Written by pre-health advisor Andy Simmons.
Though many medical schools are still interviewing, February is really the beginning of the end of the medical school application process, or what we like to call the “end run.” Depending on your situation—or your aspiration—this final stage of the process can be tricky. Let’s run through a few possibilities; perhaps you can see yourself in one of these scenarios!
Admitted, But Can’t Decide Where to Go
Crazy, right? No, not at all. This is a great situation but, understandably, a stressful decision for many. First and foremost, wherever you choose to go, you are going to get a great medical education and you will become a doctor! But still, how to choose? You might start with criteria you developed for yourself when you made your med school list—things like location, cost, mission, and special curricular features.
Then there are the specific things you learned about the schools on your interview visit: the culture of the place; the people you will be in school with; the faculty as mentors, advisors, etc. How collaborative did it seem? Is it very competitive? Which school gives you the best chance of staying connected to your personal support network of family and friends? Maybe you have a spouse or significant other to consider; what are the prospects for this important person in your life, particularly if you have to relocate?
After considering all of these factors, you might find that, all things being equal (which often they are with medical schools), you need to go with your gut feeling. That is, which place felt right to you? Given the high quality of medical education at schools across the country, sometimes going with your gut is the best way to go!
Next week, we’ll talk about how to notify schools of your choice for admission with the new Acceptance Protocols.
Admitted, But Not to Your First Choice
First of all, congratulations! Getting admitted to even one medical school anywhere in the United States is a major accomplishment—you are going to be a doctor! And, even better, you have a secure base from which to do a bit of self-advocacy.
If it seems like your top choice schools don’t know you exist, the next step is to send an update letter. In it, describe your activities since completing your applications, especially anything new. Start your letter by stating your continued strong interest in the school. At some point in the letter, include some language about specific programmatic aspects of the school that interest you (e.g., curricular features, special programs, grading system, mission focus). Avoid talking about location unless it is pertinent to the school’s mission (i.e.; mention serving a rural vs. urban patient population, but not that you love the restaurants and nightlife).
For any new activities, a new letter of recommendation might be helpful. It’s best if such a letter comes from a supervisor, mentor, or teacher who has become familiar with your work since you submitted your application. As with all medical school recommendations, avoid letters from family friends or family members unless you have done significant work with that person.
Schools that interview into the spring (February and March, maybe even April) might be receptive to a phone call. Simply call the admission office and say, “My name is —, I applied and continue to be very interested in interviewing. Are you still interviewing at this time?”
Didn’t Receive Any Interviews
If you are starting to get worried, see above advice regarding update letters, new letters of recommendation, and perhaps phone calls.
This is also the time to start considering your Plan B. If you will reapply this summer, be sure that you have a good case to make for an improved application. An honest discussion with a pre-med advisor who can look at the full spectrum of your academic and experiential qualifications and speak with you frankly is a good first step. Then, make a plan! Be deliberate about improving on any deficiencies. Most of all, be open to feedback and doing things differently. Sometimes this will mean taking some more time than you would have liked. But remember: you’re looking at a career that will last three or more decades; another year won’t matter in the long run.
Waitlisted With No Acceptances
Schools vary considerably in the ways that they handle waitlists. But there is one commonality: they all need to have candidates in waiting to ensure that they fill their class. Toward the end of the process, accepted applicants will decline prior acceptances and choose other schools. This creates many openings for people on waitlists. This is why it’s important to keep telling schools that you’re interested.
Start with an update letter (as noted above and described here). Then, send a note every few weeks in the spring letting schools know of your continued interest. You could send a letter to your favorite school saying you’ll definitely attend if admitted, but do not do this unless you really mean it! Schools will continue to admit candidates from waitlists well into the spring and, in some cases, during the summer before orientation. Be sure to keep sending your love letters during this time.
Finally, take advantage of any opportunity to visit with a school, or attend an event for prospective applicants. Any face time you can get with individuals from these schools is critical and demonstrates to them that you’re very interested.
Read more about how to get interviews and get off waitlists.