The dreaded medical school waitlist. Being waitlisted can feel like a blow after years of hard work and years of living with the dream of being accepted into your top choice schools. It’s important that you don’t see being waitlisted as a defeat. Sure, it’s not the acceptance you were hoping for, but it’s far from a rejection.
In this post, we’ll answer 18 medical school waitlist FAQs, including important questions about the waitlist procedure, how to get off the waitlist, and what to do while you wait. Our comprehensive guide works through every question we’ve heard from students regarding waitlists and how to best navigate them.
Below we’ll answer the following questions about the medical school waitlist procedure. If you don’t see the answer to a question you have, leave your question in the comments section at the end of the article. We’ll do our best to alleviate your concerns and may end up adding your question to future iterations of this guide.
- How Do Medical School Waitlists Work?
- Why Do Medical Schools Use Waitlists?
- What Percentage of Applicants Get Into Med School?
- Why Was I Placed on a Medical School Waitlist?
- What Are the Benefits of Being on a Waitlist?
- How Do I Get Off Medical School Waitlists?
- When Do Waitlisted Students Get Accepted?
- When Does Medical School Waitlist Movement Occur?
- How Many Waitlist Positions Are There at Each School?
- How Do Medical Schools Decide Who Gets Off the Waitlist?
- How Late Can You Receive a Waitlist Offer?
- What’s the Process for Accepting a Waitlist Offer?
- Should I Accept the Waitlist Spot?
- Should I Contact a Medical School if I’m Waitlisted?
- How Long Will I Have to Wait?
- What Should I Do While I’m Waiting?
- What Should I Do if I Don’t Get Off Any Medical School Waitlists?
- When Should I Start the Reapplication Process?
1 | How Do Medical School Waitlists Work?
For starters, there are two kinds of waitlists; the pre-interview waitlist and the post-interview waitlist.
The pre-interview waitlist occurs before medical school applicants make it to the interview stage. Since an admissions committee can’t be certain of how many applicants will accept their offer to interview with their program, some schools send out more invitations than they have interview slots. When a student turns down an invitation to interview, the admissions committee checks their waitlist and selects the next most qualified student to fill the slot.
The post-interview waitlist happens after interviews have finished. By the middle of March, allopathic (MD) medical schools in the US are required to send out offers of acceptance equal to the number of students in their entering class. In order to offset the number of rejections a school receives, most medical schools send out several more acceptance offers than are actually available.
Medical schools cannot know for sure how many applicants will reject or accept their offer, so they create waitlists of qualified candidates. When an applicant declines their invitation, the admissions committee can move on to the next candidate whose qualifications best fit what they’re looking for.
2 | Why Do Medical Schools Use Waitlists?
Waitlists are a powerful tool for medical schools. Each school only has a limited number of spots available to students based on resources, budgets, class sizes, etc. A school can only accept so many candidates each year, which means acceptances can’t be sent to everyone who is qualified. Available spots are limited, and waitlists are a way to keep qualified candidates interested while the first successful candidates make their choices.
Another big reason for schools to utilize waitlists is that it gives them a chance to gauge a candidate’s interest without using up an acceptance offer. During the waitlist process, a candidate can submit additional information and choose whether or not to accept the waitlist offer, which can indicate a candidate’s level of interest.
Being waitlisted signifies that you’re on the right track but still have areas you need to improve. It’s a better gauge than only sending out rejection and acceptance letters, and it can be the exact push some applicants need to improve specific areas of their application.
3 | What Percentage of Applicants Get Into Med School?
According to AAMC, in 2021-2022, 62,443 people applied to medical school, sending out an average of 18 applications each, meaning there were a total of 1,099,486 applications. 22,666 applicants successfully matriculated to medical school out of 62,443 students, so the percentage of applicants who got into medical school was 36%.
4 | Why Was I Placed on a Medical School Waitlist?
Being placed on a waitlist is very common. There are a number of different reasons you could be placed on a medical school waitlist, but generally, being placed on one means that while you are qualified and the school is interested in you, currently, there are applicants they’re more interested in.
