Finding out that your medical school application was rejected can be discouraging. Before you reapply, ask yourself some tough questions: When you imagine yourself in that white coat, what aspect of being a physician leaves you feeling good inside? Is it the fulfillment of a deep desire to help others by curing, treating and preventing illness? Is it the high esteem in which doctors are held, or imagining how proud your family will be?

Although your time in medical school and residency training can be exhilarating and life-affirming, it can also be exhausting. You’re making a commitment to years of sacrifice and service — so be sure your motivation will sustain you on this journey.

If you’re confident that you want to be a doctor, then hold your head high and reapply. Know that you aren’t alone: Many current physicians were once in your place before experiencing the joy of ultimately gaining acceptance to medical school.  Every year, Ohio State accepts about 200 future doctors into medical school and, because there are far more applicants than there are seats in a class, some of these students will inevitably be repeat applicants.

As you reapply, here are some tips for success based on the experiences of repeat applicants.

Reapplying to medical school

Associate Dean for Admissions Demicha Rankin, MD, shares how to best prepare yourself to reapply for medical school. Hearing “no” can be discouraging, but Dr. Rankin reminds you that this means “not yet.” Here, she provides tips regarding your personal statement, letters of recommendation and studying for the MCAT.

Ask the question: Where did I go wrong in my medical school application?

Now’s not the time to be shy. It’s your responsibility to find out why you were rejected. Consider reaching out to your premedical advisor to discuss your possible shortcomings:

  • Did you apply late in the cycle? 
  • Did you present an application that was light on community service or research? 
  • Are your GPA and MCAT scores competitive? 
  • Did your essay make it clear that you’re passionate about becoming a physician?
  • Did you convey to the admissions committee that you are well-rounded?
  • Did your communication style fail to impress the interview committee?

Consider contacting the schools that rejected you, and ask for their advice on ways to strengthen your application. Draft a plan with their input, and then — and this is important to avoid insulting the school that took time to counsel you — follow that plan.

An example: A rejected applicant met with an adviser to go over his application. 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 the school's average. His interview performance hadn’t been stellar, but it wasn’t 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.

The adviser suggested he 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. While this route would delay his medical school matriculation by two years, it would also significantly improve his chance of acceptance. Performing well 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 — and studying these graduate science courses would also be excellent preparation for the MCAT.

Seeking advice is the first step, and following it can be the difference between achieving a goal and continuing to daydream about it.

Take time to positively impact your portfolio before you reapply to medical school

Think twice before reapplying immediately. The reason you weren’t offered an acceptance is because 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 may prove to 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.

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 don’t 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, you’ll still be too new in the research lab to have developed a sound knowledge of what you’re doing.

Another example: Say you were on a medical school waiting list until a week before classes started 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 they can reapply the very next cycle. But with this rushed approach, it’s unlikely that your MCAT score would improve much. It would be wiser to forget about the 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 or a course or two in advanced biology that will hone your skills at problem-solving and reading comprehension. Then, apply the following summer for an entering class two years after your rejection.  

Another option you can pursue is an online degree to supplement your knowledge in area you are interested and passionate in. An online degree can give you the flexibility to earn a degree while participating in other activities such as research or clinical experience to supplement your application. Don’t get discouraged with the additional time it may take to pursue your goals. Everyone has 24 hours in a day — what you do with your time is what is important.

Can you reuse your personal statement for medical school when you reapply?

As a reapplicant, you must change something. 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. This is disrespectful to the medical school to which you are applying, and gives the impression that you don’t care about the process. It’s also a missed opportunity to show what you’ve learned. Even if you don’t 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 here to take the negative and turn it into a positive. Consider these questions in your revised personal statement:

  • 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’re a person of great resilience and persistence — someone who simply won’t give up on their dreams. All of this is great material for your essay. Use it.

Many applicants in this position never mention that they were rejected the first time around. Some mistakenly think medical school reviewers are unaware of this fact, and if you don't mention it, they’ll never know. Most of the time they’ll know. In fact, if you’re reapplying to the same school, they’ll likely review your old application and your new application side by side to see what you’ve improved upon.

So 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 likely will be impressed.

Use the interview to show how you have improved as a medical school reapplicant

Should you receive an interview, you can be sure that you’ll be asked about your medical school rejection. If you’ve followed the advice above, this is the time to talk about it.

It’s uplifting to hear a reapplicant describe how they methodically went about preparing to reapply. When you describe how you contacted the schools that rejected your application to find out where you went wrong, you sound mature — someone who’s on a mission and won’t let one bump along the way stop them. Talk about how you drafted a new plan and put it into action.

Show them your persistence, determination and commitment to your goal of becoming a physician.