More than 50,000 premed applicants apply each year to medical school and less than 40% get accepted. More and more applicants are applying each year, and the matriculation rate has been trending downward. Every program receives thousands of applications each year and can only accept a handful of students. In an ideal world there would be a perfect way to select applicants who would make great physicians. Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world. So programs have to operate with incomplete information about applicants and their potential to succeed in medical school and afterward as compassionate and competent physicians.

Here are six common reasons medical school applicants are rejected. If you can address all 6, you’ll be in great shape during your application cycle and maximize your chances of acceptance.


The first reason is a Low MCAT. Unless you have a very strong GPA to compensate for a low MCAT, you should consider retaking the test. If you’re not sure what constitutes a low score, check the statistics on average MCAT scores for matriculants at schools you are interested in and consult your academic advisor. Don’t be discouraged if your first test did not go as well as you wanted – taking a standardized test like the MCAT is a skill that can be learned – meaning you can improve with the proper mindset, work ethic, and focus. Retaking the test is understandable. While it is preferred to do it once and be done with it, don’t think that schools will automatically reject you for retaking the test. I have gone over my own success with the MCAT as well as overviews of materials and study schedules to help you also achieve a killer score. Check out my MCAT playlist for a good starting point and tips on materials, study schedules, and test day advice.


Low GPA with Decreasing Trend

The second reason is a Low GPA with a decreasing trend: if your GPA is low, it should at least be showing an upward trend with improving grades as you progress through college. An upward trend demonstrates improvement, resilience, and work ethic. And that’s sexy. If you have a low GPA without an increasing trend, strongly consider a postbacc program to strengthen your application. If your grades are suffering, it’s not a question of intelligence but study habits. Medical schools want to make sure you can handle the academic rigors necessary for a career as a physician. Medical school is very different from college. You won’t necessarily be learning more difficult concepts – that depends on what your college major was – but you will be learning much more volume in a shorter period of time. Therefore mastering your study habits in college is crucial. I’ve made a few videos on study habits – check them out to increase your efficiency and effectiveness.


Weak Personal Statement or Secondary Essays

Number three is weak personal statement or secondaries: while the majority of your application is objective test scores, the personal statement and secondaries are your chance to let your personality shine through. These essays should not be taken lightly as they hold significant influence. We all know to get our personal statements reviewed, but I would extend that to say that many of your secondaries should be as well. Thoughtful introspective writing will go a long way – confusing or incomprehensible writing will get your application thrown out. At the same time, be true to yourself. If you try to portray as someone you are not, it is very likely to backfire on you. I go over what makes for a memorable and effective personal statement here and here.


Poor Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation can make or break your application. If you look good on paper but someone says you’re terrible to work with, good luck getting into med school. Be careful when selecting who you are going to ask to write your letter. It is better to obtain a letter from someone who knows you well and can write a strong letter versus a big name who doesn’t know you as well. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have a few extra letters of recommendation so you can tailor which letter goes to which school. For example, you may want to submit different letters to different institutions based on your professor’s connections and where they trained. This is a minor point though, remember the most important factor is that the person writing the letter knows you well, thinks you would be a great medical student and physician, and is able to portray that convincingly in their letter of recommendation. Learn how to secure strong letters of recommendation here.


Lack of Extracurriculars

You are a multifaceted person and there’s more to you than just numbers. Be sure to adequately demonstrate this on your application. While not absolutely necessary, having research or healthcare related experiences will greatly increase your chances of success. Relevant extracurriculars such as clinical volunteering or research demonstrate you have some understanding of the medical profession. The key here being quality over quantity. Being well rounded also means having non-medical extracurriculars. If you play a sport competitively or started a club for something not healthcare related, be sure to mention it. The application committees definitely want to hear about it! Learn more in the extracurriculars post here.


The Interview Day

Getting your foot in the door with an interview is only half the equation. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by failing to prepare adequately for the interview. Prepare for common questions, know the program and why you want to go there, and be calm and composed. I created summary sheets of my own research and important points on healthcare reform, which was very relevant at the time, and still is. Using these review sheets before interviews helped me speak eloquently about my research in detail and come across as well informed regarding healthcare policies and the future of medicine.

Also, I highly recommend doing some mock interviews with your school’s career center which should be free of charge. And remember to be professional even when you’re not in the interview room. Behaving unprofessional at any point during the interview day is a sure way to get rejected. Even when you’re not at the school, a faculty member or other person affiliated with the school could be nearby. If you act like a terrible person, don’t be surprised if you don’t receive an acceptance letter.

Hope you found these tips useful!