It could be another applicant has a higher MCAT score or GPA, more varied research experience that’s relevant to the school, multiple publications, or maybe, overall, they crafted a more compelling narrative than you. It’s hard to say precisely why you were placed on a waitlist, but it indicates the school believes you’ll make a good fit, just not quite as good a fit as the other applicants they’ve made offers to.
5 | What Are the Benefits of Being on a Waitlist?
Being placed on a waitlist isn’t all bad. After all, a ‘maybe’ is always better than a ‘no.’ Sure, an acceptance would be a lot better, but being put on a waitlist or multiple waitlists is a clear sign that you are close. Schools are considering you, and you still have a chance of getting one or more acceptances based on the waitlist offers you’ve received.
Keeping your momentum and staying in a positive mindset during this time is key, so be sure to recognize the silver lining of being placed on a waitlist.
Being on a waitlist for one of your top choice schools after already receiving an acceptance at a lower priority school means you still have some options. You’re safe with your original acceptance, and there’s still a chance you could be accepted at your top choice school.
Do not discount the waitlist. It may be disappointing, but you’re still very much in the game.
6 | How Do I Get Off Medical School Waitlists?
There are a few different ways to get off of a medical school waitlist, but the most important thing any waitlisted student can do is follow the school’s unique instructions and policy.
Every medical school is different, so it’s important to pay careful attention to the school’s waitlist policy and follow any instructions the school provides in their correspondence with you. If the school gives you instructions, they expect those instructions to be followed. If they say not to contact them, do not contact them. If they recommend you improve an aspect of your application, do everything you can to improve that aspect. If they say not to send follow-up materials, don’t.
If the school allows follow-up materials, sending a well-crafted and sincere letter of intent is an excellent move. A letter of intent is you “putting a ring on it” and fully committing to accept the program’s offer if they make it. In other words, a letter of intent lets the admissions committee know that you’re a sure thing.
A letter of intent can also include any relevant updates you’ve made to your qualifications, or you can send an additional update letter that includes things like improved grades, additional letters of recommendation, or recent publications—anything that makes you a more appealing candidate.
But the key is to not overdo it and bombard an admissions committee with correspondence. Be passionate, not obsessive. Create a schedule of continual, relevant updates that ensures your name is always in front of the admissions committee in a positive, constructive way.
Find more details in our comprehensive guide to How to Get Off Medical School Waitlists — 7 Strategies.
7 | When Do Waitlisted Students Get Accepted?
Waitlist acceptance rates vary; it all depends on how smoothly the regular admissions process went for the program. It’s important to remember that there is still no guarantee you will eventually be accepted if you’ve been waitlisted.
Hearing whether or not you’ve been accepted also completely depends on the program’s individual waitlist process. Medical schools are required to provide applicants with two weeks to consider their offer of acceptance before the end of April, and most medical schools give successful applicants until the beginning of May to say whether or not they will accept their offer.
So, waitlisted students likely won’t hear anything until the beginning of May, and, depending on the program, the waitlist process could extend into the summer. Whether you’re being accepted or not, most medical schools will let applicants know when the waitlist process is over.
8 | When Does Medical School Waitlist Movement Occur?
Oftentimes, waitlists are more static than dynamic. You can be placed on a waitlist fairly quickly, potentially right after interviews or even before, which is far in advance of when you’ll learn whether or not you will be accepted.
Every medical school is different, but many schools wait until May to make a final decision in order to give their accepted applicants time to decide if they’ll accept their acceptance. It’s also very possible you won’t hear anything until the summer. People have been taken off of the waitlist as late as August—which only leaves them a few weeks to get ready for medical school, which sometimes includes a move to another state.
While every school is different, expect waitlist movement to begin in May, but know that things can keep moving around until a few weeks before the school year begins in September.
9 | How Many Waitlist Positions Are There at Each School?
The number of waitlist positions at each school varies, and it can range anywhere from 30 to 600.
AAMC has a handy guide that pulls together relevant waitlist information for each individual school. Use this resource to see how many waitlist positions are available at the schools you’ve applied to. Note that not all schools release this data, and for some, the answer is simply that the number of waitlist positions varies from year to year.
