What is the ideal medical school application timeline?
When it comes to medical school applications, there is no such thing as over-preparation.
With prerequisites, extracurriculars, and exams, you have to keep different things in mind every year during and after your undergraduate studies.
But don’t worry – we’ve got you covered.
- This guide will help you keep track of everything and ensure that nothing falls through the cracks, even while you get adjusted to college and graduate four years later.
We break the application process down by year.
Follow our timelines through your freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year for direction and peace of mind!
Basic Medical School Requirements
Before we delve into the actual timelines, let’s go over the basic requirements for medical school.
- Required undergraduate classes
|Courses required for MOST medical schools:||Highly recommended or required for some medical schools:||Encouraged (and helpful for new MCAT additions)|
|Physics (Two semesters)
General Chemistry (Two semesters)
Biology (Two semesters)
English (Two semesters)
Organic Chemistry (Two semesters)
Other behavioral/social science courses
- The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)
- A Demonstrated interested and/or commitment to the health field through volunteering, clinical experience, and research.
- Note: Contrary to what many freshmen believe, you are NOT required to declare a major in a science field in order to apply to medical school. We advise that you choose a major that you have a true, keen interest in.
If it happens to be a major in the sciences, great! This means that there will be more overlap between the medical school requirements and your school’s requirement for matriculation.
- If it is not a major in the sciences, then do not fret. You can actually choose any field of study – from English to engineering to economics – and still apply as long as you take the required medical school courses.
- Many students who are interested in a nonscience field will declare a major in that field (for example, anthropology) and declare a minor in a science subject (for example, biology).
- Such an approach could be beneficial to your application in the long run, because it shows that you have diverse skills and interests.
Alright, now let’s talk about what you should do to stay ahead of the curve every year.
In our guide, we provide both a four-year and five-year (a four-year plan with a gap year after graduation) medical school application timeline.
Choose the one that best fits your academic timeline and needs.
Freshman Year Timeline
1. Compile a list of medical schools you aim to apply to.
This does not have to be a definite list.
- Your interests will narrow down and your list will change as you progress through undergrad, but it is good to have an idea for where you would like to apply.
- In particular, write down what is specifically required for each school and highlight requirements that are exceptions to the norm.
The class list we provided above is a general one; there will always be varying requirements for some schools.
2. Strategize your courseload.
Using our course guideline, along with your personal medical school list, make sure you are enrolled in some of the required medical school courses.
Enroll in at least two each semester.
We provide a suggested course schedule for each semester, but you don’t need to follow it course-for-course.
- We advise that you personalize your schedule by staggering the courses you take each semester during freshman year according to which intro courses (physics, biology, general chemistry, and English) you find most difficult and most easy.
- For example, if chemistry comes naturally to you and biology feels like torture, then pair them up. Enroll in one chemistry course and biology course during the fall semester.
- This approach allows you to spend more time studying the subject you are not as well versed in, achieve good marks overall, and maintain a competitive GPA.
- This strategy is especially important for incoming freshmen who have many other adjustments to worry about.
Above all, avoid falling for the “gunner” approach: Some students are tempted to create full schedules and sign up for as many difficult courses as possible to prove that they are capable, but this is not a priority for medical schools.
3. Meet with your pre-med advisor.
Make sure you do not come off as overzealous during your first meeting!
- The purpose of this meeting is not to tell your advisor all about your grand plans and ambitions for medical school (that can come later when you have gotten to know them better, and vice versa).
For now, the goal is simply to introduce yourself, get on their radar, and begin developing a relationship with your advisor.
– Suggested required courses: Biology I (and Lab), Gen Chem I (and Lab), English I
- Start thinking of what major you would like to declare.
Most colleges and universities require or suggest that students declare a major by the end of their sophomore year.
After completing a whole semester of college, you will now be better informed and equipped to seriously consider what you would like to dedicate your degree to.
- Meet with your pre-med advisor again.
This time around, talk to your advisor about which majors you are thinking about and work with them to draft a medical school plan.
- Come to the meeting with a tentative course schedule for the remainder of your undergraduate education so that your advisor can check whether or not you have everything covered.
Ask them if they have any suggestions for you to bolster your application.
- Research pre-med or health-related clubs and join them.
Pre-med and health students make up the majority of the population in many universities.
- For example, at Northwestern University, there are clubs designated to minority students, to students interested in global medicine, to students who seek mentorship from medical students, and many others.
Attend different club meetings and see what you like. We recommend joining one or two.
- Begin thinking about professors who could be potential recommenders.
If there is a professor you really connect with, try to keep in contact with them throughout the course or courses you are taking.
You do not have to make a big impression just yet, but definitely introduce yourself and regularly contribute to discussions in class.
