How to Avoid the Single Biggest Delay in Applying to Medical School

Ever imagine what it must be like to work in the registrar's office? Your job is to take orders from other people all day, deal with a mountain of paperwork, and pretty much never get thanked. It's amazing that the people working in this bureaucracy do such a good job and don't, say, burn the building down.  

So be nice to the people in the transcript office. They can cause you a major application headache if you're not.   Lost transcripts are the single biggest cause of delays in the application process to medical school. You can see why it would be easy to have a transcript get lost in the mountain of paperwork at the registrar's office and at AAMC.   But if you avoid the following transcript mistake, you can avoid this delay and make sure your application gets in on time.  

The single biggest mistake: Waiting for final grades in June before sending your transcripts.

I know the thinking. I should wait for my June grades so that my GPA is .002 higher. That will help me get into med school, right?   Here's the truth: the .002 higher GPA won't help you much, and it will cause an important delay in your application that will hurt your chances more than the GPA boost. Here's how this plays out at a school like UCSD, which is on the quarter system:

June 14 - Final grades are releasedJune 16 - you send your transcript request to the registrar.June 23 - 5 business days later, the transcript arrives by US Mail and sits in a huge "mail room" where someone from AMCAS sifts through mail and sorts it (this takes a while)July 7 - 10 business days later, AMCAS notifies you that they have received your transcript, and you enter the queue to be verified.July 31 - 17 business days later, your application gets verified, and your application is finally released to medical schools.

That means that by waiting to send your transcript, you go from "applying early" (early June) to "applying late" (July and beyond). And in case you've forgotten, here are several reasons you should apply early.

Now imagine that your transcript gets lost. That means you wouldn't discover that it's lost until July 7 when you realize that AMCAS has not emailed you yet about your missing transcript. You rush to the registrar's office to re-order your transcripts (July 8), which are finally recognized by AMCAS on July 29, and you get verified September 3.  

This is why it's so important to send your transcripts no later than mid-May, to make sure that they arrive at AMCAS in a timely fashion. The downside is minor: your AMCAS GPA will not include your spring quarter grades, but that's a minor drawback considering the downside of applying late.   So what should your timeline look like?

  • May 2 - Order your transcripts

  • May 14 - AMCAS notifies you that your transcripts have arrived

  • June 3 - you submit your AMCAS and enter the queue to be verified

  • June 10 - you are verified and ready to be sent to medical schools (17 days before getting released to medical schools)

  • June 27 - the first batch of applicants get released to medical schools

And what happens if your transcript gets lost? Easy, you re-order your transcript in mid-May, which arrives by early June, and you are still verified before secondaries are sent out.  

What happens if I'm on the semester system, and my grades come out in mid-May? In this case, you should probably wait to include your final grades, as you should still be able to get your transcripts in before the first batch of applicants get released to medical school.  

Other transcript pointers:

1) Don't forget to send transcripts from all required colleges, including community college classes taken during high school and some study abroad programs.

2) Don't forget to attach the AMCAS transcript request wherever possible. This will help make sure AMCAS pairs your transcript with your application quickly and correctly, avoiding further delays.  

3) If you're applying to DO schools, the application instructions specifically state that you must include all grades from your current classes in your transcripts.  So, you must wait for your final grades before submitting to DO schools.  DO schools have a longer application timeline, though, so the time pressure is not quite as intense as MD schools.  In other words, it's fine to apply to DO schools in July or August.  You will still be on the early side for DO schools.

If you follow these tips, you should avoid unnecessary delays in your application. So get on it!