“How bad is it, doc?”
Well, clients don’t quite ask me that. But, as they clutch their waitlist notification, there can be immense tension and anxiety, as if life itself hangs in the balance. Waitlisted applicants begin to ask: What does it all mean? What should I do? And when, oh when, will it end?
I’m neither a doctor nor a crystal-ball gazer, but I have spent the last 25+ years advising hundreds of medical school applicants, some of whom were waitlisted. I’ve seen, both through our clients’ experiences and those of hundreds of others with whom I have talked, what works and what doesn’t.
During this time, I have seen some of the unfortunate blunders applicants make on the waitlist. My encounter with these blunders has given birth to The 9 Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make on a Medical School Waitlist.
Knowing what doesn’t work is as important as knowing what does. I’m going to discuss both, but the springboard for that discussion will be the mistakes – the real mistakes that real, and really intelligent, people make when placed on waitlists at leading medical programs around the world.
The 9 med school waitlist mistakes
- Ignoring the instructions you receive from the school.
- Being modest about recent achievements.
- Hiding your genuine interest in the school and your fit with the school’s culture.
- Not seeking expressions of support.
- Planning a one-time deluge of correspondence. [Including sample schedules]
- Failing to assess or act on an assessment of possible weaknesses in your candidacy.
- Complaining to the school about the agony of being waitlisted.
- Providing hyperbolic apologies for weaknesses or mistakes.
- Playing “hard to get.”
But before we get to the mistakes, let’s identify the category of the school that waitlisted you.
The 3 kinds of waitlisting schools
Medical schools fall into three broad categories in terms of how they handle their waitlisted applicants. Since schools change policies and may fit into different categories in different years, it is better to refer to the categories, which are constant, than to individual schools, which can and do change their policies from year to year and occasionally within the course of an application cycle. Just make sure you know into which category your waitlisting school(s) falls. If you’re not sure, contact the admissions office and ask.
- Group 1: Don’t call us; we’ll call you (“DCU”)
These schools strongly discourage any kind of contact between the waitlisted applicant and the school. They only want to know if you want to remain on the waitlist or not. They don’t want updates (at least not from you). They don’t want to sit and chat with you. Leave them alone, they say, because they disregard waitlist communication. As of 2020, Johns Hopkins and UT Austin’s Dell School of Medicine are examples of schools that fall into this category.
[Watch: Dr. Nichole Zehnder, Assistant Dean of Admissions and Student Affairs, explains how the University of Colorado School of Medicine views letters of intent.]
- Group 2: Show me you love me (“SMULM”)
Many schools fall into this category. They want you to keep in touch and demonstrate your interest in the program while providing them with information that adds to their knowledge of you.
Obviously, no one, not even a school wanting to be courted, likes a pest, so even for these schools, don’t call daily, waste their time with long-winded missives, or take other actions that will cause them to question your judgment or sanity. UCSF, Washington University in St. Louis, and Loyola Stritch belong to this group as of November 2020.
- Group 3: Coy (“COY”)
These are the schools that say they don’t want to be bothered, like the schools in Category 1, but they do actually want to know about major developments or are open to hearing from you on a limited basis. They are a little mealy-mouthed when saying, “Don’t call us,” but they certainly are less welcoming than the show-me-you-love-me schools. Some, like Geisinger, limit the number of waitlist updates; others like Zucker at Hofstra Northwell, welcome letters from waitlisted applicants, but not communications before you’re waitlisted.
Make sure you know what your waitlisting school wants, and doesn’t want.
For the rest of this post, I will refer to the different groups by the acronyms in parentheses above.
Click here for a list of which schools welcome update letters.
Now onto the mistakes.
Mistake #1: Ignore the instructions you receive from the school
The waitlist letter politely indicates that your below-average MCAT score and GPA are a cause of concern; and you do nothing. Or the letter suggests that you take organic chem; and you go skiing. Or the letter says that they don’t want to hear from you; and you call once a week. Or the letter tells you to contact your waitlist manager; and you call your girlfriend.
You might as well send the school a balloon filled with little pieces of confetti that say, “I do not follow instructions.”
