Life as a Re-Applicant

Last Updated on June 27, 2022 by Laura Turner

Just over a year ago, I stood, heart racing and hands trembling, in front of my mailbox.  Any other Thursday I would have nonchalantly checked my mail as I came home from work, but today was an entirely different story.
A friend had texted me earlier in the day to let me know that decision letters had been delivered by our state school.  I had only been offered two interviews, and the letter which innocently lay in my mailbox represented my highest hope for attending a medical school that year.  I paced for a full two minutes in front of my mailbox before I built up the courage to open it.  I probably would have paced longer, but someone came down my hallway, and I felt a bit foolish dancing around in front of the mailboxes.

Four attempts at inserting my key in the lock later, I was holding a too-thin, white, letter-sized envelope in my severely shaking hands.  Suddenly, I desperately needed to know the contents of that letter, and I ripped open the envelope with a fervor akin to a starving man diving into a steak dinner.  I never made it past the first line.  The phrase

About the Ads

We regret to inform you… jumped out of the page.

Panic gripped me, and it seemed that I could barely breathe, but no tears clouded my vision as I stared mindlessly at those dream-shattering words.  I stumbled down the hall to my apartment, where I collapsed in my desk chair.

In an attempt to think of something, anything, else, I opened the browser on my laptop and checked my e-mail.  I immediately noticed that I had received an e-mail from the one other school I had interviewed at, my last chance for the year.  I quickly opened the e-mail, only to discover that I had been waitlisted.
Utterly shocked, I crossed the room and lay down on my bed with one thought on my mind.  What in the world am I going to do now?

As I reflect on my reaction to the news I received that day, I can’t help but see myself as overly dramatic.  But if anyone had accused me of being a drama queen that day or in the weeks that followed, it is likely that they would have received a swift kick in the shin (or at least a scathing glare).

It’s easy to downplay the emotions I felt as I watched my dream disappear when those emotions are set firmly in my past.  Truthfully, up until a few months ago, I was petrified that the exact same thing would happen again this year.  In fact, I must say that I’m proud of myself for having the courage to stick it out, reapply, and dare my fears to make themselves a reality again.

So, having been in this position before, I thought it would be beneficial to offer some advice to those who are in the same position now.  Be aware, this advice is heavy on how to handle the emotions that come with being rejected, as opposed to what you can do to improve your application for the next time around (though I do have some ideas where that is concerned as well).

How to handle being rejected to medical school.

  1. Allow yourself to freak out a little. 

    For you, this may mean a very vocal rant to your friends, an embarrassing sob fest, a pavement-pounding run with angry music screaming in your ears, or a trip down to the local pub to take off some of the sting.  Just remember that however you choose to cope with the initial wave of emotion post-rejection, you don’t want to do anything that could damage your chances next cycle.  Therefore, I would not recommend jumping on SDN to bash the schools that rejected you or drowning your sorrows to the point that you end up with public intoxication.

  2. Talk about it only if you want to.

    Perhaps the worst part of being rejected last year was when people would ask me what I was doing after graduation.  I hated explaining to people who weren’t familiar with the concept of a waitlist that I was currently on one.  I hated admitting that I hadn’t gotten in.  Each time someone asked it felt like my self-esteem dipped that much lower.  I became a master at avoiding the questions and changing the subject.  It wasn’t until late last summer that I realized that I wasn’t obligated to answer their questions, and a simple “I didn’t get in, but I’d prefer not to talk about it” would have sufficed.  Whether or not you get in is your business, and whether or not you want to talk about it is your decision to make.

  3. Don’t stay in the same town unless it is beneficial to you.

    I cannot stress this enough.  After being rejected last year, I decided to stay at my undergraduate institution and work on raising my undergraduate GPA.  While this was academically the right choice for me, it was extremely hard emotionally.  Chances are, many of your friends graduated when you did, so not only will you have lost much of your social support system, you will more than likely feel that you are stuck in an enormous rut.  If you have the opportunity, change locations.  If you are reapplying, look for a research or clinical position in a different city, do a Special Masters Program at a different school (many schools guarantee at least an interview for medical school if you complete their post-baccalaureate program), or go on an extended medical trip (if you can afford it).  Do something different that you can add to your application next year and avoid going crazy at the same time.

