Spring Primary Preparation

Spring is in the air! The trees are blooming, and the weather is warming. For those of you preparing to apply to medical and dental school, however, spring signals the beginning of a long and stressful application process. This checklist will help you prepare your primary so that you can start strong and take some time to relax and enjoy your spring.

Before planning, it is important to understand the application cycle. Medical and dental school applications contain three sequential parts. 1) the primary, which is the centralized and universal online application that is delivered to all the schools to which you apply 2) the secondaries, which are the school specific essays, and your committee packet containing your letters of recommendation 3) and the interview. Medical and dental school admissions is rolling, and applications are evaluated as they are received, so the timing of your primary matters. Aim to be ready to submit in the first few weeks of June by completing the following steps this spring.

  1. Take the MCAT/DAT. The MCAT is an important component of your primary application, and in most cases needs to be taken by May. Since the scores take around thirty days to post, a May test date allows you to submit the primary after you have your score but still within our recommended timeline of the first two-three weeks of June. Many applicants find it too stressful and time consuming to complete their courses, study for the MCAT, and prep their application materials. If you feel too burnt out or you have not had enough time to study, don’t hesitate to postpone your test date, and your application. You will feel better and be a stronger applicant if you have given yourself adequate time to study. The timing of DAT is more flexible, but you should generally try to complete it by June to ensure a timely application.
  2. Work on your personal statement. The personal statement is the first opportunity schools have to get to know you and your motivations for medicine. Get a jump start on it by spending a couple of minutes each day writing about your experiences in college and your reasons for pursuing medicine in a journal. Once you have a draft, submit it to your advisor for review.
  3. Choose your schools. Your school list needs to be decided by the time you submit the primary. Many factors go into choosing schools, from location, curriculum, cost, class size, and culture. Use the Medical School Admissions Requirements or the ADEA Dental School Explorer as well as Penn’s statistics to get a sense the range of schools you might apply to, but recognize that MCAT and GPA are only part of the application criteria. Have your advisor review your school list if you have questions or concerns.
  4. Plan for your secondary essays. Once a school receives your primary they will send you a secondary applications to complete. Depending on the number of schools to which you applied you could be faced with a busy July and early August. Set aside some time in your calendar to tackle these essays in a timely manner.
  5. Mark your calendars. Familiarize yourself with the deadlines for Penn’s committee letter process. Meeting these deadlines will ensure you can request your committee packet early. If you have questions about the deadlines and requirements for the committee letter, reach out to our office.
  6. Take care of yourself and each other. Make time to do whatever relaxes and energizes you. Go to the gym, have lunch with a friend, spend an evening re-watching your favorite show. Check in with your friends who are going through the process.

The application process is stressful. There are a lot of moving parts, and completing them well and in a timely matter is important. I hope this helps you prioritize your tasks, so that you can start the application season off right, but don’t forget to take some time to enjoy the nice weather!