student juggling MCAT prep and work

Here’s a math problem for you: How many hours are left in the week if one pre-med adds a full-time MCAT study schedule to a full-time job or course load? How many hours are left if you account for family commitments and “free time”?

The correct answer is...not many. But with a little strategy, you might find more than you’d think!, Here are five ways to plan the juggling act of MCAT prep and work so that you never drop the ball:

1. Give yourself enough time to study and practice.

If you compare yourself to peers who can study full-time for the MCAT with no distractions, you may feel like you’re at a disadvantage. After all, someone who can devote 40+ hours per week to MCAT prep can be ready in less time than someone with an already-packed schedule. Take heart—you’re not at a disadvantage. In fact, the kind of long-term planning you’ll need to do now will serve you well in medical school and beyond. (You’ll have to juggle USMLE prep with medical school and residency commitments, for example.) Plus, have you ever heard the expression, “If you want something done, ask a busy person?” As you ably manage your concurrent commitments, you’ll become more efficient and productive than ever.

So, where should you start? Most people need 10–15 hours per week to study for the MCAT over a period of at least four to six months . In total, you should aim for at least 200 to 300 hours of MCAT study time. You should plan to spend even more time studying if you last covered the material a while ago, or if you have a particular area of weakness. Since it is always easier to work toward a definitive goal, consult the section of AAMC’s website devoted to MCAT registration , and decide on a test date about six months away. If the current test calendar does not extend that far out, then look at similar dates in the current year (the testing schedule remains relatively consistent).

Pro tip : While you’re there, take note of when registration is available for your desired test date, and be sure to register as early as possible. Dates and test centers fill up quickly!

2. Take careful stock of your current schedule.

Are you about to be put on an even more demanding project or team? Is a promotion in the works? Do you have a particularly heavy course load this semester? No one takes the MCAT in a bubble—everyone has a life outside of the test—but part of a solid prep strategy is understanding all of the demands you already have on your time (and then rearranging them whenever possible).

Keep in mind, too, that your MCAT prep requires a high degree of focus, so it is not realistic to plan to study at moments when you’re likely to be exhausted from your other commitments—such as late at night or after a long day at work.

Now is the time to ask yourself some hard questions: Are you able to defer taking on additional responsibilities at work? Do you have any flexibility in how you schedule your work hours so that you are not solely relegated to studying late at night when you are already tired? If you need to work and take classes, then can you adjust your course load in a given semester, or defer taking the MCAT until you have a less demanding mix of classes? Not everyone can find flexibility, but think hard about what you can restructure to create the time to study—and study well —over a four- to six-month period. Remember that you will not be studying for the MCAT forever, so your new schedule will be temporary.

3. Carefully assess how you use your time during the day.

Even if you are working full-time or are a student with a part-time job, you are probably not working or in class every minute of the day. Stop to consider the last 48 hours: How much time did you spend scrolling through social media? How about watching videos or TV shows? That time can now belong to the MCAT.

While giving up most or all of your downtime may not be appealing, remember that this is a short-term sacrifice for a long-term gain. You can always catch up on a favorite series once you have the MCAT score to support your application to medical school. Those additional chunks of time will add up over the course of your day—and afford you opportunities to do some additional reading or note review, watch a topic-specific online lesson, or complete a practice passage.

Do you use public transportation to get to work or to school? There’s a found opportunity to study. Do you have breaks during your work day? Another found opportunity to study. Are you the person who is a few minutes early to class and typically chats with those around you? Opportunity to study. Even if you are someone who has to drive frequently or is only able to get to work (or school) via car, you can listen to the audio portion of video lessons or make DIY recordings of your study notes to listen to wherever you go.

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4. Create an MCAT study schedule—and stick to it.

Once you know when you’ll be taking the MCAT and all the time slots you’ll carve out for MCAT prep, you should create a more detailed study schedule. This should include the time periods during which you’ll be studying each day as well as the material you’ll plan to cover. Your schedule should also allow you time to take practice MCAT exams .

Here’s an MCAT study guide that includes sample study schedules. You should adapt your own study schedule to suit your various commitments—and subject areas you need to focus on. As the test date draws near, you can follow this guide for how to study in the two weeks before the MCAT.

5. Build your MCAT support team.

If you are taking the MCAT as the first step in a major career change, then you may be reluctant to talk to your supervisor about your plans. But keep in mind that a boss who knows you are looking to make a change may be willing to work with you to make your MCAT preparation more feasible. If talking to your direct supervisor is not an option, then consider confiding in colleagues who can provide encouragement as well as support.

Also consider starting an MCAT study group. Not only can your peers help you prep more efficiently, but they can also supply a source of much-needed camaraderie during this challenging—and exciting—time.

Outside of work, talk to your family, friends, and roommates about how MCAT prep will affect your time. Do you need to look at restructuring chores or other home-based responsibilities in the short term while you study? These folks are your advocates, and they’ll want to support you. While you cannot expect them to pick up all the slack, it is worth discussing what can be reconfigured to free up your time as much as possible over the next few months.

The Bottom Line

With careful planning and a realistic timeline, it is entirely possible to juggle work and effective MCAT preparation. Having a solid plan going into the process is key. Once you’ve got that, you can invest in yourself and in your future.