Right move: Follow the directions contained in the correspondence telling you that you are waitlisted. If the school says “Jump!” you should ask, “How high?”
School instructions generally fall into two categories:
- Contact with the school while on the waitlist
- Discussion of weaknesses in your profile
School instructions regarding contact
These are instructions that you should follow meticulously. I bolded “you” intentionally, and you will discover why when we discuss Mistake #4, but for now just follow their instructions. This is easy if your school is a DCU or SMULM school: If they say to contact the waitlist manager, contact them! Find out if there is anything you can do to improve your chances of moving from the waitlist to the accepted list. Ask about the waitlist procedure and when and how frequently it will be reviewed and culled.
If your school is of the DCU or COY varieties, then just follow whatever instructions they provide about informing them that you want to stay on the waitlist.
When your school is COY, life is more complex and nuanced. Certainly follow the directions regarding contact, but you still want to convey certain messages. Just be careful not to overdo it. Yes, let them know of significant developments. If you are not sure if a development is important enough to merit an email or letter, then either use your best judgment, consult your pre-med advisor, consider emailing admissions to ask if the adcom would like to know about your recently published article, placement on the dean’s list, or company you founded successfully. You can also ask your friendly Accepted admissions consultant.
School instructions regarding deficiencies
This is pure gold! And almost as rare. It tells you what you need to work on both for your waitlist effort and a possible reapplication. For more details on what exactly you can do, check out Mistake #6. For now, just know that constructively responding to school feedback shows the school you are improving your areas of weakness and are serious about the school.
Mistake #2: Be modest about recent achievements
This is not the time for false modesty, real modesty, or anything in between. Put humility on hold – temporarily. (But remember: arrogance is always out of place.)
Right move: Convince the schools you are a new and improved applicant.
Show them you are even better than you were when you applied. Remember: you have to convince them to accept you off the waitlist and not the person whose name is above or below yours on that list. Give them more reasons to select you by informing them of recent achievements, initiatives, and success stories.
Let SMULM schools know ASAP of accomplishments, changes, and new responsibilities assumed since you applied. Throughout your tenure on the waitlist, you should periodically update the school or your waitlist manager, if you have one, on anything of interest. Again, accomplishments, promotions, research publications, great grades, increases in responsibility even if not accompanied by a formal promotion, initiatives, community service, and personal achievements (i.e., completing your first marathon, performing in Europe, etc.), all merit an update.
Waitlist update frequency
Should you lump these updates all together into an email sent once every three months? Nope. I recommend more frequent, shorter updates that will keep your name in front of the committee’s eye and show that you are a growing, dynamic individual. Depending on where you are in the calendar and what’s going on in your life, once a month is probably a good guideline.
While frequent, relevant contact is a good tactic and SMULM schools want to hear from you, even a good tactic can be rendered damaging when abused. Don’t send them nonsense or meaningless drivel. Don’t waste their time by writing when you have nothing to say. Don’t call daily. If you aren’t sure if a development warrants an update, follow the instructions for handling COY schools under Mistake #1.
For COY and DCU schools, you will have to be more circumspect and rely more on your fan club to convey the information you want the school to know. More on tactics to address this situation later.
Mistake #3: Hide your genuine interest in the school
You probably discussed your reasons for wanting to attend this school in your secondary essays and in your interview.
Or, perhaps you aren’t really sure why you want to attend.
Or, perhaps you have been rejected everywhere else, so this is your last hope.
There’s no point in elaborating on your interest. Right? Wrong.
Right move: Reinforce the idea that this is the best school for you to achieve your goals.
While your qualifications relative to your peers’ are primary in admissions, “fit” is a major factor. The adcom members want to know that you will do well in their school, not solely in terms of your academic stats, but also in terms of the school’s culture and values. The last thing they want is to admit someone who will drop out, or graduate and bad-mouth the school.
They also want to know that their program supports your goals for two additional reasons:
- If the school’s program and strengths support your goals, you will have an easier time matching for residency and the school will look better overall. And yes, appearances count.
