What to do if you have no interviews [Show summary]
What do you do if you still haven’t heard back from medical schools by Thanksgiving? In this episode, podcast host Linda Abraham shares how students can pursue parallel tracks to expand their opportunities.
Linda Abraham’s advice for med school applicants who still haven’t received interview invitations [Show notes]
Welcome to the 445th episode of Admissions Straight Talk, Accepted’s podcast. Thanks for tuning in.
I decided to do a solo show today. This is my second in a row, but don’t worry we’re going to go back to normal interview programming next week. This show is aimed at our premed listeners, but I think there is value to other applicant groups as well in listening in. But the focus today will be on medical school this time.
As I mentioned, this is Thanksgiving week, a short week, and I have something timely to discuss, so I’m going to share it. I’m also going to keep this podcast a little shorter than usual in honor of the short week and also because I think I can cover the topic in less time and I’m not going to keep you on the podcast for no good reason. I’m going to dive into our timely topic in just a second.
The freebie we’re offering with today’s show couldn’t be more relevant to today’s topic. One common reason for no interviews or ultimately rejection for medical school applicants is that they simply aimed too high. And you have to ask yourself, were you really competitive at your target programs? If you’re aiming ahead, are you competitive at your target programs? Accepted’s Med School Admissions Calculator can give you a quick reality check. Just go to accepted.com/medquiz, complete the quiz, and you not only get an assessment, but tips on how to improve your chances of acceptance. Plus, it’s all free.
Recent admission stats [2:38]
Now, let’s face it. It’s hard to get into medical school. The process is long, difficult and grueling. In my opinion, of all the graduate and professional programs, it has the most demanding process. One of the difficult parts of it, by the way, is the utter silence at this stage of the game. But leaving that aside for the moment, acceptance rates support my contention. The AAMC reports applicants aiming for the class that entered in 2020, where I strongly suspect acceptance rates were higher than this past cycle that entered in 2021, enjoyed a 41.9% acceptance rate overall. That means that most applicants were rejected. And the news from AACOMAS is even worse. The most recent data, which is only for 2018, shows that of 20,981 applicants to 20 DO programs, 7,415 were accepted. That’s a 35.34% acceptance rate. In other words, almost two thirds were rejected. Now, this data is all for the classes that applied before COVID. It is not for the class that applied through the pandemic when the so-called Fauci effect is believed to have contributed to a surge in medical school applications, the recession probably also had some role to play.
What medical schools are looking for beyond grades [3:57]
Most admissions directors whom I have spoken with are still seeing a high level of applications this year, but AMC data is not yet available for last year’s cycle or for this one. Of course, while we’re talking about stats and numbers, the focus tends to be on GPA and MCAT but medical school admissions aren’t just about stats. Medical school admissions offices are very serious about holistic review. In my many interviews with medical school Admissions Directors and Deans, when I ask them, “How do you winnow it down? How do you choose from the thousands who apply to the few hundred who get interviewed and then maybe one or two hundred who are accepted?” The answer almost always is: your essays, your experiences, and your writing. They’re looking at what you’ve put in the application, not just the grades and the stats.
So in addition to competitive grades and MCAT, which you definitely do need, schools want to see commitment to service, the ability to work in teams, exposure to clinical healthcare, professionalism, grit, determination, resilience, strong character, and they expect to see all that and more through your medical school application. Both the stats and that experience, as well as the character revealed in your application are going to determine if you get one or more interview invitations between now and March. And yes, I said, March, I didn’t say Thanksgiving, I didn’t say the end of the year. Accepted has checked with several medical schools and all said they extend invitations beyond November, most said that they extend them through January, and a few through early March.
Now there was a very lengthy thread in SDN about a month ago titled, “Not hearing back from schools.” At one point, someone wrote, “So all of this is to say, it’s too early for me to be sweating if I haven’t heard anything? Right?” I replied, “It’s too early for you to be sweating, but never too early for you to be planning.” And I would say that in September, once you get your secondaries in. I’d say that in October. I’d say that in November. I’d say that in December. I’d say that until you have an acceptance basically. And that’s what the rest of this podcast is going to be about.
What you should be doing now (in November/December) if you haven’t received an interview invitation [6:29]
I fully recognize, as I said a minute ago, that the waiting and the silence is in many respects harder than the deluge of secondaries that you had to deal with in July or August or whenever it was that you were dealing with them. At least then you were doing something and now you just need to wait. But there are some things that you can do and that’s what we’re going to talk about. That’s what the rest of this podcast is about. What you should do now and going forward.
Pursuing parallel tracks: Making the most of your application [6:57]
In a nutshell, what you need to do is pursue parallel tracks. The first track, do everything you can to get accepted based on your current application, the one that you’ve been working so hard on and now are hearing silence about. That would imply attending online events as appropriate to demonstrate interest and being prepared for possible interview invitations. Accept all interview invitations that you receive from schools that you’d be willing to attend until you’re accepted at a school you prefer, and at a price you’re willing to pay over the ones inviting you to interview. At all interviews, dress professionally. I know they’re virtual. I know they’re remote. You might be in your pajamas from the waist down, if that’s your pleasure, go ahead. But from whatever the camera can see, you need to be dressed like a professional because you want them to see you as a future professional, as a fellow professional. Send thank you notes after the interview. You should do mock interviews with experienced professionals like Accepted’s consultants before the big event because they can give you suggestions that will improve your responses and help you avoid mistakes in the interview, and just in general, improve the outcome and improve your confidence.
