What Will You Do If You Don’t Get Into Medical School?

Last Updated on June 27, 2022 by Laura Turner

Updated July 8, 2021. The article was updated to correct minor grammatical errors.

The end of another interview season is upon us. I hope this was your year to get the big envelope or email that said, “Congratulations. You’ve been accepted into medical school!”

About the Ads

For those who didn’t get in this round, I’m sorry. In hopes of helping next year’s campaign, I want to give you some information that may aid in answering a commonly asked interview question, as well as give you some ideas for your summer plans.

What will you do if you don’t get in?

No doubt you’ve been asked “What will you do if you don’t get into medical school?” at every interview you’ve gone through. It seemed to be a classic during my interviews.

I used to think the question was a little bit odd and wasn’t too sure what the interviewer was looking for. Was the interviewer asking this because things weren’t looking good for my application? Was it designed to see how I would react under pressure? It’s not necessarily any of the above. I think this question focuses on one thing: commitment. It also provides an opportunity for you to discuss a few other areas of your application that can make you shine.
A good approach to the question is summed up in the four following points:

  • Tell them that you will reapply
  • Try to learn what areas the committee felt were weak in your application
  • Work on correcting those weaknesses
  • Continue to better yourself with the things that you love.

Reapply = commitment

One of the major factors the admissions committee is trying to assess during the interview is your level of commitment to becoming a physician. There’s a good reason for this. The process is challenging, but a career as a physician remains a difficult, yet rewarding, labor of love. Some might say that it’s even more difficult in light of the current tumultuous health care environment. Why would anyone commit to such an endeavor? That’s a very good question and one that the admissions committee is trying to get you to answer.

A committed person understands the good and bad of a situation and still wants to pursue the desired end: in your case, becoming a physician. However, how can you demonstrate that you really are committed to a career in medicine? One main way is to reapply if you don’t get accepted.

I would be preaching to the choir if I belabored the painstaking details and challenges that go into applying to medical school. It’s an enormous undertaking. It’s hard to do once, let alone several times. However, admissions committees weigh the number of times an applicant has applied to medical school quite heavily in their assessment. To a certain extent, their view is “the more the merrier.” In other words, you can definitively demonstrate your level of commitment to becoming a physician by continuing to reapply to medical school. This is all the more true if you make your application stronger each cycle. You’re demonstrating commitment and steady improvement. Those are two key characteristics admissions committees are looking for.

What went wrong?

Many medical schools will offer explanations to rejected applicants who interviewed with them as to why they were not accepted. Some of these explanations are more detailed than others. Nevertheless, this information is invaluable, especially if you notice a pattern across many schools. If you consistently hear back from schools that your MCAT score was too low or that you interview poorly, then you will have the best target on which to focus your future efforts for improvement.

The bottom line is that there is probably no greater information that will help you to improve your application than a consistent theme from schools that did not accept you. Your ability to understand this fact and communicate it to your interviewer goes a long way in reassuring her that you’re committed to strengthening any weaknesses and are serious about becoming a physician.

Work in progress

The great thing about the question, “What will you do if you don’t get into medical school?” is that it’s totally hypothetical. It’s something that may or may not be a reality for you in the future. Anything having to do with the future involves speculation, so be sure to speculate in your favor. Meaning, don’t be afraid to throw out some bold plans. Furthermore, the plans should address any weak areas of your application.

For example, if you know that you lack a lot of research on your application, then tell them that you’d join a research project and explore this area of medicine. Or tell them that you’ve had research ideas of your own that you’d like to put to the test. Perhaps you’re lacking clinical experience. This is the perfect time to tell them that you’d shadow a doctor in the ER for the next year or volunteer at a local clinic. The situation provides a nice canvas for you to paint a great picture of a new and improved you.

Summer plans

If you find yourself on the outside looking in with regards to medical school, then take the next couple of months to find out what areas are weakest in your application and use this summer to specifically work on them. That may mean retaking a class to improve a low grade or studying for the next MCAT or giving 20 hours a week to a clinical venue. Whatever it is, use this summer to improve your application so that next summer you’ll only have to focus on preparing for your first year as a medical student.

Focus on your passions

I think it’s wise to take the opportunity to show the interviewer a bit more about some of your unique attributes and passions. For some, this is their senior year of college, and if they don’t get into medical school they’ll have a great deal of time on their hands. Remembering that this question is hypothetical, tell them that you’d take a class or do something off the wall.

Perhaps you’ve always wanted to learn more about the government’s effects on healthcare, study a new language, or dedicate a significant amount of time to volunteer work. Choose something that you like and that shows some of your depth and non-medical interests. These activities and passions go a long way in showing you to be a real person who is dynamic and has a life outside of the confines of medicine. Admissions committees are looking for people who possess a broad range of talents and interests.

Bringing it all together

A sample answer might sound something like this:

Well, if I don’t get accepted into medical school, I think the first thing I’d do is try to figure out what the committee felt were the weaknesses in my application. I’d focus my time addressing those areas specifically. I would then reapply. My heart is set on becoming a great physician, and I will keep at this endeavor until I succeed.

