How to Handle Medical School Rejection


Rejection sucks. After so many years of hard work, being rejected by the programs you researched and dreamt about for so long just plain hurts. Inevitably, you start wondering what’s wrong with you. Why are you a failure? While dramatic, self-pitying thoughts are sure to swirl around your skull, the simple fact is if you’re not getting rejected by a few of the medical schools you applied to, you’re doing something wrong.

But that doesn’t make rejection any easier. So, let’s talk about the topic most of us don’t want to think about: how to handle medical school rejection.

In this post, we’ll break down how you can handle medical school rejections in a healthy, thoughtful way that encourages continuous improvement, adaptability, and resilience.


1 | Statistically, Expect Rejection

Person looking at a selection of medical schools - How many medical schools are there

At Med School Insiders, we recommend applicants apply to at least 20 different medical schools, with a varied mix of reach, target, and safety schools. Even if your application is impeccable and beyond reproach, it’s still very unlikely you’ll be accepted at all 20 of these schools. Expect rejection; statistically, it’s going to happen to you.

That’s not to say you should be pessimistic or expect rejection on all fronts; just understand that you will not be accepted to every school you apply to. You are not going to be a perfect fit at every single program.

While any rejection stings, you’re looking for the program that’s the best fit for you. The only thing getting a rejection teaches you is you weren’t the best fit for that school.

You may have always dreamed of going to a specific school, but you may not align as closely as you thought. This could be based on your medical goals, your extracurricular experience, the way you prefer to learn, or how well the admissions committee believes you will fit within and enhance their student body.

Just as schools are looking for their ideal applicant, you are looking for your ideal school, and your ideal school needs to match your own unique needs and aspirations.

Gaining an acceptance from every school likely means you compromised your own needs to adapt to each and every school you applied to. You don’t need an acceptance from every school—in the end, you can only choose one.

Applying to medical school isn’t your average game where points are scored on both sides, and you need to keep fighting until the clock runs out. The minute you score an acceptance, you’ve won. While you may not be schooled exactly where you envisioned, there’s a reason you selected the program in the first place.

Reflect back on those reasons to begin to form a new image of your future. What’s appealing about the program, the city, the faculty, and the students?

Rejection will happen, and though it may be disappointing in the moment, keep in mind that it’s a process. You will inevitably have to narrow down your choices to one. Rejection just makes those decisions all the easier.

Plus, if you’re accepted at every school you apply to, you’re looking at a mountain of secondaries and interviews.


2 | Learn From Your Setbacks

In the midst of a failure (or a perceived failure,) it can be tough to see the silver lining of a learning opportunity. But that’s what any failure or setback is—an opportunity to learn and grow.

Consider your journey so far. For example, the story you describe in your personal statement. What hardships, setbacks, losses, inequalities, or mistakes led you to where you are today? How have the harder times in your life helped crystalize your positive attributes and ambitions?

When everything comes easy, you don’t have the opportunity to learn from your mistakes and improve. Navigating rejection is one of those moments in your life when you have a decision—you can let it take hold of you, or you can utilize it for your own betterment.

As bad as a rejection or failure may feel in the moment, remember that a rejection shows you tried. You put yourself out there. You took a giant leap outside of your comfort zone. Not failing, not making a mistake, and not encountering any hiccups along the way means you are playing it safe. In other words, you’re failing to challenge yourself. If you never test your limits, you’ll never know what they are, and if you accept every limit that life tries to box you in with, the smaller your life and your aspirations will be.

While it might feel scary to take a risk, staying inside your comfort zone keeps you stagnant. Every setback is a chance to level up and improve.

Learn more: Why You Should Step Outside Your Comfort Zone—Student Guide.


3 | Don’t Give Into Pessimism

Woman unhappy reading a paper

A realistic but optimistic mindset can give you an edge over other medical school candidates and aid you throughout the rest of your medical career.

Are you able to reframe setbacks so that you can move forward even stronger?

It’s easy for pessimism and negativity to take hold of you, draining your energy, pummeling your self-esteem, and killing your motivation. We’re not suggesting you fake positivity all the time; toxic positivity is just as corrosive to your perspective as constant negativity. However, it’s vital to understand how much your mindset can affect all areas of your life.