The final thing I recommend that you do in terms of making the most of this application, is send updates to those schools that accept them and consider them and send them when the schools want them and when you have something significant to say, don’t just paper them to death. That will do you no good and will ultimately irritate them. When you send updates, make sure those updates are both succinct and substantive. So, if you started a new community service initiative, started a new job, got a promotion, did particularly well on an MCAT retake, are taking classes and getting a 4.0, it might pay to send them that update, keep them informed of anything that is going to enhance your chances of acceptance (your new puppy doesn’t qualify). So that’s one track. Make the most of this application.
Pursuing parallel tracks: Improving your qualifications [9:15]
The second track is to improve your qualifications so that you will be ready to reapply if necessary. If you wait until May or June to figure out that you have to reapply, you will for sure need to take another gap year. Now, if you want to take another gap year, that’s just fine. But if you prefer to start your medical career sooner, and yes, start earning the salary of a physician a year earlier, then I would suggest that you start planning to reapply this minute. Hope for the best. Hope that the application you submitted will work, but assume that it won’t and plan to reapply. Again, pursue parallel paths, and the second path, by the way, will support the first.
So what do I mean concretely?
Was your MCAT low? Then sign up for an MCAT course asap so that you’ll be able to retake and raise your score. For more on that topic, check out accepted.com/426, which was a recent interview that I did with an MCAT test prep expert. In addition, again, on the MCAT, if you sign up for it now, you would ideally like to take it in March or April. You want to take it when you’re ready and ideally in such a time so that you get the score back before you submit your MCAT application and can choose which schools you want to apply to based on your score. That’s going to be a factor. Hopefully it goes up. Then again, if it goes up and you didn’t get accepted to the schools that you were applying to, maybe you need to apply to the same schools, the same range of schools and not really up your game there. But in any case, knowing your MCAT score helps you choose the most appropriate schools.
Were your grades below average? Then I think you need to consider a formal or informal post-bacc program. For more on that option listen to our podcast discussing if a post-bacc program might be right for you at accepted.com/403.
Do you lack clinical exposure? Experience working in underserved communities? I would say consistent experience in both areas is important. What about leadership, do you have leadership experience? Teamwork experience?
If there is a weakness in your application, work on it now. Change it now. Again, several months of consistent experience in these areas can really help you in a reapplication. Did you present your qualifications, experience, and story effectively, compellingly? Presentation counts. Your story counts. But you must tell it well. You definitely want to go from your stats to your story and have the admissions people focus on your story and how it shows fit with their school and medicine as a career.
I would encourage you to start journaling about recent experiences. So you’ll have a ready bank of experiences to draw upon if you need to reapply. If your application this time didn’t work, you definitely don’t want to submit the same thing. For two reasons, one, it didn’t work. Why do you expect the same thing to work next year? Number two, you want to show yourself as a dynamic growing individual. If your application basically stops a year ago, you’ll be failing to do that entirely. A bonus from all these activities is that you will actually improve the likelihood of acceptance this cycle if you are invited to interview or waitlisted.
If you can show new experiences, you’ll be better off. If you can talk about them in an interview, you’ll be better off. Med school admissions is a marathon not a sprint as I’m sure you’re realizing and you have to plan and train for it like a marathon. I know, I really understand that the silence now is driving you and probably your parents nuts. It’s hard. You’re just waiting. Why aren’t they getting back to me? Am I toast? I put so much effort into that application. I put my heart and soul into that application. So and so got in and has a lower MCAT. I hear that.
The benefits of pursuing parallel tracks [13:51]
It is hard, but I’m going to tell you that if you pursue these parallel tracks, you will, A, improve your chances of acceptance this cycle, and, B, be better positioned both from an admissions perspective and an emotional perspective to deal if you are rejected. So you have to be prepared for that possibility of reapplication and position yourself for a successful next cycle whether it be this year or following cycle.
If accepted this cycle, maybe you will have volunteered a little more than what’s necessary. Maybe you will have started studying for the MCAT again and will know some foundational material better than you would have otherwise. Neither situation is so terrible. And if you’re not accepted this cycle, you’ll be in a better position to apply next cycle if that’s what you choose to do. You’ll also be emotionally better prepared for rejection if you’ve started preparing for reapplication before you realize that’s the situation. And you may avoid the necessity and opportunity cost of an unwanted gap year.
If you’d like to know how Accepted can help you either with interview prep or with advice on how to pursue these parallel tracks, go to accepted.com/medflash, for a flash of experience, one-on-one advising and inspiration that can help you move forward. And a quick reminder, don’t miss the Med School Admissions Quiz to find out if you’re really ready to apply and are competitive at your target schools. Take the quiz today at accepted.com/medquiz.
At this point, I also want to wish you a very happy, healthy and blessed Thanksgiving. We all have a lot to be thankful for. Take a few minutes, even with the aggravation of medical school, to be thankful for what’s going right.
- The Med School Admissions Quiz
- When Will Medical Schools Give You an Answer?
- Practicing for Your Med School Interview: Conversation 101
- Accepted Interview Services
- MCAT Veteran Teaches You How to Prepare for Your Test
- Is a Postbac Program Right for You? | Accepted
- How to Respond to a Rejection