When I started applying to medical schools, I didn’t worry much about rejection. I thought I would write my own ticket.
I had a GPA over 3.9. My MCAT scores were better than the average at the top schools in the country. I had plenty of volunteer and research experience; I was transplanting hearts from guinea pigs to rats to study the effects of different anticoagulants. Who’s going to turn down a 21-year old microxenotransplant surgeon?
Most schools, apparently.
In hindsight, I was a bit overconfident and under-organized. Some of the letters of recommendation went to the wrong schools, and I unknowingly missed some deadlines. Fortunately, I didn’t botch them all and some schools are more forgiving than others; I only had to go through the application process one time.
That’s not true for many applicants who apply, get rejected, boost their applications with new and hopefully better experiences (in the eyes of the selection committees), and try again, often more than a time or two. What you learn in this article may help you avoid that cycle.
Today’s guest post comes from Nadine Evans at BeMo Academic Consulting. She describes BeMo as one of the most sought-after academic consulting firms in the world, famous for helping applicants with admissions to highly competitive programs and its staunch advocacy for fair admissions.
Top 5 Reasons Most Medical School Applicants Get Rejected (And How to Avoid Them)
Getting accepted into medical school isn’t easy, in fact, according to the AAMC, last year, 53,371 applicants competed for just 21,869 positions into MD programs in the United States, meaning 59% of all applicants were rejected.
Importantly, most applicants get rejected before they are invited to any interviews. Facing rejection from medical school is heartbreaking, and the time, cost, and stress of re-applying is nothing short of daunting.
What if you could identify rejection triggers early on, increase your chances of acceptance, and avoid the dreaded rejection letter?
Review these top 5 reasons most medical school applicants get rejected so you can learn to steer clear from the mistakes of others.
#1: Applying to medical school too late.
This is the number 1 reason most medical school applicants get rejected. If you apply late, because of the rolling admissions process, your chances of admissions decrease as more time passes. Applicants that applied earlier are reviewed earlier and begin taking up interview spots. A late applicant may be automatically rejected simply because there are no interview spots remaining.
Another flaw with applying late is that a late application is likely not the best possible application. If you procrastinated on applying in general, you’ve probably also procrastinated with preparing your application early. This means that essential components such as your medical school personal statement and AMCAS work and activities section were likely rushed to try and meet application deadlines.
It’s also important to be aware of the delay that exists between submitting your applications and having them arrive at medical schools. AMCAS verifies each application it receives, and the length of time it takes for verification varies, depending on when an application was submitted. Some students may think they have applied early enough but haven’t accounted for this delay and are shocked to find out their application never made it to a school on time.
Being aware of med school application deadlines is essential; let’s consider AMCAS. It opens in May and begins accepting application submissions in June. As there isn’t a backlog at this point, applications can be verified and transmitted to medical schools within a few days. Later into the application cycle, the delay becomes greater, with July – August applications taking weeks to verify before they can be sent to schools.
To avoid applying too late, it’s best to submit applications as soon as possible in June. July 1st should be the absolute latest that you submit your applications, but even this is risky depending on your GPA and MCAT scores.
#2: Applying to inappropriate schools.
The average student applies to 16 medical schools, however, sometimes students apply to any and every school they’ve heard of to try and increase their odds of acceptance. This strategy often backfires because students fail to do their research on whether or not they meet the school’s admission requirements, including medical school prerequisites, minimum accepted GPA, and MCAT score. This results in countless wasted applications as medical schools will immediately reject applicants that do not meet their selection criteria.
In addition to falling short of meeting admissions requirements, applying blindly also results in a suitability mismatch between the applicant and the medical school. For example, if a school is looking for an applicant with experience in rural areas and you weren’t aware of this so you applied, without this experience, you will likely not be considered.
To combat this issue, you must review a school’s admission criteria to ensure that you meet the minimum requirements. Most schools will also post admission statistics or class profiles of previously accepted students on their website so you can easily compare accepted student’s scores to yours to determine if you will be a competitive applicant. For example, if your GPA is 3.0 and a school’s average accepted GPA is 3.7, it’s probably best for you to apply to another school where you will be more competitive.
