What to Do if You’re Rejected from Medical School

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By: Ryan Kelly

“No one can go back and make a brand new start, but anyone can start from the present and make a brand new ending.”

This aphorism, usually attributed to Carl Bard, is a great way to view your reapplication to medical school. There’s no such thing as a fresh start, but that’s not necessarily bad, since everything you’ve experienced has influenced and (hopefully) enhanced your perspective on why you still want to become a physician.

The very first step is to examine your previous application objectively and try to isolate what it was lacking.

In some cases, the missing pieces will be quantitative (better grades or higher MCAT); these are straightforward and easier to spot. But other problems will be more qualitative and subjective--maybe a naive tone in your essays, a lack of exposure to diversity, a bland writing style, or cliche motivations for medicine. These issues will vary as widely as the candidates themselves, so it’s up to you to figure out your individual plan. If you need impartial criticism, ask a few trusted advisors or mentors who have knowledge of medical school admissions.

Regardless of why you were rejected, we have some useful tips to ensure that you optimize your second chance.             

 

Tip #1 - Apply more broadly

You may have hedged your bets the first time, but did you hedge them enough? Despite the mountain of secondary essays you’ll have to write, you should definitely cast a wide net with your school selection. Most students we encounter apply to 25-30 schools, which is certainly feasible as long as you work ahead.

Review your school list from last year and cut about half of them. Try to be unbiased about which ones were “reach schools” the first go around. Unless your application goes through monumental changes, you’ll want to have more realistic expectations during your second application.    

Fill the new empty spots on your list with schools you didn’t apply to before. There’s no such thing as a “safety school,” but you should do what you can to maximize your chances for acceptance. Besides less competitive MD schools, you should strongly consider applying to international and DO schools.

 

Tip #2 - Spruce up your essays

Einstein’s definition of insanity is doing the same thing twice and expecting different results. Your essays didn’t work last time, so it’s time to make some significant changes.

If you spend the interim time between applications wisely, you’ll have plenty of new stories and material to cover. That additional time and insights are what give you a potential advantage over other candidates, so you should definitely focus on the recent experiences that clarified your motivations and goals.   

Start with the personal statement. First and last impressions are crucial, so give attention to your hook and conclusion. If you’re applying to some of the same schools as last year, use the previous rejection as a way to show your deeper commitment and understanding of the field. If you’re applying to mostly new schools, avoid mentioning the rejection. Instead, focus your revision on style and storytelling. Position yourself as an active agent in your stories, and infuse your writing with more flavor and personality.     

Reexamine your most meaningful essays from the previous cycle. It’s likely that at least one of them will still be viable. If you used common tropes in your previous essays (the reward of helping people, the value of hard work, the importance of educating patients, etc), try to give them more complexity or nuance. Use the individual details of your stories to give a new angle or layer to the lesson you learned.    

For secondary essays, it’s hit or miss. If you like your previous drafts, feel free to re-submit them. Since the schools’ prompts don’t change too much from year to year, your answers for certain questions, like “Why our school,” will probably only need a little touching up.   

 

Tip #3 - Avoid your previous mistakes

If you’re reapplying, it’s likely that you made one (or more) mistakes. It’s understandable, especially since the application process can be cryptic and difficult to navigate. A lot of our advice is preventative, since we believe that working ahead is crucial to your success. You should make sure to:

  • Apply early - Many students begin working on their primary applications in January, so that they can polish the essays through multiple revisions and have them top shape when they fill out their AMCAS in June.
  • Return secondaries quickly - Working ahead on the primary application means that you can also pre-write your secondary essays before you receive a flood of applications from schools over the summer. Here’s a link to all of the schools’ secondary essay prompts from last cycle so that you can pre-write your essays before receiving them.  
  • Get better letters of recommendation - As you get involved in new activities, develop relationships with supervisors and mentors early on. Make a concerted effort to ask questions, distinguish yourself, and form a good rapport. Request the letters in advance to give your recommender ample time to complete them.
  • Improve your interviewing skills - Getting an interview is a huge accomplishment, but a bad one is sure to sink your chances. Practice, practice, practice. Talk in front of a group as much as possible and research commonly asked questions so that you can be prepared.

We hope these tips will help you heed Carl Bard’s advice to focus on the present, make the necessary changes, and secure your “brand new ending.”