  4. Take this year as an opportunity to grow and mature. 

    Many of us apply when we are just 21 or 22 years old, with a decidedly undergraduate mindset.  While we may be ready to move on, we may not be mature enough to handle the pressures that come with medical school at this point in our lives.  Admissions Committees may see this and it may be part of the reason an acceptance wasn’t in the cards this year.  When I was interviewing this year, I realized how young and uninformed my answers had sounded last year, and I realized just how much I had matured in the past few months.  Maybe this is a chance to do the same.

  5. Re-evaluate your ultimate goals and make sure this is what you really want to do with your life. 

    This may be the most important advice I can give.  If you can think of concrete reasons why you want to be a doctor, call the places you applied and ask them why you weren’t admitted.  Most schools are willing to tell you where you were lacking on your application.  Then, act on the information they give you.  Whether this means taking more classes, putting in more volunteer hours, completing a master’s, working on your writing skills (darn personal statements), or learning how to present yourself more professionally at an interview, if you KNOW that you want to be a doctor, do whatever it takes to improve your application and get in next year.  If you don’t know why you want it, there’s a good chance you don’t want it enough.

  6. Finally, realize that you are not alone and that this setback is not indicative of how successful you can later become.

    Over half the people who apply to medical school each year are not accepted, so even though it feels like you are the only one, recognize that you are actually in the majority.  There are many people in the same situation, and you can believe that while some will decide against reapplying there are others who are going to do everything they can to alter their outcome next year.

Do not expect that just because you are a re-applicant, schools will feel sorry for you and let you in.  Do not be passive about your future.  If medical school is what you want, do not let a single blow to your self-esteem stop you from fulfilling your dreams.

This year, I stood in front of another set of mailboxes.  The same feelings gripped me when I held another white envelope in my hands.  Even though I had been offered seven interviews, I was still terrified that I would not be accepted anywhere.  I carefully opened the envelope and pulled out several sheets of paper.  This time I didn’t make it past the first word, congratulations before my reaction tore through me and I found myself jumping up and down in my hallway.  Three acceptances later, I still have a hard time believing that this is real, that I’m going to be a doctor. 

All I can think is… What a difference a year makes.

34 thoughts on “Life as a Re-Applicant”

  1. Great article Kara and congratulations on your acceptance. I hope not to be in that position when it comes time to check the mailbox but if I am I have a good reference now. Thanks for writing.

  2. This is such a well-written essay that truly captures the emotions of having a less than successful cycle. I can still remember how people who had no clue as to how difficult it is to get accepted would awkwardly linger around in passing ready to ask, “So, did you get into in?” Like Kara, I’d quickly change the subject and try to get away as quickly as possible. While that was certainly the most frustrating and stressful time of my young life up to date, I truly agree with Kara in that I probably wasn’t mature enough at the time to handle the rigors of medical school. Now, two years later with an MPH in hand, I feel more ready than ever, and I really think I’ll be able to appreciate the process so much more. For those that don’t find there way into a med school this year, reassess your application and apply as soon as AMCAS opens if you decide to reapply. If you need to make some improvements before reapplying, do what truly makes you happy and simply enjoy the last of your time before things get crazy in medical school. You’ll be there soon.

  3. Congratulation on your acceptance!what was your first GPA and what exactly did you do in that one year? Please do explain. Thanks!

  4. Sigh… I applied to 20 (15 US, 5 Cdn) schools this year with a 3.6/31P and got no interviews… at least you had a chance.
    Talk about disheartening… 🙁

  5. Thanks so much, Kara! I don’t feel so bad now. I am in the same boat. Two interviews. One rejection. One wait-list.

  6. Wow that’s kind of how I feel right now. WL’ed by one, Rejected by another, and waiting on my last interview’s response in 2-3 weeks…

