Let's have a show of hands. How many of you reading this believe that there is only one way to apply and get into medical school? The reality is that many medical schools offer a variety of potential paths to admission. In addition to the standard, post-baccalaureate, and combined B.S./M.D. routes, a large number of medical schools provide applicants the opportunity to apply by August 1 through the early decision program.
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the Early Decision Program (EDP) allows applicants to secure an acceptance from one EDP-participating medical school by October 1 while allowing sufficient time to apply to other schools if not accepted. Sounds great, right? It can be if you get in, but to apply early decision applicants must agree to the following:
1. They will apply to only one medical school (AMCAS or non-AMCAS) through the Early Decision Program.
[See U.S. News's rankings of Best Medical Schools.]
2. They will not apply through the EDP if an initial or secondary application has been submitted to a U.S. allopathic (M.D. degree-granting) medical school for the current entering class.
3. They will not submit additional applications until:
a) receipt of an EDP rejection; or
b) receipt of a formal release from the EDP commitment; or
c) the October 1 notification deadline passes.
4. They agree to attend the school if offered an EDP acceptance.
Many prospective medical students shy away from the EDP program for several reasons. The most compelling is that many schools have rolling admissions and having your application reach the desks of the admissions committee members in mid-October could put you at a competitive disadvantage.
Another reason is that applying to medical school is not like the undergraduate admissions process; there are no "safety schools," and there are no clear-cut algorithms used for admission. GPA and MCAT averages are just that—averages; the depth and breadth of your extracurricular activities, research experience, letters of recommendation, and the power of the narrative you put forth in your personal statement are all integral to the medical school admissions process.
[See the 10 most popular medical schools.]
Without stellar qualifications and a compelling reason to attend a school (for example, your spouse is currently attending that school, or you intend to conduct research with a specific researcher there), many prospective students could have difficulty applying through the EDP.
At this point you're probably wondering, "Well, who should apply through the EDP?" The AAMC weighs in on this question, stating that since most participating schools only admit a small portion of their entering class through the program, only applicants with an excellent chance of admission to a particular school should apply under this program.
Use the admissions websites and the free information from the AAMC to help guide you, and don't be afraid to E-mail or call the admissions offices to gain more information about their EDP acceptance program.
Mark D'Agostino, M.D., M.S., M.Sc. is a Brigade Surgeon in the United States Army. As a Marshall Scholar, he earned a master's degree in Biochemistry at the University of Nottingham Medical School, and a second master's in Health Policy, Planning and Financing from the London School of Economics (LSE) and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). After graduating from Brown Medical School, he trained at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.