and classes across all four years. Some students don’t decide until the very last minute before they would have to submit the application in the summer. It varies widely, but the most common time is late junior fall or early junior spring.

We go through all of the application logistics at our HPA Applicant Info Session in the fall semester and follow up with an “Evaluating Your Candidacy” workshop to help students reflect on their readiness for the application cycle. In consultation with advisers and others, many students may opt to take additional time in order to strengthen their candidacy before applying. Reasons can vary, and may include: a desire to improve academic metrics or improve relationships with potential writers of letters of recommendation; a need for more clinical experience; more time to study for MCAT; more time to save money to finance the application cycle; lack of clarity or confidence in career goals; or other priorities that will interfere with preparing the application this year. 

My parents are doctors and are pressuring me to apply to medical school this year. I don't feel ready to apply yet but they don't understand why students take gap years. Do you have advice on how to help them understand my concerns? 

Glide/gap years are a relatively new phenomenon--the only applicants who took glide years when your parents were going through medical school were likely those who had "problems" with their applications (and it was a lot easier to get in back then!). It can be hard for families to appreciate the newer trends in medical school education and admissions. Our handout, Ten Reasons to Consider a Glide Year, provides some talking points that may help you talk with them about this decision (you could ask them to read through it and then talk about it). If they have colleagues with ties to admissions, it may help to ask them to talk with their colleagues about trends in applicants that they see. If data helps, showing them MSAR age demographics for each medical school could help them understand the diversity in the cohort. Sometimes a financial argument resonates with family: cost of attendance and medical student debt have increased faster than inflation--even if your family is helping you with tuition, an investment of time and energy to develop your candidacy and readiness for medical school on the front end could make the medical school investment more worthwhile in the long run: it could mean getting into a school you're more excited about, and you could enter more refreshed and ready to make the most of your medical education. Try to get to the root causes of your family members' concerns and we can try to help you shape your response.

I’m graduating this spring and have made a two-year job commitment, so I don’t plan to apply to medical school until I’m away from Princeton. Will HPA still support me? Is there anything I should be doing before I leave campus?

We would definitely recommend stopping by to meet with an HPA adviser if you haven’t been in recently. We’ll add you to our database of potential applicants for a future year, and that way, we’ll be able to reach out to you when you should be starting the process for your chosen application year. We can also look over your candidacy as it stands and give you our analysis of strengths and areas you might address in your time off before applying. Logistically, you may also want to ask for some of your letters of recommendation from Princeton faculty in person before you leave, since it is good professional form to ask in person, and it’ll be easier to track people down while you’re here. Guidelines for asking for and storing letters can be found on our website. Enjoy your time away! Only about 20% of our applicants starting the process this year are rising seniors, so more and more, we’re seeing students taking time to enhance their candidacies via one or two-year post-graduation opportunities.