– Suggested required Courses: Biology II (and Lab) Gen Chem II (and Lab), English II
- Pursue a health care related internship, volunteer opportunity, job, or research opportunity.
The summer of your freshman year is a great time to seek medical experience outside of the classroom setting. There are several reasons why this is essential.
- For one, medical schools like to see that applicants demonstrated, real-life interest in the health field. In short, these experiences will bolster your application.
- More importantly, these experiences help you explore, narrow down your interests within the field, and get to know why you truly want to go into medicine.
It is essential to figure out your own, personal reasons before you start your applications.
Medical schools want to know that applicants are pursuing medicine for personal and tangible reasons – and not simply for the money or “to help people” or for what’s seen as a highly prestigious occupation.
Understanding your motivation for pursuing medicine will take you far in terms of personal fulfillment, as well as help you stand out among applicants during the interviews.
Sophomore Year Timeline
- Develop deeper relationships with professors.
It is important to start getting to know some of your professors at a deeper level.
- They are the ones who will be writing some of the recommendations letters for your medical school applications; the better they know you, the more insightful and favorable those letters will be.
Make a point of engaging with professors whose teaching truly excites and piques your interest in the class.
Do not just aim to get to know a professor just because they are well-known in their field or whose name carries weight in the medical field.
The best recommendation letters come from genuine connections.
- One natural and easy way to get to know professors is to attend their weekly office hours on a regular basis.
- Office hours allow for smaller, more intimate group discussions.
It is also helpful if you can take more than one class with a professor.
- For example, if someone teaches Biology I and Biology II, try to arrange your schedule so you can take both courses with them.
- Continue with the clubs or activities you decided to join as a freshman.
If the clubs you joined previously match your interest, then definitely keep attending the meetings and participating in them.
- If they are of high interest, consider becoming more involved or even running for a club position as a way of demonstrating leadership on your resume.
If you find that the clubs were not a good fit, then research other possibilities and commit to other clubs for the duration of your undergraduate education.
– Suggested required courses: Physics I (and Lab), Organic Chem I (and Lab)
- Declare your major.
By the end of your sophomore year, you should have decided on a major.
This way will be able to draft a finalized course schedule/plan according to which classes you need to take for graduation.
Declaring a major will also help you stay focused and make decisions that are intentional and informed.
- Meet with your pre-med advisor.
It is especially important to maintain regular contact with your advisor if your school provides committee/composite letters.
- Check-in with them about your progress and keep them updated about what is going on in your premedical school journey.
- Meet them once during the beginning of the year and once at the end.
If your school does not provide committee letters, meeting with your pre-med advisor is not as much of a priority.
You should still check in with them at least once to make sure that you are on track for graduation and for other advising needs.
Continue meeting with your pre-med advisor as needed throughout the rest of your undergraduate career.
– Suggested required courses: Physics II (with Lab), Organic Chem II (with Lab)
- Like last summer, engage in a health care-related internship, volunteer opportunity, job, or research opportunity.
This will be your last “free” summer – before MCAT preparation starts next year and the application process really ramps up – so make sure to invest your time wisely.
Try to either continue opportunities you have been engaged in throughout the school year or last summer, or to find opportunities that relate or provide more depth to your previous experiences.
Medical schools value continuity and depth over many different experiences that may not show growth.
Junior Year Timeline
- Contact your potential recommenders and request letters.
It is now time to approach professors about writing recommendation letters for your application.
Although you will not submit any applications until the spring or summer of your junior year, asking your professors now will keep you ahead of the curve.
- Professors are able to dedicate more time and create a more thoughtful, distinguished letter during this time before they are inundated with other recommendation letter requests.
- Requesting letters now also gives you buffer time to remind professors if they forget.
Make sure that you also provide your professors with a brief personal statement or bio of yourself, as well as a copy of your resume.
This will help them make the letters even more personal and specific.
- Think about how you will prepare for the MCAT.
The MCAT and MCAT preparations should be on your mind now.
Take a practice test to assess your readiness and so you can identify your areas of strengths and weaknesses. Then, sign up for a prep course.
– Suggested required courses: Calculus, Biochemistry
- Register to take the MCAT.
It is very important that you sign up to take the test no later than the middle of May so that you can receive your scores in June.
This will give you time to sign up again to retake the test one more time if you are not satisfied with your first score.
If it is at all possible (without sacrificing quality), take the MCAT even earlier than mid-May.
- Begin MCAT preparations.
Most sources say that studying for the MCAT takes anywhere from three to six months (if you are doing in conjunction with school).
This means that, if you signed up for a test in mid-May as we suggest, then you should start preparations in December or January during the winter semester of your junior year.