- The more the program supports your goals, the more likely you are to enroll and the school’s “yield” goes up, or at least doesn’t go down. But wait… what is yield?
Yield refers to the percentage of accepted applicants who matriculate, and it has a significant role in admissions. It is used as a factor in rankings and certainly is one measure of a school’s competitiveness and desirability. Again, rankings influence admissions decisions. Yield is also one measure of how well an admissions committee does its recruiting and admitting job. Adcoms, like all human organizations, want to look good.
So for a host of reasons, it behooves you to demonstrate fit with the school, repeatedly and in a variety of ways:
- Visit the school. If you haven’t taken the tour, attended a class, and taken advantage of whatever the school provides prospective students, then do so now if at all feasible. If you’re reading this during corona shut-downs, attend virtual events. Even if the school doesn’t weigh visits in making admissions decisions (and most do not), visiting the school’s campus is a concrete demonstration of interest. Furthermore, the visit provides you with material that you can include in an update discussing how the visit or virtual event reinforced your interest in the school. If you have already visited, then evaluate whether it’s worth visiting again.
- Highlight fit with your SMULM schools in your letters and updates. When appropriate in your written correspondence, relate your experiences and achievements to your reasons for wanting to attend your target med school. Grab the opportunity to discuss that relationship and reinforce the concept that you really want to attend and will matriculate.
- Ask your fan club to submit letters of support. Who are members of your “fan club”? They are friends, acquaintances, and professional colleagues who can write letters of support. The best fans know you well, worked with you on a project, and are recent alumni or current students at your school. They can attest from personal experience and by using examples to your having the attributes the school values. Those are A+ fans. But you can also ask your recommenders to send in additional letters of support, even if they are not alumni, and confirm your recent achievements.
What is a “letter of support”?
A letter of support is typically a 1-2 page expression of support for your candidacy. As with letters of recommendation and essays, specifics that illustrate and support claims persuade the reader and add to the letter’s effectiveness. Claims that aren’t backed up with anecdotal evidence sound empty and hollow.
Your fan club is helpful at SMULM schools, but can be critical at most DCU and COY schools for one simple reason: your fan club is not bound by the schools’ instructions. As fans, they want to help you, and they haven’t been told “Don’t call us. We’ll call you.” Alumni and current students, in particular, can attest to your fit, and they can also mention recent achievements in their letters of support, thus giving these schools, which would otherwise remain regrettably ignorant, more reasons to admit you. (More on your fans in Mistake #4)
Although your fan club isn’t bound by school instructions, if schools say they don’t want letters, don’t ignore them. Contact your waitlisting school to learn your specific school’s policy. A number of top medical schools specifically state that they don’t consider letters of support. If they don’t want them, don’t submit them.
Mistake #4: Don’t seek expressions of support
Closely related to Mistake #2, this is not a time to sit around hoping people will offer to help you. This is a time to get off your duff, network like mad, and…
Right move: Solicit expressions of support.
Take the initiative so that the school receives a steady stream of substantive recommendations. Each one should add information about your qualifications, reinforce your fit with the program, and endorse your candidacy.
As long as your school does not discourage additional letters from others, expressions of support should have two main goals:
- Discuss your qualifications, preferably adding new material or a new perspective on material you already presented.
- Highlight fit with the school.
- A+ Fans
People who know you and the program well are the premier members of your fan club. Turn to them first.
- People with knowledge of the program
This includes primarily students and recent alumni. If your cousin’s girlfriend completed an MD or DO at your waitlisting school, call up your cousin, tell him about your waitlist news, and ask if his girlfriend could help you out with a letter of support. Then meet your newfound supporter and tell her what you have been up to, emphasizing recent events and experiences that are not yet a part of your file. Give her your resume/CV and a synopsis of what you would like her to spotlight.
- People who know you well either at work or in community service/non-professional settings
Peers, profs, physicians whom you have shadowed, or bosses can send in additional letters of support. Your recommenders can update their recommendations with more recent material. If you are involved in a community service organization, sports group, club, church, political organization, or trade group, you can ask someone from this side of your life to send in a letter of support.
