Last Updated on June 26, 2022 by Laura Turner
In an ideal world, your first attempt at applying to medical school would also be your last. You would apply, receive several interview invitations, and at least one acceptance letter.
However, for many medical school hopefuls, applying to medical school does not result in an acceptance, and as the rejection letters pile up, it can be difficult to determine how to regroup for another application cycle. Ostensibly, you submitted the best application that you could, so how can you improve in the future? What was that original application lacking?
As your unsuccessful application cycle comes to a close, consider these four strategies before you ready yourself to hit “submit” on a second primary application to medical school:
1. Update your volunteer and work activities with new experiences
Almost all medical schools will attempt to assess whether you have carefully considered your future career as a physician, as well as whether you understand the challenges associated with healthcare. If you have not yet held a clinical position, now is the time to do so. If your previous application was research-heavy, you might explore opportunities to volunteer in a clinical setting, to train as an EMT, or to become a paid scribe. Supplementing an application with direct patient contact may provide you with more to write about in your application and more to discuss in your future interviews.
On the other hand, if you have a wealth of clinical experience but have not participated in any research, you might consider applying for a research position. Remember that “research” need not mean bench research. If you are not interested in the intricate details of lab procedures, seek out clinical research opportunities instead.
2. Revise your personal statement
After an unsuccessful application cycle, you absolutely should not submit the same portfolio if you would like a different result. Each section should be closely reexamined, with no section more closely reexamined than your personal statement. Ask yourself if your essay represents both who you are as a person and why you wish to go into medicine. How have you changed in recent months? What have you learned about medicine and about yourself in the midst of your unsuccessful application cycle? How do these experiences further drive you toward medicine? While you need not directly address your unsuccessful application cycle in your new personal statement, using your experience to explore why you are still passionate about medicine may be useful in formulating your revised essay.
3. Consider the competitiveness of your statistics
One obvious way to improve an unsuccessful application is to examine your overall GPA, your BCPM GPA, and your MCAT score, and to then ask yourself if any of these numbers may have factored into your admissions rejections. In particular, applicants with high MCAT scores and GPAs that are inconsistent with those high MCAT scores may find that medical schools are uncertain about their long-term academic potential. The high MCAT score demonstrates that you can study for a test, but what about reviewing for each of your classes? If you have a strong MCAT score and a low GPA, you might consider enrolling in additional courses to boost your GPA, proving that your academic potential is consistent over time. Conversely, if your MCAT score is lower than your GPA might predict, reconsider how you studied for the exam. Then, choose another test date before your next application cycle. Being honest with yourself about the competitiveness of your application statistics is key to success in future admissions cycles.
4. Choose your next application cycle wisely
Many applicants want to begin medical school as soon as possible. If you had a failed application cycle, it is important to remain aware of the natural impulse to reapply at the next opportunity. If your original application had many areas of improvement, it may be unrealistic for you to regroup and reapply in a few short months. As a reapplicant, you will want to put together the strongest possible application. If you cannot produce such work in several months, taking an extra year to strengthen your weaknesses before reapplying may be in your best interests. Remember that your goal is to get into medical school—not to get into medical school by a certain date.
Cassie Kosarek, MD is a professional tutor with Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement. She earned her Bachelor of Arts from Bryn Mawr College and was a member of the Class of 2021 at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College.