This is the first blog post in our new series, Medical School Reapplicant Advice: 6 Tips for Success.
Hopefully by now, you have your acceptance in hand and are gearing up for Fall. If so, then congratulations and good luck!
But what if all you’ve received are rejections?
To start with, know you’re not alone. Last year, only 43% of applicants made the cut. And although the number of available places has increased slightly (by 1.5%, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges), it hasn’t matched the pace of applications, which were up 3.1% from 2011.
So what’s your next step, now that you won’t be starting med school?
Use this time to reevaluate your commitment to being a doctor. The ache 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? Are there other paths that 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 shame in deciding that medicine might not be right for you – there is a myriad of other options, either 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. It would be misleading to say this process is an easy one. But what I’d like to do, in this post and the following ones, is break it down into manageable parts that will help you identify your weaknesses and strengthen your next application. 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 2012, the mean GPA for applicants was 3.54; for matriculants, it was 3.68. Of course, not everyone who got in 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.
Mistakes linger and it’s hard to fix your GPA after the fact, but there are some concrete steps you can take – more on that in the third post.
MCAT: In 2012, the mean MCAT score for all applicants was 28.3; for matriculants, it was 31.7. Obviously 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 that were asked? Did any particular areas give you trouble? If so, you should question 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, it’s an unusual situation after all, but if you feel that your nervousness was extreme and impaired your performance, it’s likely to be something you should address.
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 32 with a 3.5 is better than a 25 with a 4.0 or a 37 with a 2.8.
Clinical experience: Medical schools look for a working knowledge of the health professions as demonstrated through 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 gone from being a way to distinguish applicants to a more basic part of a well-rounded application. If you left this section blank on the AMCAS, it’s worth revisiting, perhaps through a master’s degree.
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.
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.
By Cydney Foote, Accepted consultant and author of Write Your Way to Medical School, who has helped future physicians craft winning applications since 2001.