Got Placed On A Waitlist For Medical School? What to Do Next

July 9, 2024
5 min read
Contents

”Jonathan

Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 4/30/24

Being waitlisted can feel like a crushing blow, but it's not the end of the road. In fact, it means you're a competitive applicant and still have a real shot at getting into medical school.

Imagine pouring your heart and soul into your lifelong dream, only to be told, "You're good, but not quite good enough." That's the gut-wrenching reality for thousands of medical school applicants each year who find themselves on the waitlist.

You've spent countless hours studying, volunteering, and gaining clinical experience. You've poured your passion into your personal statement and left it all on the table during interviews. But instead of the exhilaration of an acceptance letter, you're left in limbo, wondering if your dream of becoming a doctor will ever come true.

If you're unsure what a medical school waitlist really means or how to navigate this nerve-wracking process, you're in the right place. This comprehensive guide will demystify the waitlist experience and help you learn powerful strategies to go from waitlisted to accepted.

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How Does Medical School Waitlist Work?

Medical schools will put students on a waitlist if they are being considered for acceptance. If another student denies acceptance or withdraws from the waitlist, that could be your ticket into medical school.

When a medical school places an applicant on their waitlist, it means that the candidate is qualified for admission but cannot be offered a spot in the incoming class due to space limitations. However, being on a waitlist is not a rejection; it indicates that the school may offer you a place if a spot becomes available.

After being waitlisted, here are the next steps you should consider:

  1. Confirm your interest: Contact the medical school to confirm your continued interest in attending if a spot opens up. Demonstrate your enthusiasm and commitment to the program.
  2. Provide updates: If you have any new accomplishments, experiences, or grades that could strengthen your application, inform the medical school. Send them an update letter highlighting these new developments.
  3. Stay patient: The waitlist process can extend into the summer. Medical schools typically start offering spots to waitlisted applicants after the regular decision deadline, usually around late April or early May.
  4. Have a backup plan: While waiting, consider alternative options such as accepting an offer from another medical school or planning for a gap year to strengthen your application for the next cycle.
  5. Prepare for a quick response: If you receive an offer from the waitlist, be prepared to make a decision quickly. Medical schools often give a short window, sometimes just a few days, to accept the offer.

It's important to note that the waitlist process varies among medical schools. Some schools rank their waitlist, while others do not. The number of students accepted from the waitlist also differs each year based on the number of available spots.

If a spot does not open up, consider it an opportunity to reflect on your application and identify areas for improvement. You can always reapply in the next cycle with a stronger application.

A majority of medical schools only interview 10-15% of all students who apply. So if you passed the interview stage, you’re already ahead of most applicants. Don’t get discouraged; instead, you should put all your efforts into getting off of the waitlist.

Around mid-October, medical schools start sending out acceptance letters. Many schools send out more acceptance letters than available seats in the entering class. They do this because they know that some students will not accept their offer. Since schools cannot know how many students will accept or decline their offer, they create a waitlist. This waitlist helps to fill any voids in the class. The list gives the next most qualified student a chance to join the med school class. Once students start declining offers, students on the waitlist begin taking their place. 

There are two types of medical school waitlists: the pre-interview waitlist and the post-interview waitlist. As the name suggests, the first one is the waitlist before you reach the interview stage, and the second one is after you complete your interview.

How To Get Off A Waitlist for Medical School

If you find yourself on a medical school waitlist, it's normal to feel discouraged. But don't forget that being waitlisted is still an accomplishment and you have a real chance of getting accepted. While the final decision rests with the admissions committee, there are proactive steps you can take to improve your odds of being admitted off the waitlist.

You should let the school know of your interest in getting off the waitlist and your commitment to attending their school. To do so, you should stay in touch with them and keep updating them about any changes in your application. 

Each time a position becomes available in the entering class, it’s an opportunity for you to get off the waitlist. If you want to communicate with the school or the admissions committee, check the school’s contact policy first. Some schools might prefer to be contacted over the phone or via email. 

It’s also worth noting that some schools are open to receiving update letters, letters of intent, and other such documents, while some schools do not allow them at all. So make sure you understand the policies before getting in touch.

Send Update Letters

One popular way to catch the admission committee’s attention is to send them update letters. These letters prove that you are motivated to gain admission to the school. If you have obtained a new and better MCAT score, inform the admissions committee. 

You can also mention any accomplishments you have made in the medical field after submitting your application or completing your interview. Any additional letters of recommendation or publications are also note-worthy additions. Make sure you check the school’s policy on accepting these documents as well as the deadlines for sending them.

Demonstrate Your Commitment and Passion

To truly stand out to the admissions committee, go beyond just sending documents. Look for opportunities to engage with the school community and express your genuine interest.

If possible, attend open houses, information sessions, or other events hosted by the medical school. Visit the campus and try to meet with admissions staff, faculty, or current students. Introduce yourself professionally and express your strong desire to attend their program.