Knowing how many waitlist positions are given out can give you a better idea of your chances. For example, if you’re on a waitlist of 300, your chances of getting off of the waitlist aren’t very good. On the other hand, if you’re on a waitlist for a school that only offers 30 waitlist spots, your chances of getting off that waitlist are much more likely.
10 | How Do Medical Schools Decide Who Gets Off the Waitlist?
Medical schools are looking for the best-matched candidates for their school. The process for choosing who will get off of waitlists is much the same as deciding who they will send acceptance letters to, and each school’s criteria is slightly different. These criteria include your marks and test scores, the impact of your personal statement, what others had to say about you in letters of recommendation, what (they believe) you will be able to contribute to the school, and how well aligned you are with the school’s goals, values, etc.
The decision largely comes down to how many applicants accept the initial offers a school sends out. As successful applicants choose other schools, spaces open up and are given to those on the waitlist based on who admissions committees believe is the next best candidate.
11 | How Late Can You Receive a Waitlist Offer?
If you’re on a waitlist, the earliest you’ll likely hear from schools is the beginning of May, but the waitlist procedure continues on throughout the summer as applicants make their final decisions and shift acceptances is around.
You might not hear about getting off a waitlist until two or three weeks before the beginning of classes in September. This can be quite stressful, as waitlisted students don’t know for sure where they will be attending school in September or if they even have an acceptance.
Receiving waitlist offers so late in the year poses issues for students who are reapplying. If you want to apply for the next application cycle, you will need to submit your application in June—when you can still receive an acceptance at the schools you are waitlisted for.
12 | What’s the Process for Accepting a Waitlist Offer?
A waitlist notification is much like an acceptance. You typically get an email updating you of your status with an option to accept or decline/withdraw. It’s usually a simple button, but if the school uses a portal, you may need to log in to make your choice.
You can still be on a waitlist even after accepting another admission offer. In fact, it’s strategic to do so if you were accepted to a lower-tier program but are still on the waitlist for your dream school. April 30th is the date students are only allowed one acceptance; however, they can be on as many waitlists as they want.
You are never totally locked into something once you accept, though you may lose the deposit that was required to accept the offer. The fine print of every school differs, but in the end, if you get into your dream school at the last minute while having previously planned to go to another school, the worst they can do is keep your deposit.
Learn More: How to Balance Multiple Medical School Acceptances.
13 | Should I Accept the Waitlist Spot?
This depends on how badly you want to go to the school you’ve been waitlisted by. If you’ve been accepted by a program you’re equally as interested in attending, the decision is a pretty simple one, but if you’ve been waitlisted by your #1 choice and dream medical school, it’s important to stay on the waitlist and commit to improving your application.
At the risk of stating the obvious, being waitlisted is not the same as being rejected. It means the program considers you to be an appealing candidate who needs some improvement. Students reject offers of acceptance all the time, so you could be one rejection away from attending your dream school.
14 | Should I Contact a Medical School if I’m Waitlisted?
Whether or not you contact a medical school after you’re waitlisted depends on the instructions the school provided you and if you have new information to share.
If a school specifically says not to contact them with further information, don’t contact them. Follow any instructions they provide and carefully examine the school’s policy surrounding waitlists—schools expect these guidelines to be followed.
If contacting the school is acceptable, wait until you have a relevant update to share. This could mean sending a letter of intent, which is a promise to the school that you will choose them should they accept you.
You can and should send an update letter if you have something notable to update the school about, such as relevant work experience, an award, or a significant improvement to your application. Again, read the instructions carefully, and don’t send an update if the school says not to contact them after you’ve been waitlisted.
15 | How Long Will I Have to Wait?
This depends on the strength of your application, how you compare to other waitlisted applicants, and how many accepted applicants rejected their initial offer.
If you’re on a waitlist, you will very likely have to wait until the beginning of May before you hear anything definitive, as most schools give their accepted applicants until then to make a final decision. Depending on the individual school’s waitlist policy and procedure, you might end up waiting until the summer before you hear whether or not you’re accepted.
16 | What Should I Do While I’m Waiting?
