Ask Dr. Gray: Premed Q&A: Should I Apply Early Decision to Med School?

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Ask Dr. Gray: Premed Q&A: Should I Apply Early Decision to Med School?

Session 90

When is it a good idea to apply early decision to med school? And what are you committing to when you check the “I’m interested in rural medicine” checkbox?

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[00:24] Question from a Military Wife

“I’ll be applying to about seven schools in my state. There is one school that I’m really hoping to go to given the fact that it’s about 20 minutes away. I own a home. I have a family. My husband’s in the military, and he works in that same city. 

I know that this school that I want to go to is really big on primary care and rural medicine, given the area. I met with an admissions counselor and she had expressed to me that if I check the box application, fill out that portion of the secondary application that I’m interested in their rural medicine, then my application will be viewed a little bit more favorably. 

It’s possible that I will go into primary care rural medicine. I just don’t think I’m ready to commit to it. But because of my stats, not being exactly where they should be, I really want that boost to my application. So how do I express interest or not?”

[01:35] Activities Are Important

If you check that box, the reviewer of your application can go to your application and actually look at your activities.

Actions speak louder than words. It’s the saying that everyone hopefully knows. And if they look at your application and you just said that you were interested in rural medicine primary care. But none of your activities show that at all, they just won’t believe you. They think you checked the box because you were told to check the box.

“It's very simple – either you have the activities to support saying that you are interested in rural medicine and primary care, or you don't have those activities.”Click To Tweet

If you don’t have those activities, I would probably not check that box. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check the box because you may be interested in rural medicine. And maybe you should go explore that ASAP before you apply this coming May or June or whenever you are applying to medical school.

The trap that a lot of students fall in is they will apply to these schools or apply to these specific programs at these schools thinking they already have their foot in the door. If you don’t have the activities to back that up, then the admissions committee and the reviewers of your application just won’t believe you. They’ll just think you’re trying to pad your application to help you in some way.


The nice thing about those checkboxes is they aren’t official commitments. There’s no contract involved.

The application is just a single snapshot of where you are in that moment and your history. The checking of that box just says you could see yourself potentially in rural medicine and primary care.

Outside of that, if you go through medical school, remember, according to the stats, out of the 100 students that come in thinking about the specialty they want, only 25 of those students are actually going and applying for that residency.

“Only 25% of students entering medical school enter the field that they thought about before they entered.”Click To Tweet

You can have all of the best intentions checking that box and getting those experiences right now. But again, you have to have the activities to support that checkbox.

If you’re not applying for a little while, then you have the opportunity to get those experiences and reflect on those experiences. 

[05:55] Why You Need Those Experiences

When in the interview, they ask why you’re interested in rural areas, then you could tell them that you had the opportunity to get those experiences and reflect on those. Then check that box with pride knowing that you are definitely interested in it. But also knowing that you can keep an open mind as you go through medical school.

When you check that box, and when you get more of those questions, you won’t have answers to those questions right now because you don’t have those experiences. 

“If you go and get those experiences, then you will have the opportunity to reflect on those experiences.”Click To Tweet

It’s getting those experiences that will allow you to check that box, answer those questions, and confidently go into an interview saying you’re really passionate about these patients and being there for them. Ultimately, maybe you’re not a primary care rural medicine specialist. But whatever specialty you go into, you spent 10% of your time in a rural setting because that’s just something you became passionate about.

[08:57] The Risk of an Early Decision

The student also mentions that the school’s website says that if you’re a really strong applicant, then do early decision. Because it’s really going to show her commitment to rural medicine.

'Early decision for most people probably doesn't make sense because the risks generally outweigh the benefits.'Click To Tweet

Checking that box for early decision is a contract with that one school saying you’re only applying to. And they have until the end of September through October 1 to give you a response. They may respond to you sooner saying your stats aren’t competitive enough and just reject you right off the bat.

That may be good because then you can go and apply to the rest of the schools in your states and elsewhere where you want to apply. I

But if the school doesn’t give you a response, and they wait to give you the response until the deadline (end of September to October 1), then you can’t apply to other schools until that time. And so that puts you at a disadvantage with every other school that you may want to apply to. And with weaker stats, that can potentially hurt you even more.

“You have to be a strong candidate for early decision and you have to have really strong reasons on why you want to go to that school.”Click To Tweet

You have to have very strong ties to why you want to be there. Then it makes sense to apply early decision. But those stats definitely have to be there included in that. And so if they get an early applicant or early application in early decision application, and the stats aren’t there, they just won’t give you the time of day.

Depending on the school, they may roll you over into their general admissions, which is good. Or they may say you only get one shot early decision. And if they don’t accept you too early to early decision, then they won’t accept you for our general admissions either. And that would hurt you.

[12:14] Prove Yourself Academically

The student’s undergrad GPA is 3.39 cumulative so it’s not really strong. She has a master’s in philosophy and chemistry. It turns out her question was actually featured on Episode 215 of The Old Premeds Podcast. And she’s wondering if she should take a few other undergrad classes if she can afford it.

The question always is not whether your grades are good enough to get into medical school. The question is have you proven academic ability to get through medical school pass the boards, etc?

If you’re not planning on applying this year, from a GPA perspective, having an upward trend, having a 3.8 master’s degree in chemistry with 40 something credits, this student has proven herself academically. I don’t think this student need to do anything more. Hopefully, medical schools see this.

“The application is so much more – the activities, the shadowing, the clinical experience – all of that is super important as well.”Click To Tweet

The application is so much more than your GPA too. You also have to think about your clinical experience, shadowing, and the MCAT, of course. You also need to apply early and do your secondaries and retell your story.

[14:54] It’s Not Just About the Stats

I had a student who posted a question the other day saying they had a 520 MCAT score and a few interviews, but one rejection and been radio silence since from the other schools. So I had him send me his application and that the story just isn’t there. It’s not just about stats.

And I think that for this student, she has proven yourself well enough with how she has done in her masters and the trends from a GPA perspective. So it’s not an issue.

Remember, you’re not just that single number. Medical schools can see all of the data points that you are putting in. And they can manipulate all of those data points. They can manipulate them to say that if the student has less than a 3.2 undergraduate GPA, but has a master’s in chemistry, biology, biochemistry, whatever, with greater than a 3.7 GPA, then great. You could still pass their filter. And they would want to take a look at you.

Medical schools can do whatever they want. And you’ve proven yourself GPA-wise so that’s not an issue.


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