Medical school applications are physically, emotionally, and financially draining. It is completely natural to be disheartened if you are rejected on your first try. What’s next? You might re-evaluate your career goals, question everything, and finally, sit down once more to formulate a new action plan. If you’re absolutely certain that medicine is what you want to pursue in life, you should prepare to re-apply when the next cycle rolls around.
To ensure that you’re moving forward productively, your whole application needs to be substantially different from the first one. It takes a lot to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and set your mind to get ready for another admissions cycle. But don’t let the fact that you’ve gone through the application process once already make you complacent. You need to show admissions officers how you’ve grown since the previous round. Since you didn’t get in the first time, it is crucial that you re-evaluate your previous application, because there can be a variety of reasons why medical school applicants are rejected.
Here are 8 key ways to set you up for a greater chance of success during your second (or third) medical school application cycle.
- Boost Your Extracurriculars
Reflect on the extracurriculars that went into your original activities section. Your experiences should be at the core of making you a strong and qualified candidate. If things didn’t work out for you the first time around, the reality is, there may be gaps in your profile. Think about how you can show admissions committee members that you have taken the time and effort to grow as a candidate.
Make sure you demonstrate both breadth and depth of exposure to medicine through various clinical, research, and volunteering experiences. Identify ways to show a concrete improvement from your first application cycle. Did you have minimal patient interaction when you first applied? Find more opportunities for clinical exposure. Not much work in the hard sciences? Conduct more research before reapplying. No research publications the first time around? Try to get some submissions published now. Your application must showcase your commitment to the profession. When admissions committee members read your application, it should be immediately clear how you’ve taken advantage of the past year to build your profile. Make it obvious that they should take you now.
- Re-Evaluate Your School List
One of the reasons things might have not worked out during your first application round is your school list. It is definitely not easy choosing from the hundreds of medical schools in the country, and it can be very tempting to want to apply only to the best of the best schools out there.
Take some time to look over the schools you have applied to. Run your scores alongside admitted students’ scores. Since you’re applying for the second time, you most likely need to apply to more schools than the first time. Applying to 25 schools is a safer bet.
You may only want to apply to the best schools, but remember that most medical schools have extremely low acceptance rates. If you’re re-applying, it’s important to learn more about your safety schools, even if you do want to keep a few reaches and fits on your list. If you’ve applied to medical schools that are concentrated in one particular region, consider applying to schools in other areas, even if they aren’t close to your home or ideal location. Look over schools’ mission statements and curricula. Pick programs that suit your learning style, because some schools are more lecture-oriented, while others allow students early clinical experience.
Draw up a pros and cons list for each school you’ve already applied to, and evaluate whether they are worth a reapplication. The right fit may not have been in front of you the first time, and you never know, the perfect fit might appear in re-evaluated research.
- Take a Hard Look at Your Numbers
While your GPA and MCAT score are only one portion of your application, they can make or break the admissions decision if your scores are low. One of the reasons you might not have been admitted to medical school the first time is if your undergraduate grades and MCAT score did not meet the expectations of the institutions. If you have a score in the low 500s, applying to only Ivy Leagues or any of the schools with the lowest acceptance rates might not be the best decision, since these top schools are selective to begin with. You definitely want to raise your scores before re-applying.
If your GPA is on the lower side for schools of your choice, you can take post-baccalaureate science classes to help raise it. If you’re planning to retake the MCAT, start the process as early as you can. Creating a study plan and forming a study group can ease the grueling nature of the test prep process. During the actual MCAT, pace yourself, read carefully, and skip over complicated questions instead of struggling with them. Remember that while keeping an eye on the time is important, the MCAT is not a race on who can finish the fastest.
It’s important to be realistic when applying to medical schools, especially with relatively low scores. Ensuring that the schools you’re applying to accept students with numbers within your range is an important way to reduce your risk of more medical school rejections.
- Reflect on Your Motivation for Medical School
There’s no doubt about it: the road to becoming a doctor is a long one. The pre-reqs, MCAT studying, volunteering, and clinical experience in preparation for the application process are just the beginning. Even after four years of medical school, the journey doesn’t end. Residency, fellowships, and grueling work shifts lie ahead. It’s rigorous, cutthroat, and exhausting. Sounds great, right? So, why do you want this?
