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Reapplying to Medical School: What to Change?

15 min


A group of medical school students in a classroom.


If you are reapplying to medical school after an unsuccessful cycle and are looking for advice, this post is for you! Although it may feel disappointing and stressful to go through a long cycle all over again, keep in mind that you are in the majority. Each year less than half of medical school applicants are accepted. Additionally, reapplicants constitute a significant proportion of the total applicant pool each year. This means that you are not at a major disadvantage as a reapplicant, and in fact, by repackaging your application you are showing medical schools your perseverance and growth. Here we will discuss how best to repackage your application to maximize your chances of success during a reapplication cycle, focusing on aspects of your application to change and how to do so.



Reapplying to Medical School at the Right Time


This first piece of advice, while not about the content of your application, is perhaps the most important. The application cycle proceeds on a rolling basis, therefore applying at the right time will ensure that you put your best foot forward and receive a thorough application review by admissions committees before they become inundated with thousands of applications. Timing must be balanced between allowing enough time to revise your application and make it as strong as possible and applying early enough that you are competing for a large number of spots with a relatively smaller applicant pool. The best timing will vary slightly for everyone, but a few general rules apply broadly. First, aim to submit your primary application as soon as possible after it opens, but without sacrificing quality. In 2022, the AMCAS opened on May 3rd, and submission began on May 31st. One month should be plenty of time to complete the AMCAS, especially if you begin writing your personal statement and organizing information on your work and activities section early in the year. If you need more time, it’s okay to submit in June, but you should wait no more than a couple of weeks and should certainly submit before July. Secondary applications should have a turnaround time of two weeks; rather than cramming dozens of essays in a short span, use two strategies to minimize your turnaround without sacrificing quality. First, pre-write your essays based on prompts from prior years which are widely available online. Second, evaluate your school list and make sure you are applying to a reasonable number of schools. Trying to write 50 secondary applications in the span of a month is a recipe for disaster.



Revisit Your School List


Speaking of your school list, our next tip is to think carefully about which schools you will apply to before you begin the new cycle. As noted above, applying to too many schools often handicaps students by overwhelming the secondary application phase. When it comes to essays, remember quality over quantity. That being said, given the competitive nature of med school applications, a certain amount is needed to improve your chances of getting at least one acceptance. A good rule of thumb is that 10-12 schools are a good minimum and 16-20 is the sweet spot for most students. Climbing above 25-30 risks overwhelming your time and writing abilities. Also, you can do yourself a huge favor by ridding yourself of the concept of “safety” and “reach” schools. Although these apply to college applications, medical school applications are more uniformly competitive as all med schools draw from the best students from colleges around the country. Therefore, it is a better idea to focus on your fit with individual programs which involves a holistic review of more than just stats. You should aim to find the schools which most closely align with your curricular, research, personal, and other goals when reapplying to medical school.



Identify Weak Spots


Before you attempt to revise your primary application, it is crucial that you take an honest and critical look at it, ideally with the help of your pre-health advisor or a trusted mentor. You may feel that you were unsuccessful due to bad luck or poor timing, but all applicants (even those who are successful) will have weaker areas of their application that could benefit from thoughtful revision. Perhaps you had a lower GPA or MCAT score; although not easy fixes by any means, these are straightforward to address. If warranted, re-taking the MCAT or enrolling in postbaccalaureate courses are excellent ways of boosting your stats. If, on the other hand, you are lacking clinical or research hours, you may need to seek out additional volunteer or work experiences. Even if you are less interested in research, for example, admissions committees will notice if you make a concerted effort to fill in gaps in your background to create a more complete and balanced application.



When Reapplying to Medical School, Be Sure to Craft a Compelling Story


As a reapplicant, you are tasked with telling a story about why are applying to medical school again and what motivates you to persevere. Schools encounter thousands of reapplicants each year, so they are looking for narratives that stand out among the crowd. Explaining what and how you improved in your application is a big part of this story, but meaningful reflection is also essential and vastly underappreciated. Why are you a better applicant this time? What did you discover about yourself during the unsuccessful cycle? How did you determine what needed to be improved? How did you enact these changes, and what challenges did you face along the way? What lessons did you learn from failure and/or growth that can be applied to medical school and clinical practice?



Redo Your Personal Statement When Reapplying to Medical School


Your personal statement is the primary means by which you communicate your story in narrative form. It is also the one piece of your application that absolutely must be changed—and significantly so—if you are to be successful as a reapplicant. The overarching theme and messages of your personal statement can remain the same, especially if you aim to show consistency of character, but improvement in qualifications. However, you should use different anecdotes and examples and modify the overall structure as needed. Also important is to look carefully for any typos, grammatical errors, or stylistic issues that may have distracted readers from the content of the essay. Attention to detail is a highly valued skill in medicine; be sure to demonstrate this skill in all of your essays and especially your personal statement.



Reevaluate your Recommendation Letters


Evaluating your recommendation letters is a tricky step because their content is hidden from applicants. What we really mean is to think about how well each of your letter writers knew you. A longer and more meaningful connection will yield a better and less generic letter. Success in any cycle, especially as a reapplicant, is strongly influenced by how well you make the case that you are an excellent student who stands out from your peers and offers unique experiences, traits, and insights that will add to a diverse class. It is best to keep the letters that you believe are the strongest, and either remove or replace those that are likely the weakest. Furthermore, if you have had a significant new experience since your previous application cycle, you should include a letter from your new mentor or supervisor if at all possible. Admissions committees will want to hear directly from whoever oversaw your recent year(s) of additional experiences, which hopefully involved both personal and academic/professional growth.



Update Work and Activities Section


The final piece of your application to revise is your work and activities section, but this should be a simple change. Basically, leave all minor entries the same (except for grammatical/stylistic improvements) and add anything relevant that you have done recently or originally excluded. Regarding your most meaningful experiences, most will find it best to only change one of them by replacing the least important or interesting one with the main new activity you undertook since your last cycle. The consistency of your application will be apparent to readers if you add a new “most meaningful experience” entry and recommendation letter that correspond with one another.


As you approach a new cycle, remember to be proud of yourself for your perseverance and commitment to medicine. If you acknowledge your prior mistakes or shortcomings and honestly explain how you’ve addressed them, you will win a lot of points in the eyes of admissions committees who are looking for just such qualities in future physicians. But, do put your best foot forward and emphasize your improvements above all else. In addition to developing a superior application, the best thing you can do to make your next cycle a success is maintain confidence, optimism, and patience. Good luck!

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