Does Applying Early Help your Chances? (answer: maybe not...)

Read to your kids.  It's parenting 101.

I know the majority of you reading this are not parents (like I am), but I bring up this example to show us why we should examine the underlying assumptions behind what we believe about the admissions process.

Whether you read to your kids appears to have no effect on standardized test scores later in life.  You know what does affect those scores?  Whether you own at least 100 books in your house.  Huh?  How does the act of owning books matter more than whether you actually read them to your kids?

As it turns out, the types of people who own books are the types of people who are more likely to have intelligent kids.  As a result, the underlying cause is something innate to the parents and not the act of reading to your kids.  Just being the kind of person who owns books - whether you read them or not - is enough to make your kids perform better on standardized tests.

(If you're interested, the rest of the argument is articulated here: http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/story?id=1633286)

We have all heard that applying to early to medical school helps your chances.  But could it be that there are characteristics of people who apply early that might make them more likely to get in?

Let's pretend that you're taking a philosophy class that has a final paper due at the end of the class that accounts for 50% of your grade.  You've had weeks to work on it, and you decide to make a bet on which of your friends is going to get a higher grade.  Friend A turns the paper in at the very last minute before the deadline (11:59pm the day it's due), while Friend B turns in the paper 3 days early.  Knowing nothing else about your friends, who would you bet is going to get a better grade?

Think about it.

You bet on Friend B, right?

Why would you bet on Friend B?  In batting this idea with my coworkers, we came up with a couple of explanations for why we would bet on Friend B:

1) Friend B is more likely to be satisfied with the quality of her paper, since she turned it in 3 days early.  We're not sure about whether that's true for Friend A, but it would give us reason to bet on B.

2) Friend B sounds like she is more organized than Friend A, since she got her paper in early.  As a result, we can assume that a more organized person is going to present a more organized paper, which is likely to get a higher grade.

Let's take that bet and apply it to medical school.  If you're going to bet on who is more organized, are you going to bet on someone applying in June or in September?  June, right?  And if you're going to bet on who's more satisfied with his MCAT score, the quality of his personal statement, the quality of his letters of recommendation, whom will you bet on?  I'm guessing that you again chose June.

So who applies early to medical school?  Applicants who are more likely to be satisfied with their MCAT score, who write their essays early and get lots of feedback, and who have been able to avoid delays associated with a lost transcript or an incomplete letter of recommendation.  In other words, applicants who are probably more organized and probably feel that their application best represents them.

Is it any surprise, then, that they would be more likely to get into med school?