Reapplying to Medical School: How to Excel the 2nd Time Around

Padya Paramita

Reapplying to Medical School: How to Excel the 2nd Time Around

It’s become a notoriously well-known fact that gaining admission to medical school is incredibly tough. In the 2019-2020 cycle, only 41% of applicants actually matriculated into any MD and DO institution. So, if you weren’t accepted on your first try, you’re definitely not alone. Now, you’re considering reapplying to medical school. Without a doubt, you’ve got to work extremely hard on your application materials in order to convince admissions committees that you do have what it takes to grow into a capable physician. 

There are many possible reasons behind an applicant being denied admission to medical school the first time: low GPA or MCAT score, unsatisfactory performance in the interview round, late AMCAS submission, or essays that might not have been compelling. To guide you through how to turn your luck around as you prepare for reapplying to medical school, we’ve provided a bigger picture of how many students apply and reapply, discussed how admissions committees view reapplicants, and gone over the factors that you should reconsider to make sure your application makes it to the “yes” pile.

What the Data Looks Like for Reapplicants

One of the biggest questions reapplicants have is what their chances look like and how successful those in their shoes have been in the past. Although there’s no specific data for how many reapplicants are ultimately accepted by MD programs, the AAMC states that during the 2018 application cycle, 38,483 (73%) were first-time applicants, and 14,294 (27%) were reapplicants. So, there is still a pretty significant number of students who want another shot at their medical school dreams. 

As a candidate who is reapplying to medical school, you’re not only in competition with first time applicants, but you also have the added pressure of being compared to students who are in the same position as you when going through the process all over again. So it makes sense that most pre-med committees at prestigious universities encourage applicants to not reapply the immediate cycle after which they’ve been rejected by medical schools. For example, Brown states, “Before you re-apply, carefully consider the factors which did not enable you to gain admission during your first application. Evaluate your previous application and ensure that you address areas that may not have been the strongest before you reapply.”

So, you must take time to really reflect on where you went wrong and work hard to improve in those areas instead of rushing to submit only a few months after you’ve just received your admissions decision. 

How Do Admissions Offices View Reapplicants?

If you’re reapplying to medical school, it’s understandable that you’re wondering whether submitting your profile a second time puts you at a disadvantage with admissions committees. The straightforward answer is no — but know that you will need to show concrete improvement. Obviously, it will not benefit you to upload the exact same application that you did the first time — you will unfortunately find yourself with more nos. Admissions committees expect reapplicants to have reevaluated where they went wrong or could have improved. They want your file to convey how you have strengthened your profile in terms of clinical experience, increased volunteering hours, and whether you’ve further reflected on why medicine appeals to you and repositioned your personal statement to demonstrate your dedication to medicine.

More importantly, it’s essential that instead of trying to spread yourself across all of these areas, you reflect on exactly where your application needs boosting. If you’ve got enough volunteering experience, focus on research or patient interaction. When admissions committees note that you’re reapplying to medical school, they want to see development.

Hear from a Reapplicant on How to Get it Right the Second Time!



How to Excel the Second Time Around

As you look through your first application and think about how to boost your candidacy, it’s time to start reflecting on where you might have gone wrong last time. Hopefully you’ve still got your essays, school list, and MCAT information as you formulate your reapplication plan. Go through each component and keep the following steps in mind.

Re-Evaluate Your School List

It may seem obvious but when it comes to reapplying to medical school, you need to think about where you applied and how that played into your admissions decisions. If you only applied to 10 medical schools, that is not enough to bolster your chances. Students usually send their file to 25-30 institutions to make sure they’ve fully maximized their odds. Given the competitiveness to get into any institute at all, there really is no “safety” per se in the medical school application world. However, if you only applied to only Ivies or top 10 schools, you should definitely expand your list— and to be on the safe side, it could be wise to consider DO and Caribbean institutions as well. Look at your profile and be realistic about what is in reach for you.

DO schools bring a unique philosophy to the table, and it might be that the programs that you applied to initially did not resonate with your particular approach to medicine. Not all students fit every medical institution. If you believe that you are more invested in holistic care of the body, thus aligning with the DO philosophy, strategize your list accordingly.  As you take a year or two to regroup, put some time and effort into really researching each school and what it looks for from students — both in terms of numbers and extracurriculars, but also in personality and character. 

