Advice for Premeds

A blog about the medical school admissions process

What To Do Now If You Are On Waitlist or Alternate Status

by Janet Snoyer in Updating Schools No Comments
Woman typing medical school update letter in a coffee shop

You are waiting for a seat in a medical school that has placed you on its alternate list. You cannot just sit around; you want to do something! Here’s what to do.

Follow Instructions

First, since schools usually provide specific instructions or general guidelines about how they want you to communicate with them in the future and set a timeline to aid your understanding of their preferences, read and abide by their specifications. Most schools are liberal in allowing you to stay in touch, but some restrict the number of letters, or prohibit any updates. Some schools will forbid updates. Do not send them anything. They mean it! For schools that tolerate and even encourage them, keep them coming.


Second, decide if it is worth it to you to pursue acceptance at the school. If it is worth it, you should prepare an update strategy and a way to track your enactment of it. Updates consist of contact with people at the school, in the form of phone calls and/or letters from you and about you (by others), as permitted by the school. Updates are suitable for any active, but not yet accepted, status.

Send Updates

After you receive a letter about your application status from a school, send the admissions office a short reply to the original status message, confirming that you want to remain on the list and hope to eventually gain admission.

Follow up with a brief email or letter to admissions that expresses:

  • Your gratitude for continued review.
  • The purpose of your letter, which is to provide an update.
  • In a few sentences, describe how you have spent your time since the interview. Is there anything new
    to tell that is likely to interest them? If you were not able to elaborate on something important during
    your interview, do it here.
  • Then include one or two observations or insights you have had that gave you a strong sense of your fit
    or capacity to contribute, or kindled your interest in the school in some way.
  • Finally, briefly reiterate your gratitude and why you are sending an update, and state your commitment
    to stay on the waitlist. This letter should be concise and shorter than one page.

Further communications should reiterate and expand on the first and be spaced about 3 weeks apart. The frequency spacing varies by situation and it’s good to seek advising on this. Keep generating ideas for updates from your life activities. From January through April update letters should emphasize your interest and fit. If you decide to stay on waitlists after that time, you have until the week that classes start to send letters emphasizing that you will go there if they take you.

There is a point when you will run out of material. In that case, don’t be shy. Just drop them short messages stating that you are still looking forward to hearing that they have a seat for you and have not decided where you will go to medical school. One way to freshen up your correspondence is to alternate your messages with one explaining your personal reasons for wanting to attend (geographic proximity, for example) and the second more professional reasons (curriculum, for example). Letters and phone calls from your supporters are also perfectly reasonable ideas to entertain in developing an update strategy.

And finally, a short pep talk. Sometimes it can feel exhausting, stressful, or downright unnatural to compose and send these updates. Psychologically, it’s reasonable that you would feel some things about your medical school admissions process that you don’t want to share, like anger or resentment, or even a loss of self-worth. You might feel like you are losing all dignity and are begging, a feeling you can’t identify with. If you are offered or seek the assistance of any influential people you can call on for help, that might even accentuate your sense
of not being good enough just on your own merits. You need to find a way to let these feelings just move on when they arise. They are not true. You are a person who will contribute greatly to the health of countless people through your lifetime. Medicine needs you–– and don’t you forget it.


Photo by Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash

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