  7. When I applied to medical school in 1960 (yes 48 years ago) I had little realization of what I was signing on to. The ‘hump’ of applying and being accepted is just the first speed bump of a medical career. I also did not realize the small chances I had of being accepted. I tried once for early acceptance and was ‘declined’ admission. My christmas present (the fat letter) arrived two days before Christmas and Hanukah. My menorah seemed to burn more brightly that season. If you think you are or were consumed by the admission process…..just wait and see how you will be consumed (ie, chewed up, digested, and spit out) by medicine. Once in, you will be intimidated by all comers, teachers, some fellow students, who just seem to float through school (not really true, no matter how smug they seem at the moment. Your personal life, if it existed before will be turned upside down…missed parties, birthdays, routine holidays, will seem unobtainalbe for years as your former friends enjoy income and time off…you will serve your masters…patients, teachers and other health providers. Is the fat envelope worth the chase? Only you will know in about 25 years.

  8. Expect to be rejected the first time. Med schools like persistence. The tenacity it takes to pick yourself up and apply again is a huge boost to your resume. Take the time off to develop as a person–you need to be more than an academic to be a good doctor. The second time around, you’ll be more experienced with interviews (i.e. know the right thing to say) and also have a better idea of the differences between medical schools.
    Advice for second-time applicants: Remember that the interview is as much about the med school liking you as you liking them. Each school has a different atmosphere, and its important that you mesh with the school–that’s what they’re really looking for. Be personable and honest, if you’re not interested in research, say you’re more into direct patient care.
    I’ll have to say I’m a much better person since I was rejected, and things worked out a whole lot better once I found the right school.
    Take the last post with a grain of salt as well. I definitely don’t have the experience that Gary has, but we’ll all be entering medicine in a different time. There are many more difficulties now than when he went into medicine. It definitely is a much harder life with all the insurance regulations and the pay cuts– realize that golden years of medicine are over. You’ll have been brought up in the current environment and won’t know the difference.

  9. Great job on the article, at one point, I actually thought you should become a writer instead. Anyways, I will be applying to med school soon, but I was just wondering, for all those who applied, why do you all want to be doctors? I am just trying figure things out.

  10. Great article Kara. I’m waitlisted at two and rejected at one this cycle, so I may be in your same position next year.
    Biomed student, I think wanting to be a doctor requires two extremely important criteria. One, you need to want to help sick people. The degree to this one will vary with specialty, but it’s absolutely necessary. Two, you need to be intelluctually excited and curious about the subject matter. If you’re not, then the amount of information you’ll need to be able to retain will be overwhelming. Hope this helps.

  11. This is very well-written and I think it emphasizes the importance of perseverance and focus. It’s easy to get distracted when you need to re-apply so it helps to keep things in the right perspective.

  12. I really enjoyed this article. I am also a reapplicant who was extremely happy to be accepted this year. My first set of rejections came on the same day- which happened to be the day after my grandmother died. I was a mess, like Kara. I took a full year off before reapplying, to give myself time to gain some life experience and honestly- to decide whether or not I was capable of going through it again. I did, and it was well worth it.
    Shugo: Before applying for the second time I retook the MCAT (standardized test for pre-med students) I put my all into retaking the exam and in the end had basically the same score. I remember having dinner with my mother afterwards talking about it and she asked me, “All that time and energy you put into this. Do you feel it was wasted?” I realized that no, it was not a waste. I gave it my all, I really put myself out there in pursuing my dream. That takes a lot of guts, same score or not, rejected or not. Some people don’t have the guts to try, because they’re too afraid of the rejection. I think going for your dream, if its something you really want, is something of great value. Point being: I don’t think you’re being foolish at all, no matter how many times you apply.

  13. I am graduating with my undergraduate in December, taking the MCAT in July and will be applying to Medical school in the spring of 2010. I am not the strongest student, but I am 25, have been a paramedic firefighter for 5 years and recently spent a month in Africa running a small medical clinic in a very primitive village. I know I will excel in my personal statement and resume so I was wondering what medical school some of you applied to that seemed to have slight leniency on GPA when the personal statement was better than most. I am pretty nervous, unlike most applicants, I know this is what I want because I have had another career already and I have had extensive training in emergency medicine and I really want more. I have been told to consider DO school but I hear that there is a stigma with being a DO. What advice can you guys give me and like I said, what are some of the schools I should apply to?