I would also like to increase my clinical exposure. I’ve had some good shadowing opportunities but I think it would be better for me to start to make some clinical decisions on my own. That’s why I would complete my EMT training so I can get some high-quality, hands-on experience.

Lastly, I’ve always wanted to learn to speak Spanish. I think it would be really useful in my day-to-day interactions so I would probably do an online course or something like that. I’d certainly be busy but I really think these goals would make me an even stronger applicant next year.


“What will you do if you don’t get into medical school?” is a common question that provides an amazing opportunity to discuss your commitment to the field of medicine, your future self-improvement plans, and provide a further glimpse into your unique characteristics and passions. The hypothetical nature of this question gives you ample room for creative answers and provides the opportunity to put a positive spin on potentially weak areas of your application.
Good luck with your summer plans and future interviews. I hope you rock them both.

If you have any questions please email Dr. Fleenor at [email protected].

8 thoughts on “What Will You Do If You Don’t Get Into Medical School?”

  1. It’s not true after a point that the more times you apply, the merrier. Sure, if you don’t get in the first time you apply, you ask the Admissions Dean what was weak about your app, then you work on it and reapply. Once. Maybe twice. But I don’t care how committed you are; there has to be a point at which you stop being a professional premed and move on to plan B! If you can’t figure out how to repair your weaknesses after two or three attempts at applying, trying four or five times is unlikely to result in a stronger app. After two or three failed attempts, you need a major change of strategy (different set of schools, different career, etc.)

  2. If I don’t get in on the first cycle, which due to an educational past of ups and downs and retakes is quite likely, I will apply to post-bac programs. If I don’t get into those, I will take higher level science courses and build up some more ECs and continue working as a paramedic. The best answer I can give is improve my overall application. It is really a simple answer for those who want to be a physician regardless of obstacles.

  3. I agree with From the Editors. Having served on my school’s admissions committee this past year as a full voting member, I can speak first hand about this. A reapplication is just fine. A 2nd reapplication (3rd try overall) is looked at with the most intense scrutiny we can muster, looking for many substantial improvements, and coming up with reasons why this person hasn’t gotten in the first two times…any of which, if they sound good to us, usually meant you were out this time too. More than 3 times probably wouldn’t even make it in front of the committee (i.e. no interview). Over 3 times is really not going to end well for you (I have only heard of one exception at my school, and I can imagine it’s a rarity across all schools). Don’t count on being one of those few exceptions… When I applied a few years ago, I recall some schools even outright forbidding you to apply that many times to them (i.e. UCLA). If you can’t get in by the 3rd time, unfortunately I believe it’s time for Plan B. On the other hand, if you can’t correct your shortcomings on your application by the 3rd time, you probably realize yourself that it’s just not going to happen. Post-bacs and special masters programs, provided you do well, are your best bets for major application overhauls (plus retaking the MCAT if needed) and were looked upon VERY favorably among reapplicants.

  4. I must agree with a couple of the posters above. If by the 3rd reapplication you are NOT accepted, it’s time to move on to plan B. There are plenty of other rewarding careers in the health sciences that go through the same rigorous training as doctors (maybe the post-grdauation training may not be as long and as intensive)but still rewarding nonetheless. I have known people who became PA’s, nurses, techs….worked about 3-4 years and then went into medical school. And guess what? They got accepted with no problems b/c they built up their professional work experience which trumps extracurricular activites, membership in clubs, etc. Many premeds have very minimal professional working experience, so they have to basically compensate with a stellar academic record and pretty high MCAT scores.
    I have known plenty of students who retook the MCAT about 5-6 times with the dream goal of having the M.D. initials follow their last names. That’s past ridiculous! I am all in favor of following your dreams, but sometimes it’s even wiser to wake up and face reality………

  5. I don’t need a degree to practice medicine. I have a small clinic in my backyard where I treat my patients with home made remedies for all sorts of ailments and maladies, ranging from strep throat to brain surgery. I’m the best medical doctor without a license nor formal training. I learned to become a doctor by watching YouTube videos.

  6. Yes,that would be perfect! I never though of beinging a noctor. Eight years of school and only 90k a year. Cheap health care for all with practicing noctors. One question though; with that pay, how will they pay for malpractice insurance?

  7. On the interview, if you tell them too much about how you would improve wouldn’t the interviewer think that the interviewee actually does need to improve and send him back so he could improve? I’m not saying that Dr. Jeremiah is wrong or anything, it is great advice but i really don’t think that one should say too much about how they could improve or how they could do better on the applications – that just shows that the interviewee didn’t try too hard.

    • I think in terms of the ‘I’m trying to improve my application” discussion, you are trying to show a sense of self-awareness. My professor explained this to me after I raised the same question. He said, the interviewer mainly asks this question to see if you are aware enough with your application that you know where you have shortcomings and if you know how to improve those shortcomings. Such a quality is important for a medical professional. If a doctor is horrible at sutures and doesn’t have any self-awareness that he is horrible at sutures, he doesn’t have any instinct for improvement to make himself learn how to suture better…. if that makes sense.

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