Participate actively in any events or activities that align with your interests and the school's mission. For example, if they host a lecture series on healthcare disparities and that's a key area of interest for you, attend and contribute to the discussion. If there are opportunities to volunteer or get involved with the school's community outreach efforts, jump on them.

The goal is to demonstrate your dedication through actions, not just words. By making an effort to engage with the school community and show how you would be an involved, committed student, you'll make a positive impression on the admissions team. They want students who are enthusiastic about their program and will actively contribute.

Keep your contact information up-to-date

Always make sure that your contact information is up to date on your application. If you change your phone number or email address, update it on the application. 

Medical schools set a deadline for applicants to accept their offer. If you miss the deadline, you will lose out on the opportunity of getting accepted. Make sure to keep checking your emails for any new updates or messages. 

Purpose of a Medical School Waitlist

The main purposes of a medical school waitlist are to prevent overbooking or underbooking the incoming class, improve the overall yield of accepted students, and provide a polite way to delay final rejection for some applicants. Medical schools have a set number of seats available, so waitlists guarantee they fill all spots without exceeding their class size.

Prevent Overbooking or Underbooking

All medical schools have a specified number of available seats for applicants. Schools send out offer letters to qualified students but do not want to overfill or underfill the classes. The method of waitlisting helps them to accept the correct number of students for their entering class.

Improving the Overall Yield Rate

All top medical schools want to enroll the best candidates. The medical school admissions committee goes through each student’s application materials carefully to select the best candidates—one aspect of a medical school’s rank depends on its acceptance rates. 

If medical schools accept students without going through strict policies, competitive students may not even desire to attend the school. If this happens, it will lower the rank of the medical school. These lists allow schools to accept only the best candidates, which improves the overall yield rate. 

Politely Letting Go of Rejected Applicants

Schools may use waitlists as a way to let go of rejected applicants. This tends to occur after interviews when the admissions committee feels an applicant is not the optimal fit for their program but still deserves recognition for making it to that stage.

By waitlisting these candidates initially, schools can let them down more gently, often informing them later that they will not be offered a spot in the incoming class. While disappointing, this approach aims to soften the blow of not being accepted.

Possible Reasons of Why You May Get Waitlisted

If you’re put on a waitlist, don’t stress; many waitlisted students still see acceptance if they’re patient and persevere. There are many reasons why you could be put on a waitlist once you apply. 

1. Highly Competitive Applicant Pool

One of the main reasons you may find yourself on the waitlist is simply the intense competition for limited spots at medical schools. Top programs often receive thousands of highly qualified applicants for only 100-200 seats per class. With so many outstanding candidates, some will inevitably end up waitlisted despite strong credentials.

2. Borderline Metrics

While you may have an excellent overall application, having a GPA or MCAT score on the lower end of a school's typical admitted student range can land you on the waitlist. Schools want to see that you can handle the rigorous medical curriculum. Borderline grades or test scores, even with other standout attributes, may give them pause.

3. Concerns About "Fit"

Med schools don't just evaluate applicants by the numbers. They are building a diverse class and looking for candidates who fit their campus’ mission and culture. If your application doesn't convey how you would contribute to their program and learning environment, it could lead to a waitlist decision as they consider other applicants who they consider a better match.

4. Limited Clinical Experience

Extensive clinical experience, either paid or through volunteering, demonstrates your interest in medicine and patient care. If you lack hands-on exposure to the field compared to other applicants, it can raise questions about how well you understand the challenges and rewards of a medical career.

5. Weak Recommendation Letters

Your recommendation letters provide key insights into your character, abilities, and potential as a future physician. If your letters come across as generic, unenthusiastic, or raise red flags about your suitability for medicine, they could definitely contribute to a waitlist decision. It's important to select recommenders who know you well and can speak compellingly about your qualifications.

6. Uncompelling Essays

Your personal statement, secondary essays, and any other writing required by schools are your opportunity to show who you are as a person and why you are driven to become a doctor. If your essays fail to convey your passion, tell your story authentically, and help you stand out from the crowd, a waitlist decision may follow as schools look for candidates who made a more compelling case for themselves.

Despite being put on a waitlist, know that the waitlist is not the end of the road - many applicants do ultimately gain admission from the waitlist. By understanding these common reasons for being waitlisted, you can assess your application honestly and identify areas to improve if you find yourself in this position. Stay positive, persistent, and patient!

Medical School Waitlist Timings 

A medical school waitlist could last a few weeks to a few months. The majority of colleges notify applicants by July, clearing their waitlist. Some schools do not clear their waitlist until orientation day in August.

In most cases, acceptance letters are sent out to students by March because of the AAMC Traffic rules.  These Traffic Rules state that the AAMC is to be informed of all application decisions by mid-March. 

In most cases, selected applicants have to notify schools by the end of April if they wish to be enrolled or not. Applicants cannot hold multiple acceptances at this time and need to give up all other offers except their desired school choice. More and more seats start becoming available as the deadlines approach. 

