March 22, 2020

How to Avoid the 6 Biggest Medical School Application Timeline Mistakes

How to Avoid the 6 Biggest Medical School Application Timeline Mistakes

 You can’t stop the hands of time, so be proactive and plan ahead!

You can’t stop the hands of time, so be proactive and plan ahead!

By: Ryan Kelly


In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, we can’t be entirely sure how the medical school application timeline will be affected.

As of now, the AAMC has not announced any definitive changes, but it’s certainly a possibility that our definition of “Applying Early” and “Apply Late” could be disrupted.

We recently posted an article, Coronavirus and Medical School Admissions: Q&A, to help you keep up-to-date on the virus and its consequences for your application.

Even if deadlines or procedures change, our tips below should still serve as a helpful guide for avoiding common problems that can sink your med school chances.

Stay safe during this vulnerable time, and best of luck over the next few months as you prepare to apply!


Most life events don’t require 14 months of planning (except for maybe competing in the Olympics or throwing a massive wedding extravaganza).

But if you’re doing things right with your med school application, you’ll apply a full 14 months before you actually start med school.

So, when should you apply?

Good question – let’s make sure you’re Savvy about your timeline!

The Savvy Pre-med Timeline Breakdown

What constitutes applying “early” vs. applying “late?”

Applying Early: ~June 1st

Applying Medium: ~June 25th

Applying Late: ~July 1st and beyond

The 6 Biggest Medical School Application Timeline Mistakes

Timeline Mistake #1 – “It’s rolling admissions, right? So I can wait a while to apply and I’ll still be okay.”

The first mistake pre-meds make is they don’t know when to apply, or they underestimate the value of applying early.

About 50% of our students apply on Day 1 of the AMCAS opening. We suspect most Type-A pre-meds will do the same. The longer you wait, the more candidates queue up ahead of you.

If you haven’t already, start planning now so that you can apply early!

Timeline Mistake #2 – “I don’t want to take a gap year. I’d rather just apply now and see what happens.”

Oof. It hurts just to write that mistake down. “Seeing what happens” is the worst approach you can take. That’s a great way to waste money and set yourself up for disappointment.

Odds are, if someone is telling you to consider a gap year, or you have any doubts about your preparedness to apply, then you should probably take a gap year.

Fun fact: the average age of applicants is 24, so most candidates actually take TWO gap years. Despite what you may think, a gap year is not going to hold you back in the candidate pool.

A gap year can help you address a weakness, build on a strength, and, if done correctly, it can actually be what makes you stand out to the admissions committees.  

Timeline Mistake #3 – “I’ll just take my MCAT in the spring before I apply. It’ll be fine.”

It’s a lot smarter to take your first MCAT in the summer before you apply. Hopefully you’ll be relatively less busy then, allowing you to study with purpose and focus. Hint: MCAT prep instructors suggest that you study for four months in advance.

Taking your first MCAT in the summer means that you’ll have plenty of time to retake the exam if you’re unsatisfied with your results.

If you insist on taking it in the spring, you must psychologically commit to your test date. This means taking a full-length practice exam before you start preparing, so that you can gauge the difference between your baseline and target score.

This also means working ahead on other aspects of your application so that you don’t fall behind during your months of MCAT prep. So, for example, if you’re taking the MCAT in May, you should finish all of your primary essays by February or March.

Timeline Mistake #4 – “I don’t want to bother my professors and mentors for letters of rec when I don’t need them yet.”

Yes, asking for letters of rec can be an awkward task, especially if you don’t feel like you know your letters writers that well.

But at this point, you either know the recommenders or you don’t. Delaying your letter requests is not going to help you either way.

Ask now! Your letters will be stronger if you give the recommenders ample time, and the sooner you ask, the sooner you can explore a Plan B if necessary.

Timeline Mistake #5 – “Secondary essays can’t be that bad. I’ll just do them as they come my way.”

Oh, they’re that bad alright. They’re arguably the most daunting part of applying.

If you have 30 schools on your list, expect to write ~70 pages of secondary essays!

You should pre-write as many of them as possible before they start arriving from your schools in late June/early July. Use our database to find the prompts from last year (hint: they don’t change that often from year to year).

Ideally, you want to send secondaries back within a few days or a week at the most. If you don’t pre-write, you will drown and struggle to return them in a timely manner. If two weeks pass, you’re basically considered dead to the schools.

Timeline Mistake #6 – “I’m stuck on a waitlist. Guess I’ll just keep hope alive and wait it out.”

The most common response after interviewing isn’t an acceptance or a rejection; it’s a waitlist. But you shouldn’t view this period as some limbo or purgatory.

You want to stay proactive and continue communicating with schools through update letters. Not all updates are created equal, but if you’re Savvy enough, you can write an update letter that actually works.

Med schools are like a needy significant other – they want you to prove how much you love them, so it’s wise to show them tender loving care in order to convey why you’re such a good fit.

We made a VIDEO about this topic for our new Savvy Pre-med YouTube Channel, so make sure to watch and subscribe for future videos.

Have any questions about application mistakes? Don’t hesitate to ask us in the comments below, and we’ll respond to you personally!

Further Reading:

2020-2021 Medical School Application Dates and Deadlines

Archive of Savvy Pre-med Timeline Guides

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