Make no mistake—getting into medical school is not easy. Hard work, dedication, and perseverance are important, but everyone needs a little luck, too. In the 2010 application cycle, 42,742 applicants competed for an opportunity to be one of the lucky 19,641 acceptees, representing a 46 percent national acceptance rate. For acceptees, the average composite MCAT score was 31.1 and average GPA was 3.67, up from 29.7 and 3.59, respectively, a decade ago.
So take heart—if you didn't get accepted this year, you are in the majority. Furthermore, you are in good company; more than 25 percent of this year's applicants were not first time applicants. Here are the top five errors to avoid when considering reapplying to medical school.
1. Failing to reflect: Painful as it might be, honest self-assessment is by far the most important thing to do at this point. What went wrong? This is a necessary process and the key to initiating a successful reapplication. If you don't think you can do this yourself (or even if you think you can), it's probably a good idea to get help: a premed adviser, mentor, or commercial admissions consulting service will almost certainly be able to break down your application and start advising you on what your true "prognosis" is and what "treatment" (if any) is necessary.
[See U.S. News's rankings of Best Medical Schools.]
2. Failing to be patient: Understandably, for financial, social, emotional, and other reasons, a nonadmitted applicant's first instinct is often to rush to immediately reapply in the next admissions cycle. Unless you truly deserved to be admitted and were tripped up by a technical/practical glitch (e.g. late/incomplete application, unrealistic list of schools to which you applied, illness, or natural calamity interfering or preventing interview attendance/performance), submitting an application which is fundamentally the same as the one that was rejected will almost certainly produce the same unfortunate results.
As much as it hurts to consider deferring enrollment two or more years, the last thing you want to do is rush and resubmit an application doomed to failure two years in a row, and have to consider applying for a third time—which is not pleasant, to say the least.
3. Failing to change: See mistake No. 1 above—what areas of weakness or inadequacy did you identify? If your GPA is subpar, consider taking advanced electives or even enrolling in a master's of science program to help convince the admissions committee of your intellectual ability. A weak MCAT, especially if disproportionate to your GPA, should be corrected by retaking the exam after you have prepared more adequately.
If you received invitations to interview but no acceptances, you need to work hard on improving your interview skills (yes, this will require many practice interview sessions!). Review your letters of evaluation; can they be improved by soliciting new/additional letters?
Finally, no matter what your specific circumstances are, you should not resubmit your application without revising your personal statement. Admissions officers will know you didn't get in the first time around; instead of hiding, put this out in the open and discuss what you've learned from the experience, how you've incorporated these lessons into your application (and your life in general), and how determined you are to earn admission this time around.
[See what changes in the MCAT mean for you.]
4. Failure to persevere: For some applicants, the disappointment of rejection is enough to discourage them from considering reapplication altogether. "Know thyself" is the guiding principle here—are you truly committed to becoming a physician? Do you sincerely believe that you have the requisite ability and drive to succeed in medical school and the long road beyond? This is not the best time for humility, and it's definitely a bad time to sell yourself short.
5. Failure to read the writing on the wall: This is of equal importance as No. 4. When it comes to assessing your academic credentials, a very useful tool can be found at the AAMC website. Find where you land in terms of your MCAT scores and GPA. If those academic metrics place you in a category where the average acceptance rate is less than 10 percent, your chances of success with a reapplication are pretty slim.
Joshua Klein is a Board Certified OB/GYN and a Clinical and Research Fellow in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. After earning his medical degree at Harvard Medical School, he completed residency at Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital.