Medicine From The Trenches

Experiences from undergradute, graduate school, medical school, residency and beyond.

What do you do if you don’t get into medical school?

Let’s say that you have submitted your application and it’s late in the year. You have received no invitations for interview and since it’s now April, your chances of getting invited for interview and gaining acceptance are getting slimmer and slimmer. What are you going to do now? Since the day that you entered undergraduate studies, you have contemplated the study of medicine but at this point, it’s looking like you are not going to be a member of the upcoming year’s starting medical classes. What are you going to do?

Your current application

The first thing that you need to do is pull out a copy of your current application and take a long and objective look at it. Was your personal statement well-written and an accurate reflection of your goals in medicine? Did you illustrate strong extracurricular activities that showed your interest in your fellow humans? Was your undergraduate GPA competitive within the context of the schools that you applied to? Were your scores on the Medical College Admissions Test competitive within the context of the schools that you applied to?

What can you do about improving your application?

If you contemplate reapplying for next year, the first thing that you have to do is upgrade any and all things that were a liability for you in the current year. This might mean taking a course or re-taking the MCAT and making sure that your score is significantly higher. This means reworking your entire application including revamping your personal statement. If your application didn’t work for this year, it’s not likely that it is going to work for you next year. Don’t let laziness creep into this process. You have to be proactive and willing to do anything and everything that will increase your chances for success next year. The major reason that people do not get into medical school is overestimation of their competitiveness within the context of the pool of applicants to the schools that they applied to. Be sure to take a long and objective look at yourself and your competitiveness. Being less competitive does not mean you are a “lesser person” but it does mean that you may need to do what works for you and not what “hype”  or “wishful thinking” tells you. At this point, you have to get into medical school to become a physician. The reputation of a school that does not accept you will not help you achieve that goal.

The applicant pool

Every year since I have been working with medical school admissions, two things have been generally true. The undergraduate GPAs/MCAT scores of the applicant pool have been increasing and the number of application to my two schools have been increasing. We attribute the increase in the number of applicants to the generally poor economy and we attribute the increase in academic scores to both grade inflation (at some colleges ) and an increasing number of folks who use test prep companies for the MCAT. We are well versed in the undergraduate schools that practice grade inflation and we look very carefully at the patterns in the MCAT scores.  Larger applicant pool and higher uGPA/MCAT scores mean that we are using much of the entire application to make our decisions as to whom we will invite for interview.

The URM myth

Both of my medical schools have about 1% URM representation in any given class. It is entirely a myth that being an Underrepresented Minority in Medicine is an automatic entry into medical school no matter what is on your application. We just don’t “hand out” seats in our freshman medical class for having a certain ethnicity. One of the prime forces for us is making sure that every student who is admitted will successfully get through four years of a very tough curriculum. The material to be mastered knows no color or ethnicity. In the past, with our admissions formula, we have been pretty fortunate in that our graduation rate in four or five years is greater than 99%. In general, those people who graduate in five rather than four years have some extenuating circumstances that have prevented them for continuing with their class not because they were not well-qualified in the first place. Some of the five-year graduates have been URM but are not.  The greatest thing that URM confers is that URM physicians are likely to work with URM communities which in today’s world, is a good investment. Make no mistake, while some URM acceptees may have lower uGPAs and MCAT scores, they generally have “smoked” other applicants in things like personal statement, letters of recommendation and volunteer experience. With few exceptions, our URM graduates have gone on to distinguished medical careers and strong service to their communities.

Feelings that you are somehow inferior

This turns out to be a huge factor in whether or not a re-applicant will be successful on the second try. There are far more applicants than seats in medical school period. If you don’t get in, it is generally because you were not a good “fit” for the year in which you applied or you made some poor decisions in terms of the schools that you applied to again you were not a good “fit”. You can reassess your situation, change the things on your application that you can change and reapply stronger. There is very little difference in a student who is accepted and a student who is not accepted in any given year. You would be quite surprised to learn how close many “rejected” students actually came to an acceptance. Those folks who are wait-listed were definite acceptances but were a bit further down the list in terms of being offered a seat. They are definitely “alternates” but we just felt more strongly about the people who were offered admission.

Graduate school

In general, if you are NOT interested in graduate school, don’t undertake a graduate degree to enhance your application. If you have developed a passionate interest in Public Health or Business and you can complete your degree in one year or so, then obtain an MPH or an MBA but don’t look to these degrees to make you more competitive for medical school if your uGPA/MCAT was low.

If you elect to enter a Special Masters such as the Special Masters in Physiology (offered at many colleges/university), you can definitely enhance your chances of admission if you perform well in this type of program. In addition, you will have some graduate training that can be used if you don’t enter medical school. These Special Masters generally have you taking the same coursework as medical students and can show that you are capable of handling a tough medical school curriculum. These programs are ideal for candidates who are just a bit below average (3.2-3.5) uGPA range or those who had a great deal of difficulty with the MCAT but higher uGPAs.

Retaking the MCAT

If you scored below that magic “30” or had a severely lopsided score say 13 in PS, 12 in BS and a 5 in VR, then retaking that exam with solid preparation and remediation in your lower scoring areas might be a good idea. One of the things to consider is that you must shore up your deficiencies and be sure that you have done something major before you re-take this exam. Nothing can tank your application faster than several mediocre MCAT scores. While some schools will take your higher scores at each re-take and use a composite, most schools (including mine) do NOT do this. If you retake, make sure that you are going to score higher period. Also remember that most people do not accomplish a higher score so you definitely need to do something different in terms of prep in order not to wind up with a lower score.


It is definitely true that the earlier you apply, the better your chances. Meet and exceed every deadline and in the case of reapplication, be early period. You can’t procrastinate on this one. As soon as you have decided to reapply, start getting your materials together for an early submission of your application. Most of the time, the difference between waitlist and acceptance is the timing of the application. Resolve that you are going to be proactive about getting your application done and that you are going to upgrade everything that you can upgrade within the time frame that you have between application cycles (this is not an infinite amount of time)

Reapplication time is also a good time to explore other career opportunities outside medicine especially if you are well below the averages for accepted students. One has to be realistic about their chances of acceptance if you are sitting on a uGPA of  2.9 or an MCAT score of less than 28. Sure some students in the past have gotten into some schools with those scores but most applicants with these numbers are automatically “screened out” of many medical schools.As the years go by, those uGPAs of 2.9 become less and less distinguished no matter what else is in the application. Right now, a total uGPA of C+ is very, very low for medical school acceptance no matter what schools you are applying to.  The other thing is that everyone is NOT going to become a physician no matter how great the desire. There are just too many applicants for seats thus having a strong “desire” without significant upgrading of your application will not get you into school if you don’t do the work to make the upgrades.  Make no mistake, upgrading a failed medical school application takes work and planning thus prepare early and get the work done if you are going to reapply for next year. Reapplication with no changes/upgrades won’t put you up the in competitiveness.

Also do not make the mistake of thinking that you will become a Physician Assistant or enter Nursing as a substitute for medicine. While these are great careers, they are not the “same” as medicine. These careers can be extremely rewarding and satisfying but enter these careers because you have decided that they are a good “fit” for you and that you will enjoy them. Getting into Physician Assistant school is quite competitive and not a stepping stone into medicine. It is far likely that if you were not competitive for medical school, you are not going to be competitive for PA school.

Above all, if medicine is your dream, you will do whatever it takes to accomplish it but you need to be sure that you are upgrading your application with  re-application  and that you are being realistic in terms of your competitiveness. Just reapplying does not increase your chances of acceptance in itself. Most people who reapply and are successful in gaining admission do something significant to upgrade their application. Make sure that if you elect to reapply, you do the upgrade.


23 December, 2007 - Posted by | application, reapplication to medical school


  1. I graduated with a 3.8 GPA from UC Berkeley and a 36 MCAT score. I was confident that I might get a few interviews. Not only did I not hear back from anyone, I now have all doors closed on me. Clearly something went wrong with my application. Is there any suggestion on how I can review with someone on what could have gone wrong with my application process ?

    Comment by Kiru | 5 June, 2013 | Reply

    • To Kiru:
      You need to contact the schools that you applied to for an appointment to review your application. If you believe there was a technical problem with AMCAS, then contact them and have them look at what was actually transmitted to schools. Good luck.

      Comment by drnjbmd | 5 June, 2013 | Reply

      • First things first. Thank you so much for your response. Is contacting the schools that easy to do ? I kept calling them for a response and was always given very rude and curt answers. I just want to know what went wrong. I will call them again. Thanks much.

        Comment by Kiru | 6 June, 2013

      • To Kiru:
        Before you talk with the schools, make sure AMCAS transmitted your entire application. If some part of your application didn’t go through, then that alone would account for no interviews. If that indeed was the case, you should have copies of everything that you loaded so that you can at least get a refund. It’s too late for doing anything for this year but you might be able to get a huge discount or free resubmission if there was a computer error on the part of AMCAS. Contact AMCAS first, and then allow them to deal with the schools if there was a computer/data problem that they were responsible for. If all of your data was transmitted correctly, you might need to consult an admissions specialist to help you reapply and make some changes. As you know, GPA and MCAT while important, are not the only things that schools use to select applicants. Was your application weak on extra-curriculars? Were your letters weak and poorly written? Was your personal statement poor? These things can “tank” an application with decent numbers. Was there something in any part of your application, that was a “deal-breaker” for medical school admission? The only way to know for sure is to get a copy of your AMCAS transmission which you should have been able to print out anyway for your records? Don’t contact schools until you know, for sure, what they received in the first place.

        Comment by drnjbmd | 6 June, 2013

  2. Simply wish to say your article is as astonishing. The clarity in your post is simply cool and i could assume you’re an expert on this subject. Well with your permission allow me to grab your RSS feed to keep up to date with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please keep up the gratifying work.

    Comment by Carlene Tomaszycki | 26 May, 2012 | Reply

  3. Hi. Hoping that someone can give me some advice. I applied last cycle (2011-2012) and received an interview at my top choice. They did not offer me a spot, however I spoke to someone on their admissions committee about my application. They said that I had a strong gpa and extracurriculars but said to retake my mcat and get more clinical experience. I want to apply right away for this upcoming cycle, and focus on these weak points on my application. I’m planning to take a mcat review course for the August 4th mcat exam. Also I have more shadowing experiences set up this summer for more clinical exposure.

    My concern is that will schools see these updates to my application good enough? If I let them know that I plan on doing the clinical experience and volunteer work throughout this upcoming year, will that show them that I am serious about becoming a doctor and getting the necessary clinical exposure? Should I address that in my personal statement or in the descriptions of extracurriculars on my amcas app?

    Comment by CB | 14 May, 2012 | Reply

    • To CB:
      If you reapply to the school that gave you that feedback, they should be able to see the upgrades in your application. You might include some statements in your personal statement that emphasize your clinical experiences but don’t use the too much of the personal statement to point out only your upgrades. It’s still a personal statement and the only thing in your application over which you have total control. Do be aware that most people who retake the MCAT only go up by one or two points and a fair proportion will go down. Make sure that you know where your weaknesses were on that exam and make sure that your review course addresses them completely so that you are in the minority that will see some significant improvement. You should also try to contact every school that you applied to and find out why you were not accepted (not just one school). If you are going to spend the money in reapplying, you need to make sure that everything you can change (read upgrade) in your application is upgraded and top notch. Good luck.