You’re not going to study as well, perform as well, or get as much done when you’re feeling down and like nothing is going your way. Be mindful of how you are feeling and the outlook you have on your progress.

Look at the whole picture. Sure, you might have received a rejection from a school you were enthusiastic about, but what other schools are still possibilities? What do you like about the school options you have left on the table, and what opportunities could they provide you? Sometimes your top choice school isn’t actually the ideal fit you thought it would be.

If you’re facing waitlists, continually remind yourself that you’re still in the race. What you do during this time can determine whether or not you get off of a waitlist. Stay the course and continue pushing on.

Being waitlisted is still an accomplishment, but the uncertainty the waitlist brings is difficult for anyone to handle. Learn How to Get Off Medical School Waitlists with our 7 strategies.

Now, there’s still the elephant in the room. How do you stay positive when you’ve run out of options and are not accepted to any of the schools you applied to? Undoubtedly, this is a tough pill to swallow, and it can be incredibly difficult to maintain a positive mindset during this time.


4 | Consider Your Next Steps and Make a Plan

Give yourself a moment to grieve your personal loss, and then take some time to assess your application as well as your next best steps. Were you close? Is medical school and becoming a physician still what you want from life? Is there another path that might be better for you? What could you learn, experience, and improve upon if you were to take a gap year before applying again?

A gap year can give you time to intentionally gain industry experience, explore the world and the people in it, donate your time, or dedicate yourself to a research year. Learn more in our Guide to Taking a Gap Year Before Medical School.

Consider ALL of your options (even the ones you never considered before.) Weigh the pros and cons along with the information you have about how far you got in the application process. For example, if you didn’t receive many secondary applications, this strongly indicates you have a lot of work to do to meet the minimum medical school requirements. If you made it to the interview process for a handful of schools, it might be your interview skills you need to focus on.

Next, create a plan of action that details key milestones of what you need to accomplish and when. If you’re not taking a gap year, you’ll need to move quickly, but before you do, deeply consider whether or not you have enough time to make effective changes to your application in time to apply in June. Whether applying for the first time or the second time, submitting your application early is an absolute must.

If you’re taking a gap year, know that this time will go by fast; therefore, you need to use it wisely. How will you make notable, impactful improvements to your application?

Being rejected from medical school is not the end of the world, and it’s far from the end of your journey. In fact, only a third of applicants are accepted every year. What you do next is what counts. When you look back on your life 10 or 20 years from now, this rejection will only be a minor setback in your long and storied career.


5 | Utilize Adaptability as a Skill

Being rejected from medical school may mean you have to come up with a new plan. You may choose to stay the course and reapply with an improved application, or, after taking time to consider your options, you may decide a different path is best for you, such as pursuing a different medical career.

No matter which next path you choose, you’ll have to adapt to your new circumstances. Whether adapting comes easy to you or not, know that it is an incredibly powerful skill that will help you in all aspects of your life. Adaptability is a skill successful people strive for, a skill that mentors look for in students, and a skill workplaces seek when hiring.

Your ability to adapt is sometimes described as an adaptability quotient (AQ), which describes your ability to accept change, course correct, adapt to new technologies, learn from failures, problem solve, and adjust as you acquire new information.

Are you able to adapt to whatever life throws at you? Uncertainty is guaranteed during the medical school application process, so the sooner you can embrace this, the better. Set clear goals and a plan of action, but understand that the path you initially set out on may not be how you arrive at your destination. Along the way, you may change your destination entirely.

Practice rolling with the punches. Learn from your rejections. Take them in stride. With each rejection or setback, you learn more about the process and yourself, which is invaluable information you can use to adapt your game plan moving forward.


Rejection Is What You Make of It

While rejection is tough, it’s important to remember that one rejection does not automatically lead to another one. Give yourself a next time. A rejection is only a failure if it knocks you down and you don’t get back up. Stagnation is the only true failure in this process, which means you only fail when you stop trying. Adapt and keep moving forward.

Med School Insiders can give you the advice you need to make the necessary improvements to your application and impress your top choice schools. Our team of doctors has years of experience serving on admissions committees, so you’ll receive key insights from people who have been intimately involved with the selection process.

It’s our goal to help you create a future that aligns with your vision. Learn more about our Comprehensive Medical School Admissions Packages, which are tailored to your study habits, strengths, weaknesses, and the specific schools you’re applying to.

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