  14. Kara-
    This was excellent. As a successful reapplicant, I couldn’t emphasize more what you wrote. It takes an honest self-assessment and positive action. After graduation I took time off to work in a lab (and in the process was rejected the first time), and then completed a Master’s program in subject matter that interested me and would probably not see as much in medical school (public health). I also volunteered more, did physician shadowing, got more involved in school activities, etc. Now I’m going to my top-choice school. I still felt unsure at times…the ego does get beat up pretty badly regardless, but I’m really grateful I stuck with it. Use the MSAR to help with choosing schools, and be realistic about where you apply to–it’s not just about school reputation but where you would be considered a competitive applicant and where you can see yourself excel. Location and school mission statements (ie. what kind of doctors do the schools want to produce?) can be just as important.

  15. Great article. I *thought* I was an excellent candidate my first time – had graduated top 10 in my high school, went to an “Ivy League” college, did research & published, won awards for leading a service organization & got excellent grades & test scores. I was *completely* blown away when I did not get in, and it was a long year of questioning what I did wrong. It destroyed my confidence for a long long time. When I answered those questions about “What are you doing next year” — I always felt a lump in my throat as I looked down at the ground and worked around an answer. I still rarely talk about that “year off.”
    BUT – I’ve got to say it was the best thing that happened to me. First, it humbled me & made me realize that nothing is for granted. I worked that year, did an engineering job & then software, traveled around — and it was seriously the best year of my life. (software jobs in 1998 were *phenomenal*).
    I was able to reapply, was accepted into my state med school, did well and have since gone on to a great residency and top 10 program for my fellowship. I’d just put out to those trying again – a couple of words of advice:
    1) This too shall pass. And you’ll forget about the agony 10 years from now.
    2) The process is sometimes so arbitrary — imagine a program director who has clinical responsibilities sifting through 1000 applications at midnight!! If you’re lucky he/she pulls out your application from the stack.
    3) Make sure you really want it. Don’t waste 5 years of your life trying – you could have done a PhD, or become a dentist/NP/pharmacist or even gone to law school by then.
    Good luck to all.

  16. Thanks for this. I am getting ready to reapply this summer. I’ve done a lot to improve my application since I was rejected last year but I still have massive anxiety. It’s encouraging to hear stories of others who have previously been in the same position coming out strong and successful.

  17. Sarah,
    Thank you for sharing your encouraging thoughts and experiences with me. I agree with you that the effort has importance in defining for ourselves what character is possesed, and I should not let the outcome of this process decide the value of the efforts put forth. I am grateful to have read this article and other’s comments because it has helped me recognize this perspective. I am not sure what I will do next if I don’t get accepted, but I am certain that there will be more trials to come and taking this attitude with me will make all the difference.

  18. Kara,
    Thank you so much for sharing this!
    As someone with a low GPA, I am currently trying to figure out how to make my application (a lot) better. I am honestly counting on getting rejected by med schools I apply to. I also know I can count on myself to re-apply for as many times as needed until I am a medical student.
    I guess being “tough” doesn’t matter as much as being resilient. We all fall for one reason or another at different stages in life and for different reason and it all comes down to how fast we get up, shake off the dust and keep on walking.

  19. I just got rejected from UHCO, but am applying to UIWSO. I know my GPA and prior coursework are not stellar, but good undergrad grades do not a good doctor make. What makes a great doctor is genuine concern for the well being of others, and to want it for more than just a good income. I have more B’s than A’s, but I really cannot see the value in trying to make those B’s into A’s. Rather than working on post-grad courses, it seems that one’s time would be much better spent working in the field, even if it’s just as a volunteer.

  20. Great essay and great replies.
    I am 27 and going into my second application cycle. Like a previous poster alluded to, when you get closer to 30, and it’s your second time applying, you start to ask youself if this is really worth it; if it is truly what you want to do.
    Seeing your peers geting into careers, making money, and buying property only makes it that much harder. After all, you’re looking at a minimum of 8 years of training before you become a licensed, independent practitioner making “real” money. That’s a tough pill to swallow, and it makes mid-level careers look much more attractive.
    I know that sounds a bit defeatist, but at some point practicality starts to trump your youthful ambition. At the end of the day, if you really want to do it you will do what ever it takes. And if you dont you will find something better.
    While posts like Gary’s are a wake-up call, remember that not all current physicians look at their journey this way.

