One of the most common questions I see in our Facebook Group (Premed Hangout) is whether or not you need to request transcripts from a particular school. The answer is almost always yes. If you have a complicated college journey, with lots of colleges, or overseas trips, or even attendance from a foreign institution, you must read the application instructions and find out what you have to do. This is one part of the instruction manual that I try to read every year because it has always been confusing to me, especially foreign transcripts.
The basic rule of thumb is this: if you were a student—submit the transcript. This includes dual enrollment while in high school, EMT license courses, military education, and other vocational or paraprofessional courses. Even if the course you took was not at a traditional school, you may need to submit a transcript. Read the instruction manual and contact the application help desk if you need further clarification.
You also need a transcript if you stepped foot in class for one day, withdrew, and never showed up again. Remember, if you are unsure if you need a transcript, the answer is likely yes. Again, please read the instruction manual and contact the application help desk if you need further clarification.
How to Request Transcripts
You’ll need to print out the transcript request form from the application service after the application cycle opens for the year in which you are planning on applying. You’ll need to follow your school’s policies for requesting transcripts, including paying any fees associated with sending them.
For AMCAS and AACOMAS, after you add the schools that you’ve attended to the application service, you can then print a custom transcript request form for each of those schools. For TMDSAS, you can print out a generic transcript request form that has your TMDSAS ID pre-populated.
Transcripts are sent to each of the application services directly. Depending on your institution, they may be sent electronically or physically mailed. This does not matter; as long as the application service gets them, you will be set. Each service has a different way to verify if your transcripts have been received, so keep an eye on those notifications if you are starting to worry something got lost.
You do not need to send transcripts to schools. An exception to this might be if you are updating medical schools about completed coursework that you took after you submitted your application.
When to Request Transcripts
The application cycle timeline coincides perfectly with the academic calendar, and many students are just wrapping up a block of classes as they are getting ready to submit their applications. Don’t get bombarded with whether or not you should wait until grades come out to submit your application.
According to the TMDSAS Application Handbook, your Spring grades must be on your transcript unless you’re in a quarter system school, in which case you’ll need your most recent Winter grades. There are some other exceptions, which you’ll find in the Application Handbook.
For AMCAS and AACOMAS, if waiting for your Spring grades is going to significantly impact your ability to be verified early, I wouldn’t wait. The only exception would be if you really need those grades to show an upward trend in your GPA (more on upward trends later).
While the application services need your transcript to verify your application, you do not need the finalized Spring semester grades to be on them before you submit. You can request your finalized transcripts after you submit your application, as the application service will wait for your transcripts before reviewing and verifying your application. The one drawback to this is if something changes after you submit. Your application may get kicked back to you for correction, which will delay the whole process even longer than if you had waited for the official transcripts.
EARLY DECISION PROGRAMS
Early decision programs (EDP) are an application process in which you apply to only one school, and if you are accepted, you must go to that school. You cannot apply EDP to one school through each application service—you must only apply to one medical school. If you have always dreamed about going to your local state medical school, and they allow EDP applications, then you should apply; hopefully, you’ll get an interview, and you’ll know, historically by the end of September, if you have been accepted.
At first glance, EDP seems like it’s a no-brainer. Apply to only one school, get an interview, get an acceptance, and go on vacation until medical school starts. Even TMDSAS has the following on their website, “By applying for Early Decision you can greatly reduce the high financial and psychological costs of applying to and interviewing at multiple schools.” Who wouldn’t want to greatly reduce the high financial and psychological costs? Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Applying EDP is difficult and carries risks. Let’s talk about some basics first.
The EDP application timeline is very similar to the normal application timeline. EDP is administered through the normal application services, but the deadlines are shifted forward. If you are going to apply EDP, you should check what the deadlines are for the school and application service to which you are going to apply.
Not every medical school participates in EDP, so you’ll have to do some research for a current list of schools that participate.
Why It’s Risky
Applying Early Decision requires that you not apply to any other medical schools. If you apply Early Decision through AMCAS, you are contractually saying you will not apply to any TMDSAS schools or any AACOMAS schools, either. One school. One decision. The timing of that decision is the key to why it is risky to apply Early Decision.
The date for knowing if you’ve been accepted or rejected can be as late as October 15th. If you are not accepted through EDP, you then can enter the regular applicant pool if you still wish to be considered by other medical schools. Remember, the other applicants who didn’t apply EDP, yet who might have applied early after applications open, are already interviewing and receiving acceptances by that point.
By applying Early Decision and not getting accepted, you’re potentially four months behind other applicants. Getting notified on October 1st and having to enter the regular applicant pool makes your application significantly late for other schools. If you’re a strong applicant, you still have a chance to get in, but it makes your job a lot harder.
That is the biggest risk of Early Decision—being late.
Applying Early Decision should be done very cautiously if it is what you want to do. I would highly recommend you start building a relationship with the Admissions Committee, and specifically with the Dean/Director of Admissions if you can. Let them know you are thinking about applying Early Decision to their program. Lay out why you want to apply Early Decision and have them look at your application, if they will. Because the Early Decision program is a unique application program, many medical schools are happy to talk to students who are interested in applying for it. Some even may request that you do so before you apply.
Other Thoughts on EDP
It was very hard to find specific stats for Early Decision programs. There is not a lot of data to let you know, one way or another, what you should do. What is clear is that if you are rejected, you are a late applicant, and that is a big risk.
