3 Things to Know About Medical School Waitlists

Last Updated on June 24, 2022 by Laura Turner

After months of ambiguity, wondering if you will receive interview invitations and if you have been accepted or rejected, being waitlisted by a medical school can introduce new stress to your application cycle. Especially if you do not have any other acceptances, a waitlist decision may leave you unsure of what to expect next. When will the final decision regarding your admittance be made? Is there anything you can do to increase your chance of acceptance? Should you begin preparing for another application cycle? While it’s true that much of the admissions process is out of your hands, knowing how schools evaluate applicants on the waitlist may help you understand where you are in the admissions process. Here are three things you should know if you’ve been placed on a medical school waitlist:

1. Many final decisions are made after April 30

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Admitted students must notify medical schools about their intention to enroll by April 30, which means that students holding multiple acceptances must give up their places at all but one school. Seats for the incoming class become more available as the deadline approaches, and admissions committees begin extending a greater number of acceptances to applicants on their waitlists around this time. If you are accepted after April 30 but at least 30 days before orientation, the AAMC allows you five business days at minimum to make a final decision about attending that program. If you choose not to attend, the vacated seat is then offered to another applicant.

How admissions committees evaluate waitlisted students throughout the application cycle differs across institutions. In general, each waitlisted applicant is holistically reconsidered as seats open. Re-evaluations of applicants continue until the incoming class is full or first-year classes commence.

2. Meaningful updates or a letter of intent may help your case

Updates including end-of-semester grades, an award, a publication, or other significant additions to your application since submission may provide admissions committees with more evidence of your readiness for and capability of beginning a medical education. Any updates to your application should be concise and important, meaning that weekly updates detailing your interest in the school or a compliment you were given by a supervisor aren’t likely to help your position. Further, before you send additional materials to the admissions committee, make sure that the school is willing to receive that information and by what means additional information should be submitted. Bombarding the committee with unwanted emails or telephone calls, or directing materials to the wrong person, may come across as aggressive or inconsiderate.

Applicants on the waitlist may also consider sending a letter of intent, in which they state their intention to enroll at that particular school if accepted. Letters of intent may have some weight in waitlist decisions, but they must be crafted sincerely with attention to applicant circumstances to be effective. If you have been accepted to another school, make sure you adhere to social graces when writing your letter of intent. Don’t name-drop or belittle the school that has already accepted you, and avoid comparing the two institutions. Focus on explaining why the school at which you’re waitlisted fits your goals best. And finally—and obviously—you may submit only one letter of intent. Submitting more than one reflects poorly on you as an applicant and as a professional.

3. It’s not over until the first day of classes—but opening another application is advised

Medical schools are unable to predict how many applicants will be accepted off the waitlist during an admissions cycle or how fast their first-year class will fill. In some instances, an incoming student may withdraw from the class unexpectedly, thus opening a spot later than usual. If you haven’t received an outright rejection into the summer months, you are technically still eligible for acceptance up until classes begin. Given the small percentage of open seats as classes approach, however, you should begin preparing for another application cycle by June if you have not yet received an acceptance and intend to re-apply for the next cycle.

3 Things to Know About Medical School Waitlists