One of the most perplexing problems facing premeds is if they should take the MCAT in the spring or wait until the summer to take it.
We often talk about the recommended “normal” timeframe for prepping for the MCAT, which is to have a test date in March or April. But then you’re still in the middle of all of your classes.
How are you going to prep for all of your classes and prep for the MCAT at the same time? How should you, as a student, think about it? You don’t want to be delayed in your applications, but you’re also still in school and worried about your courses. Bryan from Next Step Test Prep joins me to discuss what to do.
Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.
[01:43] Should I Take the MCAT in Spring or Summer?
We usually suggest taking the MCAT in March or April. That approach works well for your application cycle timing. But then you’ve got all these spring semester classes you’re taking at the same time as you’re doing your MCAT prep.
The alternative is to wait until the summer (June, July, or August) when you no longer have academic pressure, and take the MCAT then. That can allow you to have a dedicated study period for the MCAT in the summer, depending on what your other plans are.
There’s no single best answer. It depends what the demands are on your schedule in the spring semester versus for the Summer.
[02:28] The “Normal” Application Timeline
If you do decide to push your MCAT back to July, then you can spend May and June prepping for the MCAT after your semester is over. But what does that do to your whole application timeline?
The normal timeline is to submit your medical school application in early June. But what a lot of students don’t know is that the first wave of applications don’t actually go out to schools until mid to late June.
So even if you submit in early June, nothing’s going to happen for another couple of weeks. You’re not going to get any secondaries back for several weeks. There is still good reason to submit early—so you have time to pre-write your secondaries before they come.The first wave of applications don't actually go out to medical schools until mid to late June.Click To Tweet
MCAT Timing and Application Timing
Once schools get your applications, they will send you secondary applications around the beginning of July, assuming you’re applying early. Then you take two to three weeks to return your secondaries. This would push you back to mid-July to late July.
And that’s when your application is considered complete. Your primaries are in. Your secondaries are in. But is your MCAT score in? That’s the other big factor. The reason we say to take the MCAT in March, April, or May is so your score is in by July when the rest of your application is submitted.The reason we say to take the MCAT in March, April, or May is so your score is in by July when the rest of your application is submitted.Click To Tweet
[Related episode: Does It Matter How Fast I Turn Around My Secondary Essays?]
[03:43] Is Taking the MCAT in July Too Late?
If you take the MCAT in July, your score is not going to come back until roughly a month later, which is August. So what happens here is that the schools are going to sit on your application until that MCAT score is in. They can see based on the application that you have the score pending. So they’re not going to look at your application until it’s complete with an MCAT score.
So this is the biggest determinant when it comes to how your MCAT timing can affect your application. You don’t want that pending MCAT score to hold up the process while medical schools are accepting other students and your chances are becoming slimmer.
Because medical school admissions are rolling, the sooner your application is submitted, the sooner you can get secondaries. The sooner you can submit secondaries, the sooner your application is complete. The sooner your application is complete, the sooner it’s reviewed. The sooner you’re invited for an interview, the sooner you’re accepted. And this is why MCAT timing matters.
[04:48] Don’t Sacrifice Your GPA or MCAT Score for Application Timing
In the grand scheme of things, August is still early to have your application complete. So it’s not the worst case scenario to be taking the MCAT in July. But my point is the fact that they are rolling admissions. So every delay is going to affect you negatively. As to how much, it’s impossible to answer.
It comes down to each student. Obviously, grades are still very important. So there’s a huge balancing act. Ultimately, don’t take the MCAT until you’re ready to take the MCAT.Don't undermine your grades just to take an early MCAT. Don't undermine your MCAT score just to take an early MCAT.Click To Tweet
[06:33] Should You Take a Gap Year for the MCAT?
There are a lot of factors to take into consideration when talking about MCAT timing, including all the other parts of your application. You need to write your personal statement, your extracurriculars, and your secondaries. These can get in the way of your MCAT prep. So there are many things to juggle.
This is why a lot of students are taking a gap year, so they can take their MCAT during the gap year and they don’t have to worry about anything else at the same time.A gap year allows you to have some mental breathing space, so you can focus on your grades at one time, and then shift to the MCAT afterward.Click To Tweet
A gap year allows you to have some mental breathing space, so you can focus on your grades at one time, and then shift to the MCAT afterward. The GPA is the one big factor on your application that competes with or beats the MCAT in importance.
A gap year also gives you time to do more application-building: more clinical experience, more shadowing, and so on. Then you can put those on your application.For a lot of premed students, a gap year starts to sound like it makes a whole heck of a lot of sense.Click To Tweet
[07:36] Our Verdict: Spring MCAT vs Summer MCAT
As to whether you should take the MCAT during the spring or summer, there is no right answer for everybody. You have to look at your individual situation.
Look at your ability to stretch yourself. This could mean going with a little less sleep and sacrificing some nights out with friends and movies, etc. If you focus 100% on school and MCAT during that spring semester, can you make it work?
Or do you know yourself, and you know you’re going to get burned out during that time? If so, it’s best to delay for a little bit. This is a common conclusion in our podcasts: It depends on your individual situation. So do what works for you.
[08:40] Next Step Test Prep
If you’re looking for MCAT full-length practice exams, Next Step Test Prep has you covered. Currently, they have ten full-length exams. If you register for their diagnostic test, you get the first full-length for free!
Links and Other Resources
- Check out my book about the MCAT, co-written with Next Step Test Prep: The Premed Playbook: Guide to the MCAT.
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