These people will probably know less about the school than the current students or recent alumni, so you should guide them regarding the school’s values or the qualities you would like them to highlight. The AAMC’s Core Competencies may be helpful for them to review before they sit down to write. These recommenders will usually be able to comment more on your interpersonal skills than on your academic qualifications. That’s fine.
To be effective, these letters of support must add value to your application. They should not merely rehash your resume, earlier letters of recommendation, or your essays; they should inform readers of events that took place since you submitted the application or present another facet of you to the adcom.
After the writers submit the letters or make the calls, send them a thank-you note and then let them know what the final outcome is.
Who should not write a letter for you even if they really want to help you? Your parents and grandparents.
If you have received instructions on how and to whom you should direct correspondence, follow those instructions. Be sure to pass along these instructions to any supporters who will be writing or calling on your behalf.
People who have connections at the schools should send their letter to their connections and cc the admissions office or waitlist manager. If your supporters are most comfortable placing a phone call, let them. Remember: They will know better than you how to use their network.
See Mistake #5.
Mistake #5: Plan a one-time deluge of correspondence… followed by deafening silence
By now I’m sure you realize that passivity while on the waitlist is a recipe for rejection. And you may be itching to flood the adcom, especially if you are trying to gain acceptance to an SMULM school. Control yourself. Resist the urge. Don’t dump wheelbarrows of mail on them to be followed by total silence.
In fact, don’t dump anything on them at all.
Right move: Plan a campaign of steady, substantive contact.
You want to maintain contact, demonstrate interest, and keep your name in front of the adcom in a constructive and positive manner. Pursue the golden mean between poisonous passivity and nagging nuisance.
If you are waitlisted early, let’s say in January, your correspondence initially will be less frequent than if you are waitlisted in March. The waitlist shrinks much more quickly as the application season rolls on.
Don’t treat this schedule as if set in concrete. If you know when your school will cull the waitlist before a specific decision date, for instance right after deposits are due from accepted students, you may want to submit an additional letter or update, even if one isn’t scheduled. If a supporter is a little late or early with a letter of support, don’t have a heart attack. Just thank the author and move on. The adcom doesn’t know your schedule.
Here are a few sample schedules for hypothetical applicant profiles. You probably won’t match any of them exactly, but you should get an idea of different factors in developing your waitlist campaign.
Sample #1 Alice Anxious
Alice Anxious is waitlisted at an SMULM school in January. She has great stats, but has worked as a lab assistant with little opportunity for leadership and little clinical exposure during the two years since graduating college. However, she recently became a team lead at work and has started volunteering at a local organization that serves children with cancer. Here’s her plan:
|Action Date*||Target Date**||Action|
|Feb. 1||Feb. 7||Respond with a waitlist letter to placement on the waitlist. Update school about new responsibilities and volunteer initiative. Inquire about ways to improve profile. Reiterate reasons for wanting to attend.|
|Feb. 1||Feb. 15||Ask boss to send in letter of support confirming new responsibilities and qualifications.|
|Feb. 15||March 1||Ask Harry who attends the med school to write a letter of support.|
|Feb. 15||March 1||Contact school about visiting school in early March, or register for virtual event.|
|March 5||Visit school/attend virtual event. Meet with students on campus or virtually. Attend class. Take tour. If you can’t visit, do as much as possible remotely.|
|March 6||Send thank-you notes as appropriate to the tour guide or students who gave you their email addresses.|
|March 15||Write adcom to highlight ways in which visit confirmed your interest in WL Med School.|
|March 7||April 1||Ask head of pediatric group to write letter of support referencing your work with sick children.|
|April 15||Write school and update them regarding success of community service and challenges of working with people from different cultures.|
|April 15||April 25||Ask colleague from work to write letter of support. Focus on interpersonal skills.|
Alice is accepted on May 10!
* Date applicant acts.
