When to Apply
To maximize your chances for success, be strategic in choosing when to apply.
It is of paramount importance to enter the application process when you are the strongest applicant that you can be. Applying to a health professions school is expensive and time and labor intensive. The extraordinary difference between the number of applicants and the number of spaces available allows admissions committees to be very selective. When applicants take a “let’s just apply and see” approach, they can in effect end up extending their timeline for applying, wasting money and effort, and diminishing their overall chances for success.
Are You Ready?
Read through the rest of this guide and familiarize yourself with both the application process and the expectations of the programs you intend to apply to. Pre-medical students may want to complete a formal self-assessment to judge their preparedness. A helpful article to review is: "How Do I...Deal with Application Anxiety?".
The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) outlines core competencies reasonably expected of entering medical school students. Applicants who provide evidence demonstrating these competencies (key attributes and experiences) are most likely to have a successful application to medical school. These competencies are described in full detail here.
The application process takes at least one full calendar year to complete. (View General Timeline) For many programs (including MD, DO, DVM and DDS programs) it begins in the spring fifteen to eighteen months before you intend to matriculate, and you may not receive your final decision notices (if you are waitlisted) until the summer immediately before you wish to begin your program. The first deadline most applicants face is the deadline to request a Health Committee Letter.
Focus on opening dates and not final deadline dates
Many programs work on a rolling admissions basis and you will be at a significant disadvantage if you delay until final deadlines approach to submit any part of your application. Applications are also very complicated to manage, and a mistake caught at or after a deadline cannot be addressed in the same way as one caught before a deadline.
A viable Plan B should be part of your plans
Be realistic. The end result of the application process is uncertain and you may need to reapply or wait to apply until you are a stronger candidate. Thus it is imperative that you lay the groundwork for a viable Plan B while you are preparing to apply to health professions programs. Health professions admissions committees take notice of candidates with diverse and well-developed interests and experiences. Pursuing a rigorous academic program and/or developing professional or research skills can only strengthen your application. Take the time as you are preparing for a health profession program to also explore and develop skills and interests that can sustain you before or in lieu of your matriculation in a health professions program.
Do not fear a gap year or gap years
Many students are anxious about taking time between completing their undergraduate degree and beginning study at their chosen health profession school. Provided that applicants are constructive with this time, and continue to find ways to explore their interest in the health professions, their application will not be negatively impacted. Health professional programs are admitting an increasing percentage of students who have acquired a year or more of experiences beyond their undergraduate training.
Suggestions for “gap” years
University of Rochester alumni have done many different things between graduating from college and matriculating in health professions programs. They have volunteered with the Peace Corps, Teach for America and a host of other outreach organizations. They have worked full time to help finance their future education in a range of professions from banking to scientific research, from public policy to entry-level clinical positions related to their intended programs of study. They have worked to improve their academic or other credentials to make their applications more competitive by enrolling in graduate or post-bac programs, or by taking courses as non-matriculated students. They have joined the military, gone on mission, secured internships, and started companies and non-profit organizations. The list is nearly endless.
Remember that people who choose to delay an application by a year or two are frequently more motivated, better organized, and more mature than many of their younger counterparts who applied to enter directly from college.