If you find yourself in the position of being rejected from medical school, understand that you’re not alone. In fact, most students who apply find themselves in your shoes. Every year, over 50,000 students apply to medical school, but 60% are rejected. After a medical school rejection, what are the best next steps to take? I’ll walk you through the process, step by step.
A common question I hear is, “Does it look bad to be a reapplicant?” Other premed resources may sing kumbaya and tell you it doesn’t matter, but at Med School Insiders, we’re the last honest premed resource, and we’re committed to giving it to you straight. If you take two identical applicants, one being a reapplicant, and the other being a first-time applicant, all things being equal, the first-time applicant has the advantage. The reapplicant has the added hurdle of needing to explain how they’re a stronger applicant this year, but if done properly, this can actually become an asset to your application, rather than a weakness, as we’ll get to shortly.
It’s for this reason, in addition to the added cost and additional work, that we always advise students to apply only when they’re ready. Rushing an application does no one any favors. That being said, if you do find yourself in the position of being a reapplicant, following the steps laid out in this post will place you in a much stronger position.
Step 1 | Accurately Assess Your Medical School Application
After a rejection, or really any obstacle you face in life, you have three main options. First, give up. Second, try the same thing expecting different results. That’s the definition of insanity. Or third, learn from your mistakes and improve. Unfortunately, option number three is not as common as you may think, but in most cases, it’s the right option.
If you’ve spent any time on SDN or Reddit or asked your pre-med advisor, you have likely heard conflicting advice on how to proceed as a reapplicant. Let’s set the record straight.
The first step as a reapplicant is to determine why you weren’t accepted during your first medical school application cycle. Accurately assessing the shortcomings of your application will provide the building blocks from which we’ll build your personalized plan in the subsequent steps.
First, take a look at the application yourself and be honest about its strengths and weaknesses. Next, reach out to schools you applied to and ask if their admissions committee could provide any feedback. Some adcoms will do this, others won’t. You can also speak to your pre-med advisor as an additional data point, but take their input with a grain of salt, as most pre-med advisors are woefully unqualified to provide you with substantiative feedback with regards to getting into medical school. Ideally, you want input from those with real admissions committee experience who are invested in your success. If you don’t have an amazing uncle who’s a doctor and served on medical school admissions committees himself, then our team at Med School Insiders is the next best thing. An honest and accurate assessment is critical. Often times, students target one aspect as a weakness that is actually fine, yet overlook a real weakness that played a major role in their rejection.
When identifying your weaknesses, be sure to stratify them in order of significance. If you have an MCAT of 510, sure your MCAT could be better, but it’s not the limiting factor in why you didn’t get a medical school acceptance the first time around. If you received 3 or more interviews and no acceptances, this is a strong indicator that your interviewing skills require attention.
Don’t forget to consider the less obvious factors affecting your competitiveness. For example, timing of your application. Even with a rock-solid app, submitting your primary late, or waiting longer than the recommended 2 weeks to turn around secondaries can add significant drag to an otherwise strong application. Also revisit your school list. Did you apply to enough medical schools? Were they appropriate for your level of competitiveness, or were you applying to too many top tier schools that were out of reach? Did you consider DO schools or only MD?
Step 2 | Formulate Multiple Reapplicant Plans
Now that we have a list of the most limiting elements of your application, we can formulate a plan. When formulating a plan, keep in mind the AAMC’s Holistic Review model, a paradigm developed to assess candidates. This paradigm is also widely used by most medical schools to some capacity. This admissions process model considers each applicant individually by balancing their academic metrics, such as GPA and MCAT, with their experiences and attributes. The tool is designed to be a more effective way to consider how an individual may contribute value as a medical student and future physician. This is one of the reasons we emphasize the importance of a narrative-based application at Med School Insiders, rather than an application resulting from the commonplace checklist-driven mentality.
When you understand what medical schools are concerned about, formulating a plan makes much more sense. Why do medical schools care so much about your MCAT and GPA? They want to ensure that you can handle the academic rigors of a medical school curriculum and successfully pass your USMLE Step exams. Why do medical schools care about your social skills and ethics? These are fundamental components to interacting with patients and being an effective physician. Same with being a team player, or being resilient, as you’ll inevitably face obstacles in your training career. Consider being a reapplicant as one of the many tests of your resilience and commitment to medicine.
There are 15 core competencies for entering medical students, straight from the AAMC:
- Service Orientation
- Social Skills
- Cultural Competence
- Oral Communication
- Ethical Responsibility to Self and Others
- Reliability and Dependability
- Resilience and Adaptability
- Capacity for Improvement
- Critical Thinking
- Quantitative Reasoning
- Scientific Inquiry
- Written Communication
- Living Systems
- Human Behavior
Does this mean you need to find an experience for each of the 15? No, a single experience can address multiple components, and again, be wary of a checklist mentality.
If you understand what’s lacking in your application and what it is that medical schools want to see, then formulating a plan becomes second nature. At this stage, it’s natural to have multiple permutations of your plan. You don’t have to narrow down just yet. One plan may focus more on research and will have you applying in two years’ time. A different plan may have an emphasis on a clinically focused opportunity that would have you applying in just 1 year. You don’t have to perfect your plan at this point, you simply need to understand your different options.
