When Does It Make Sense to Apply Early Decision?

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Session 237

Is an early decision the smartest decision when you’re unwilling to relocate to another geographic area? While it might be an option, it might not be the wisest one. Learn about the risks of an early decision before you decide to take one.

Questions answered here on the podcast are taken directly from the Nontrad Premed Forum over at premedforums.com. Please go ahead and register for an account, ask your question, and have fun with the community.

Also, please be sure to check out all our other podcasts on Meded Media as we try to bring you as many resources as you need on this journey.

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

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[01:54] OldPreMeds Question of the Week

“Hi, all. I’m a 42-year old career changer. I am very tied to a specific geographic area as I am unwilling to relocate my family to pursue a career in medicine (at least at this time). Because of this, I plan to apply to the only two schools that are within commuting distance. 

There is a competitive MD school in my city and a less competitive MD school about an hour away. As with most non-traditional premeds, time away from family is a major concern for me, and so I have a strong first preference to attend the closer school. 

My MCAT score is exactly at the closer school’s median, while it is over the 90th percentile score for the school that is farther away. I think I may have a good chance to get in at the closer school, but I am definitely not the “very strong” applicant they mention on their website when discussing their early decision process. 

Is there any advantage to applying early decision to my 1st choice school, in other words, would the fact that I opted to apply early decision make me any more attractive to them as a candidate than if I applied the regular way, with submitting my application to both schools in early June?

Another question: for non-traditional applicants that have been out of school for a very long time (15+ years for me), how important is my GPA from nearly two decades ago? Do schools give more weight to the MCAT score in this case as an indicator of my current abilities? With the trends in grade inflation, might my older GPA look “better” than an equivalent number from a current student?

Thanks for any help or advice!”

[03:47] A More Competitive or a Less Competitive School?

Number one, I completely disagree with how the student is classifying a more competitive and a less competitive school.

Remember that schools are looking for students who fit their mission. Obviously, schools are looking for students who can complete through medical school in four years, pass the boards the first time they take it, etc. That’s why schools look at MCAT and GPA.

Some schools have ridiculously high MCAT and GPA cutoffs. But those scores are oftentimes perpetuated by the students because students apply based on MCAT and GPA. And I hate that process.

But as the student is saying, being less competitive or more competitive has nothing to do with anything. The student could rightfully say, a student with a higher median GPA and MCAT score versus a school with a lower median MCAT GPA and MCAT. That would be more true. But to say one is more or less competitive, we don’t know.

You could potentially look at the number of applications versus the number of interviews or matriculants, or the number of students accepted. Then you could say more or less competitive, but that would also be based on the number of applications they get as well. And more students apply most likely to the school that has the lower median MCAT score and lower median GPA because it’s easier to get into.

This is where critical thinking comes into play. You can’t just look at the numbers and this school or that is more competitive. That’s not what that means. It just means the school has a higher median GPA or higher median MCAT score.

'When you're looking at schools to apply to, you need to look at other things besides MCAT and GPA.'Click To Tweet

[05:54] Early Decision

Early decision is not something that a student should apply to. If you look at many early decision schools, they will tell you early decision is for students who have really strong ties to the school. And strong ties doesn’t mean you’re unwilling to move anywhere else because that’s where your family is. Maybe medicine isn’t really what you want to do. You’re just doing it maybe because it’s convenient. So there are some red flags in this whole conversation.

'Just because you're unwilling to move anywhere else, that is not a good reason for early decision.'Click To Tweet

The concern here for early decision is what are your ties to the medical school, specifically? All you’re doing when you’re applying early decision is saying you really want to come to their school. And that doesn’t mean you can have less than stats. It doesn’t give you bonus points to have lower stats.

Early decision is really just saying you’re a strong applicant – period. And that you really want to go to their school because of xyz and so you’re willing to risk it. It’s not a get out of jail free card for being the only school that you’re willing to apply to because you’re unwilling to move.

'Early decision is not a get out of jail free card for having weak stats.'Click To Tweet

[08:12] The Risks of Applying Early Decision

The risk of an early decision is you are contractually obligated to go to that school if you get in. And you’re contractually obligated to only apply to one school. And they have to tell you, whether or not you have been accepted. They can let you know earlier as soon as you are rejected from that school, then you can apply typically to the general application pool for other schools.

This student sounds like there’s only one other school that they would apply to. Another risk is that some schools won’t let you apply to their regular program if you weren’t accepted for the early decision program. You’re risking being put into the general population because you weren’t accepted into the early decision program. You’re risking another opportunity to get into the school because you wanted early decision.

'The risks outweigh the benefits of early decision.'Click To Tweet

In general, I would tell students to avoid early decision unless there are very strong reasons why you are applying early decision to that school, not just because you’re locked into a location.

There’s a difference between applying early decision for a specific school versus applying early decision because of the location. So just be careful because early decision is rough. And there are risks. There are benefits but there there are risks.

Just keep checking. Just make sure that this is what you want. If you want to be a physician, go for it. If you apply one cycle where you’re not willing to move and then you apply another cycle where you are willing to move, that logic doesn’t make sense.

[11:05] GPA From Nearly Two Decades Ago

Every school is going to be a little bit different with how they look at the older classes. Obviously, doing well on the MCAT will make up for older classes. There’s a myth out there about prereqs expiring. Most schools don’t have expiration dates for prehealth classes or premed classes. So don’t worry about expiration dates.

If you want to go ahead, reach out to some of the schools you’re applying to and just ask them what their opinion is.

You can do that. But don’t play the game that grade inflation is a thing now and so they’re going to add points to your GPA. Don’t even play that game, it’s not worth it. It doesn’t help at all. If you did well, it did well, if you didn’t do well, you didn’t do well. So maybe you need to take some more classes now.

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