What should you do if you applied to med school and all you’ve received are rejections?
You knew there was a possibility that this would happen, but that doesn’t erase the sting. What can you do now? How can you move forward?
To start with, know you’re not alone. In the 2021 application cycle, only 36.3% of allopathic applicants made the cut; for osteopathic applicants in 2020 (the most recent data provided by the AACOM), the success rate was 36.5%. No matter how you look at it, the medical school application process keeps getting tougher.
So what are your next steps, now that you won’t be starting med school in the fall?
Next step: Decide what you want
Use this time to reevaluate your commitment to becoming a doctor. The pain of rejection might cloud your immediate judgment, but do your best to project yourself into the future. Do you still envision yourself as a doctor? Have any of your reasons for pursuing medicine changed? If so, then how? Do any other paths appeal to you – do you think you could find happiness and fulfillment in another profession?
For many people, the process of applying for medical school is the first time they have critically examined their desire to be a doctor. Sometimes the answer is surprising. There’s no disloyalty in questioning your commitment, and no shame in deciding that medicine might not be right for you – there are a myriad of other options, whether in healthcare or other fields. But it is vital that you know whether getting rejected is merely a setback or a watershed.
Evaluate your application
Assuming that your commitment remains strong, it’s time to take a good, hard look at your application. This kind of critical review is not for the faint of heart and it would be misleading to say this process is an easy one. But this series will break it down into manageable parts that will help you identify your weaknesses and strengthen your next application.
I find the accuracy of your assessment improves when it’s distinct from the remedies. In future posts, we’ll look at how your profile appeared to the admissions committee and the concrete steps you can take to address your weaknesses. But first, we’ll take a look at your fundamental profile and see how it stacks up against successful applicants.
- Academic record and GPA
Is your GPA competitive? Does your transcript reflect a breadth of interests (humanities, social science, and foreign language classes, as well as sciences)? And if you had difficulties, were they early in your college career – did your grades show an upward trend?
Time and again, medical schools say that students should not be obsessed with perfect grades. This statement is hard to swallow when applicants’ GPAs keep rising. In the most recent data from allopathic medical schools (2021-2022), the mean undergraduate GPA for applicants was 3.59 (3.48 science GPA); for matriculants, this went up to 3.74 (3.67 science GPA). Osteopathic medical schools weren’t far behind. The mean undergraduate GPA for applicants was 3.46 (3.35 science GPA); for matriculants, this rose slightly to 3.54 (3.45 science GPA).
Of course, not everyone who was accepted had these grades – there’s always a range above and below. However, it does suggest that the applicant pool is getting more competitive. If your GPA doesn’t fall within .2-.3 points, you should consider ways to improve your grades. While it’s hard to repair your GPA after the fact, there are some concrete steps you can take – more on that later in this series.
In 2021-2022, the mean MCAT score for all allopathic applicants was 505.9; for matriculants, it was 511.9. Applicants to osteopathic programs scored 502.7; for matriculants, the mean was 504.3. Again, there is a spread of scores on both sides of these numbers, but if you’re more than a couple of points below, this could be a problem in your profile.
If you scored lower than expected, you should also assess what went wrong. Were you unprepared for the questions asked? Did any particular areas give you trouble? If so, modify your study practices and take additional steps to prepare. On the other hand, if you scored significantly higher on practice tests or ran out of time, it could signal test anxiety – a not-uncommon affliction. It’s not unusual to be nervous the first time you sit the exam, but if you feel that your nervousness was extreme and impaired your performance, it’s likely to be something you should address in a re-take.
Keep in mind that a good MCAT score can help mitigate a lower GPA, and vice versa, but a significant discrepancy between the two can signal a problem. A 512 with a 3.5 means something different than a 498 with a 4.0 or a 517 with a 2.9.
- Clinical experience
Medical schools look for a working knowledge of the health professions as demonstrated through working, volunteering or shadowing. Too many applicants present an impressive list of accomplishments, but lack any serious engagement in the healthcare field. You’ve got to demonstrate that you understand the realities of the profession, that you are service-minded, and that you’re committed to practicing medicine.
But all positions are not equal. Commitment and quality, exhibited through substantive, longer-term experiences, hold more value than a series of short-term shadowing opportunities. At least two substantive experiences are recommended to demonstrate commitment and interest. If you have less, this is definitely an area that you can improve.
- Research experience
Some medical schools value research more than others; clinical volunteer work and community service are enough for others. But as the applicant pool grows more selective, research has become part of a well-rounded application, especially for allopathic applicants. Again, many research experiences were curbed by the pandemic. Some applicants did not have sufficient lab time to get results; others found their work with study participants was constrained.
Admissions committees do understand these pressures, but finding innovative ways around this were appreciated. If you feel your research experience was not what you expected, it’s worth revisiting – perhaps through a postbaccalaureate or special master’s program – before you apply again.
- Leadership and public service
As important as grades are, the successful med school candidate needs to balance good grades with leadership and service positions outside the classroom. The range of acceptable activities is endless, so it’s important to seek out something that you enjoy. Together, these experiences demonstrate a commitment to serving others and an appreciation of human connections – one that ultimately reflects the human dimension of medicine.
While many volunteer opportunities were suspended over the past few years, many others kept going – and needed help. Food banks, Meals on Wheels, and local non-profits have all provided vital support to community members. In answering secondary questions about COVID experiences, applicants who showed initiative in serving communities had far better results. If your application is lacking in this area, then it’s time to step up with some strong community service before you reapply.
Medical schools have always been competitive, but as they become ever more selective, it’s critical that you present the strongest application you can. Honestly assessing your application is your first step to improving your chances next year.
“Reapplying to Med School: Evaluating Your Medical School Profile” is the first post in our series, Medical School Reapplicant Advice: 6 Tips for Success. Click here to get the full series as one compact guide!
Next up: A look at the second part of your application – how you present your experiences to the admissions committee.
Work on your reapplication strategy with an admissions expert
Do you need help evaluating your application to determine what went wrong? This vital information is what will make your next admissions attempt a success. Learn from your mistakes and create a stronger application with the help of Accepted’s Rejection Review Services. Learn more here.
Feedback from a reapplicant client
“I really wanted to thank you again for all of your help and support. The reapplication process was a rough one for me. I dealt with a lot of uncertainty regarding what went wrong the first time and many in my inner circle telling me to look at other professions. Your taking the time to work on my essays, bring out my voice, and speedy responses and feedback definitely made the difference in making sure I got my secondaries in, and I deeply appreciate you going above and beyond in wrapping up my application.”
A former fellowship admissions committee member and administrator at the University of Washington School of Medicine, Cydney Foote has successfully advised healthcare applicants, including those applying to medical school, dental school, nursing and PA programs, veterinary school, public health and hospital administration programs, post-baccalaureate medical programs, residencies and fellowships. Since 2001, she has brought her marketing and writing expertise to help science-focused students communicate their strengths. Want Cyd to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!
• A Second Chance at Medical School: The A-Z of Applying to Postbac Programs, a free guide
• How to Respond to a Rejection, a podcast episode
• Your Guide to Getting off the Waitlist in 2022