Think Critically About Your Numbers

The bottom line is, many applicants to not get admitted the first time around because their academic profile isn’t up to par. Numbers are definitely very important in helping admissions committees determine your fit for a school. If your GPA isn’t up to the mark, you should take post bac courses, particularly science classes, to boost your scores. If your MCAT is in the low 500s, this is also a circumstance in which you have to retake the exam before reapplying to medical school. Analyze the data for admitted students of programs that interest you. Unless you have an extremely compelling story, or your personal statement blows the reader away — and perhaps even then — your stats should meet or exceed the average numbers. 

Think About Filters Placed by Medical Schools

If you’re wondering whether or not you have to change your activities and experiences section, note that you can include the same activities — but think about adding new ones as well to show admissions committees that you haven’t remained complacent. You should also consider rewording and updating the previous descriptions to include more details of your involvement. Prioritize tangible achievements and quantitative data so that the reader can get a sense of your dedication and what you accomplished. 

As you look over this section, reflect on where you lacked experience the first time around. What can you add to your profile that can help genuinely boost your candidacy? Think about the core competencies for entering medical students as recommended by the AAMC:

  • Service Orientation
  • Social Skills
  • Cultural Competence
  • Teamwork
  • Oral Communication
  • Ethical Responsibility to Self and Others
  • Reliability and Dependability
  • Resilience and Adaptability
  • Capacity for Improvement
  • Critical Thinking
  • Quantitative Reasoning
  • Scientific Inquiry
  • Written Communication
  • Living Systems
  • Human Behavior

You definitely don’t need experiences that meet all 15 of these. But your profile must demonstrate your capabilities through your activities. Some medical schools have filters that check whether candidates meet extracurricular requirements in terms of shadowing, research, and volunteering. If you had a lot of volunteering hours the first time around, it wouldn’t be strategic to spend the majority of your time doing the same thing. Instead, take a step back and consider whether you had enough experience when it came to research or shadowing. If you already had research on your file, try and see whether you can get an article published in a journal. Or, you can focus more on shadowing and see whether you can find any experiences specifically surrounding your specialty of interest. Admissions committees want to see that you’ve actively taken steps to improve — so don’t consider your extracurriculars perfect and move on without consideration of where you can grow.

Alongside meeting the filters through increased involvement, think carefully about how you’re spending your time. Don’t just blindly do what others are doing and shadow a random doctor or say yes to the first research opportunity that emails you back. Tailor these experiences to your specific interests. If you’re drawn to pediatrics and your entire application theme surrounds working with children, it wouldn’t make sense for you to suddenly start working with elderly patients. Think about how you can stand out among the competition. 

Rewrite Your Personal Statement

A crucial part of reapplying to medical school is rewriting your personal statement. No matter how good you think it must have been the last time, remember that admissions officers want to see growth. Because you’re still the same person, your values and reasoning behind wanting a career in medicine can and should remain the same, otherwise the reader may question your authenticity. However, the anecdotes you use should be different — help admissions committees understand you better and get a clearer picture of why you’re an applicant who has the potential to become a wonderful physician. Plus, admissions committee members always want to know who you are today — you need to update your essay to be relevant and reflect who you are in the present.

Practice Your Interview Skills

If you had received multiple interview requests last time but ended up not receiving acceptance letters from any medical school, signs point to a need of better interview prep. Go over common questions asked by medical school interviews as well as different formats through which schools host these conversations so that you’re ready for individual interviews, group ones, as well as MMIs. Revise any answers you believe could have been more nuanced last time, such as your reason behind wishing to become a doctor, what you like about a particular program, and the unique perspective you can bring to the school. Once you reach the interview phase, you are so close. Do everything you can to make sure that you’re setting yourself up for success.

Submit Your Application Earlier

Last but not the least, remember that timing can make all the difference in terms of how admissions committees read your application. You should aim to submit your application as soon as the AMCAS is open for submission. If you’re applying in the 2020-21 cycle, you’ve probably heard that the AMCAS will transmit all files on July 10. So, you should aim to send in your primary application materials two weeks before the 10th so that the AMCAS can process your documents and send it to schools to be read at the top of the pile. When it comes to secondary applications, make sure you send your responses within the recommended two-week turnaround. With a process this cutthroat, the little things can also make all the difference.

The road to medical school is far from easy. If you are 100% sure that this is where you see yourself in the future, don’t lose hope after being denied the first time around. Even though you might have worked hard during your last admissions cycle, when you’re reapplying to medical school, you’ve got to step up even further. It’s time to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start reflecting on how you can convince the admissions committees that you were made for this profession. Good luck!

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