      Comment by drnjbmd | 14 May, 2012 | Reply

  4. Hello! So I am taking a long hard look at my application, and I am becoming more stressed than I should be. That is why I am seeking your help, if you would give it. I am really unsure of what to do in the next year or for my future. Let me start by saying that I was an undocumented student up until 3 weeks ago (April 2012) when I was granted Permanent Residency. I started undergrad in 2002 and I was a pre-med. I currently have a 3.5 gpa (including two Ws, not because I was not doing well but because of life circumstances). I took the mcat (mistakenly did not void or wait to take them) as follows: 8/2004 27R, 4/2005 27R, 8/2006 31O and I just retook the exam again 4/2012, and I am waiting for my scores. I was scoring an average of 33 on practice tests, but I did not feel as if I scored that last Saturday. In any case, I actually got into an American Allopathic medical school in 2008, and did not go because I could not afford the tuition. So I decided to wait until my immigration issues got better. 2008 was the third time I applied to medical schools and this will be my fourth time this summer for the class of 2017. I contacted some schools I applied to and they have stated that my lack of citizenship and permanent residency is what cause my rejections. I had to retake my mcat because my scores expired, otherwise I was “happy” with my 31. Now my concerns are as follows: I will be applying for the fourth time this summer, but the BIG difference is now I have permanent residency. I am so afraid I did awful on my MCAT last Saturday (my nose bled during the exam and I did not void my scores). So I have an uphill battle getting into medical school and I have my heart set on an allopathic school. I’m not sure what to do right now. Should I keep taking science classes for post bacc? Should I retake the MCAT for a 5th time? Should I wait to apply until next year? Should I apply to an SMP program? Honestly, I made so many mistakes, just constantly pushing to get into medical school because it meant so much to me, and the uncertainty of being deported or not was an imminent threat that consumed so much of my time. I have been through a lot in the past few years and although that is not an excuse, that is what happened and it is the truth. I was dealing with very serious matters like immigration issues, financial issues, and health issues and now I finally can move on with my life and pursue my dream. If you could please offer some advice, I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you for taking the time to read this post.

    Comment by Ash | 1 May, 2012 | Reply

    • To Ash:
      You had some issues that are no longer there. Since your issues are no longer present, you likely have to move on. If you make a mistake, you learn from that mistake and move on. When your Medical College Admissions Test score comes in, you deal with that issue. No matter how much you worry (or do not worry), your score is what it is and you deal with it as it is. Prepare for the worst case scenario and prepare for the best case scenario. When you get your score, you figure out where you have landed. Right now, my advice is to wait for your MCAT score and go from there. With a 3.5 uGPA, in any event, you need to apply broadly which means allopathic and osteopathic medical schools. If you can’t bring yourself to attend an osteopathic medical school and you don’t get into any allopathic medical schools, that means that you won’t become a physician. In 2012, physicians are trained in both allopathic and osteopathic medical schools. Good luck.

      Comment by drnjbmd | 1 May, 2012 | Reply

      • Thank you for taking the time to reply. I have no problems going to an osteopathic school. I will be able to practice medicine in the same way as a student from an allopathic school and had every intention of applying to them. My concern lies in doing the best I can to be a good applicant for a broad range of medical schools
        now that certain issues are no longer there. Anyway, thank you for the advice. I asked because i was not sure if an SMP or additional post bacc work would significantly help my application even to osteopathic schools due to my past mistakes.

        Comment by Ash | 1 May, 2012

      • To Ash:
        Your immigration issues are no longer present. Now you have to see what kind of score you have on MCAT. Armed with that information, you can start planning your next move be it SMP or straight reapplication. If you all of your MCAT scores are expired and you had immigration issues, these are no longer of concern. At this point, you are waiting on your MCAT, thus you can go ahead and collect your materials for reapplication (need to get this done for SMPs too) and move forward.

        Comment by drnjbmd | 2 May, 2012

  5. Hi,

    I was hoping to get some advice from the community here. I applied to med school in the last cycle (2011-2012), but was not offered any interviews. My numbers are: 3.59 gpa, 3.25 sgpa, 33 MCAT. I have decent extra-curriculars, with about 1 year clinical research and 1 publication. I do think my community service/volunteer hours could be fleshed out a bit, so I’ll be working on that. What I am most worried about is my sgpa. I know it’s hurting me. Is there any way to compensate for it?