** Target date for others to carry out request.
Sample #2 Bob Bumb
Bob Bumb is waitlisted on April 1 at a COY school. He served as captain of his NCAA team, participated actively in his fraternity, and worked part-time. His grades show that he didn’t spend much time on his studies: 3.1 GPA overall; 3.3 in science courses. His work experience is strong: he worked for 4 years at a biotech firm and has been a team lead on engagements in the US and abroad. He also serves on the board of a foundation he founded to help people suffering from a rare hearing disorder afflicting his mother. He has a 515 MCAT score, evenly balanced. His grades are clearly his Achilles heel. As a result he has retaken organic chem and microbiology in fall and spring semesters. He earned an A in organic chem this time and has A’s on his microbio tests in the course he is currently taking.
|Action Date||Target Date||Action|
|April 7||Follow instructions for informing school he wants to remain on WL.|
|April 10||April 15||Talk to supervisor about letter of support. Contact friend who is current student at COY, requesting letter.|
|April 20||Contact COY rep to ask whether academic news is something they would want to know about. Answer: Yes.|
|April 25||Send 1-page letter to adcom informing them of academic progress.|
|May 15||June 1||Consider visiting school again.*|
|May 15||June 1||Talk to CEO of foundation about sending a letter of support.|
|June 5||Send in requested update.*|
|June 1||June 15||Ask teammate to send letter of support focusing on teamwork skills.|
|June 1||June 10||Ask community college to forward transcript showing A’s in organic chemistry and microbiology. Enroll in genetics class for summer.|
|June 10||June 25||Ask peer/COY school alum to send letter of support.|
On June 26, Bob hears that his name has been removed from the waitlist but he is strongly encouraged to continue taking classes and reapply next year.
* Bob decides against a second visit because he has already visited and the adcom made it clear that they don’t want to meet with him. Bob hears about a reception in his area aimed at next year’s applicants and decides to go to that event (June 3). There he talks to an adcom member and mentions a change in responsibilities. The adcom member asks for a written update.
Sample #3 Charlie Chump
Charlie Chump is waitlisted in May in the middle of his last set of finals. He is an immigrant who has already been accepted to School Z, but he would rather attend the DCU school that has waitlisted him than School Z – unless he gets an offer of financial aid from School Z. He has no obvious weaknesses in his profile, and he has rich multicultural experience, having moved to the U.S. from Asia in his early teens. Charlie realizes he really needs to make use of his fan club for this school since the school has not commented on submitting letters of recommendation.
|Action Date||Target Date||Action|
|May 25||Follow instructions informing school of desire to remain on waitlist.|
|May 25||June 1||Ask close friend who is current student to write letter of support.|
|May 25||June 5||Ask supervisor to send in additional recommendation.|
|June 1||June 15||Ask colleague in NFP where Charlie volunteers to send letter of support.|
On June 25, Charlie receives letter from School Z with substantial aid offer. Decides to attend School Z and requests that DCU remove his name from waitlist.
Your updates and letters of support should focus on three areas:
- Your qualifications, specifically: recent achievements, research, clinical experience, increases in responsibility, and initiatives.
- Steps you have taken to ameliorate weaknesses.
- Your fit with the school.
The first two areas demonstrate that you are an even better applicant today than you were when you applied. The third reveals that you belong at that school like a hand fits in a snug glove on a cold winter day, and that you will attend if, or should I say when, accepted.
Suggestions for a waitlist update
- Briefly thank the school for continuing to consider your application and mention how the school’s philosophy and approach fit your educational preferences and goals. Don’t dwell on your disappointment at not being accepted.
- If relevant, agree to take any additional courses or follow any additional instructions provided.
- Discuss recent achievements. Did you have a 4.0 during the last quarter? Have you led a project or organization? Volunteered? Have you taken your department, business, or club in a new direction? Have you had an article published? Earned a patent? Launched a business? Received a promotion or assumed additional responsibility? Succeeded in a particularly demanding class or project? You should bring out any recent accomplishments not discussed in your application and ideally tie them back to some of the themes or experiences you raised in your essay(s).
- Discuss how you have addressed shortcomings – without highlighting them. For example, if you enrolled in Toastmasters to improve your communications skills, inform the adcom that you joined Toastmasters two months ago, tell them of any awards you have won, and enlighten them as to how much you are enjoying the experience. BUT don’t say that you are doing all this because you are concerned about your low verbal score or substandard grades in social science courses.
