How to Get Off the Medical School Wait List

Instead of camping out by the phone, be proactive to increase chances of acceptance.


After applying and interviewing, you find yourself in limbo, having to wait until after May 15 to hear the verdict from your medical school of choice. In the past, many applicants tended to wait by the phone and compulsively check their E-mails in anticipation of the good news.

But are there things you should be doing while you wait that can get you a leg up on a wait list?

Previously—especially in the days of snail mailing the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) application and secondary applications—many schools requested that students on their wait lists not communicate with them or send additional information. But now that schools increasingly use E-mail in their communication, many will consider notifications from applicants of significant updates throughout the application process.

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After May 15, when applicants accepted to multiple schools are required to select just one institution, schools typically turn to their wait lists to round out their incoming first year classes. Some schools tier their wait lists, and some even notify candidates of their tier. Whatever your particular wait list situation, this is the time to be proactive and possibly even creative.

When your admissions situation becomes clear, there's one way you can be proactive: update your first choice school.

If you've made it onto your first choice school's wait list, you are actually in a great position! In late May or early June, you'll need to send a letter to the school providing any significant updates and indicating to the school that it's not only your first choice, but is also an ideal fit for both you and the school.

Wait list positions can open up at any point between late April and just before the first day of classes, though most are admitted in June and July. Don't lose hope. Some schools have a high turnaround of applicants some years. For example, Tufts University has previously admitted up to a third of a class from the wait list.

[Read about how to go to medical school for free.]

Don't forget that the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) shares acceptances with schools to which you've applied, and admissions directors speak to each other frequently. So, if you tell five schools they are each your first choice, chances are the news will spread quickly, and you could potentially jeopardize your candidacy at all five institutions.

Every year, there are a handful of memorable instances in which applicants at certain schools think outside the box and do something creative and ingenious that grabs the attention of these admissions committees. If you have a creative inclination—and it's okay if you don't—be sure that any materials you submit integrate well with your "sales pitch" (why you would be a good doctor and the value you can contribute to the medical field), as well as with your interest in the specific school.

[Learn how to avoid medical school interview bloopers.]

Here are some examples:

• An applicant wait listed at a very competitive school sent in a photo collage with comments from family and friends, which the admissions committee found light yet amusing. The applicant drew connections between the collage and his desire to pursue medicine at that school. Though he wasn't the most competitive applicant that year, his collage made an impact and he was offered a spot to enroll that fall.

• An applicant at another competitive institution submitted a memorable first-choice letter with her pitch and her view of why she'd be a good fit at the school in the form of a poem. Her submission stood out, and she was taken off the wait list shortly thereafter.

The wait list can feel like a tough place to be, but if you think about it as good news and an opportunity to be proactive, you may just get that coveted first year spot.

Ibrahim Busnaina, M.D. is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and coauthor of "Examkrackers' How To Get Into Medical School." He has been consulting with prospective medical school applicants, with a special focus on minority and other nontraditional candidates, since 2006.