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Good Things Come to Those Who Are Waitlisted

Created August 9, 2009 by Paul Goleb


You have all certainly heard the expression “good things come to those who wait.”  Since our first days of pre-school, the virtue of patience has been constantly reinforced as a valuable trait.  For years we have stood in lines and waited for our turns.

In the fast paced life of a physician, in which potential decisions must sometimes be made in a matter of seconds, patience is sometimes an undervalued trait. In the realm of medicine, “waiting” almost seems to be a dirty word for both patients and physicians alike.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the life of a medical school applicant, a life in which waiting for days, weeks, and even months at a time is commonplace.  If you have ever applied to medical school, I am confident that you have spent more than your fair share of time waiting.

As pre-med students, we are notorious for our constant worrying and over-analysis of the most minute details and the long gaps in correspondence with medical schools do little to ease these anxieties. Months between application submissions, interview invitations, and potential acceptances often seem like cruel punishments to over-anxious pre-meds like ourselves who interpret no news as bad news.

I, like many other medical school applicants this year, was placed on a wait-list over the course of this past admissions cycle. I, like almost every other applicant placed onto a waitlist reacted to the news with a sense of disappointment, disenchantment, and (at best) a slight sense of hope. I, unlike many others was eventually admitted to the medical school of my dreams in a matter of days following my placement on a waitlist (twice to be exact).

Ironically enough, the only day out of the past eight months in which I did not fervently check my e-mail or anxiously pace to my mailbox since the submission of my primary application was the day I was accepted to medical school. The one day that I stopped trying to find what I was looking for, what I was looking for somehow found me.

The morning before I was accepted off a waitlist, I found myself coming to the realization that I would have to re-start the arduous work associated with the application cycle: re-taking the MCAT and re-submitting my primary application only days after I had graduated from college. The prospect of studying, writing, applying, and traveling for interviews again had been wearing on me over the course of the past several months.

As I usually do, I went to my neighborhood park to play a game of pick-up basketball to clear my head. About twenty minutes later, to my surprise, I saw my mom frantically walk by the court in a pace that suggested she had very good or very bad news (or had to find a bathroom ASAP). My surprise grew when my mom ran onto the court, stopping a game of basketball in its tracks to give me a hug and tell me I had just been accepted to medical school. I stopped, the game stopped, my mom grabbed me and tried her best to hug me (or squeeze the life out of me) and slowly, I realized what I had waited for since this past August had finally arrived, in May, multiple weeks after I had graduated college with no sure-fire post-graduate plans and plenty of anxiety.

The remainder of the day became a blur of congratulatory phone calls, text messages, and visits from neighbors. This euphoria created such a sense of stunned disbelief that I almost forgot to return my paperwork indicating I would actually accept my admission into the class of 2013 (a minor detail). Waking up with plans to begin studying for the MCAT again and eventually going to bed a soon-to-be medical school student made for quite the exciting day. I was honestly astounded by the good news I had almost given up hoping for.

It took nine months to the day for the secondary application I submitted in August to lead to an acceptance in May. The application, interview, and waitlist process certainly made the year seem like an eternity. Also, I like to think I took the longest possible path to my eventual acceptance. My application was put on hold after my initial secondary application submission, I received a post interview hold, and to top that off, I was placed on a waiting list following this marathon year of waiting and hoping.

It is tough to say if I honestly did believe I would get off my waitlist. Based off of anecdotal evidence from peers, friends, and professors, I thought my chances to get accepted off of a waitlist were one in a million (at best). Waitlist statistics are typically not released by medical schools, which are the sole institutions that know exactly how many students (if any) were admitted via waitlist. I have been told that not even AMCAS, the veritable treasure trove of pre-med statistics and semi-pertinent percentages possesses this information.

The entire situation repeated itself two weeks later in a much less dramatic fashion when I eventually received the same good news at the second school where I was wait-listed. I could not believe my good fortune. While I do not know the exact probability of these two independent events occurring, it seems to be a very rare occurrence. The utter surprise I felt in getting accepted off of my initial waitlist became a sense of sheer disbelief when the process repeated itself.

By no means do I intend for this article to sound like a personal pat on the back, congratulating myself on my two, equally miraculous waitlist acceptances. I believe readers can search various SDN acceptance threads for that type of writing.  I find myself writing this for a much different purpose. In writing this, I hope to give a sense of hope to those currently on waitlists or those who may soon find themselves on a waitlist at some point in the application cycle. Additionally, August is an interesting point for applicants in the medical school process. Past year’s applicants who have been wait-listed find themselves still hoping (with good reason) for a last minute acceptance into a medical school class beginning this year while a number of current year applicants are just beginning what could potentially be a very long application cycle. It is a busy, stressful time for applicants both former and current.

Reflecting on the process, our teachers and parents may have been right about this whole waiting thing, as much as it hurts me to admit. I consider myself a habitually impatient and multitasking person, but patience is the key to surviving the medical school application process. In my experience, I have found it is true what they say; good things come to those who wait, or in my case, to those who are wait-listed.

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