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Reapplying to Medical School: Strategies for Success



Data from the Association of American Medical Colleges show that in the 2015-2016 application cycle there were 52,536 individuals who applied to medical school. Of that number 14,087 were reapplicants who had previously applied to medical school without success. Why were these applicants rejected and what can they do to have a better outcome in the future? The obvious answer is that there were problems with their applications, some clear and others perhaps less so. The key to reapplicants’ success is to figure out what’s wrong with the application and take the time necessary to fix the problems before reapplying.

Take a close, honest look at the possible deficiencies in your application. Think carefully about what you can do to address areas of weakness. Will you be able to make improvements in enough time to go immediately into the next application cycle? It depends on the problem. If you truly want to go to medical school you may have to take time to turn around your application. Here are common areas of weakness that should be addressed in any medical school application, along with strategies for improvement:

1. Weak GPA:  The first thing medical schools look at in any application is the hard data (GPA + MCAT score) since the numbers allow med schools to compare one applicant against another. The GPA indicates (along with the MCAT score; see below) whether or not you’re prepared for the rigor of medical school. Past academic success usually predicts future success, thus the schools are looking for strong numbers. A strong GPA is usually in the 3.65+ range, depending on the school; some are slightly lower (but not many) and most are higher. The GPA is inspected in a myriad of ways but the biology/chemistry/physics/math (BCPM) GPA is an indication of your science preparedness and, as such, is heavily weighed. If your BCPM is lower than your other GPAs it might indicate weakness in science and thus the possibility that you might struggle in medical school.

2. Low MCAT:  The MCAT truly allows med schools to compare applicants from different schools. Since grading schemes (and inflation) can vary from school to school the MCAT score is the equalizer; it allows med schools to assess the strength of one applicant vs. another. A competitive MCAT score is usually in the 31-32+ range on the old MCAT, with some variability (a few schools’ averages are lower but most are higher and the top-ranked schools’ averages are usually in the 35-36+ range). Since we just concluded the first year of admission using the new MCAT, it remains to be seen what the median MCAT score is for accepted applicants at a range of schools.

Strategy for Success—GPA and MCAT: If your numbers (GPA and/or MCAT) are out of these ranges consider what you can do to improve them (look in the Medical School Admission Requirements for schools’ medians and national norms). There are a number of options but it all depends on your circumstance—whether you’re an undergrad, post-bac, or nontraditional student, the number of previous courses you have taken, and your facility at taking standardized test scores. Strategies for improvement—how to effect real change in both a GPA and MCAT score—can entail additional courses (the number needed will depend on the GPA) and retaking the MCAT using different strategies. I offer specific strategies to my clients to ensure their success.

3. A Lack of Clinical Experience: Do you have enough medical experience to show that you have tested your interest in the medical profession and know what you’re getting into?  Medical schools want to see ample experience as proof of your commitment, demonstration of your altruism, and as evidence of your comfort in a medical setting. If you’ve only shadowed a few doctors for a day at a time you haven’t shown sufficiently to the med schools that you’ve explored your interest in medicine.

Strategy for Success—Clinical Experience:  If you lack experience, seek out opportunities to fix this. Volunteering in a clinical setting is something that you would want to do, anyway, if you truly want to be a doctor. If you haven’t spent any time in a hospital, and only shadowed doctors in private practice, go to a hospital and get accustomed to the sights, sounds, smells, and sometimes chaos. Prove that you know what’s ahead by making a commitment to volunteering for a long period of time (at least several months and preferably much more).

4. A Sloppy Application: Did you spend enough time on your application to write careful and thoughtful essays (both the personal statement and experience descriptions)? Did you cogently express your goals, describe the experiences that tested your impulse to pursue a career in medicine, and artfully delineate your background and path to your chosen profession?  If not, that can be a roadblock to getting into medical school. A poorly written and sloppy personal statement can keep you out of medical school.

Strategy for Success—Written Materials:  If you haven’t already done so, read carefully the application you submitted previously. Be sure that you expressed yourself well. If you’re not sure how to assess your written materials have an advisor provide input and valuable feedback. Be sure that you get insight from someone with experience reading a lot of medical school applications. Be sure there were no actual mistakes in your application (spelling errors, words omitted, etc.). If your application is rife with errors you will not get in; errors in the application are simply not tolerated. Doctors have to pay attention to details; if you can’t pay attention to the details in your application it’s a sign that you don’t have what it takes to be a physician. And this is an easy thing to fix!

5. Only a Few Extracurricular/Work Experiences:  How many entries did you have in the experiences section of the application? Med schools like individuals who are busy, engaged meaningfully with “extra” activities, and who make a commitment to their communities. If you only had five experiences it’s likely that you weren’t viewed as a contributor to your community.

Strategy for Success—Extracurricular/Other Activities:  You should take the time necessary to get involved in a number of activities to show your commitment. A future medical school application would be improved by doing so. Successful applicants usually have a plethora of activities to put in their med school application or they have done a few things in incredible depth (multiple year commitments, leadership roles, etc).

Some of the above areas of possible weakness are relatively easy to fix, while others take more time and effort. The GPA could take time to improve, depending on the science GPA and number of prior courses taken. The MCAT may need to be retaken if it’s the issue; it’s possible that new study strategies need to be used to see an improvement in your score. If you lack clinical experience you can fix that but it takes time. The same is true for a general lack of experiences.

One thing reapplicants should keep in mind is that getting to medical school is not a race; it’s now how quickly you get there but whether you actually do. Sometimes it’s crucial to take the necessary time to make real improvements in an application to have a positive outcome.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting


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