By Joshua Baron, MD
I felt like such a failure. After taking the MCAT, submitting over 20 applications and waiting
months patiently for an answer, I was not accepted. Not. One. Single. Acceptance. What did this
mean? Was I not intended to be a physician? Was I not smart enough? Should I give up? The
answer is no.
The fact is, like so many other things in life, the degree of medical schools’ competitiveness is cyclical. Weirdly, it’s said that when the economy is good, college students are more likely to apply to business school; when the economy is poor, college students are more likely to apply to medical school. Whether this has a significant effect is debatable.
So what can you do if your medical school applications are not accepted… the first time around?
First, don’t despair. While I was not accepted into medical school the first year I applied, I was
accepted to the medical school of my choice the following year. There are certainly things you
can do to bone up your application (see below), but medical schools may be more or less
competitive from year to year. And, medical schools love to see that you’re persistent, that a
rejection is not going to beat you down. Show those medical schools that you don’t give up
easily by applying a second – or even a third – time.
Show Devotion to The Discipline of Medicine
Well, since you didn’t get in, you now have your next year to plan. What can you do during that
time to reveal your interest in medicine? Certainly doing a year’s worth of medical research is
considered, at least by some, to be the holy grail of your new-found gap year. While this is
great, there are other ways to show your devotion to the discipline. Volunteering, even part time,
at a hospital allows you to embed yourself in the medical environment. This allows you most
importantly to help determine that you really want to go into medicine. It also shows medical
schools that you truly have an interest. Your experience in the hospital can also provide
excellent fodder for your application essay.
Bring Up Your MCAT Score
Maybe you didn’t rock your MCAT. While the MCAT is huge for medical school admissions,
guess what. Your score has little to do with whether you’re going to be a good doctor.
Understanding that, you want to optimize your score by studying up and taking the test again.
There are several good review books from Kaplan, Princeton Review and Barron’s. If you can
afford it, an MCAT review class is even better to review all of those classes (physics, organic
chemistry, etc.) that you were hoping to leave behind when the semester ended.
Make Sure This is What You Want
Not getting in the first time around is sometimes a blessing in disguise. Are you applying to
medical school because you want to be a doctor or because someone along the way – whether
friends or family – thought going to medical school was a good idea for you. Are you applying
because everyone in your family is a physician? Because you think it’s a good way to make
money? Medicine, while rewarding, is a tough profession, as is medical school itself. It involves
long hours of studying and then later long hours of work. Before you take the plunge, ask
yourself why you want to be in medical school or make sure – for yourself – that it’s for the right
All in all, not being accepted into medical school the first time around feels horrible, but it is
neither the end of the world, nor does it mean you won’t be a doctor. Take heart, do what you
can to maximize your exposure to medicine and your application, and keep at it!