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Getting Into Medical School: Do’s and Don’ts of the Process

In this lesson, I’m going to tell you about how to conduct yourself as you await the decisions of the medical admissions committees.

By the time you’ve interviewed, you’ve probably already gotten tired of the waiting game, but the bad news is it isn’t over yet. Some of the worst of it are still to come. If you’re a person who over analyzes what you do or is impatient, then this part of the process is going to be tough.

Though time frames will vary widely, you can expect, sooner or later, to get an indication of your status—accepted, wait-listed, or rejected. Being wait-listed is, of course, the most common and the most nerve-wracking. You will likely be tempted to contact the school if you’ve been on the waiting list for a while and don’t feel they have followed up in a reasonable amount of time. You want to be very careful with that. Contacting schools about the admissions process should only be done carefully and with much thought.

Before contacting an admissions department, keep the following things in mind.

First, schools have hundreds to thousands of applications. They do not need and will not appreciate any more inquiries than absolutely necessary from any candidate. You do not want to be known as the pest of your application year. So, how do you avoid that?

In an earlier lesson, I mentioned that you were allowed to get in touch with the schools to verify that your application was complete. After this, you’ve got two further opportunities to make contact. If you are extremely anxious, you may use the first of these two opportunities to contact the school to ask when you will hear whether you are going to be interviewed. This will tell you their timeline for informing applicants if they will be invited to interview, not whether you will be interviewed. Ideally, you will instead wait to use this chance about six weeks after the interview. Then you can inquire about when a decision on your status will be made if you haven’t already heard back from them. That will still leave you with one final chance to contact the school.

May 15 is when medical schools typically finalize their decisions and is the date by which you will be expected to finalize your decision if you have not already done so. If it is getting into April and you still have not heard one way or the other from any schools, you may decide that it is time to use your final chance. What follows is a strategy employed by some of my students—use it at your own risk, after carefully considering the pros and cons. I am not endorsing this strategy, but it has been effective for some.

Making choices—by this point, you will have interviewed at all of your schools and should have a ranking of them in terms of your priorities. You may also have rankings of where you stand in the waiting order for some of the schools. Putting these two pieces of information together may allow you to select one school as your “top choice.” You may choose to then use your final chance to contact that one school and let them know that if you are accepted by them, you will definitely go there. Students play this game because they feel it may give them a leg up with a school and occasionally, it works.

But, there is a risk associated with this ploy, so beware, because it is basically a commitment from you to them that you will attend if you are accepted. If a different school accepts you in the meantime, then you will need to wait until your #1 school gives you a year or nay. This means that even though you have a sure thing in school #2, you have to sit around waiting for school #1 to decide (and there is a chance that they may decide No). Because of this, you may choose not to gamble, and instead, keep your options open. We’ve seen the anxiety students suffer if they are accepted at a different school before they hear back, so think carefully about what you want to do.

Now, hopefully, after the entire process, you get accepted to a school of your liking and you live happily ever after. But what if you don’t get accepted anywhere? What to do?

Assuming you wish to re-apply, the first obvious answer is to determine what you can do to improve your application the following year. If you made it to any waiting lists of medical schools, it is worth contacting those schools to ask if anyone can give you some guidance about your application. Usually, schools will not say a lot but instead may make casual comments about grades or experience or MCAT. They are less likely to say anything regarding maturity or age so don’t assume if you don’t hear about those things that they were not factors. They will absolutely not tell you anything about your references, due to confidentiality issues.

My general advice is to look hard at your MCAT, as that is commonly a factor. If you were 22 or younger when you applied, consider taking a year or two off before applying again. Whatever path you decide to take, you MUST keep active with medical experience until the next application. Nothing looks worse for your second application than dropping medicine upon getting rejected. Plus, the additional experience you can gain over the next year or two can be a good boost and may even help you to snag a new reference or two.

You should inform your references if you were not accepted. When you reapply, you can keep them informed of what you’ve been doing in case they are willing to write a new letter for the new application. The new letter isn’t absolutely necessary, though.

In this lesson, you learned how to manage the time after your interview and also how to plan for a re-application in case you are not accepted. In the next lesson, I’ll provide a summary of the overall process.

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Written by

Kevin Ahern

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