- If you are certain you would attend this school, make it clear that this is your first choice and that you will attend if accepted.
Keep the letter short and sweet – two pages max. Don’t succumb to the temptation to rewrite or even summarize your life history or essay(s). Stay focused on what you have accomplished since applying.
Work with an experienced med school admissions expert to craft a successful waitlist letter. >>
Mistake #6: Fail to assess or act on an assessment
Let’s face it: Being waitlisted means you’re qualified. They want you, just not as much as they want someone else. Since most schools evaluate applications on a holistic basis, and admissions is a highly subjective process, it is difficult to say definitively why someone is waitlisted, but a waitlist decision results from a combination of the following factors:
- The school saw a deficiency in your profile and would prefer that others enroll. In the event that those accepted applicants do not accept the school’s offer of admission, the school will offer someone a spot. You want it to be you.
- Poor execution in the application. Failure to clarify your reasons for wanting to enter medicine or attend this school are among the most common execution errors.
- There are many accomplished applicants with profiles similar to yours and the adcom can’t admit them all. You were the one waitlisted.
In targeting your response to waitlist status, you need to know where you stand.
Right move: Assess the reasons for being waitlisted and respond accordingly.
Again, if you are lucky enough to receive feedback and direction from your school, you have your marching orders. Follow them. Simple and straightforward. While following these instructions, also provide information about new achievements, fit, etc. so that you are handling all possibilities.
However, if you don’t receive any guidance – much, much more common – then you must do your own assessment (or ask for our assistance). You need to assess what combination of the three factors mentioned above contributed to your waitlist status.
Weaknesses in your profile
When your GPA and/or MCAT are at the bottom end of or below the school’s 80% range, those numbers probably contributed to your waitlist status. You need to address that weakness through additional coursework, a higher MCAT, and/or a demonstration of those skills in some other way.
A low MCAT is tough to mitigate. Presumably if you increased your MCAT in August, the school already knows. You can retake the MCAT in April, but the results come out so late that they are of little benefit to your waitlist campaign, but they could help a possible reapplication effort.
Additional coursework and A’s are really your only hope when there is a concern about academic stats. Retaking science courses in which you performed poorly can mitigate low grades or perhaps even a less-than-hoped-for score in one area of the MCAT.
If you believe that your extracurricular activities are qualitatively less than compelling, you need to highlight recent activities that will change that perception. You can also coach your fan club to highlight achievements that counter any perception of weakness.
Problems in execution
If your stats and volunteer/work experience are competitive, look at your essays, recommendations, and resume. They may have kept you from receiving the acceptance notification, and now is the time to fix any problems. If you failed to clarify your reasons for wanting to go into medicine or for seeking acceptance to this program, the waitlist gives you a second chance. Grab it. Certainly for SMULM schools, make sure the reader of your waitlist correspondence knows exactly why you would attend this school and how it will help you achieve your goals.
Finally, in those situations where you are confident you are competitive and your application presented you well but you are a member of an overrepresented group in medicine, realize that the school simply cannot admit all those like you and have a diverse student body. You should stress your high level of achievement and interest in the program. If you have unusual experiences, hobbies, or interests that you neglected to mention, let the school know about them so that you can earn a few diversity points.
Mistake #7: Complain to the school about the agony of being waitlisted
Don’t wax eloquent about the pain and shock of being waitlisted; the agony of a pseudo-rejection; the embarrassment of telling your friends and colleagues. And for heaven’s sake, don’t even think for a second that the adcom made an incredibly stupid, unthinkable mistake because you’re God’s gift to the medical community!
Right move: Thank the adcom for its continued consideration.
Period. End of story. Move on. Discuss your qualifications, fit, etc.
Mistake #8: Provide hyperbolic apologies for weaknesses or mistakes
Why bother with an exaggerated apology? Just shine a spotlight on your flaws and failings. That’s what your abject apology will do… And take a lot more time to do it, too.
