Preparing for Medical School

Wait-listed by your top-choice medical school? What you should know

Some things are worth waiting for. Is your first-choice medical school one of them?

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When it comes to sitting on the waitlist, the answer depends on your risk tolerance.

John D. Schriner, PhD, is associate dean for admissions and student affairs at Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine—called Ohio for short, and it is one of 37 member schools of the AMA Accelerating Change in Medical Education consortium.

“Everybody needs a strong waitlist,” he said. “People apply to multiple schools and can only attend one. Every [medical school] is going to have a cushion of acceptances anticipating attrition in the spring. You exhaust that cushion then you go to your waitlist, so it’s really important to make sure you have great people on that list.”

In terms of how a potential medical student should approach being on the waitlist, Schriner offered this advice.

Solicit feedback

Ohio has a rolling admissions process, so once a student submits a primary application, a secondary application and completes an interview (if they are invited), the student will know the status in a matter of weeks. If you are put on the waitlist, Schriner says there are actions that can change your status.

“If you find yourself on a waitlist, all is not lost,” he said. “You’re still in contention for a seat in that class. I tell candidates on interview day, if you find yourself on the waitlist feel free to call the office and ask for one of my staff. They can give you feedback as to why that decision played out that way.”

If you act on that feedback by improving on weak spots on your application—Schriner offered the example of students who don’t have experience working with osteopathic physicians shadowing a DO and possibly getting a letter of recommendation—you can send in an update.

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Express your interest and enthusiasm

A wait-listed applicant can send in letters of intent or letters of interest to attempt to improve their standing with an admissions office.

“Sometimes the candidate has a lot of things you’re looking for, but maybe it was a tough day of interviews for them, maybe they came across in the interview as someone whose energy and excitement didn’t shine through,” he said. “That’s where those letters of intent or interest in the institution can be beneficial.”

The process evolves

In rolling admissions situations, you will hear back within weeks—if not days—of your interview. For schools without rolling admissions, all applicants hear back at the same time.

In either instance, there is a deadline in the spring by which students must be holding only a single admission offer, which they have accepted. That is often when the waitlist begins to move at a rapid pace.

At that point, “you are really at the mercy of that institution and people relinquishing a seat to open a spot for that person on the wait-list,” Schriner said. “Some schools may tell you if you’re in the top-third, bottom-third or middle-third of their wait list. We don’t do that. You can never make any guarantees.”

In terms of the timing of the process, once the deadline for students to commit to a single school comes and goes, schools may be looking to fill spots up until the week of new student orientation.

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Don’t take your opportunities for granted

If you have been accepted to a medical school, even if it’s not your top choice, you very likely have a bright future as a physician.

“The one thing is to keep perspective,” Schriner said. “There are a lot of people out there who don’t have an acceptance to any school, so to have an acceptance in your back pocket is something you should cherish, even if it’s your second choice or what you view as a second-tier school.”