Something else to think about is financial aid. If you are an applicant to a medical school in the regular application pool, schools may use financial aid packages to help entice you to go to their school. If they really like you and want you, they can throw some money at you to help you make your decision.
As an Early Decision applicant, you are only applying to one school, and you are telling that medical school that you only want to go there, so they don’t have to woo you with financial aid.
Applying Early Decision in and of itself does not increase your chances of getting into that medical school. You still need to be a good fit for that school. You still need to have good stats for that school. As I couldn’t find great stats, I won’t tell you if applying EDP makes it more or less competitive for that school. I’m just focusing on the risks.
Should I Apply EDP?
If you do a search and try to look for Early Decision information, you will see that it seems like the majority of people do not recommend Early Decision for students. At the end of the day, for over 95 percent of the students I talk to, I do not recommend Early Decision for them. I believe the risks outweigh the benefits.
If you are significantly tied to a specific area, and it will be hard for you to move, Early Decision may be the right move for you. For instance, if you are a mom with kids integrated into that community and a spouse with a specific job that is hard to relocate, you may not want to uproot your family so you can go to medical school. While applying Early Decision may be a good idea for you, remember that applying Early Decision doesn’t negate the need for strong stats. You may actually need better stats.
I don’t think Early Decision is right for students who just want to stay close to home without any other reasons. Early decision is not for someone who loved their undergrad experience and wants to continue at the same campus or school.
Application and Interview Timing
Here is one scenario in which you might want to throw your hat in the ring for one cycle of EDP. One student I was working with fell into this category. If you have a job that requires you to be outside of the country starting in October, with no chance to return for interviews, I wouldn’t recommend applying to medical school for the current cycle because if you can’t make it back for interviews, that’s not going to work very well. Most medical schools will not allow you to interview virtually (this was written pre-COVID; it is yet to be seen if schools will be more flexible with virtual interviews in the future). If this is a situation you may be in, why not apply Early Decision? Assuming your stats are good enough, why not apply Early Decision to one school, assuming you have strong ties to it? If you’re invited for an interview, it will happen before you have to leave. If med schools, post-COVID, are more flexible with virtual interviews on a case-by-case basis, this may not matter as much, and I would probably recommend staying away from EDP for this specific scenario.
If you can think of other scenarios that might make it reasonable for you to apply Early Decision, then go for it.
Just remember the risks and try to do everything possible to mitigate those risks. While you are waiting for your decision, assume you are not going to get in and start building, if you haven’t already, a school list of other medical schools you will want to apply to after being notified by your EDP school.
You should start prewriting secondaries for those schools. As soon as you can, you can add more schools to your school list. You will likely get secondary requests for those schools within a couple of days. The sooner you can turn around those secondaries, the better your chances are at mitigating a later application.
DISADVANTAGED STATUS ESSAY
There is no one path to medical school. Some premeds are children of physicians, and others are children of immigrant farmworkers making a minimum wage who rely on government assistance. No matter where you are from, if you have gotten to this point, you have shown the world that you are ready to tackle anything.
If you come from an upbringing that didn’t afford you the same potential opportunities as the average student, marking yourself as disadvantaged in the AMCAS application will allow you to explain yourself. What if your upbringing was okay, but now, as a nontraditional student, you are in a disadvantaged situation? AMCAS does not define who should mark themselves as disadvantaged. If you feel like you are, say yes and explain yourself.
AACOMAS and TMDSAS do not give you the ability to mark yourself as disadvantaged.
Marking yourself as disadvantaged doesn’t mean you have to have bad grades or a bad MCAT score. On the contrary, if you have a story to tell about your disadvantage, and you’re able to show that you still performed well in school and on the MCAT despite your disadvantage, that shows the schools even more about you.
The specific question that AMCAS is asking you to answer is, “Do you wish to be considered a disadvantaged applicant by any of your designated medical schools that may consider such factors (social, economic, or educational)?” This question is intentionally vague to allow you to determine what it means for your life and your upbringing.
In your AMCAS application, the Disadvantaged Status question is in the Biographic Information tab. When you check “Yes,” AMCAS allows you to write a 1,325 character length essay with the following prompt: “Please use the space to explain why you believe you should be considered a disadvantaged applicant by your designated medical schools.”
Who Should Mark Yes?
AMCAS gives you some rough guidelines on what it means to be a disadvantaged applicant. One that most students get caught up in is the definition.
Every one of you reading this right now thinking about marking yourself as disadvantaged likely has a million questions running through your head. “What about this?” “What about that?” I could triple the size of this book with every possible scenario, and you would still have a unique scenario you would want to be answered.
Remember, AMCAS leaves the question and guidelines vague for a reason. If you feel like you are at a disadvantage, mark yourself as disadvantaged and write your essay. We will talk about some of the consequences of marking yourself disadvantaged and not explaining yourself well later.
Here are the AMCAS guidelines as of the time of the writing of this book:
1) Underserved: If you are from an underserved area, your exposure to medicine and healthcare may have started later than others, giving you potentially less time to explore the field and less networking ability to talk to those in the field already.
2) Immediate Family: Family issues are hard. They are your family, and you are supposed to love them and stick by them. Sometimes doing that means your educational pursuits need to be put on ...