Reapplying to Medical School: What Should You Do Differently?

Having to reapply can be frustrating, but it’s also an opportunity to learn from your mistakes.

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Applying to medical school can require a significant investment of time and be very emotionally and financially taxing. Going through this process a second or even third time can be a significant stressor on even the most determined applicant.

We've previously discussed the importance of avoiding five key errors when reapplying to medical school; however, you might be thinking, what should I do differently the next time?

[Learn how medical school applications are evaluated.]

There is one crucial question you need to ask yourself about your previous application before you embark on this admissions journey once again: What went wrong?

Of course, there are multiple—and sometimes nebulous—reasons certain applications are unsuccessful in every application cycle. It is always helpful to consult others regarding the competitiveness of your applications. It's also helpful to ask others whether you inadvertently succumbed to any pitfalls or committed any faux pas.

Beyond having friends, family, or others give you a second opinion on your application materials, consider soliciting feedback from the schools to which you had applied. Though many schools won't discuss details about admissions decisions, some, such as Ohio State University's College of Medicine and the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine, recommend that reapplicants call each school to gather opinions on why their previous applications were unsuccessful. (You can read more about Ohio State's advice for medical school reapplicants and University of Miami's reapplication tips.)

It appears that there is an increasing trend among medical schools toward providing applicants with targeted feedback, sometimes even with suggestions for improvement—though don't count on every school providing such advice.

[Avoid these medical school interview bloopers.]

In examining specifics of what might have gone wrong during a previous application cycle, it is important to review the following.

• Academic records: It is tough to hear, but unsuccessful applicants tend to have below average GPAs or MCAT scores. For each school you plan to reapply to, you should review the range of GPAs and MCAT scores for the 25th to 75th percentile and see where you fall.

For example, no Cornell University juniors or seniors who applied to M.D. programs in 2010 with a GPA below 3.0 or MCAT below 25 received an acceptance to any medical school. That year, even Cornell students with GPAs between 3.2 and 3.39 had only a 32 percent acceptance rate, and all had MCAT scores above 30.

If you fall in this lower percentile, you might want to consider taking time off and engaging in a master's or postbac program. Rushing to reapply with a weak academic record is never good; one A in an advanced organic chemistry course won't persuade admissions committees to overlook a four year undergraduate record with a low GPA.

[Is a postbaccalaureate medical program right for you?]

• Personal statement: The only portion of the application that is under your direct control is often the section that gets applications thrown to the side. As a reapplicant, it is crucial to focus on how you've developed as a person and an aspiring medical professional in your personal statement, particularly highlighting what you've accomplished since you last applied. You also want to use the statement to give readers a window into your character; you want the admissions staff to remember you when you are up for committee discussion.

Make sure you don't reuse any statements from your previous applications; schools usually place the two applications side by side to see what, if anything, has changed. Even schools you didn't apply to the first time can tell if a statement is probably recycled.

• Extracurriculars: Many times, applicants who apply early do not have sufficient patient-related experiences to persuade committees that they know enough about the field. Use this time to strengthen your extracurricular activities—it will not only help you write a stronger personal statement, but it could also help you make your passions within medicine more specific, and thus more compelling.

• Interviews: Practice interviewing in any way you can. If you make it to the interview, you're very high on the consideration list, so you don't want an interview to knock you out of the running.

Since reapplying to medical school is a time-consuming, financially arduous venture, it is important to examine your record and your previous application thoroughly before diving into the process once again. Then, it will hopefully lead to an acceptance.

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.