Applications to medical schools reached new heights in 2012, setting the stage for a more competitive admissions process than ever before; however, one group of students remains unfazed by the news of more applicants vying for roughly the same number of spots in medical schools across the country. Nearly two months ahead of regular decision deadlines, students who apply to medical school through what is formally known as the Early Decision Program (EDP) make a binding promise to apply to only one medical school and attend that school should they be offered admission. There are five key questions you need to ask yourself before you apply to the early decision program at your first-choice medical school.

WILL YOU BE ABLE TO PRESENT YOURSELF AS THE STRONGEST MEDICAL SCHOOL CANDIDATE POSSIBLE BY AUGUST OF YOUR APPLICATION YEAR?

Applying to medical school requires an applicant to submit the strongest application package possible. You never want to compromise what might be your only chance to represent yourself by rushing to apply by the August 1 deadline. For those seriously considering an early decision program, putting together the best application is all about smart planning. As you already know, when it comes to applying to medical school, the checklist may at times seem endless. Sit down and take some time to determine how much time you will need to prepare for and take the MCAT, draft and complete your AMCAS essays, request and receive your letters of recommendation, and complete other components of the medical school application process. You want to make a great impression on the admissions officers reviewing your application, so be certain that you have enough time to prepare for that.

ARE YOU PREPARED TO EXPLAIN WHY YOU ARE SO SURE THAT A PARTICULAR MEDICAL SCHOOL IS UNEQUIVOCALLY THE BEST FIT FOR YOU?

When you decide to put all of your eggs into one basket and take the risk of applying to only one medical school, then your reason(s) for doing so should not only be good, but great! By applying to an early decision program, you have a unique opportunity to express that you know what you want and why you want it. Be specific. Explain that you are applying because of a specific research subject known only to this particular institution or that you want to be near your military partner or spouse who is stationed nearby. If at the end of your thoughtful search, you are able to present a truly compelling reason that a particular medical school is where you want to be, then you will be in good shape.

DO MULTIPLE PARTIES ENCOURAGE YOU AND SUPPORT YOUR DECISION TO APPLY TO AN EARLY DECISION PROGRAM?

A pretty good indication that you should apply to an early decision program for your dream school is if you have people in your corner who are confidently encouraging you to move forward. Starting with the pre-medical or academic advisor at your school, a stamp of approval from someone who works with students and sees them through the process for a living is a good start. Then, some schools require students who are considering an early decision program to actually meet with their admissions director before even applying to the program. For example, the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine states that due to the unique nature of the early decision program and the abbreviated application timeline, prospective applicants must arrange a meeting with the school’s Director of Admissions prior to applying. No matter what the requirements, it is always in your best interest to make contact with the school of your choice before applying. If, after meeting with a representative, you receive affirmation, then applying to your top-choice medical school is certainly the right decision.

ARE YOU WILLING TO SACRIFICE YOUR CHANCE TO RECEIVE ATTRACTIVE SCHOLARSHIPS OR SUBSIDIZED LOANS OFFERED BY OTHER MEDICAL SCHOOLS?

It is no secret that the price tag of a medical education continues to rise and that medical students and graduates are worried about their financial loads. According to the latest data from the Association of American Medical Colleges and the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, close to eighty percent of medical school students had over $100,000 in debt, and thirty-six percent had racked up more than $200,000 by the time graduation rolled around. Unfortunately, when you apply to an early decision program, there is no guarantee that you will receive the best financial aid package that you may have been eligible for otherwise.

WILL YOU BE FULLY PREPARED TO TAKE THE MCAT NO LATER THAN JUNE OF YOUR APPLICATION YEAR?

If your current MCAT study plan puts you taking the test sometime between July and September, you will not receive your scores back in time to make the August deadline for submitting your early decision application. As you know, your MCAT score is critical to making you a competitive candidate and thus deserves your full commitment to preparation even if it means beginning your MCAT prep a few weeks (or months) earlier than planned; don’t rush your MCAT preparation in any way to meet the early decision application deadline.

So, if you can confidently answer yes to all five of the questions above, then it would most likely be in your favor to apply to the early decision program of your top-pick medical school.