By EMILY HAUSE
A previous version of this article was published by Kevin Yang.
After applying and interviewing at multiple medical schools, the wait to hear back from the programs of your choice can feel like an eternity—and when you do hear back, it may not be the news you were expecting. So what do you do if instead of opening an acceptance letter, you find out you’ve been waitlisted or rejected from medical school this cycle? On the other hand, what if the news is good and you get accepted to your top pick? Regardless of the outcome, you’ll need to be practical about your next steps.
Today, we’ll help you navigate some of the most common scenarios when it comes to being accepted, waitlisted, or rejected from medical school so that you can plan accordingly.
What to do if you’re accepted to medical school
Congratulations! You’ve been accepted! If you’re one of those lucky few who have multiple offers, you’ll need to quickly decide which medical school you want to attend—or at least the ones at which you want to reserve a spot. Remember, the ball gets rolling pretty fast at this point.
Once a med school gives you an official acceptance offer, you generally have two weeks to respond. If you decide you want to secure a spot at that school, you’ll need to pay a certain amount—typically between $500 to $1,500—to do so. As you can see, reserving spots at multiple schools can get pretty pricey, but it’s generally a good idea to play it safe by at least paying the deposit at the first school that accepts you.
If you don’t have a dream school in mind or you haven’t heard back from yours, there are a couple factors to consider when choosing the schools where you should reserve a seat. Most medical schools have similar curricula, and it’s good to keep in mind that the reputation of your medical school isn’t generally as important as that of your residency when it comes to getting a job after graduation.
Some big factors to consider when selecting a medical school include:
Also, keep in mind that you’ll be living in this location for four years, so quality of life is important. In addition to considering where the school is actually located (Is it too cold there? Too hot? Mountainous? Urban? Rural? Land-locked?), think about other important details like how close to your support network you’ll be, what things students do in their free time, and your impressions from the school during your interview day. Getting information from med school faculty and current students to help inform your decision is often very helpful as well.
What to do if you’re waitlisted
First, don’t get ahead of yourself or get too discouraged; many people will end up being waitlisted and, ultimately, accepted every year. Even though it may feel like you’re stuck in limbo and there’s nothing you can do about it, try not to let it get to you. Being waitlisted is often just a frustrating part of the process.
Remember that you’re not completely powerless. While the final decision is up to the admissions committee and whether or not spots open up in the class, there are things you can do to improve your chances. Sending the school a letter to confirm your interest is a fine idea, but make sure to keep your communications short, detailed, and to-the-point.
If you’ve re-taken the MCAT and gotten a better score since your applications went out, or if you’ve accomplished something noteworthy in your research, clinical, or other extracurricular pursuits, send an update to the school. This letter should focus on how you’ve addressed your weaknesses, why you fit the school to which you’re writing, and the details of your recent accomplishments.
What to do if you’re rejected from medical school
This is the possibility that everyone dreads—not getting in. While being rejected from medical school can be disheartening, it’s certainly not the end of the line. If this happens to you, allow yourself a day or two for moping if you need it, and then get back on the horse.
For each school you receive a rejection letter from, it is a good idea to send a letter to the admissions committee asking for advice on how to improve your application. You may or may not get replies, but any that you do get will help guide your next steps. Feel free to do your own audit, as well, and analyze your application for weaknesses. Try to approach it as the admission committee—not as yourself. Is there a coherent theme that runs throughout your personal statement and extracurricular activities? How did your GPA and MCAT scores compare to those of the average matriculants in the schools to which you applied? Don’t know how to get that info? Check out stats about MD programs at the AAMC’s Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) page and AACOM’s Osteopathic Medical College Information Book (CIB).
Reapplying will be your ultimate goal, but remember that when you do reapply, you must present a stronger application, so start by approaching the process with that in mind. Many schools will ask what you’ve achieved between your application cycles; in short, they want a good reason they should take you now, when they passed on you last year. Give them one. Make sure you have something new you can write about or talk about during an interview when the subject comes up.
Bounce back from medical school rejection by brushing yourself off and working towards a higher MCAT score with one of our free prep options.