Applicants should also review a school’s mission statement and core values to determine if the school’s interests and beliefs line up with their own. Some schools are only interested in selecting in-state applicants with a desire to practice medicine in-state. Others may be looking for candidates with a strong passion for helping underserved communities. Being aware of these factors is essential in both selecting an appropriate medical school and in tailoring your primary and secondary applications.
#3: Including inappropriate experiences in their application.
Some applicants think it’s a good idea to include every single experience they’ve ever had instead of being choosy about which experiences to disclose and which ones to leave out. As a general rule of thumb, any experience that hasn’t been significant in your journey to medicine should not be discussed.
So how can you determine which experiences are significant? If an experience was transformational, helped you think differently, helped you grow, helped you develop a skill set or was pivotal in your pursuit of medicine, then it’s likely a good experience to include.
While shadowing a doctor, teaching, and research are important experiences to include, they are not the only experiences that are valued. Most medical schools are looking for well-rounded individuals that can demonstrate diversity, a variety of non-cognitive skills, and emotional intelligence.
These attributes can be gained or developed by providing service to the community and participating in volunteer activities. Even hobbies such as figure skating or playing an instrument can be paramount in fueling determination, channeling stress or gaining connections. What’s important is including experiences and activities that were deeply affective and will allow you to apply what you’ve learned as you become a physician.
Once you understand what experiences are important to include, it’s easier to determine what should be left out. For example, if you participated in an activity for a summer and didn’t take anything meaningful from that experience, it’s best to exclude it.
This principle should also be applied when filling out the AMCAS work and activities section. Although there is room for up to 15 experiences, it’s best to submit fewer significant experiences instead of many meaningless experiences. Quality is certainly better than quantity here.
So, what is the best way for you to create a strong application? Only include experiences that will highlight your application by showcasing your personal and professional development while demonstrating your commitment to the profession.
#4: Submitting application documents that are not in good order.
Applications that are not in good order are those that are poorly written, contain spelling mistakes, grammar issues, and inconsistent formatting. Students must remember that their written application is a test of their communication skills, and the time and effort they put into it will act as a direct reflection of who they are as a candidate.
Mistakes throughout an application speak louder than any other written words. Despite the time and effort you may spend writing your application, what’s demonstrated to the admissions committee is a lack of interest, a lack of attention to detail, and in turn, unsuitability for the profession.
It is therefore essential to have your application reviewed by someone with an expert eye. This process can take weeks if not months as you continue revising and move between first, second, third and fourth drafts – as long as it takes until your application conveys the best version of yourself. Any published book has had an editor for this very reason, so a medical school application is no different and to ensure it stands out, it should be reviewed by an expert.
#5: Failing to pay attention to the questions being asked.
Finally, the last reason most students get rejected is because they don’t pay attention to the questions that are being asked. While this is also common when applicants are faced with challenging medical school interview questions, it is more prominent during the application stage.
They simply overlook a question and construct a response around what they feel is important to discuss. By not following instructions, the evaluators are left to assume that a student didn’t understand the question or are actively avoiding responding to the question, both assumptions are dangerous. Even if an essay is well written, if it doesn’t address the prompt then it’s not going to receive further consideration.
This is normally evident in medical school secondary essays, personal statements or any other essay type question. Admissions committees often ask “why do you want to be a doctor?” and “why medicine?” in the personal statement of a primary application. These questions are designed to explore an applicant’s motivation for pursuing medicine and to learn how their initial interest turned into commitment and passion.
While there are many different examples of secondary essays for medical school, the majority of them are designed to further assess unique characteristics of each applicant that weren’t already covered in the primary application.
Students have to be very careful when crafting their essays and must read all instructions thoroughly to ensure their response answers any and every question that may be asked. Essays should address each question or prompt directly, clearly and concisely, and should be supported by personal examples.
It isn’t enough to say “I want to pursue medicine because I want to help people.” With competition into medical school growing each year, students need to dive deeper into their experiences and self-reflect in order to demonstrate, not just say, that they want to pursue medicine.
So there you have it! The top 5 reasons that most students get rejected, avoid these items and you’ll be on your way towards acceptance.
BeMo is one of the most sought-after academic consulting firms in the world, famous for helping applicants with admissions to highly competitive programs and its staunch advocacy for fair admissions. You can find them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
What are your top tips for getting into medical school?