Menu Icon Search
Close Search
Rejected photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Top 5 Reasons Applications Get Rejected

Created January 14, 2015 by Anubodh Varshney

In 2013, roughly half of all medical school applicants did not receive an acceptance letter. Though many applicants possess a genuine passion for helping others through medicine, the medical school application process grows more competitive with each passing year. Unsuccessful applicants must either reapply after bolstering their applications or seek alternative career paths. However, learning to recognize the most common reasons that applications are rejected can help you maximize your chances of acceptance. Here are a few below:

1. Subpar academic record
Though medical school applicants should demonstrate achievement and leadership in various areas of their lives, excellence in non-academic fields will rarely balance a below average academic record. The bottom line is that medicine is an intellectually demanding profession, no matter what shape your career takes. As such, the most important aspect of an application is generally the applicant’s GPA and MCAT score. If these metrics are significantly below a given program’s average, the school may automatically reject your application without evaluating other items like extracurricular activities and letters of recommendation. With so many people vying for a limited number of spaces, rejection due to academic performance is very common – so do everything you can to avoid this outcome.

2. Application cycle logistics
An often-overlooked reason for why applicants do not succeed during this process is simple logistics. Most schools offer interviews on a rolling basis. As such, it is vital for students to ensure that their complete application, including letters of recommendation, is submitted as soon as possible in the application season. With so many qualified applicants applying at the same time, programs often fill their interview schedules early on. If students wait too long to submit their materials, they may be rejected because there are no more interview slots available. This is a tragic outcome and one that is completely avoidable. Work with your advisers and recommenders to finish your portfolio well in advance of the application season. I advise all my students to submit their entire application on the earliest day possible.

3. Inadequate meaningful extracurricular involvement
If your academic record is sufficient and you have submitted your application in a timely manner, one reason why you may be rejected is a lack of meaningful extracurricular engagement. Admissions committees seek students who demonstrate that they can be leaders in medicine. This involves more than just succeeding on tests. Involve yourself in student groups about which you are passionate. Also, aim to prioritize the quality of your extracurricular involvement over its quantity. It is much more impactful to demonstrate strong commitment to a smaller number of organizations than to be peripherally involved in many groups. After all, commitment is crucial in medicine and medical training. Be sure to think about which groups you would like to be involved in early in college, and make an effort to progress to leadership positions in these groups during your time as an undergraduate.

4. Lack of exposure to medicine
Although admissions committees love well-rounded individuals, they wish to know that applicants are interested in medicine specifically. This is generally accomplished through volunteering at hospitals, completing clinical shadowing experiences and preceptorships, and participating in medicine-centered undergraduate clubs. Additionally, one of the most powerful extracurricular activities that a medical school applicant can take part in is biomedical research. If you have participated in research, presented posters or abstracts, or published manuscripts, this demonstrates to medical schools that you are interested in, dedicated to, and passionate about this career. One significant reason applications are sometimes rejected is that admissions committees do not understand why a high-achieving applicant hopes to pursue a career in medicine. By being able to catalog a variety of experiences in medicine, applicants can prove that they have some insight into the field.

5. Applying to few schools
Applying to medical school can be time consuming, but do not allow this to prevent you from applying to a wide range of medical schools. Many extraordinary applicants receive rejection letters from all the schools they apply to simply because they have not targeted a group of “reach,” “competitive,” and “safety” schools. Do send your application to several programs that you dream about attending, but that may be a long shot to get in to – i.e. your reach schools. However, it is also vital to be realistic about your application’s competitiveness and apply to schools where your portfolio is on par with the program’s average data, as well as above the average. Your advisers, professors, and peers are valuable sources of information on which schools fit these categories for your specific application.

Anubodh “Sunny” Varshney is a professional MCAT tutor with Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement. He earned his Bachelor of Science from Washington University in St. Louis and attended medical school at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. He is a resident in internal medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

// Share //

// Recent Articles //

  • The False Dichotomies in Medical Politics Physician Lifestyles and Public Discourse

  • Posted March 24, 2017 by The Short Coat Podcast
  • This episode is all about false dichotomies–situations or ideas that seem like dilemmas (and thus require a difficult choice to be made) but which really aren’t.   Much of the public discussions of things like the hours that residents work, the funding for medical research, the lifestyles that residents are forced to lead, the choices that...VIEW >
  • A Drinking Binge Leads to a Surgical Emergency

  • Posted March 24, 2017 by Figure 1
  • A 58-year-old male presents to the emergency department with dyspnea and severe chest pain that radiates to his shoulder. He has a history of alcoholism and has just finished a 4-day drinking binge. On examination, crepitus is heard on palpation of the chest wall, and his pain worsens as he swallows. A diagnosis of Boerhaave syndrome...VIEW >
  • Dentistr-e Sports: The Intersection of Dental Training and Video Games

  • Posted March 23, 2017 by Stephen Rogers
  • Originally published in Contour, March 2017, the magazine of the American Student Dental Association. Learn more at During a state visit in 2011, Barack Obama was greeted by Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who then handed him a video game. “The Witcher 2” was developed in Poland, and Obama explained it as “a great...VIEW >
gap year
  • Time Away From Formal Academics Can Enhance Application

  • Posted March 22, 2017 by Laurie Tansey
  • Whether or not a student should take a “gap year” (or two) often comes up during our conversations with applicants to medical school. Based on MedEdits’ experience working with students, we find that gap years are becoming increasingly common and that this extra time away from formal academics can enhance a student’s candidacy. The Association...VIEW >
physician scientist
  • A Med Student’s Guide to Becoming a Physician-Scientist

  • Posted March 21, 2017 by Brian Wu
  • When medical students start to think about areas of practice to specialize in once they graduate, the area of medical research can sometimes be overlooked in favor of more traditional practice areas such as internal medicine or surgery. However, for some doctors-to-be, the pull towards such research is strong and it is an important part...VIEW >
became a physician
  • Medical, +1 MORE
  • Things I Didn’t Realize About Medicine Until I Became a Physician

  • Posted March 20, 2017 by Student Doctor Network
  • Recently SDN member medinquirer noted that it’s common for premed students to learn about medicine through shadowing, volunteering, working in related fields, etc. But surely, said medinquirer in his post, there are things you don’t realize about medicine until after you become a full-fledged, practicing physician. What are those things? Here are some of them...VIEW >

// Forums //