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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.

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