Medical school applicants: Waitlisted? Want more interviews? Here’s what you can do.

You submitted your application in July. You completed all of your secondary essays by mid-September. Other than one interview that resulted in a waitlist decision you’ve heard nothing but radio silence. What can you do?

Whenever I work with medical school applicants I emphasize that the application process is ongoing because the admissions process is fluid. It is not as if you submit your primary application and secondary essays and the job is done! An applicant must constantly work to bolster and improve his or her candidacy throughout the admissions season.

Assuming you are not accepted to your top choice school right off the bat, it is important to provide medical schools you want to attend with more evidence that you are an excellent candidate. Typically, you will offer this evidence to medical schools that are in one of two categories: 1) medical schools where you have interviewed and have been waitlisted and 2) medical schools where you have applied and have not yet heard anything. How to improve your chances of acceptance at medical schools in each of these two categories varies slightly.

Schools where you are waitlisted

To improve your chances of converting a waitlist decision to an acceptance at a school that is your number 1 choice, compose a letter of intent (LOI), unless the school specifically requests that no additional documentation or letters be sent. In this letter state explicitly that the medical school is your number 1 choice and you will attend if accepted. NEVER send this LOI if this is not a truthful statement, however. Include as many specific reasons for your interest in the school as possible, as well as information about how you would contribute to the medical school community. Also include any information about recent academic, scholarly, or extracurricular achievements.

What about the medical school that has waitlisted you and is not a clear number 1 choice? Students often ask me if “update letters” describing recent activities and accomplishments help with these schools. In my experience they do not. Medical schools have little incentive for accepting students off of a waitlist who aren’t guaranteed matriculants. Why is this? First, medical schools ideally want as many accepted students to matriculate as possible because this impacts the overall medical school “ranking” and competitiveness. Second, when a medical school admissions committee is trying to fill a class it would rather do so as efficiently as possible, especially as the summer approaches. Therefore, sending an “update letter” rarely influences an admissions committee decision to accept you. However, for medical schools where you have not yet interviewed, “update letters” can help (see below).

If possible, for schools where you are waitlisted that are not your top choice, send additional letters of reference (again, assuming the school is willing to accept them). The more ringing endorsements the school has to support your candidacy, the more likely they are to view your application favorably. You can also seek out a mentor, advisor, or professor to serve as your “applicant advocate,”– an individual who calls schools to support your candidacy.

Schools from which you haven’t heard

An update letter that outlines any recent academic, scholarly, or extracurricular achievements and expresses your interest in the school can help with schools in this category, unlike with schools at which you are waitlisted . (This letter’s content is similar to that of the LOI except, of course, that you should not state that a school that you haven’t yet visited is your number 1 choice for fear of sounding disingenuous, pushy, or uniformed.) But what helps most at this stage of the admissions process is to recruit an applicant advocate..

This applicant advocate (again, most likely your premed advisor, professor, or mentor) calls the medical school admissions office and speaks with an admissions dean or director, depending on the medical school admissions committee hierarchy, to offer support for your candidacy. Sometimes these personal and verbal endorsements from a colleague lead to interview invitations.

What about medical schools that have rejected you?

Rarely does a rejection decision convert to an interview invitation, but we have seen this happen when an applicant advocate has gotten involved. Enthusiastic verbal endorsements can be very effective in crunch time!

Remember, submitting your application often is just the beginning of the medical school admissions process. You must embrace a proactive role throughout the application cycle, seeking out experiences to strengthen your candidacy and building your recommendation base, until you have been accepted to the medical school that you will attend.

Jessica Freedman is president and founder, MedEdits Medical Admissions, and the author of The MedEdits Guide to Medical School Admissions: Practical Advice for Applicants and their Parents.

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