    Another factor that hurt me was my applications being submitted late (primaries in August, secondaries in October). I know, it was stupid, but I have a huge procrastination problem and money was also an issue.

    I am now planning to get away from the med track for at least a couple of years to pursue my interest in computer science, but what steps do you think I could take in the meantime to improve my chances if I re-apply in the future?


    Comment by noorne | 1 May, 2012 | Reply

    • Hey Noorne,

      I graduated with a 3.37 ugpa and a 3.41 sgpa, 31 MCAT. I ended up doing one of the SMP programs Drnjbmd talks about and had around a 3.8 in that program. I received five interviews and will be attending a M.D. school this fall. So, it appears that this strategy does work! I won’t lie though – the program was incredibly expensive and you really can’t afford to not excel (this is your very last chance, and if you screw it up you essentially have thrown away 40K or so) . It was also very hard for me to stay happy and motivated throughout the program because med school seems so far away – you MIGHT get in after you put in all this work, no guarantees. I’m glad it has all worked out in the end, but it was a hell of a road to get here. Feel free to contact me with any questions!

      Comment by J | 1 May, 2012 | Reply

  6. Hi,

    I was hoping to get some advice from the community here. I applied to med school in the last cycle (2011-2012), but was not offered any interviews. My numbers are: 3.59 gpa, 3.25 sgpa, 33 MCAT. I have decent extra-curriculars, with about 1 year clinical research and 1 publication. I do think my community service/volunteer hours could be fleshed out a bit, so I’ll be working on that. What I am most worried about is my sgpa. I know it’s hurting me. Is there any way to compensate for it?

    Another factor that hurt me was my applications being submitted late (primaries in August, secondaries in October). I know, it was stupid, but I have a huge procrastination problem and money was also an issue.

    I am now planning to get away from the med track for at least a couple of years to pursue my interest in computer science, but what steps do you think I could take in the meantime to improve my chances if I re-apply in the future?

    Comment by noorne | 1 May, 2012 | Reply

    • To Noorne:
      The thing that glares is your uGPA and it’s composition. Research and publications won’t overcome a poor science gpa which is closely scrutinized by many medical schools. Even though future directions are pointing to a well-rounded applicant, there is still a bit of a bias in terms of folks who do not present a competitive science gpa. The overall 3.59 is under the matriculant average and the 3.25 is far under the matriculant average. In short, while your score on the Medical college admissions test is higher than average, that does not offset your other academics (nor does your research). If money and procrastination are problems, you might want to take a very strong and objective look at pursuing something else in terms of the cost (tuition is at an all-time high) and what you can realistically expect in terms of a return.

      The future still looks as if the uGPAs of successful medical school applicants will continue to go up which doesn’t bode well for you in terms of a reapplication. Right now, if medicine is your goal, you need to find a way of convincing a medical school admissions committee that you can handle the rigor of a medical school curriculum without exception. The best way is likely going to be a special masters program that allows you to take courses with medical students. If you are able to excel in such a program, you would take care of the huge liability that your current sGPA/uGPA would indicate. If you looked at entering one of these types of programs, you would have to be sure that you are 100% committed to medicine.

      If your interest in computer science is in your forefront, then pursue this but be sure that you have a clear understanding and goal in mind with this pursuit. In your case, medicine isn’t going to be a “fall-back” and computer science isn’t a degree that will open doors unless you have the filling of an necessary niche in mind. There are plenty of unemployed “computer scientists” out there thus you need to make sure that anything your are seeking to enter in the computer science realm has marketability in terms of future employment/need. You have been pursuing medicine for a while but you state that procrastination was a problem for you. You need to understand why this was a factor for you and make sure that anything you do towards computer science doesn’t get you back this place. Procrastination is usually an indicator of other things that you might need to work out before you spend more tuition dollars and wind up with procrastination in pursuit of anything. Good luck.

      Comment by drnjbmd | 1 May, 2012 | Reply

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