While on the waitlist, it’s important to take a close look at your application and any instructions the program gave you when they informed you that you were on the waitlist. If the program highlighted specific areas of your application that they felt needed improvement, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and work on making those improvements. Now is not the time to give up!
Do whatever you can to make yourself a more appealing candidate. If the program allows you to send additional materials, keep the program informed of any new qualifications or achievements. If you’re fully committed to joining a program, it’s also essential to communicate that to the admissions committee through a letter of intent (to one school only.)
17 | What Should I Do if I Don’t Get Off Any Medical School Waitlists?
If you don’t get off of any waitlists, it’s time for some deep reflection and reassessment. Assuming you don’t have any other offers you want to accept, you have a tough decision to make—do you pursue a different career path, or do you double down on your efforts and reapply with an improved application?
This is a completely personal decision that only you can make. What we can say for certain is that reapplying with the same or similar application will yield the same results, which is a waste of both your time and the admissions committee’s. If you are reapplying, you need to make significant improvements. You must make a new plan, improve weak areas of your application, seek help where needed, and possibly reassess the schools you are applying to.
18 | When Should I Start the Reapplication Process?
Be careful not to miss the ideal reapplication window, as applying with all of the same details, marks, experience, etc., will not improve your chances of acceptance. You must take the time to IMPROVE your application before reapplying.
The reapplication process depends on how many acceptances you have received and how many times you were waitlisted. Do you have any acceptances, or have you been waitlisted by every program? Are the schools you’ve been waitlisted by places you actually want to attend, or were they your backups? Were you waitlisted by several schools, or are you waiting for 1-2 options?
The decision to reapply is a tough one to make. You’ve already put so much time into this year’s application, and the idea of starting over is daunting, to say the least. Assess your options and be honest with yourself about your chances of acceptance.
If most of your options are schools you don’t have much of an interest in attending, it might be worth it to put in the effort to get into your top school next year rather than settle on your backup plan now. If you know you did your absolute best and have little to improve upon, your chances of acceptance are going to be about the same when you reapply.
You need to take a hard, honest look at your application to figure out what areas you can improve upon. Reapplying to medical school is a ton of work, especially after just putting in that work to apply the first time. But if you don’t get started soon, you won’t have a chance to improve your application in time for the next admissions cycle.
If you want to apply for the following application cycle, your timeline will be quite tight. You might only find out which waitlist you were on at the beginning of May, and applications open by the beginning of June.
As we say time and time again, the most important strategy for applicants is to apply as early as possible due to rolling admissions. If you did not receive an acceptance the first time around, this is all the more important. You absolutely must make sure you apply soon after applications open to set yourself up for acceptance as a reapplicant.
You must take the time to figure out which areas of your application are weak. What was it that held you back from gaining an acceptance? If you didn’t receive any interviews, this is a clear sign that there was an issue with either your primary or secondary application. If you received multiple interviews but didn’t receive any acceptances, it could be that poor interviews were your downfall.
At this point, you have a decision to make. Can you make the necessary improvements to your application in time to reapply that same June for the following cycle? Or do you need to take time gaining more experience and refining your application elements to ensure you can submit a rock-solid application the following year?
Luckily, for anyone waitlisted, you have some reassurance that you are on the right track. Getting on a waitlist shows you are on the cusp of gaining an acceptance and are not that far off. If you can pinpoint how you can improve your application and execute those changes quickly, you have a good chance of being accepted to medical school the following cycle.
Plus, if you’re on a few waitlists, there’s always a chance that an acceptance will come through as you go through the reapplication process.
Read our Reapplying to Medical School Guide to learn more about how to assess your application and how to make significant improvements where it matters most.
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After the extraordinarily long, tedious, and nerve-wracking medical school admissions process, being waitlisted probably doesn’t feel much different than being straight-up rejected. BUT THIS IS NOT THE CASE! Now is not the time to give up.
It is crucial that you pay attention to your inbox and read up on the waitlist procedures of any waitlist offer you receive. Remember that each school has a different process, and it’s up to you to know what that process is.
Med School Insiders can give you the advice you need to make the necessary improvements to your application and impress your top choice schools.
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