The previous posts have focused on identifying problem areas in your application and offering ideas to help you address them. You might be feeling a bit fragile after such a critical review – if so, then you’re doing it right. This exercise demands that you be ruthless and identify every potential flaw. Your ego might not like it, but you’ll be happy when you have a clear roadmap to highlight your strengths and address your weaknesses.
Before beginning the next part of your assessment – and deciding whether you’re ready to reapply – it’s time to take a reality check and ask yourself:
- Did I have a competitive GPA when I first applied? If not, how have I improved it?
- Did I have a competitive MCAT score when I first applied? If not, have I retaken it and improved my score?
- Did I demonstrate my commitment to service through both clinical and non-clinical experiences on my last application? If so, has my commitment continued/expanded? If not, have I taken concrete steps to address my deficiencies?
- Did I demonstrate other qualities that are important in medicine, including scientific curiosity, leadership and teamwork skills, problem solving, etc. through my experiences? If so, has my growth continued through these same or new activities? And if not, have I pursued ways to enhance my experiences?
- Have I done my due diligence, through both shadowing healthcare professionals and personal reflection, to know that medicine is still the right career?
If you cannot answer each of these questions with a resounding “YES,” you might need to hit the brakes. Far too many reapplicants submit a similar application in the next cycle. A few get lucky, but most do not. The applicant pool doesn’t get easier from year to year; in fact, the reverse is usually true: mean GPAs tend to rise, MCAT scores go up, and more people apply almost every year. If your application was unsuccessful last year, do you really think the same one will work this time?
Nobody wants to hear that their dream of medical school needs to be put off for another year. Applicants may worry that they will “age-out” of contention, or that their MCAT scores will expire, or that other parts of their life will not permit them to study in the future. Each of these concerns is reasonable and must be a part of your own decision calculus. Nonetheless, addressing the problem areas in your application is something you can’t do overnight. Time and effort are essential if you hope to show the substantial improvement expected of reapplicants.
But let’s assume that your answers were all “yes,” that you have worked hard to substantially improve your application, and that you’ve had time to see your hard work pay off. Congratulations! You’re ready to reapply!
Now, the question becomes how you can best present yourself to the admissions committees. These last two posts in our series will look at how the admissions committee saw you, based on your interactions. Unlike the rest of your application, your written materials – your primary and secondary application, interviews and additional communications – are entirely in your hands. Did you use them to your best advantage?
The primary application
Whether you’re a first-rate candidate or a borderline student, your primary application is how you make your first and best impression on an admissions committee. It’s here that you share what matters to you and why, how you’ve put your interests and values into action, and what unique attributes distinguish you from all the other applicants. And along the way, you want them to understand why you want to become a doctor.
Chances are, you poured your hopes and dreams into your essays the first time around. But just as you’ve assessed the other elements of your profile, it’s important to ask whether, in your honest opinion, you’ve presented the strongest possible personal statement. While re-reading your previous essay, ask yourself:
- Does my application reflect who I am today, with the new experiences that I’ve amassed since my last application? Do my new experiences better reflect the qualities that medical schools are looking for: commitment, compassion, leadership, curiosity, critical thinking, maturity, etc.?
- Was my personal statement enjoyable and interesting to read? Did I start with a strong lead paragraph that inspired the reader to continue? Did I tell a compelling story and support my claims with evidence, rather than just listing what I’d done?
- Did my personal statement and activities focus on me rather than my projects, patients, or mentors? If I was reading this material about another person, would that individual come across as someone I might want as my physician?
- Were my activities varied to reflect the breadth of my passion, intellectual pursuits, and integrity? Were my meaningful experiences personal and authentic, and was their impact clear?
- Did I have anyone else review my application for content and style before submission? Was my writing free of typos or grammatical errors?
- If the admissions committee decided to review my new application alongside my previous one – which is very easy to do – would it convince them that I have substantially improved my profile for medical school? Am I showing growth since my last application?
This last question is worth unpacking. Time and again, reapplicants ask me if they need to rewrite their personal statements. Keep in mind that you are considered a reapplicant at any program selected on a previous primary application, regardless of whether or not you completed their secondary. Those schools have access to your prior application, and while it’s unlikely that they will return to it, it is always a possibility. Submitting the same personal statement and experiences suggests the applicant could be apathetic, unwilling to change, and/or unlikely to put in the hard work that medical school demands. Is this the impression that you want to present?
Letters of recommendation
Although not technically how you represent yourself, recommendation letters are another extremely important part of the application process and your challenge is to find faculty members who can write a compelling letter.
Here are some more questions to consider (and again, you want to be able to answer “yes” to each of these):
- Did you select recommenders who know you well, whether in the classroom or beyond? Did they present different areas of your life to reflect your diverse pursuits and qualities?
- Did you supply them with your CV or a list of activities so they have a better idea of your pursuits? Did you advise them of any areas that you specifically wanted them to address to balance the rest of your application?
- Did you provide each recommender with clear instructions about submitting them to the appropriate letter services?
Finally, your review should include an honest assessment of your timing in the prior application season. Although some extremely competitive applicants do manage to secure acceptances late in the season, many more are put on “hold,” wait-listed, or just rejected. Conversely, those who begin the process early tend to have much better results. Some questions to ask yourself include:
- Did you register with the AAMC and/or the AACOM when it first opened? Did you submit your application as early as possible?
- Did you line up your recommenders early? Did you follow up to make sure they sent their recommendations in a timely manner?
- Did you follow the verification process to ensure there were no issues delaying your application? Was your application verified and released to medical schools early in the season?
- Did you take the MCAT early? Were your scores available when you submitted? Did you have your MCAT scores to guide your school selection?
- Did you return your secondary essays in a timely manner (within two weeks)?
- After an interview, did you promptly send thank you notes expressing your interest?
Answering “no” to any of these questions could signal a serious problem. If you don’t have your MCAT score for your school choices, you might apply where you aren’t competitive. If your recommenders are late getting in their letters, the admissions committee might put your entire application on hold. If you apply later in the season, you face a larger applicant pool competing for fewer interview slots and, in many cases, fewer seats in medical school.
Applying late might not be your only concern, but chances of admission decline as the season goes on. Give yourself the best shot at admission by applying as early as possible, with the strongest application possible.
This exercise demands that you be ruthless and identify every potential flaw. Your ego might not like it, but you will be grateful when you have a clear roadmap to address your weaknesses.
“Reapplying to Medical Schools: Your Primary Application” is the fifth post in our series: Medical School Reapplicant Advice: 6 Tips for Success.
Our next post looks at the rest of the hurdles in the admissions process, and how well you cleared them.
Work on your application with an admissions expert
Take advantage of Accepted’s review service to have an admissions expert review your application and provide a tailored assessment of your strengths and weaknesses.
Feedback from a reapplicant client
“I got into UVM this morning! SO thrilled about the news! Thank you so much for your support throughout this process. I am still waiting to hear back from other schools but this is such a relief!”
– From a reapplicant later accepted to Tulane and LSU