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How To Get Into Medical School: A Timeline

If you’re a pre-med student (or on your way to becoming one), you have a lot on your plate. You’re expected to complete rigorous prerequisites and seek out impressive extracurriculars. Beyond school walls,  you’re shadowing doctors and studying for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), while juggling multiple applications for medical school. With more factors to consider than any other major, these pre-med years can easily sneak past you.

Since medical school applications can take almost a full year to complete, it can be difficult to know where to begin. To stay on track, this timeline will help you create a schedule for yourself and maintain structured time management throughout your undergraduate education.  

Freshman Year: Build a Foundation

The path to successfully achieving an acceptance to medical school requires you to begin your planning earlier than any other major. Staying on track with a schedule increases your eventual admission chances and reduces the potential stress in the application process.

In your first year, it is essential to map out with your guidance counselor or academic advisor the classes you intend to take, leaving room to retake a class or two to achieve the desired grades in your prerequisites. This ensures that your schedule is not derailed by a particularly difficult professor or lab partner. With your mind and study habits fresh from finishing similar courses in high school, do not delay in tackling your medical school prerequisite classes. Buy yourself time in your later years to study for the MCAT by taking your medical school prerequisites early.

Alongside a science-heavy academic course load, it is essential to build a resume outside the classroom. Your freshman year is the perfect time to get a feel for the best clubs and societies to join on campus, as well as begin networking.  . Finding a senior mentor whose seat you can soon fill in a club, or who has secured an internship you can be recommended to replace is also a wise networking opportunity. Your freshman year is the perfect time to volunteer at organizations which could lead to internships and shadowing opportunities in the future.

Sophomore Year: Get Social

Along with maintaining high grades, the second year of college is vital for networking. Medical school applications will require two or three letters of recommendation. To be able to reference your growth and potential, it’s essential to begin building these academic relationships early.

There are many ways to build relationships with letters of recommendation in mind while also boosting your resume. This is the year to seek out research opportunities which, in addition to looking good on paper, allow you to familiarize yourself with medical facilities and research before you reach medical school. Additionally, shadowing a local medical professional has the potential to lead to more networking opportunities, and future internships. This year is also the time to rise to a leadership position, if possible, within campus health care organizations to boost your resume.

You should also begin narrowing down your list of medical schools. In addition to discovering the best medical schools in the country, research the school’s teaching style and their specialties to see if it’s a good fit for you.

Here are the best medical schools in the U.S.

Junior Year: Crunch Time

The junior year is the most crucial year of your undergraduate experience because of the MCAT. The MCAT is known to require hours of focused study — an average of 200-300 hours — before taking the test. The majority of students register for the MCAT just before or during their third year of college, as this typically coincides with the completion of the necessary prerequisites for medical school.

It is important to schedule a meeting with your advisor before your third year begins to make sure that you’re on track for graduation credits as well as your medical school prerequisites. Once you have verified that you have completed the required classes, you are free to register for the MCAT test, which has a fee of $315. For more information about the test itself, there are great resources available, such as The Official Guide to Medical School Admissions and The Association of American Medical College.

As it can take time to gather the required materials for medical school applications, you are encouraged to begin your applications even before you receive your MCAT results. This is also the time to begin writing your personal statement for your applications, which is a 5,000 character essay explaining your motivation to become a physician. Beginning this essay early allows time for contemplation and creating multiple drafts.

The spring semester of junior year should be spent requesting recommendation letters from faculty members or local physicians you have built relationships with. For those who agree to do it, you can make their work a bit easier by writing a bio about yourself for your reference, and providing them with your resume.  

Find MCAT test prep resources here

Summer Before Senior Year: Application Time

Beginning June 1, you can begin submitting your applications and your college transcripts. Most U.S. medical schools participate in the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS), which is the application process through the Association of American Medical Colleges , for application submission. It is recommended to apply early to the schools on your list, which will help you secure an interview spot and improve your chances of eventual admission. After submitting an application, some schools may send you a secondary application to further evaluate your qualifications for inclusion in their medical programs if you pass their initial merit benchmarks. While potentially requiring an additional fee, these applications may require supplemental essays to learn more about you, typically asking additional personal questions to determine a good fit within the class that is being built.

Senior Year: Dual Decisions

As you begin your senior year, you will most likely be receiving decisions from med schools. You may receive a rejection letter, be placed on hold until a later date, or receive an invitation to interview likely between September and February.

Applicants usually have two weeks to submit their deposit and accept their seat before April 30th. With this limited decision time, you might accept an early seat, just in case there are no other offers.

Once you have officially accepted a position, it is a nice gesture to thank everyone helped you become a quality applicant. This is not only a nice gesture, it will also strengthen the professional relationships you have built along the way. A small thank you gift or note is a proper way to acknowledge the people who have helped you achieve your educational goals.

Find the best schools for pre-med here

Author: Michaela Schieffer

Michaela Schieffer is a former admissions counselor and now independent college counselor, guiding students through their college applications and essays through MoonPrep.com. Moon Prep's specialty lies in the Ivy League, direct medical programs (BS/MD), and highly competitive universities.