Right move: Stress the positive.
I have encouraged you throughout this blog post to address weaknesses in your profile. At the same time, you don’t want to draw undue attention to those imperfections. Am I contradicting myself? No. You need both to address weaknesses and stress strengths – without emphasizing the negative.
For example, if you scored below 8 on the biology section of the MCAT and have a liberal arts background and took the minimum premed requirements in college earning a 3.2 in those classes, don’t start apologizing for your “weak” science foundation. Without mentioning the score or mediocre performance in undergrad science courses, say that you have enrolled in a genetics class to prepare for medical school. Oh, and by the way, for the same reasons, last fall you re-took organic chem and just found out that you earned an A.
If for some reason you must refer to a negative, don’t exaggerate it. I recently read an essay where the applicant went on and on about his “dismal grades” and “dreadful performance.” This is not the place for inflated language. Minimalism, please. Similarly, don’t refer to your “lengthy absence from volunteering.” If you must refer to “absence” limit it to that word alone, or better yet, just tell them that you just started volunteering or shadowing a physician or anything else without reference to the gap and the negative.
Mistake #9: Play hard to get
If you think your waitlisting schools will be impressed by the fact that you have other offers or suitors, you are making a big, big mistake. Such a tactic can backfire completely.
If schools hear you have been accepted at school A, they may become concerned that you would prefer school A. Alternatively, they may believe that their school is higher ranked or more desirable for any number of reasons and resent your ploy as an unwelcome pressure tactic showing a lack of judgment. Completely counter-productive.
Right move: Only inform your waitlisting school of other acceptances if you are at a point where you will remove your name from the list if you don’t receive an acceptance.*
When time has passed and you have reached a point of no return, or close to it, you have nothing to lose by approaching the school. You have made your best effort and time has marched on. You must commit to one school or the other.
Because you will accept the offer of admission at the other school if you don’t hear positively from the waitlisting school and would prefer to attend the latter, contact the admissions office. With humility and modesty explain your situation. Ask the human being on the other end of the line if they can help you.
The adcom member may say, “I’m sorry. I appreciate your situation, but we don’t have a spot for you now and won’t be evaluating the waitlist again for another two weeks.” If that’s the case, thank them for their time and attend the other school.
On the other hand, the adcom member may say, “We met this morning and you’re in!” Or, “We are meeting this afternoon. Can I call you after we meet?” In this case, your phone call paid off.
* If the school asks you directly if you have been waitlisted or accepted at other schools, answer the question honestly.
In all cases, follow AAMC’s Traffic Rules and use the Choose Your Medical School Tool wisely.
The Right Moves
Now that we’ve reviewed the nine waitlist makes, let’s take a moment to go through the nine right things for waitlisted med school applicants to do:
- Follow the directions contained in the correspondence telling you that you are waitlisted. If the school says “Jump!” you should ask “How high?”
- Convince the schools you are a new and improved applicant.
- Reinforce the idea that this is the best school for you to achieve your goals.
- Solicit expressions of support.
- Plan a campaign of steady, substantive contact.
- Assess the reasons for being waitlisted and respond accordingly.
- Thank the adcom for its continued consideration.
- Stress the positive.
- Only inform your waitlisting school of other acceptances if you are at a point where you will remove your name from the list if you don’t receive an acceptance.
Accepted’s admissions experts are ready to help you get off the waitlist and into the med school of your dreams. We’ll help you identify areas you can highlight in your waitlist letter, assist with strategy, and help you edit your letter so that you can be sure it makes the best possible case for your admission. Check out our waitlist services and let’s get started.
Return to the top of the page >>By Linda Abraham, president and founder of Accepted. Linda earned her bachelors and MBA at UCLA, and has been advising applicants since 1994 when she founded Accepted. Linda is the co-founder and first president of AIGAC. She has written or co-authored 13 e-books on the admissions process, and has been quoted by The Wall Street Journal, U.S. News, Poets & Quants, Bloomberg Businessweek, CBS News, and others. Linda is the host of Admissions Straight Talk, a podcast for graduate school applicants. Want an admissions expert help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!