What to do each month of your medical residency application year to match to your dream specialty
So you’re halfway through third-year clinical rotations, trying to decide which specialty might be the best for you. With residency application season months away, you figure you have plenty of time to chart your career trajectory through residency and beyond. But though the ERAS season doesn’t open until June each year, and residency programs don’t receive application materials until September, it helps to start working on application materials early. But just how early should you start?
We’ve developed a recommended residency application timeline to help ensure that your materials are of the highest quality while saving you stress and anxiety. Rather than giving vague, general advice—of course your personal statement should be “well-written”—this post focuses on when to complete various pieces of your applications.
That said, it’s important to be flexible with your timeline, especially because the residency application process has many moving parts. The sooner you begin your application, the more you’ll be able to draft multiple personal statements or customize your essays to programs of interest.
No matter what timeline you follow, if you work diligently and submit your highest quality work, you’ll be able to balance submitting your application materials by September with your clinical rotations and everything else going on in your life. In putting together your residency applications, you should aim for quality, not speed.
For specific application deadlines, we encourage you to visit the following websites:
All residency applicants:
Foreign applicants applying to U.S. residencies
DO applicants applying to osteopathic residencies
Applicants applying for residencies in ophthalmology and plastic surgery
Applicants applying for urology residencies
(Note: Because the military match has a different timeline—their match results are released the earliest, in December of the application year—this timeline does not apply to the military match.)
The Ideal Residency Application Timeline
January – March of Your Application Year
Research residency specialties and evaluate your competitiveness for specialties of interest with an advisor
Decide whether or not you’ll do an “away” rotation
Find opportunities to remedy any obvious gaps in your CV
Request letters of recommendation
Brainstorm and outline your personal statement(s) (you’ll need to write a statement for each specialty for which you’re applying)
April – May of Your Application Year
Write your personal statement(s), aiming to finish by the end of August
Discuss information that may help during the match process with an advisor
Finalize senior electives (including any “away” rotations)
Arrange MSPE interview (which will depend on different schools’ schedules; some will begin setting them up as early as April, or as late as September)
Contacted your Designated Dean’s office for key ERAS and NRMP timelines
If you’re at a U.S. medical school, your Designated Dean’s Office is your medical school
If you’re outside of the U.S., your Designated Dean’s Office is the ECFMG
June – July of Your Application Year
Receive ERAS token from your Designated Dean’s Office
Register with ERAS and complete biographical information sections
Have a mentor, colleague, advisor, admissions expert, or close friend read your personal statement and give feedback
Make a list of programs; account for specialty, level of competitiveness, other professional criteria.
If applying to California programs, start working on the Postgraduate Training Authorization Letter (PTAL)
Complete USMLE Exams (up to Step 2 CS) before September
July – August of Your Application Year
Check in with letter of recommendation writers about the status of their letters and remind them to submit their work if they haven’t already
Finish writing personal statement(s)
Continue working on ERAS (do not certify until the application is complete and error-free)
Authorize release of USMLE transcript if your school does not automatically release these
Upload a professional photo
Request MSPE from your school; if you cannot, inform ECFMG so that you can upload a placeholder with an explanation
Review MSPE and correct for errors
Submit documents in OASIS at least two weeks prior to application opening (if applying with ECFMG’s OASIS)
Assign documents (transcripts, letters of recommendation, personal statement(s)) to specific programs as necessary in MyERAS
September of Your Application Year
Submit/certify your ERAS application by September 15 to maximize odds
Assign documents to residency programs as necessary in MyERAS
Register with NRMP (opens September 15)
Continue to submit applications throughout the residency application season
October of Your Application Year
MSPE/Dean’s Letters released to programs on October 1
Check on status of application and messages in MyERAS
Send follow-up letters to programs that haven’t contacted you
Make sure all letters of recommendation are uploaded
Prepare for interviews
Schedule interviews as necessary
November – December of Your Application Year
Check in with an advisor if you have not yet secured interviews
Register for NRMP before November 30 to avoid late fees
Continue sending follow-up letters to schools that haven’t contacted you
Send thank-you notes to interviews you’ve completed
January – February of Your Application Year
Make a pro/con list of programs
Make and submit your Rank Order List on NRMP by February 26 deadline
Contact your top choice program (at which you’ve interviewed) with a letter of interest (this is dependent on specialty and situation)
Make sure you’ve registered for NRMP [N10] (required for Post-Match SOAP eligibility)
March of Your Application Year
Check status of match during Match Day
SOAP process opens Monday of Match Week
Frequently Asked Questions
When should I take the USMLE exams?
The United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) has three steps. Passing Steps 1 and 2 is a graduation requirement for most U.S. medical schools.
But you’re responsible for scheduling your exam dates, and USMLE Step 1, Step 2 CK, and Step 2 CS can be taken in any order (you can only take Step 3 after passing the aforementioned steps). You are also limited in the number of times you can take each step. This makes it tricky to say when, exactly, you should take the different parts of the USMLE.
That said, most students take the USMLE Step 1 at the end of their second year of medical school and Step 2 CK and Step 2 CS in their third and fourth years.
There’s no best time to take the Step 2 CK, but in general, it is best to take it before beginning residency interviews for flexibility in scheduling and travel.
Finally, the AAMC notes that some surveyed medical students recommend taking Step 2 CS after a primary care or family medicine rotation. Scoring the Step 2 CS can take months, so make sure you complete it in time to meet deadlines required by your school and residency programs.
Step 3 can be taken after some or all of your first year of residency. More information about Step 3 can be found on the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) website.
Which match do I choose?
Definitely enter the NRMP Match regardless of your situation (all U.S. MD applicants must secure their PGY-1 – Postgraduate Year 1 – training through the NRMP’s Main Residency Match). However, you are allowed to enter more than one match and doing so may increase your chances, depending on the competitiveness of the specialties you choose and the number of applications you submit.
Most residencies are offered through the NRMP (28,849 in 2017), but more than 3,500 are offered through the AOA, San Francisco Match, AUA, and Military Matches.
Both MD and DO fourth-year students and graduates can participate in NRMP, San Francisco, AUA, and Military Matches, but only DO students and DO graduates can participate in the AOA Match.
Fourth-year medical school students with a U.S. government obligation (those who attended Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, for example) must enter the Military Match unless they are released from their government obligation.
Finally, if you want to enter the AOA, San Francisco, AUA, and Military Matches, these typically have earlier deadlines and match days than the NRMP Match so that those who matched with the “Early Matches” can withdraw from NRMP. As such, if you’re interested in these “Early Matches,” plan accordingly.