Should You Apply Early Decision to Medical School?

Though most medical school hopefuls apply through the standard admissions process, submitting applications to multiple schools, there are a few other pathways by which prospective students can gain admission. Some apply through B.S.-M.D. programs right out of high school, others are admitted from postbaccalaureate programs with linkages to certain med schools and a relative few are admitted each year through early decision.

The Early Decision Program of the Association of American Medical Colleges offers applicants the chance to receive an acceptance letter to their top-choice school by Oct. 1. Prospective students must submit their early decision applications to one U.S. med school by Aug. 1 — for schools that participate in the American Medical College Application Service, or AMCAS — and are prohibited from submitting any other applications before hearing back from the early decision school.

Additionally, applicants who have already submitted either primary or secondary applications at another med school are not allowed to apply early decision.

[Read: How to Submit a Unique Medical School Application.]

If an applicant is admitted through early decision, he or she must attend that school. Conversely, if an applicant is denied early decision admission, he or she will be automatically placed in that school’s regular applicant pool and may then submit applications to other med schools via the regular decision route.

There are pros and cons to applying early decision. If you are considering this option, weigh the following considerations to evaluate whether this choice is right for you.

Pros of Applying Early Decision to Medical School

The stress of waiting for an admissions decision can be shortened with an early acceptance. The regular med school admissions process can drag on until May — almost a year after the AMCAS application system opens. For many students, the thought of waiting that long to hear whether they will be admitted to medical school is highly anxiety-provoking. Students who apply early decision, however, can have peace of mind months before their peers, giving them ample time to relax before they begin the challenging path to becoming a doctor.

[Read: How to Become a Doctor: A Step-by Step Guide.]

It is much cheaper to apply to only one medical school. Applying to med school costs hundreds — sometimes thousands — of dollars. Between paying for the Medical College Admission Test, primary applications, secondary applications and travel to interviews, prospective students can find themselves financially pressed even before their first tuition bill arrives. Applying to and interviewing at one school drastically reduces the cost of the medical school admissions process and may be attractive to budget-conscious prospective students.

It may aid your application if you have a compelling reason to go to a certain medical school. Prospects applying early decision to a school should have a good reason to attend that school. I know of one student who applied early — and was admitted — to his state school because he came from a large religious family in which it was not customary to live away from home prior to marriage. He also wanted to complete residency and then practice within his home state after med school.

Other early decision applicants may want to attend a specific school to be closer to a spouse or because they have an ongoing research connection with faculty at that school. For applicants with a compelling reason to attend a certain school, applying early decision is a way to demonstrate serious commitment to that institution.

The Cons of Applying Early Decision to Medical School

If you are denied admission, submitting your application to other medical schools later puts you at a competitive disadvantage. Since many med schools offer interview invitations and acceptances on a rolling basis, submitting your application early in the admissions cycle is an important way to increase your chances of admission. Applicants who receive a rejection letter releasing them from their early decision commitment are free to apply to other schools, but they are doing so months into the admission cycle, at which point coveted interview spots may already be few and far between.

[Read: Primary Care vs. Research: Which Med School Is Right for You?]

Early decision is offered by a smaller number of schools. When applying through the regular admissions process, applicants have the luxury of choosing from a long list of med schools, each offering its own flavor of medical education. In contrast, students considering the early decision program must choose from a much shorter list of schools and may face fiercer competition if many applicants apply early decision to the same school. Early decision applicants give up variety in exchange for the possibility of early acceptance, which may limit their ability to find a program that truly fits their learning needs.

You cannot change your mind. Early decision is binding. If you are admitted through this process, you have to go to that medical school. There is no room for second thoughts, so if you are considering applying through this route, be sure that you are certain the school offers most — if not everything — you are looking for in your medical education.

More from U.S. News

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Should You Apply Early Decision to Medical School? originally appeared on usnews.com

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