After the end of April, most students on the waitlist who will be admitted will receive their acceptance letters. At the beginning of May, most schools have a good understanding of how many students are joining their classes. They’ll also better understand any unfilled positions and will start sending out acceptances to waitlisted students to fill the positions.

What To Do While Waiting on a Medical School Waitlist

If you are on a waitlist for medical school, attend workshops, seminars, or other networking opportunities. This shows that you’re committed to the field of medicine and also bolsters your future applications. 

Instead of just waiting in limbo, consider taking proactive steps to improve your situation and make alternate plans.

1. Assess Your Options

First, honestly evaluate your application and waitlist status. If you applied late in the admissions cycle, that could be a major factor in being waitlisted rather than accepted outright. In this case, re-applying earlier in the next cycle could be your best bet. You can use this time to strengthen your application.

If the waitlisting seems more related to a lower GPA or limited medical experience, you have options to improve those areas. Consider taking additional coursework to boost your GPA, pursuing research or clinical opportunities, or retaking the MCAT if your score was on the lower end.

2. Gain Relevant Experience

A gap year can be valuable if tackled effectively. Look for employment or volunteer positions in the medical field to gain hands-on patient care experience and show your commitment to medicine. This could include working as a scribe, EMT, clinical research assistant, or in various healthcare settings.

Pursuing research, publications, conferences, and other scholarly activities is also a great use of your time. It demonstrates your intellectual curiosity and ability to contribute to the field. Any achievements can be excellent updates to send to waitlist schools.

3. Strengthen Your Application

In addition to gaining experience, take a critical look at your med school application. Were there any weak points like lackluster recommendation letters or unfocused essays? If so, consider asking for new letters and reworking your personal statement. You may also want to add new information that strengthens your narrative and motivation for medicine.

If you do decide to re-apply while waiting, having an improved application ready to go can help you get an earlier start in the next cycle. Remember, the key is to improve your candidacy, not just get a second chance.

4. Stay In Touch

You absolutely should communicate to schools you’re on the waitlist for that they remain a top choice and that you would accept an offer. Send a well-crafted letter of intent expressing your strong and specific interest.

As you gain new experiences and accomplishments, send periodic update letters to the admissions office. Just be judicious and respectful of their time and communication policies. You want to demonstrate interest and improvement, not be off-putting.

5. Make a Backup Plan

While it's great to be optimistic, it's also prudent to make alternate plans in case you aren't admitted from the waitlist. This may mean preparing to re-apply, pursuing a different career path, or taking steps to improve your academic record and competitiveness. The key is to be proactive and not let yourself be paralyzed by uncertainty.

How you approach a medical school waitlist depends on your situation and goals. But taking strategic action is almost always better than inaction. Stay positive, persistent, and focused on your growth. With some effort and persistence, you may get that waitlist acceptance. If not, you'll be well-positioned for the next steps in your journey.


FAQs

If you require more information on medical school waitlists, our FAQ section has you covered. Below, you’ll find answers to some of the most common questions.

1. How Many People are Put on a Waitlist?

The number of waitlisted students can range between 30 to 600. Recently, the University of Virginia placed 175 students on their waitlist, so it depends on the school you’re applying to.

2. How Long Should I Wait on a Medical School Waitlist?

You should wait until they’ve filled up every spot available in their school, which schools will send out an email or notification. In the meantime, have backup options and improve your application.

3. How Do Students Get Accepted From a Waitlist?

The only way to get accepted from a waitlist is if another student declines admission or removes themself from the waitlist. Many students decline admission, which opens a door for someone else.

4. What is a Ranked and Unranked Waitlist?

In a ranked waitlist, students are accepted in a top-down order as spots open. An unranked waitlist chooses from a range of applicants whenever a seat is open. Whoever gets accepted depends on factors like application strength.

5. Can I Decline a Waitlist Offer?

Yes, you can decline a waitlist offer by withdrawing your application. If you get accepted at a school you like and decide to attend, you should decline your waitlist offers at other schools.

6. Is it Better to Be Waitlisted or Rejected?

It’s much better to be waitlisted than to be rejected. Students on the waitlist still have a good chance of acceptance, whereas rejection is assured denial.

Final Thoughts

Finding yourself on a medical school waitlist can be an emotional rollercoaster. The uncertainty of your status and what to do next can feel overwhelming. But remember, being waitlisted is a significant accomplishment. You've already outperformed many applicants and demonstrated strong potential.

The key is to stay positive, proactive, and persistent. Use this time wisely to enhance your candidacy. Keep the admissions committee updated on your latest achievements, whether that's an improved MCAT score, a new research publication, or meaningful clinical experience. Reiterate your sincere interest in their program through a well-crafted letter of intent.

Most importantly, don't let the waitlist define you or deter you from your dreams. You've worked incredibly hard to reach this point, and that tenacity will serve you well no matter the outcome. Stay focused on your goals, lean on your support system, and keep perservering. Good luck!

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