Deciding When to Apply

When Should I Apply? Should I Take a Growth Year?

There is no “right time” to apply to health professional school—our office encourages prospective applicants to reflect on their readiness and personal desire to apply to determine what timeline is best for them.

Generally, there are two main paths in the application process:

The expedited timeline sets students up to enter health professional school after four years of undergraduate education, with no break or “growth year.” This timeline requires that students take the MCAT/DAT no later than summer after their junior year, apply to schools the summer between their junior and senior year of college, and stay engaged in the application process over the course of the next year. Matriculation to an applicant’s chosen program occurs the fall following graduation from the undergraduate program.

The growth year timeline sets students up to take purposeful time between the end of their undergraduate career and the start of health professional school. This is becoming the pathway for the majority of medical and dental matriculants nationally. The amount of time one takes prior to matriculation in professional school is dependent on one’s own circumstances; this timeline sets prospective applicants up to at least take one, if not more, growth or gap years. An applicant who plans to take one year between the end of undergraduate education and the start of graduation education will apply the summer after their senior year of college. An applicant who plans to add additional gap years will apply the year prior to when they intend to matriculate.

To decide when the right time to apply is for you, we suggest reflecting on the strength of your candidacy as a whole and when you feel is ideal for you to start your journey in the health professions. Consider what you present in terms of clinical, service, shadowing, and other extracurricular experiences, as well as academic metrics, and explore the holistic admissions review process below. Consider, too, whether you want a “break” from formal classroom education and how you might benefit from seeking out other experiences. We strongly recommend that you involve our office in these deliberations by setting up an appointment with one of our advisors to discuss your options.

Explore as well the following resources, Premeds: Capitalize on gap years before applying to medical school from the AMA and Making the Most of Your Gap Year from the AAMC.

Factors for Consideration

Deciding when to apply to health professions school largely comes down to when you feel you are ready to apply and able to present a strong application. The best time to apply is when you feel confident that you will achieve your goals. Applicants should consider how their candidacy will be viewed holistically and if they present a well-rounded portfolio. Schools look for candidates with a quality of experiences and for applicants to be passionate about those experiences. Prospective applicants should be able to articulate clearly why they are prepared to pursue this path, what their motivation is, and how they are suited for the healthcare field.

Below are some reflection questions to help reflect on your preparedness:

  • Have you completed your prerequisite coursework?
  • Will you be able to schedule your standardized test at a reasonable time and be as prepared as possible?
  • Are you able to receive a minimum of three strong, supportive letters of recommendation?
  • What does your candidacy present in terms of clinical, service, and other extracurricular experiences?
    • What shadowing and and direct patient care experiences do you have?
    • How much volunteer work and community engagement can you demonstrate?
    • Did you engage in any research experiences and/or leadership roles?
  • Do your academic metrics align with your desired schools?
  • Do you have enough time to craft a compelling personal statement?
  • Do you have the time to prepare all aspects of your prospective application (i.e., primary application, secondary application, standardized test scores, and letters of recommendation)?
  • Are you financially prepared to start this process?
  • Will you be ready to complete more years of schooling?
  • Could you benefit from more time to build up a robust portfolio?

Holistic Admissions Review

Health professional schools use a holistic review process to ensure that all aspects of an applicant’s background and preparation for professional school—including academic metrics, experiential components, and core competencies—are taken into account. This process is designed to help schools consider a broad range of factors such as academic readiness, contribution to the incoming class, and potential for success in their program and as a future professional. 

See below the official definitions from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN):

  • “Holistic review is an admissions process that considers each applicant individually by balancing their academic metrics with experiences and attributes.” (Holistic Review in Medical School Admissions, AAMC)
  • “Holistic review—a flexible, individualized applicant assessment tool—provides admissions committees a balanced means of considering candidates’ personal experiences, attributes and academic credentials, along with qualities and characteristics that would prove valuable in both dental school and the oral health profession.” (Holistic Review, ADEA)
  • “Holistic review is a university admissions strategy that assesses an applicant’s unique experiences alongside traditional measures of academic achievement such as grades and test scores.” (Holistic Admissions, AACN)

To further understand this process, visit the AAMC’s site to learn about core principles of the process and the weight given to various factors, and the ADEA to learn about the interplay of experiences, attributes and metrics. Also follow the hyperlinks above.

Our office encourages prospective applicants to dialogue with us about their decision to start the application process. Make an appointment with one of our advisors at any time.