Why Was I Placed On A Waitlist For Medical School?

February 20, 2024


Reviewed by:

Luke Hartstein

Former Admissions Committee Member, NYU Grossman School of Medicine

Reviewed: 5/18/22

It can be very upsetting to invest time, energy, and money on a particular task and not move forward. Speaking in terms of medical school, many times, despite all the hard work and dedication you put into pursuing your career, you could be placed on a waitlist for medical school. 

Though you might have had an exceptional interview, you should know that many students are placed on a waitlist after their interviews each year. If you are unsure what a waitlist is or how it works, you are in the perfect place.

This guide will provide you with all the details you need to know about waitlists, including the most critical factor: how to get off a medical school waitlist.

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What is a Waitlist for Medical School?

In simple terms, after each medical school interview, three things can happen. You could be accepted, waitlisted, or rejected. 

If you are placed on a waitlist, you will no doubt be feeling many mixed emotions. Not being accepted right away may upset you, but you need to know that just being placed on the waitlist is an accomplishment. Most medical schools only interview 10-15% of all students who apply.

So if you made it through to 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 waitlists. 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.

Purpose of a Medical School Waitlist

After being placed on a waitlist, most students wonder about the medical school waitlist’s purpose. “Is this a soft rejection?” “Are there no more seats?” If you are one of the many students who wonder this, review the main purposes of the medical school waitlist:

  • Prevent overbooking or underbooking the incoming class
  • Improving the overall yield
  • Politely letting go of rejected applicants.

1. Prevent Overbooking or Underbooking

All medical schools have a specified number of available seats for applicants. Schools cannot just keep adding students because it is expensive to provide too many students training.

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 precisely the correct number of students for their entering class.

2. Improving the Overall Yield

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. It is because of this that medical schools have waitlists. These lists allow schools to accept only the best candidates, which improves the overall yield. 

3. Politely Letting go of Rejected Applicants

In a few cases, schools might use a waitlist as a gentle way to let go of rejected applicants. It mostly happens post-interview, where schools might not let go of a candidate out rightly but place them on a waitlist and later inform them they will not be asked to attend.

Waitlist Timings 

Waiting can be very frustrating. You are bound to feel unsure about what to do next, and your schedule may feel unpredictable. It becomes more frustrating because you don’t know how long you need to wait before the admissions committee makes a decision.

If you have been put on a waitlist post-interview, your waiting time can be between a few weeks and a few months. A lot of schools prefer to clear their waitlist by mid-July. However, some schools do not clear their waitlist until orientation day in August. It is tough to know how long you will have to wait before the waitlist is cleared. 

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 fair understanding of how many students are joining their class.

They’ll also better understand any unfilled positions and will start sending out acceptances to waitlisted students to fill the positions. Students on the waitlist might further give up their seats. This process can go on until right before orientation day in some cases.

What To Do While Waiting

If you are on a waitlist and have no other acceptance offers, simply waiting is not a good option. You likely have no idea where you stand on a waitlist because many medical schools do not disclose this information. You should consider alternate options while you are waiting and have no other acceptance offers.

Re-applying in the next cycle is one of the best choices if you were late in the admission cycle. You can consider taking up a job in the medical field during this time, or you can take additional courses to strengthen your application before re-applying.

There is no straight answer to this but just make sure that you are not forced into taking a gap year. Have a clear idea of your plans and decide accordingly. Use this time to gain a better idea of what you want and how to go about it.

How To Get Off A Waitlist for Medical School

While you are on a waitlist, it’s normal to feel discouraged. But don’t forget that being on a waitlist is an accomplishment, and you still have a chance to get accepted. Though the final decision lies with the admissions committee, you can always do your bit to get off a waitlist for medical school. 

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.

Here are four things that you can do to get off a waitlist:

  • Send a letter of intent
  • Send update letters 
  • Show dedication
  • Keep your contact information up-to-date. 

1. Send a Letter of Intent

The first thing you should do while you are on a waitlist is to send a letter of intent. This letter will let the admissions committee know that their school is your number one choice and that you are passionate about getting accepted to their school.

The admission committee does not always consider the most qualified applicant. They are in search of applicants who are qualified but who will also not reject their admission offer.

Everyone on their waitlist is likely qualified, so they will prefer students who have shown interest in the school rather than someone they haven’t heard from. You need to stand out to catch their attention.

Keep in mind that you should only send a letter of intent to your top school choice and not to various schools. Sending a letter of intent to multiple schools is unethical as well as unprofessional. 

2. Send Update Letters

Another 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.

The admissions committee will consider this information while re-evaluating your application. 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.

3. Show Dedication

To stand out from your competitors, you need to think outside the box. You should not just send in documents; you should also try to attend open houses, visit the school, and meet the admissions committee members. Introduce yourself to them in a friendly manner. 

Show them that you are dedicated. Participate in any events that may interest you. Doing all of this will help to create a fantastic impression on the admissions committees. 

4. 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. Doing so is very important to get off the waitlist. The reason behind this is that most medical schools set a deadline for applicants to accept their offer. The time given depends on the school.

If you miss the deadline, you will miss the opportunity of getting accepted. So along with making sure that your contact information is up to date, keep checking your emails and messages.

Why have I been placed on a waitlist for medical school



1. Why have I been put on a waitlist?

You may have been placed on a waitlist for two reasons. First, you submitted your application late.

All interview spots might have been filled even before you submitted your application. Second, you did not do well in every area of your application or interview. The admissions committee might be looking for someone who has more varied strengths in their application.

2. How many people are put on a waitlist?

Unfortunately, there is no way to ascertain the specific number of people who are on a waitlist. To add to this uncertainty, the number of people on a waitlist depends on the particular school and may vary each year. Some schools mention the number and rank of students currently on the waitlist, while some don’t. 

3. How long should I wait?

There is no correct answer to this question. Some schools give applicants their final decision a few weeks after releasing the waitlist, while others wait until just before the orientation day to make a final decision. How long you should wait depends entirely on your future goals and your career timeline. 

4. On what basis are students accepted from the waitlist?

Most medical schools do not reveal exactly how they choose to accept students on the waitlist—however, many medical schools view applications holistically. The total number of available seats is considered, and students are then admitted to fill any voids.

The admissions committees will likely look at grades, test scores, interview scores, your personal statement, and letters of recommendation before deciding.

5. What is a ranked and unranked waitlist?

There are two kinds of waitlists: ranked and unranked. In a ranked waitlist, students are accepted in a top-down order as spots open. On the other hand, an unranked waitlist chooses from a wide range of applicants whenever a seat is open. Who gets accepted depends on various factors such as application strength.

6. 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. This way, you help another student who is on a waitlist. 

7. Is it better to be waitlisted or rejected?

Do keep in mind that being waitlisted is an accomplishment. The best part about being on a waitlist is that you might still be accepted. Many students are put on a waitlist each year before finally gaining acceptance.


Being placed on a waitlist for medical school can be very frustrating. It becomes challenging to decide what to do next because the admission committee’s decision is unknown. All you need to do is be positive and not give up. You are already ahead of many students if you have made it to the waitlist stage.

While you’re waiting, you can keep yourself busy by making updates to your application, working, gaining hands-on experience in the medical field, volunteering, or even taking courses to improve your GPA.

You have come this far only because you have what it takes. So keep the admissions committee updated on your progress and before you know it, you’ll be off the waitlist.

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