- Collect all the recommendation letters.
You will begin your medical school application during the summer, so it is best to finalize all your recommendation letters now.
Suggested required courses: Statistics, Psychology (Choose courses that are less difficult for you, so you can focus on the MCAT).
- Take the MCAT.
You will receive your score in about a month after taking it. If you are not satisfied with your score, register again for the next available exam. You will want to have your score readily available for when it is time to submit your application (no later than September).
- Finalize your list of schools and complete the Association of American Medical Colleges (AMCAS) application.
Once you get your MCAT out of the way, focus all your efforts on your application. The AMCAS application is the equivalent of the Common App for medical schools.
The application typically opens up sometime in May, and submission typically opens during the first week of June.
- Each medical school sets its own deadlines for the AMCAS application, but we advise that you ignore these deadlines, which fall anywhere between October and December.
- To be seriously considered for a program, submit your application as soon as possible and no later than August – regardless of the actual deadline.
There are numerous sources citing that submitting your applications later than August significantly affects your chances of getting in.
Double-check to see that all the schools you aim to apply to are part of the AMCAS system.
If they are not, you will have to research and see what their specific application requirements are.
Senior Year Timeline
As you can see, by the time senior year rolls around, your AMCAS application should be submitted or nearing completion to be submitted (hopefully by August).
Senior year is for you to tie up loose ends and to prepare for secondary applications and interviews from medical schools:
1. Do research on the medical schools you applied to and anticipate what you can write about in their secondary applications.
Secondary applications from schools will come two to five weeks after you submit your AMCAS one.
These applications are often meticulous because they are school-specific.
- They may also feel overwhelming if you applied to numerous programs, as most medical schools are not extremely selective about whom they send secondaries to.
This means that receiving a secondary is NOT a means for celebrating, and you should dedicate time and care to completing them.
Unlike the broad AMCAS application, secondaries ask why you are interested in that particular institution and about “how your goals, experiences, and plans align with their mission and goals: and how/what you would contribute and develop as a learner at that institution.”
If you have time, prewrite your secondaries by drafting general essays about your personal goals and plans for medical school.
Once you receive your secondaries, try to submit them within two or three weeks.
- In addition:
– Complete any premed requirements/courses you have left.
– Complete any degree requirements you have left for matriculation.
– If you have time, consider taking upper-level courses that are related to medicine as preparation for medical school (for example, anatomy or physiology).
– Submit a FAFSA.
- Lastly, prepare for medical school interviews.
Most interviews will take place in late fall through early winter.
- Look up resources and talk to your pre-med advisor to see if there are groups or programs that offer mock medical school interviews.
Do extensive research on the schools you will be interviewing at: learn about their mission, specialties, and professors.
– Suggested required courses: Sociology, additional required courses, or other health-related courses.
Summary of Essential Dates and Deadlines
|Freshman-Sophomore||Compile medical school list and requirements, meet with pre-med advisor, establish a plan and follow it, declare a major, start thinking about which professors to get to know, join clubs/extracurriculars/opportunities that provide health experience in the real world.|
|Recommendation Letters||Request them during Junior Year (Fall); Finalize and receive them Junior Year (Winter)|
|MCAT prep||Begin prep during Junior Year in November-January and continue until exam date|
|MCAT exam date||Take the exam mid-May at the latest and earlier if it is possible.|
|AMCAS Application||Begin these as soon as MCAT is finished; the earliest possible submission date is June; submit them by August at the latest.|
|Secondary Applications||These will come 2-5 weeks after the AMCAS is submitted; return your secondaries 2-3 weeks after you receive them.|
|Interviews||Typically held in September – February|
As you may have gathered from above, applying to medical school is an intense and involved process.
- Because of this, it has become increasingly common for premed students to extend their application timeline by taking a gap year.
This means that students would start MCAT preparations while they are a senior in December/January, then take the MCAT the following April – mid-May. There are many reasons to consider this route:
- It allows students to dedicate more time to study for the MCAT, craft powerful personal statements, and respond to their secondary applications thoughtfully. In short, it would allow you to turn in a higher quality application during the most ideal timeframe.
- A gap year gives students two extra semesters of course work (their senior year) in which they can work towards boosting their GPA if that is helpful for their application.
- They can use the time after graduation to shadow doctors, look into specializations, and learn why they want to become a physician. It is very helpful to start medical school with some real, personal goals in mind.
- Last, a gap year is good for mental health and self-care. It allows students to rest, leisure, and, most importantly, it can prevent burnout. One year “off” academics can do wonders for your future performance in medical school, so it is worth considering seriously.
