From golden calves to stone gods, human beings have a proclivity for placing unmerited faith in inanimate objects. In my many interactions with premed students, I’ve seen a unique kind of unduly placed adoration. In this case, it isn’t a likeness carved out of wood or stone that demands their reverence, but a date on a calendar.
You see, June 1st is indeed a special day for premedical students—at least for those on-the-ball types who stay abreast of every morsel of counsel served up by their premedical advisor. The laissez-faire types, on the other hand—a few of whom are certainly reading this article—are probably wondering out loud right about now, “What’s so special about June 1st?”
June 1st is the first available day for premeds to submit AMCAS—a centralized application into which they input their biographical information, grades, extracurricular activities, and the all-important medical school personal essay. This one application is then forwarded to all of the medical schools to which they apply. For millennia—or since at least the dawn of time—premed advisors have wisely counseled their students to “apply early.” Why apply early? Because many U.S. medical schools consider and accept applicants on a “rolling admissions” basis. This means the committee will extend invitations for interview, and offer acceptances, to applicants of whom they are particular fond as they go along. Anecdotally, committee members appear to be more open-minded toward marginal candidates earlier in the application cycle. If you have an intriguing personal essay, or a stellar interview, they may just pull the trigger on your acceptance—even if your GPA or MCAT isn’t top-notch. Considering an identical applicant in mid-December, however, when 80% of the seats for their upcoming class are filled, ADCOMs will be far more selective.
Other medical schools employ a very different approach, choosing to review every application they receive during the full cycle together—before offering any acceptances. This second policy, however, must be taken with a grain of salt. These non-rolling-admissions schools really do not wait to see all of the applications before filling a single seat. I know this from personal experience because I was accepted one week after my early fall interview at OHSU—a supposed non-rolling-admissions school that claims to gather all of the applications into one pool, rank them, and then invite the top candidates all at once in late spring. Every year, top candidates get accepted to non-rolling-admissions schools on a semi-rolling basis. More accurately, you might say that these schools make the majority of admissions decisions all at once, but will step outside that policy to move quickly on a particularly inviting candidate.
Together, these two observations lend genuine credence to the “apply early” mandate. If rolling admissions schools are more lenient in September, one would certainly want to be considered then. Further, if the non-rolling-admissions schools might accept a strong applicant early, one would want a shot to be that applicant. It appears there is no good reason whatsoever to apply late, or even late-r, in the cycle. That being said, I am going to tell you from years of experience that…
While your premed advisor is right, you should apply early, you should only apply early if you are ready to apply. You should only submit June 1st if you have done everything you could reasonably do to improve that application. If your essay still needs work, if your AMCAS Activities Section is hastily thrown together, if you haven’t had your application reviewed by experienced admissions experts, if you only randomly picked schools based on their MSAR stats alone, then you are absolutely better off to wait.
You shouldn’t wait until July or August. You should use a little common sense to determine what it really means to “apply early.”
Common sense—it is that sense of judgment and reason so universal, so self-evident, that all good people of sound mind are assumed to share these ideas in “common.” There is nothing common sense about believing that pushing the submit button at 12:01AM, or 12:13AM, or even at—heaven forbid—the late ghosting hour of 8:34AM on June 1st, will make one iota of difference.
Can you imagine the following scenario? Exhausted and tired near the end of a full day of committee meetings, the admissions officers at School X review two final applications: John and Mary. John has a 3.98 GPA, a 36 on the MCAT and impressive extracurricular activities. Mary has a 3.45 GPA, a 28 on the MCAT and has no clinical experience. They are about to offer one of those rolling admissions seats to John when the oldest and wisest of the committee’s members calls out from the back: “No, wait. We are about to make a terrible mistake. I see here that Mary submitted her AMCAS at 12:01AM, while John—an obvious slacker--did not push the button until 12:09AM. We must accept Mary, she is obviously the superior candidate!”
Don’t kid yourself. Admissions committees choose strong, qualified applicants who have demonstrated excellence and character. Applicants who are strong in the key areas that really matter—GPA, MCAT, personal essay, meaningful extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, clinical experience, research, and so forth—they are the ones that get in—and the ones that get in early. Students drink a dangerous kind of Kool-Aid when they believe that the down-to-the-minute timing of their application will magically make up for deficiencies in the fundamentals of their application.
Think of early timing as icing on the cake. These admissions officers are cake connoisseurs. They know it is the moisture, the crumb texture, and—above all else—the flavor of the cake that really matters most, and is the most difficult to produce. If you serve them a steaming cow pie with a dollop of Cool Whip, they will see it for exactly what it is and they will not bite. When advisors tell you to apply early it is because they too have been told that it is easier at most schools to get in during September than it is during December. HOWEVER, notice that those two points of comparison are three months, or over 90 days, apart. Yes, you indeed have a better chance in September than in December. If you are being considered in September vs. October? Less can be said about that comparison. If your application is reviewed September 16th and a similar application is reviewed on September 9th? Anyone who tells you there is a reliable, verifiable difference between the likelihood of acceptance of otherwise similar applications reviewed one week apart is simply wrong.
The Real Scoop:
In the end, the benefits of early application come down to a few weeks in early June, not a few milliseconds after the stroke of midnight. The actual reason every student should try to apply in early June is to avoid a real, and genuinely damning, log-jam that happens every year at the AMCAS processing office. AMCAS applications do not go directly to the medical schools. Instead, they pass through an approval process at AMCAS during which they verify your grades against transcripts and make a few other random checks before marking your application as verified and forwarding it on to the schools. Underfunded, understaffed, or perhaps both, AMCAS seems entirely unprepared for an onslaught of applications during early summer. Sometime around July 1st a backup begins that can take months to clear. I have personally worked with students who submitted AMCAS as early as the first or second week of July and did not get verified and forwarded to their schools until early October.
Now THOSE are meaningful, important considerations. Unlike fretting over 12:00AM vs. 2:00AM, or even June 1st vs. June 8th, avoiding that mid-July log-jam is absolutely worthy of your attention. All applicants who can have their application ready by that time should absolutely submit AMCAS during the first or second week of June. However, any time during that period will serve you equally well. If you have your application ready before June 1st, good for you. Catch a few extra hours of shut-eye and submit AMCAS after you’ve reverently enjoyed a nice bowl of Cheerios on the aforementioned premed holiday.
Whatever you do, don’t be the student who hurriedly fills-in the blanks, neglects proper development of their AMCAS activities section, and slaps on an unedited rough-draft personal essay all to serve that false-god of June 1st. A fully-finished, well-developed, carefully-edited application submitted on June 7th will trump a thrown-together application on June 1st every single time.
As long as you apply early enough to avoid the mid-summer AMCAS quagmire, you will have gained all of the extra benefit of early application that is available to anyone—regardless of the nanosecond sequence of keystrokes produced by the five thousand naïfs who can be found hovering over their computers at 11:59.59PM on May 31st.
P.S. Adding ironic credence to the argument I’ve made in this blog post, the AAMC always talks about June 1st as the first date AMCAS can be submitted…you’ll hear that date spoken of all the time…but for the last few years they haven’t even had the system ready to receive submissions on June 1. They are often tweeting out that the application will actually open June 3rd, or June 4th, or in this year’s case, June 7th! See, if the universe really re-aligned at Midnight on June 1, AMCAS would have driven us all into a wormhole long ago by perpetually postponing that supernatural 6/1 calendar date.