The MCAT is only offered at specific times of the year and only on specific days. Make sure you understand when you need to schedule it to maximize your apps. We’re joined by Ali from Blueprint MCAT. If you would like to follow along on YouTube, go to premed.tv.
The whole application timeline is very confusing, very convoluted, and very long. And so, fitting the MCAT in perfectly, in terms of timing, to make sure your application is complete in the eyes of medical schools is very important.
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[02:27] When Is It Time to Take the MCAT?'The best time to take the MCAT is when you're ready to take the MCAT.'Click To Tweet
A lot of students put pressure on themselves because they think they need to take it in January because that’s what their friends did. But Ali highly recommends just taking it whenever you are ready to take it.
The broader question now is when should you plan ahead to take it? If you’re designing your schedule for the next couple of years while you’re a freshman or sophomore, when should you plan to take the MCAT?
If you’re not planning on taking any gap years, you want your MCAT score to be out by June of your junior year. So that when you apply, you’re ready to hit the ground. Your MCAT is there, your primary application is there, and your letters of recommendation are there.
[03:30] Understanding The Concept of Rolling Admissions“Applying early gives you an advantage so you want to make sure your MCAT is there by the time you submit your application.”Click To Tweet
For starting medical school for the next calendar year, one of the most confusing things for students is realizing just how long the medical school application cycle is.
The application starts around May or June of each application year. Theoretically, if you want to start medical school in 2025, you are applying from May to June of 2024. That’s when your applications open up.
And so, if a student has to apply and it takes a month to get the MCAT score, they should be taking the MCAT in January to March (May as the latest) of the year they’re applying to medical school.
This way, you are getting the advantage of being the first one through the door because most medical schools use rolling admissions. So it’s first come, first served.
When you apply in June and your MCAT is ready, you’re applying against a handful of students for all the seats. And if you apply in October, you are competing with all of the applicants for the two remaining seats.
Between June and October, the number of seats declines with time. So apply as early as you can. Plan to take your MCAT sometime in January through March and April. A lot of students say that if they take it in January and then don’t do well, then they have a chance to retake it in April or May. And if you’re thinking of taking it in May, then you’re sort of putting all of your eggs in one basket.
[05:55] Getting Through the Door When Taking a Later MCAT
For the primary application, you do not have to have an MCAT score to apply. And you do not have to have taken the MCAT to apply to medical school. The risk that students have when taking a later MCAT, especially if it’s their first one, is either applying on time (May-July) with a solid MCAT score. Or they’re applying without an MCAT score and just crossing their fingers.“If you're one or two years removed from applying to medical school, then put yourself in the best situation and take your MCAT before you apply.”Click To Tweet
But if you will have to take the MCAT while you apply, then just submit your application as early as you can, even without an MCAT score. This way you at least get through the first door. You get your primary verified you. You might get a few secondaries sent your way so you can start working on them. And by the time your MCAT score is out, then your application is ready for review. Hopefully, you’re still early enough to get a seat.
Applying early gives you a big advantage but it doesn’t mean that if you’re not applying early, it’s impossible or you have no chance of getting in. Therefore, put yourself in the best situation. But if things happen, you can still do things about them to improve your chances.
One of the biggest things with taking a later MCAT is that MCAT prep gets in the way of application prep. Then also, the application prep gets in the way of MCAT prep. And so, you have these two competing priorities of needing to get your application early due to rolling admissions and needing to prep for the MCAT.
Therefore, it’s really important to get the MCAT out of the way, ideally, so you can focus on the MCAT and then focus on your application.
[08:55] Understanding the Time It Takes to Write Your Application
Ali adds that students underestimate how much time application writing takes. Many of them will get close to the application. Some won’t even start writing their primary application until mid-May.'Your personal statement takes months to write, not two days or three days. It's a whole process.'Click To Tweet
Your personal statement is the one essay that tells medical schools about you. So you want to put a lot of effort into it. Therefore, you have to start preparing for your application months in advance. The application opens in May, but you want to be writing by January at the latest.
[10:01] MCAT Timing for Accommodations
Getting accommodations is a really hard process with the AAMC. They are very stringent and overly restrictive with who they allow accommodations.
Ali says there are two things you want to keep in mind. If you did all of the evaluations and you’re ready to apply for accommodations, it does not mean that AAMC will give you accommodations the next day. It’s going to take them up to 60 days to give you this decision. So you want to be very early in the process to get everything done. Go to their accommodations website, get everything you need, and start working on it way ahead of time.
You’re probably going to get less good accommodations on the MCAT compared to what you’re getting in your undergrad institution. So if you plan to appeal, that also takes time.