If you are interested in taking a gap year, then look to the guide below for what to do during your senior year and what to focus on during your gap year:
The Gap Year Plan
Senior year adjustments
Even with a gap year, you may still follow our four-year course plan as set out above.
- But do try to adjust your schedule so that you complete your most difficult or challenging classes during junior year.
- This gives you breathing room as a senior to focus on your MCAT studies.
You can also choose to extend your recommendation letter timeline by continuing to develop connections with your professors through your third year in college, and then request the letters as a senior.
- Make sure you have them finalized by end of the winter semester as a senior and do not wait until the summer.
It is important that your professors write the letters while they are in regular contact with you and have you fresh on their minds.
From here, we provide students who wish to pursue a gap year with a monthly plan of focus that begins at the winter semester of your senior year in college, takes you through your gap year, and ends when you start medical school.
1. MCAT preparations: December/January – April (senior year)
During these months, register for the MCAT and focus on studying for it.
Given the extra time you have carved out by taking a gap year, we strongly recommend that you register to take the exam in April, if that is at all possible.
Remember, the AMCAS application usually opens up in May, so taking the MCAT in April gives you one extra month to work on your application.
2. Take MCAT and begin AMCAS application: April
Immediately start brainstorming ideas for your personal statement after you are done with the MCAT. You could also start prewriting a “Work and Activities” section.
3. AMCAS application: May & June
Have several people read, edit, and give you feedback on your personal statement, and have it complete by the middle of May.
As soon as the application opens, send links out to recommenders (who you should have finalized letters by already), so they can plug their letters into the system and fill out any additional forms that different schools may require.
- Send reminders to recommenders by mid-May if they have not completed them yet.
Finalize your medical school list and have it ready.
Aim to have everything completed and polished for when submission opens – usually the first week of June.
4. Secondary applications: June – July
Once you have submitted your AMCAS application, start anticipating and prewriting secondary application questions.
- As we have mentioned before, this part of the process can be even more daunting than primary applications.
It is essential that you do not lose focus or intention in your answers; be thoughtful and specific with each school’s questions.
Generic responses will really hurt your chances of receiving an interview.
5. Prepare for interviews: August
Do in-depth research of the schools you applied to and anticipate questions they may ask during an interview.
Draft responses, then set up mock interviews with peers, resource centers, mentors – anyone who is familiar with the process and may be able to prepare you.
6. Interviews and health-field related experiences: September – February
Medically school interviews can occur anytime between these months.
Hopefully, if you submitted your applications early (in June and July), your interviews will take place earlier.
- During this time when you will be traveling sporadically for interviews, it is beneficial to be concurrently engaged in a health-field-related position that will add another dimension to your experiences.
Do you have a lot of research experience from undergrad? Great, look for a position that helps you grow in another way, like one that would give you much valued hands-on clinical experience with patients.
- Examples of such positions include emergency medical technicians (EMT), scribes, and medical assistants.
- You could also volunteer at hospitals or other health-related organizations and non-profits or set up preceptorships with doctors.
- If you haven’t been exposed to research, then look for positions at your school’s labs and see if there are any Primary Investigators (PIs) who are conducting research you are interested in.
Apply for jobs in their labs or ask them if you can volunteer.
Whatever you choose, aim to line up a couple of opportunities you can consistently go to during these next couple of months while you are waiting for your interviews to happen.
This will show schools that you are driven and dedicated to medicine, beyond what is necessary for your applications.
It will also help you learn more about why you want to pursue medicine and be able to talk about it in a real and genuine way.
One other option for these months is to take additional coursework that may give you a heads up in medical school, or at least keep your mind engaged and ready.
7. Review incoming acceptance letters: February – April
During these months, review acceptance letters and consider the financial aid they come with.
- You may be able to start negotiating financial aid (asking for more money at one school by using admission to another) or asking for extensions of admission decisions.
Through these months, you should continue with your health-field-related opportunity, or even begin a new one for different experiences and exposure.
Not that you may receive acceptance letters earlier than February and later than April.
8. Decide on a School: May
Most medical school admissions are sent out by May, so this is the ideal month to review everything and make a formal decision on which school you would like to attend.
Weigh the pros and cons of each and then accept your placement at one of them!
9. Rest, Travel, & Recuperate: June, July, & August
Finally, you are done with the process!
It has been a long, grueling, and continuous one. If you are able to afford it, we recommend that you take these last couple of months completely off work and academic studies.
Do something that you haven’t had time to before – something relaxing or creative or active or social.
Conclusion: Your Medical School Application Timeline
The medical school application timeline is full of requirements, best practices, and ancillary work that will test your mental strength.
Always remember to schedule, get work done early, and stagger your requirements. It’s better to stay ahead in the game.
If you have any questions, let us know! We’re here to help.