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How to Survive a Rejection from Medical School

Even the strongest applicants to medical school may receive rejections, so if you’re far from alone. However, you can turn a rejection from medical school into a constructive piece of feedback if you assess your application to determine the likely reason for the rejection and then take steps to address your weaknesses.

You may be able to improve your odds of admission for the current cycle if you act quickly; even if that isn’t possible, though, you’ll have a head start on making yourself more competitive for the next round in case reapplying becomes necessary.

Common reasons for rejection from medical school

When a rejection arrives, your first question is probably “Why?”, especially if you feel that you put forth your best effort for every step of the application process. However, by stepping back and analyzing your application, you may be able to determine what happened and adjust your course while you still have time to affect the outcome of the cycle.

Among the common reasons for rejection are the following:

  • A low grade-point average (GPA) and/or Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) score: Even if your overall GPA and MCAT are high, a subset where your numbers are noncompetitive — such as your science GPA or one section on the MCAT — may be enough to tank your application.

  • Lack of clinical experience: Even if you have a 3.9 GPA and a 35 on the MCAT, schools may question your commitment to pursuing this profession if your exposure to medicine is minimal.

  • Weak letters of recommendation: Letters of recommendation written by people who don’t seem to know you well or who don’t strongly endorse your application can hurt your cause. Even an average letter doesn’t stand up when compared to the effusive letters many other applicants have.

  • Poor interviewing skills: You may have all the right qualifications to be granted an interview, but if you can’t convince a representative of the school in person that you have the communication skills, motivation, and personal qualities needed to succeed in medicine, you’re unlikely to get an acceptance.

  • Aiming for schools that are out of your reach: If you’re a middle-of-the-road applicant whose list is loaded with top-tier schools, you may end the cycle empty-handed.

If you’ve received a rejection from a school, contact the admissions office to see whether you can get feedback about your application. Although many schools only give feedback about applications after the cycle is over (if at all), some provide an immediate analysis of your application so that you know where you fell short.

Next steps to take after a medical school rejection

Now that you’ve determined why you weren’t admitted, the first priority is to focus on addressing issues that you can take care of for the current cycle. Some obstacles, such as grades and MCAT scores, take months or years to remediate, but you can make headway with other items more quickly:

  • Clinical experience: Although clinical experience is something that you should ideally gain organically over a period of years, fitting in some in the short term to beef up your application is better than ignoring the problem. If you do take on some physician shadowing or hospital volunteering, update the schools on these new developments.

  • Letters of recommendation: In the time that’s passed since you submitted your letters of recommendation, you may have taken a course or started a new activity from which you can secure an additional letter.

    You don’t have to hold off until you get to a school’s waitlist to send additional letters of recommendation; you can also send letters to schools you’re still under consideration for. Just make sure you check with each school first to see if they accept additional letters.

  • Interview: If you suspect that your interview performance was a weak point, work on perfecting your skills in this area prior to your next interview. If you haven’t already done a practice interview, do one now.

    If you did go through a mock interview previously, revisit the feedback you received and do a second interview with a different advisor or mentor. Also, make a list of questions you had difficulty with during the interview and develop more effective answers to them; they may be asked somewhere else.

  • School selection for submission: If you receive a slew of pre-interview rejections early in the cycle, you may have aimed too high; consider adding schools that are more reachable to your list. Although applying early in the cycle is ideal, a last-minute addition that is in your range may give you a better chance of admission than your early applications to more-selective schools does.

    Such a midcourse adjustment may allow you to start med school in the fall instead of repeating the grind of applying for one more cycle.

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