College in and of itself is a daunting process for most students. Studying constantly for twelve to eighteen hours of course work, juggling extracurricular activities, and trying to maintain an active social life can be challenging. Add in aspirations to attend medical school and suddenly you are overwhelmed. Needless to say, this entire process requires a significant amount of planning. Hopefully by the end of this article you’ll have at least resolved one concern on your list and answered the question of when to take your medical college admission test (MCAT).
Evaluate Your Coursework
The most important consideration in taking the MCAT is what level of premedical course work you have completed. Pertinent to this is the understanding that the MCAT tests extensively on required premedical courses and additional information not covered in these courses. For example, there is a portion of physiology on the cardiovascular, renal, and genitourinary systems on the MCAT that is not normally taught in premedical prerequisites but might be covered in classes the student takes electively such as anatomy and physiology. Because of the large burden of information, it is ideal to take the MCAT after you have completed all of your required course work and if possible a few extra courses to solidify and deepen your understanding of the content that will be covered on the MCAT. Most schools recommend taking cell biology, microbiology, anatomy and physiology, and biochemistry to aid with the MCAT as well as the transition to medical school. Some students are particularly adept at teaching themselves and are able to perform extraordinarily well on the MCAT despite not completing their prerequisites prior to taking the exam. However, this is a small margin of the population of premedical students and not typically advised.
Consult the Calendar
Another factor to take into account is the timing of the application process. The typical timeframe for application and interviews to medical school is a year. For example, most application systems open in May of the year prior to enrollment and students are admitted up to June of the following year. This requires that the MCAT be taken at latest by May of the year prior to attendance. Backtracking even further, MCAT scores take a month to be released, which means ideally, your MCAT should be taken at latest by April of the year prior to enrollment in medical school. Taking into consideration the fact that many students do not achieve their target score and retake the MCAT means that you should consider having a buffer of time to retake the test if necessary. While this seems a bit tedious or even cautionary, keep in mind that this could cause you to either apply with a noncompetitive score or delay your application by a year. If you do not have a score that meets the standards of admissions you are investing both money and time in a process that may have minimal or no yields. In addition, you are required to disclose if you have applied to medical school previously which can affect how your application is viewed by an admissions committee.
Give Yourself Time
Taking these factors into consideration, it is ideal to take your first MCAT in the summer or fall of the year prior to application. For most students this falls in the beginning of their ‘Junior’ or third year of school. Taking the MCAT in the fall allows you to evaluate your score early and make crucial decisions from there. If you end up needing to retake the MCAT this gives you a few months to assess changes to make in your next test preparation period. It also allows you a window to register for the test which can be difficult some years when testing sites are limited and many students are taking the exam. If you end up receiving a score that you are satisfied with, this gives you a good window of time to plan for the application cycle and prewrite essays. This period of time could also be used to address any weaknesses in the student’s application such as volunteer work or extracurricular activities.
Finally, realize that the best time to take the MCAT is when you are most prepared and able to perform well on the exam. While most students are anxious to get moving through the long process that a career in medicine requires, realize that a year or two spent working toward your goal will not impact your career in the long run. Put in the time now and perform your best so that you can set yourself up early to do well.
About the Author
Jordan Salley is one of MyGuru's most accomplished MCAT tutors. Click here to learn more!