So, you have asked the tough questions and you are back where you started. You want to be a doctor. Then, by all means, reapply. Some of the best physicians practicing today were rejected the first or even second time they applied to medical school. Your destiny may very well be protecting the health of the world's citizens and fighting disease with a blend of science and compassion. It starts with reapplying. Every year, Ohio State University accepts around two hundred future doctors into medical school. Each year, some of these students are repeat applicants.
There are some definite "dos and don'ts" to keep in mind when reapplying. Below are some tips that I hope you will find useful; they represent my thoughts after reviewing many repeat applicants, some of whom we interview and ultimately accept. I wish you the best of luck, and I look forward to receiving your application here at the Ohio State University College of Medicine.
Find out where you went wrong
It is your responsibility to find out why you were rejected the first time around. Now is not the time to be shy. Call the admissions office and ask to speak to someone who can read the admissions committee notes to you and tell you what your shortcomings were perceived to be. If you are in the same town as one or more of the schools to which you applied, make an appointment to discuss the notes with you face to face.
You may have applied at the wrong time, waited too close to the deadline, presented an application that was light on community service or research or was not competitive in terms of your GPA or MCAT scores. Maybe your essay did not make it clear that you are passionate about becoming a physician, or maybe you did not strike the admissions committee as being well-rounded. Maybe you simply did not impress during your interview. Medical school admissions offices keep all of this information and have a written paper trail indicating why your application was not deemed to be competitive.
Act on the results of your fact finding mission
After contacting the schools by which you were rejected, solicit their advice on ways to strengthen your application. Draft a plan with their input, then . . . FOLLOW THAT PLAN. To reapply without following the plan that an admissions officer helped you formulate would not only be foolish, it would be an insult to the school that took the time to counsel you.
An example comes to mind. I recently met with a rejected applicant who wanted to discuss reapplying. We went over his application and the admissions committee deliberations. It was clear that his undergraduate GPA was the problem. He had excellent experiences, including volunteer, community service, leadership and research. His MCAT score was only slightly lower than our school's average. His interview performance had not been stellar, but it was not bad either, and he would have had a significant chance of being offered an acceptance were it not for his low grades. The admissions committee liked him overall but was concerned that he would not be able to handle the medical school curriculum.
I advised him to enter a one-year master's degree program in biomedical science, retake the MCAT and wait to reapply until he had completed the full year of graduate study. Performing at a high level in the courses, with at least a 3.5 GPA, would prove to admissions committees that he had the cognitive ability to master graduate-level biological science work. Studying these graduate science courses would also be excellent preparation for the MCAT, and would likely result in a competitive score. This path would give him a very good chance of getting into medical school, even though this route would delay his medical school matriculation by two years. Seeking the advice is the first step; following it can be the difference between achieving a goal and continuing to daydream about it.
Allow enough time to positively impact your portfolio before you reapply
One "Golden Rule" of reapplying is to time it right. The reason you were not offered an acceptance is because the medical schools perceived shortcomings in your application. Most shortcomings are remediable, and given proper emphasis, your weaknesses can become strengths. You want it to be obvious to anyone reading your file that you made a turnaround. To maximize the chances of giving off this perception, you must allow enough time before reapplying. This will undoubtedly be the hardest part of the process, but be patient; if you rush it, you may join the ranks of those who are applying for a third time. The strategy mentioned above, where the unsuccessful candidate enrolls in a Master of Science degree program in order to improve his academic record (which, by the way is also excellent MCAT prep), only works if you complete the full course of study, so that the grades of your graduate program show up on your AMCAS application.
If your plan is to improve your chances by engaging in a meaningful research project and you obtain a full time research assistant position the summer after your unsuccessful attempt, wait at least one year before reapplying. One year of full time, meaningful research is very powerful, and you may have the opportunity to present your research at a meeting, or, more impressively, co-author a scientific publication. Even if you do not publish or present at a national meeting, performing research for one solid year will give you plenty to discuss during your interview. If you reapply immediately the next cycle, when (if) you get an interview, you will still be too new in the research lab to have developed a sound knowledge of what you are doing.
Another example. Let's say you were on a medical school waiting list until a week before classes start in August, before you were finally rejected. You decide, with the school's input, that a higher MCAT score will make you competitive. Some candidates in this position retake the MCAT the very next time it is offered so that they can immediately reapply the very next cycle. With this rushed approach, it would be unlikely that the MCAT score would improve much. It would be wiser to forget about the very next cycle and plan to take the MCAT in January or the next spring after months of preparation, possibly including a formal MCAT prep course and/or a course or two in advanced biology that will hone your skills at problem solving and reading comprehension of scientific passages. Then apply the following summer, which would be for an entering class two years after your rejection. I do understand the feeling to "get on with it, already"; but, as I often say to students preparing to reapply, when you are retiring after a distinguished 30- or 40-year career as a physician, an extra year or two on the front end will feel like the batting of an eyelid.
Change your essay
One of my personal pet peeves is when a reapplicant submits the exact same AMCAS personal statement, word for word. You don't want to be a "boomerang applicant" — someone who responds to a rejection by simply sending out the same application the very next cycle — the same experiences, the same personal statement, the same grades, the same MCAT. This is disrespectful to the medical school to which you are applying, and gives the impression that you do not care about the process. It is also a missed opportunity to show what you have learned. Even if you do not apply to the same medical school, the admissions committee will likely know that you were unsuccessful the last time around.
You have an excellent opportunity to take the negative and turn it into a positive. Since being rejected from medical school, what did you learn about your perceived shortcomings? What have you done to improve upon them? In the interval between your medical school rejection and your reapplication, what did you learn about yourself? Maybe you learned that you are an "overcomer," a person with resilience and persistence, someone who simply will not give up on his/her dreams. All of this is GOLDEN material for your essay -- use it. Many applicants in this position never mention that they were rejected the first time around. I understand this; it is not a pleasant memory, and it is easy to ignore, or at least not dwell upon.
Some mistakenly think that the medical school reviewers are unaware of this fact, and that if you don't mention it, they will never know. Most of the time they will know. In fact, if you are reapplying to the same school, they will likely review your old application and your new application side by side to see what you have improved upon. Step up to the plate, bare your feelings about being rejected, and paint a picture of how you methodically went about improving your portfolio. The admissions committee will likely be positively impressed.
Use the interview to show how you have improved as an applicant
Should you receive an interview, you can be sure that you will be asked about your medical school rejection. If you have followed the advice in numbers 1 and 2 above, this is the time to talk about it. It is uplifting to hear a reapplicant describe how he/she methodically went about preparing to reapply. When you describe how you contacted the school(s) that rejected your application to find out where you went wrong, you sound mature, like someone who is on a mission and who will not let one bump along the way stop them. Talk about how you drafted a new plan and put it into action.