Once we have multiple plans, we can then weigh the pros and cons in step three.
Step 3 | Strategic Prioritization & Reapplicant Plan Implementation
With multiple medical school reapplication plans in hand, it’s time to exercise a selection process to determine which one is the best fit for you. Revisit your why: why is it that you want to go to medical school and become a doctor? Reflecting on this important question will provide you insight into what is most important to you. If primary care in a rural setting is what you want to do, then reapplying sooner or to osteopathic medical schools may be a good fit. If you are hell-bent on a surgical subspecialty or are undecided and want to keep your options open, then osteopathic medical schools and Caribbean schools are probably not good options.
At this point, you can visit your various plans and assess the pros and cons of each. This is a step where you definitely want to work with someone who has medical school admissions committee experience so they can more accurately inform you of the best plan for your unique situation.
Many students are concerned over the idea of waiting one additional year before applying. Understand that medicine is a marathon, not a sprint. I have yet to meet any medical student or physician who regretted taking an extra year off before entering medical school. That being said, whether or not an extra year is warranted is dependent on several factors. If you have more work to do to get to a reasonably competitive level, more time may be warranted. If, on the other hand, you have a stronger application with several interviews last cycle, you may be able to apply again much sooner with just a few tweaks.
Step 4 | What Can Be Recycled? What Must Be New?
I’m always amazed how often students make such easily avoidable mistakes when reapplying to medical school. Let’s run through what you can reuse and recycle, and what you cannot.
Your personal statement absolutely needs to be new. You cannot use the same one from a previous application.
Your essay can certainly focus on similar themes or qualities, but the anecdotes and specifics should be updated and improved upon. For example, let’s say you’re passionate about helping underserved communities and you described in your first personal statement how this has inspired you to become a physician. In your new personal statement, you can again focus on underserved medicine, but consider new anecdotes, deeper insights, and your continued commitment to medicine.
Note that there’s some nuance when redesigning your personal statement. You should stay true to the core reasons for wanting to be a physician. If your first personal statement focused on underserved medicine but your new essay speaks more to academia and the importance of research, admissions committees may question the authenticity of your writing.
Letters of Recommendation
Letters of recommendation are not as black and white as the personal statement.
If you’re uncertain about the strength of a letter of recommendation, either remove it or replace it with a new letter from the same writer or someone else. For example, say your organic chemistry professor wrote one of your science letters, but you took her class 3 years ago and you weren’t in close contact. There is a high probability that the letter was generic, therefore you may want to ask your recent upper division neuroscience course professor instead.
If you’ve become involved with a new meaningful activity and have developed a relationship with a mentor who can speak to your strengths, this is another great opportunity to add a new letter of recommendation to your application.
If you’ve continued to work with a previous letter writer, my general recommendation is to seek an update. For example, let’s say you’ve been working hard in a lab for the past 3 years, but you’ve recently added two new publications and a presentation. A new letter from your PI highlighting your recent achievements and continued commitment would serve you well.
The work/activities section must be updated, but certain activities can remain the same.
If it’s an older experience that you haven’t engaged with since submitting your previous application, major changes may not be necessary, although tweaking it is almost always a good idea. Make sure you have an expert with admissions committee experience review the description to ensure it’s concise and effective, highlighting what is most important.
Regarding your most meaningful experiences, some say you should keep at least 2 of the 3 activities the same to ensure authenticity and consistency. Based on my experience, this detail isn’t as important as some make it out to be. I suggest you focus on being true to what you feel are your most meaningful experiences, regardless of whether they’re the same or different. And of course, update the 1325-character descriptions, even if you maintain the same activities.
Step 5 | Reconsider School List & Application Strategy
Before you hit the submit button on your application, be sure you have your school list dialed in. This raises the question, should you reapply to the same medical schools next cycle? For certain schools, absolutely, particularly if you can be viewed as a competitive applicant thereafter addressing your weaknesses. On the other hand, be realistic about your odds at a certain school given a comprehensive assessment of your application.
In terms of effective risk mitigation, I recommend you apply to too many schools rather than too few schools. The average applicant applies to 15-20 medical schools. As a reapplicant, I would bump that number up to 25-30 minimum in most cases. It’s all about asymmetric risk – the downside of applying to a few extra schools is much smaller than the downside of not applying to enough.
Remember to also stick to fundamental best practices regarding your medical school application. For instance, submit your primary as early as possible, ideally within the first 1-2 weeks after applications open.
Step 6 | Refine & Perfect Your Plan
If you’ve gotten this far, I applaud you on your commitment to medicine. You clearly want to become a physician. Nothing makes me happier than seeing students who turned it around and surprised even themselves with the level of success they were able to achieve. That feeling of opening up an acceptance letter to your dream medical school is something I wish for you to experience one day, just as I did years ago.
As Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you’re preparing to fail.”
As a reapplicant, you’re fighting an uphill battle, but you don’t have to do it alone. Our team at Med School Insiders has served on admissions committees at top medical schools and we specialize in helping reapplicants get that sweet sweet acceptance. And we don’t rely on wishful thinking or false promises. We’ve painstakingly developed our proprietary systems that are designed with one purpose in mind – helping you become a successful future doctor. So go check out some of our services and see which might be the best fit for you.
Good luck to all the reapplicants out there!