When applicants are asked to share what drives their goals, it’s difficult for many to express them eloquently. What comes out ends up sounding very predictable. “I want to go to medical school because: I like working with others, I want to help people, I love science, I’ve seen medicine change lives…” You get the idea. While these reasons are legitimate, many students fail to capture what’s at the heart of their motivation. When our Former Admissions Committee Members work with students, they ask the hard questions to help students reflect deeply about what’s going to push them through the intense workload and sleepless nights. For example, does your passion for neurology stem from taking care of a family member with ALS? These personal reasons are what medical schools want to know.
As a reapplicant, you’re in a unique position because the decision to reapply shows that you’re staying the course. Harness this commitment to capture your dedication towards the medical field.
- Frame Your Experiences Differently
Too many students treat the AMCAS Activities and Experiences Section as just a resume. It’s true, you’ll want to pack each description with concrete details about your extracurriculars. But the first time you applied, you may have gone astray by just sticking to the facts and logistics.
If you followed step 4 of this guide, you’ve taken the time to pinpoint your motivation for medicine. Incorporate this passion into each and every experience slot. For your activities, you get 700 characters. For the most meaningful descriptions, the count increases to 1,325 characters. While the character count will dwindle quickly as you begin writing, that’s a solid paragraph! This is enough room to express complete thoughts on how each experience has impacted your worldview and shaped your path to medicine. Every entry should include this kind of reflection, not just your most meaningful activities. Re-frame each description to go beyond the facts of what you’ve accomplished. Go deeper.
- Revamp Your Personal Statement
The medical school personal statement is a double-edged sword. While it provides a tremendous opportunity to show who you are as a person, this is the piece that causes most applicants to go astray. As a reapplicant, let’s face it: you need to write a completely new essay. Your application must look noticeably different from what you submitted in your first admissions cycle. Reworking your personal statement can make the entire narrative of your application new and improved.
When you reevaluate your personal statement, think about two critical elements: 1) the topic and 2) the execution. There’s only so much you can do to recover from a topic that was mediocre from the start. Could anyone else have written this personal statement, or is it truly unique to you? Does it capture your character and goals for medicine? It’s almost always best to start over and brainstorm different topics with a new admissions cycle. Avoid poetic language, exaggerating adversity, and philosophical anecdotes. Your personal statement should clearly demonstrate why you are a stronger candidate this time around. Ask yourself if you’ve overcome the reasons that might have been behind your rejection the first time. Don’t let the personal statement break you. Be memorable, be likeable, be interesting.
- Be Timely With Your Submissions
After you’ve completed steps 1 through 6 in this guide, it’s time to submit, for the second time. The medical school admissions process is rolling, meaning that the earlier you submit, the earlier your application will be read. Being timely with both your primary and secondary submissions can have a bigger impact on your chances than you think. So when is the best time to submit your AMCAS application? The short answer is as soon as the application opens.
The primary application opens on May 30th in 2019. Submitting a strong application as soon as you can after it opens is crucial. Before you start receiving your secondaries in July, you should make a list of the schools you applied to in order of priority, because you will likely be overwhelmed with the number of secondaries you need to get done. Demonstrate your interest in specific schools by returning those secondaries quickly. (We tell students to aim for a turnaround time of less than two weeks.) There’s always a balance to strike between quality of writing and speed of submission, so making that priorities list is key. However, beware that some secondaries will have deadlines you have to meet! Overall, the earlier you submit, the higher your chances are to receive an interview.
- Take Your Interview Preparation Seriously
If you made it to the interview stage your first time applying and you still were not accepted anywhere, chances are that your interviewing skills need a bit of work. Preparing for your med school interview is imperative for second-time admissions success. There are hundreds of questions that could come up during your interviews. Before each interview, you should think of strong, unique answers to 95 of the most common medical school interview questions.
Other than preparing your answers for common questions, you need to practice. Practice in front of a mirror. Practice in front of your friends. Do a mock interview. The more you practice, the more comfortable you will be during the real thing. You should also research the school that will interview you. They usually are transparent about what style of interview you should expect, whether it be a traditional interview, a multiple mini interview, or a group interview.
Since interviews are later in the cycle, you should use this extra time to your advantage. During your interview, you should update the school verbally on what you’ve been doing. It’s a great time to show how you’ve continued developing throughout this second admissions journey. Every interview will be different, but as long as you practice and prepare for the specific school that you are interviewing for, you will be fine. Be confident!
Applying to medical school for a second time can be a daunting and tiring process. Follow these steps to help guide you through applying as a reapplicant. If you can pinpoint what went wrong during your first attempt and re-frame your application in a different way, you can avoid yet another year of rejection.