Medical school acceptance is a challenging process, one that takes careful thought and planning. With numerous highly qualified applicants, it is no secret how competitive this process is. There is an entity within the allopathic (MD) medical school application process called the AMCAS Early Decision Program. What does this program entail and is it beneficial? Let’s take a close look at this option and what its real implications are.
What is the AMCAS Early Decision Program?
This is a program within the normal AMCAS application system for allopathic medical schools which allows students to initially apply to only one school and possibly gain acceptance there. It has 3 requirements:
1 | Students must apply to only one medical school by August 1st through the Early Decision Program.
2 | If accepted, the student must attend that medical school and cannot apply to any others.
3 | Students cannot apply to any other medical schools until they receive a rejection through the Early Decision Program, which will occur no later than October 1st.
It is important to remember this last point: students can apply to other schools if rejected, but cannot do so until they receive a rejection. Different programs vary on the dates by which they will provide admissions decisions for the Early Decision Program.
What are the Pros of the Early Decision Program?
To be honest, the positive aspects of this program are limited.
Cost is an undeniable factor. Applying to only one medical school is cheaper than applying to 30, no doubt. Despite this fact, in my opinion this should be a minor consideration. If the applicant is financially able, the cost of applying to additional medical schools is worthwhile for 2 reasons: the security it provides for a better chance of acceptance; and the small fraction it comprises of the overall expense endured to become a physician (i.e. medical school tuition, etc). Money certainly matters, but in the long run this expense is in some ways just a drop in the bucket.
A second possible benefit of the Early Decision Program could be ease of application and time saved. It is easier to apply to only one school, particularly by saving a large amount of work on secondary applications. But again, this should be a minor consideration given the considerable risk associated with applying to only one school through this program.
Finally, it is possible that applying through the Early Decision Program could give you a leg up at that particular school by demonstrating your 100% commitment. While this is true, only a small minority of each participating school’s entering class will have been accepted through the Early Decision Program. Therefore the program is certainly not necessary and is questionably beneficial.
Now let’s get into the meat of this discussion: the risks of the Early Decision Program.
What are the Cons of the Early Decision Program?
The risk associated with this program is considerable. Here is why.
First of all, as we discussed before, medical school acceptance is exceedingly competitive. Therefore, my three best guiding principles are the following:
Apply to a large enough number of schools to give yourself ample opportunity for success (typically at least 20 schools).
Apply to a broad range of schools (in terms of quality and difficulty of acceptance).
Apply Early – medical school admissions are rolling, meaning students are accepted as they apply and not on a single date. Those who apply early have a better chance of acceptance because they are competing for more spots.
Unfortunately, the Early Decision Program is antithetical to all these principles, and thus a very risky proposition.
First, if you apply through the Early Decision Program, you are initially giving yourself an opportunity at only one school. As we all know, medical school admissions are highly unpredictable. In general, those who are very qualified tend to be accepted to some schools, but not all. Highly qualified candidates can be rejected at a broad array of schools, even ones that might be perceived as a “safety school.” Strong applicants are often accepted to top tier schools and still rejected by lower ranked programs.
For this reason, applying to a broad range and significant number of programs is key. It allows a student to account for the randomness, variability, and unpredictability of the application process. This increases the statistical odds that an applicant will gain acceptance. The Early Decision Program does not allow an applicant to apply to a broad range and number of programs, plain and simple.
Now one might argue that through the Early Decision Program, a student can still apply to other programs after receiving a rejection. Therefore, they can still get ample opportunity at other schools if needed. While this is true, I would argue that it is not that simple. This is where the third principle becomes crucial: timing.
It is very important to apply early due to rolling admissions, as discussed above. Through the Early Decision Program, there is no guarantee that the program will quickly provide the applicant with a decision. It is quite possible that the applicant does not receive a rejection until October 1st. Though still early enough to apply to other medical schools, October 1st is very, very late in the game. Many if not most other students will have applied in the summer months, and many will have already started interviews. Starting to apply to other schools on October 1st is like starting a marathon when everyone is already past mile 13; it is an enormous disadvantage, one that I would strongly recommend avoiding.
For the reasons discussed above, the AMCAS Early Decision Program offers minimal advantages compared to significant risks. I would recommend considering this program only if you are a stellar applicant who has a very high (though still unpredictable) chance of acceptance, or if you have a very compelling reason to only apply to one school (financial, specific interest in that school, etc.). Given the considerable risk associated with a rejection through the Early Decision Program, namely entering the application cycle far later than most applicants, exercise caution when considering this option.
It is always best to closely weigh the pros and cons of decisions related to medical school applications. If you would like further advice on this topic or any component of your medical school application, please consider our outstanding application advising services, which will put you in the best position to succeed. Good luck to you all!