  21. It is great. I am not applying to medical school yet, but I am working toawrd it. I have just been rejected by a very good undergraduate school where I want to come and earn my BS and do my pre-med courses.
    This article is extremely helpful, I have past my five stage of grieves just instantly after reading this. Yes, I require maturity and confident in your ability as well.
    Thank you!

  22. Hi Kara!
    Congrats for your acceptance!!! Your essay was inspiring!!!! I just got 3 interviews…I applied to 14 schools! Exasperating! uh!?! I’m on a waiting list…I got lots of rejections and still waiting to hear from the other schools! I must admit that I have cried because future is so uncertain after my graduation…But after reading this I guess, it doesn’t matter if I don’t get accepted at first glance. Everything happens for a reason! Thanks for your testimonial!

  23. Kara did an amazing job at capturing the emotional part of a re-applicant’s journey through the application process. I went through many of the same problems and emotional roadblocks (except as an older non-traditional applicant)and am happy to report that I have also gained entrance into medical school for this year in my second application cycle. I believe she offers good advice that is invaluable to someone who is in the same shoes. In my opinion, the most important things are to make sure being a physician is truly what you want and be prepared to do whatever necessary (even if it seems crazy to others) to maximize your chances.
    Good luck to everyone!

  24. Great Essay. I can relate to your situation because I too had two interviews and was not accepted the first time I applied. I felt the same humility and stress when I tried to explain to people that I didn’t get in especially the people who couldn’t believe I didn’t get in. It is definitely about overcoming your emotions and fears when you apply again. Congratulations on your acceptance…I know how those feel also and it is the greatest feeling in the world because you know how much you had to overcome to get those acceptances.

  25. I am in exactly the same boat as M. Miller above. I am 27 and gearing up for my second round of applications after 1 waitlist.
    It is hard to know what is the best path for me at this point. Family life and free time is so valuable to me. But I want to be a doctor so badly.
    Decisions, decisions.
    Great article. The emotions are true.

  26. Thank you Kara for expressing that experience so clearly and eloquently. I am a reapplicant who was waitlisted on the second cycle as well… And I just recently was accepted off a waitlist. It was one of the most unusual 360s my life has pulled on me and I still am not sure if I am dreaming or not because I was in the middle of planning my next year and had barely finished gathering myself for a third Application cycle. But after reading this I feel as if my story and what I learned from reapplying has been told. Thank you.

  27. Thanks for sharing all of your stories! I’m currently going through the same predicament except I am looking at 2 years off which is something I was completely unprepared for. But I like the idea of looking at rejection as being in the majority. It is still really upsetting to have worked so hard for so long only to see your dreams be pushed further out of reach then they already were. But I guess being resilient and really going for what you want makes a difference.

  28. Persistence, confidence, dealing with situations with a clear head! These qualities help make a good doctor. Excellent job! Congratulations, you deserve it! I’m encouraged and inspired by your article; thank you for taking the time to write and post it. How helpful and considerate of you (hmm…more doctor qualities). Best of luck to you!

  29. Kara,
    As someone sitting on 3 waitlists right now reading this at work as I wonder what the cards will hold for me next year… I started to cry, right at my desk at work. But I kept reading (with some difficulty) and your perseverence to try again was truly inspiring. Even if I work at this job next year (a boring public health job) I still can have my dream of being a pediatrician. Thank you for reminding me of this, albiet in a painful way. Best wishes in the future and may all our dreams come true.

  30. This is such a great article. I’ve been rejected as well, and i found this article so inspiring. I went through the exact same emotions and ideas that everyone who commented has mentioned. I cannot tell you how discouraged I felt after being rejected. Thank you for this amazing article and for all those who commented. I definitely needed to read this to get a fresh, new perspective.

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