What complicates things, even more, is that if you’re getting extra time, you are taking the MCAT over two days. Whether you’re taking double time, time and a half, or even time and a quarter, you’re still taking the time over two days. And this means you’re only allowed to take the MCAT when the MCAT is offered on two consecutive days.
This is important for students who are not on track to be ready for the MCAT. Just be careful with changing your dates because you may need to change it by more than a month just because of the way accommodations work.
[13:45] MCAT Fees
The MCAT fee is $325. Now, if you apply to the Fee Assistance Program, then you’re only paying $100.
Something a lot of students don’t know is you can be in Spain and take the MCAT at a test center. The MCAT does have international dates for MCAT administration. And if you are taking the test internationally, it’s going to cost more.
[14:41] When to Register for the Exam
The AAMC releases MCAT dates twice a year and registration opens twice a year for different blocks of the calendar.'Registering early for the exam is important.'Click To Tweet
The exam slots fill up and there are only a certain number of testing centers in every location throughout the country. There are only a certain number of seats at each of those testing centers. And these testing centers don’t only test the MCAT. They are administering tests for lots of different companies and tests out there. Hence, seats for the MCAT are limited.
So when you think you’re ready to take the test and go on to the AAMC website, you then realize you can’t register for the date that you want. Or you have to fly somewhere else to take the MCAT. This was what students were doing when the new MCAT changed in 2015.
The rescheduling fees are back as well so this is something you also have to take into consideration.
Ali’s advice is that if you’re planning to take the test in January or March, register as soon as you can. Just because you don’t want to go through the headache of waiting on your decision in December and then struggling to find seats. Then you’d have to travel to take your MCAT. So register as soon as you can.
Registration this year is on October 13 and 14th at noon, depending on whether you’re on East Coast for the 13th and West Coast for 14th.
If you think you’re always getting less than eight hours per week to study for the MCAT, and you will not be ready by January, then make the decision now to register for the test in March maybe.
Then if you’re not ready after you register, you want to figure that out as soon as you can just because of how the fees play out.
The earlier you know whether you will be ready or not, the less money you pay to reschedule. But for walking into the last 60 days before your test, you should have a good idea of whether you will be ready to take your test.
[19:40] How to Know When You’re Ready to Take the Test
Ali points out two things you need to look out for to know whether you’re ready to take the test.
First, look at how you’re performing on your practice tests. If you’re two months away and you’re not scoring in the range, check if you’re trending in the right direction to hit your target scores.
Secondly, check if you have enough time to get to your target score in the two months you have left.“If you haven't been studying consistently for the MCAT, then you probably need to change your test date. Otherwise, rely on your scores to see if you're trending in the right direction.”Click To Tweet
[21:43] When to Delay Your Application
Ali also points out two factors when thinking about delaying your application. First, it depends on where you are with your mental health and how you’re taking care of yourself.
Maybe you find yourself being too tired, too anxious, and you don’t have the energy to open an MCAT book to study for the MCAT. Or you’re not being productive of the whole stress of taking the MCAT during your classes. Maybe working while applying is getting to you. Then it might be time to just take a few days off. And if at the end of those days, you are still not ready, then maybe apply next cycle since it’s more practical.
The next reason why you would just drop everything is just mostly how things are going with your application and with your scores.
So if you’re planning to take the MCAT in June, and you’re already going to be a bit late in your application. Or you’re pushing your test date to August or September, then applying in this same cycle is not a great idea. Maybe you can afford to take a year off maybe a gap year where you do research, volunteer, or even travel and then apply to medical school next year.
The average age for students starting medical school is in mid-20s now, so just apply when you’re ready.'Take the MCAT when you're ready, even if that entails taking a year off.'Click To Tweet
Allow yourself some grace. It’s better to apply with a better score and a more complete application rather than rush everything and stress yourself out. Giving yourself some sort of autoimmune disease because you’re super stressed is just not worth it in the grand scheme of things. So just allow yourself to take a little time.
[25:23] Some Traps Students May Fall Into When Registering
Follow AAMC on Twitter
Ali suggests following AAMC on Twitter @AAMC_MCAT or just bookmark their Twitter page. They share a lot of information about registration so besure to read the information about the proces for October 13/ October 14.
If you log in up until 10 minutes before noon when the application opens, then all of these people will be taken. They will be randomized into the order they will be entered to pick their seats. Then starting from 11:50 up all throughout the day, everybody else who logs in takes the back of the line.
The AAMC comes up with new processes every single time. The website sometimes crashes so just be patient.
Sign up for a free account of If This Then That where you can create an automation that says whenever the AAMC account sends a tweet, it will shoot you an email or send you a text message. That way, you’re updated and it’s not instantaneous.
AAMC on Twitter @AAMC_MCAT
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