What to do if you didn't get into medical school
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- Med school applications during the pandemic were at an all-time high.
- On top of dealing with burnout, some applicants must now cope with rejection.
- We outlined what to do if you want to apply again — or pursue a different career path.
Applying to medical school is a notoriously stressful process, requiring a great GPA, strong MCAT scores, sterling letters of recommendation, and exceptional extracurricular experiences.
This year was especially burnout-inducing for pre-med students, as applications rose to an all-time high, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. The stress was so mounting that Kaplan reported nearly 40% of pre-med students considered dropping their medical career pursuits.
If you were one of the many applicants who ended up applying and not getting into med school, this can be a really hard time. If you still want to go to med school, you might not feel ready to go through the wringer of applying yet again. If you’ve decided to forego the idea med school, you might not know what you want to pursue next, or where to even begin. Or you might just need to take a long break and lean into self-compassion but aren’t sure if you can ever get past the heartbreak.
What to do if you didn’t get into medical school:
Treat yourself with the utmost kindness.
A med school rejection can feel especially hurtful because of the sheer amount of time, money, and effort spent applying and preparing to enter the field. Dr. Devon Price, a social psychologist and author of “Laziness Does Not Exist,” emphasizes the importance of letting yourself feel everything with as little judgment as possible.
“You’ve just put immense effort — and paid a lot of money in application fees — in pursuit of a dream, and your hopes were dashed, at least temporarily,” says Price, adding that it’s completely normal to be jealous of your friends who did get in or resentful of the programs that didn’t offer you admission.
Be really honest with yourself about whether you still want to go to med school at all.
Knowing what the next step should be after a rejection can be challenging. If you feel stuck, Lauren Cohen, an executive and career coach, suggests talking to a career counselor at school or a career coach, who may even help you realize that med school just might not be where your heart lies.
In her own experience, she recalls meeting with someone “who thought she wanted to go to medical school based on her love for children and health, only to realize she actually wanted a career in public health — which meant a totally different graduate program path.”
- If you want to apply again, here are our tips
- If you want to switch career paths, here are some things to consider
- If you want to take a break, here’s what to do now
If you want to apply again:
Do your best to find out what caused the rejection.
The most important thing to remember is that you want to substantially improve your application before reapplying. “Resubmitting the same application will, most probably, lead to another rejection,” Pierre Huget, CEO and co-founder of H&C Education says.
To figure out where to start, John M. Lopes, Associate Provost and Dean of The Graduate School at Clemson University, recommends scheduling a talk with a staff or faculty representative for the program you applied to or asking a trusted professional (preferably a professor in the field) to review your application and see what guidance they might be able to offer.
Kari Calvario, Director of Masters Admissions at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, also recommends reaching out to current students at the med schools you want to apply to in order to better understand how they got in.
Score higher on the MCAT.
A good prep plan is one of the most important advantages you can give yourself. You should plan to spend between 300-350 hours over several months preparing, says Petros Minasi, the Senior Director for pre-health programs at Kaplan.
There are three things to keep in mind, according to Minasi. First, focus on the right content. “Not all MCAT topics are created equal; some are tested at a higher frequency than others,” he says. You may be excellent at radioactive decay, for instance, but you may never get asked about it (at the same time, topics like kinematics are almost a guarantee on the MCAT).
Second, don’t forget to practice applying the content. If you know what the ideal gas law formula is, PV=nRT, that’s good, Minasi says — but the test may not give you the direct values, instead saying that the temperature is rising while the volume is staying the same.
Third, schedule your MCAT test far enough in advance and plan your study timeline from there. You’ll want to finish studying right before the exam, so the information is fresh in your mind, according to Minasi. The closer you get to test day, the more full-length practice exams you should be taking, as “it’s much better practice to build up to [them] by trying to solve individual problems or taking mini-tests. This will help build up your endurance.”
If you’re hoping to boost your score, there are lots of flexible online prep options, from intensive bootcamps with score increase guarantees to longer, spread-out courses if you have more time.
- The 11 best MCAT courses, based on your studying style
Get creative in applying to hospitals or physicians’ offices for shadowing.
If you were unemployed or had little employment experience the first time you applied, consider looking for employment relevant to your career goals, such as patient-based positions, volunteering at a local clinic or hospital, or earning an EMT license.
If you’re not sure where to find shadowing opportunities, LinkedIn can be a great place to reach out to people (or even ask for career advice).
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Take online classes in subjects you could use more background or expertise in.
You can’t change your transcript, but you can supplement it by taking classes in subjects you once struggled with or never had the chance to take. Many medical schools will average all undergraduate coursework as part of your GPA. (Some online programs, like edX MicroMasters or Coursera MasterTracks, offer real college credits for a fraction of their on-campus cost, for example).
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Nail your interview.
Communication is important in medical school, and if you had an interview at a school but no offer, you may need to strengthen this section of your application.
Lopes recommends dressing professionally, coming with thoughtful questions, and practicing with technology ahead of time if it’s an online interview. “Utilize mock interviews your school’s career services offer, if possible,” he says. “If not, prepare with a friend [or a willing student or alumni] who has gone through the same process.”
- 11 free or affordable online classes that can help make public speaking less daunting
Prioritize getting outstanding letters of recommendation.
If your stats are well within your target school’s ballpark, Petia Whitmore, Dean of Graduate Admissions at Babson College, says you should look into your application’s qualitative aspects, like your personal statement, work experience, and recommendation letters. “With a new application, try to find recommenders that can speak to your strengths, motivation, and perseverance,” Lopes advises. “It helps if [they] can speak directly to your abilities connected to that particular program.”
Cohen says you could also connect with alumni from your target schools and see if you could be mentored by them. Later, they could write a recommendation letter when it comes time to reapply.
If you want to do switch career paths:
Find what you loved about the idea of med school and see what other career options are out there.
If, for example, you were drawn to the idea of helping people, there are plenty of careers where you can make a huge impact on other people’s lives. If you’re not sure where to start — or what your particular strengths are — Julie Biggers, Director of Career Development at Clemson University, recommends starting at your school’s career services and utilizing resources such as O*NET OnLine (sponsored by the US Department of Labor) and the Occupational Handbook.
There are also plenty of online courses, such as UPenn Wharton’s online Achieving Personal and Professional Success Specialization, that can help you start to figure out how to combine what you loved about med school with a different career field.
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Identify the skills you’d need to fluff up and take short classes to get certifications.
If you’re looking to advance your career without going to grad school, platforms like edX, Coursera, FutureLearn, Udemy, Codecademy, and LinkedIn Learning all offer online courses with optional certifications to add to your resume or LinkedIn profile.
Whitmore also recommends considering enriching your extracurricular activities — for example, if you’re volunteering at an organization, see if you can step up and take on a leadership role (which you can later add to your resume or LinkedIn).
- 5 hard skills LinkedIn says can boost your resume in 2021 — and the affordable online courses you can take to build them
Look into a longer program that can help you transition into a new job.
If you find that your career path requires longer schooling but you’d still rather opt out of formal graduate school, online programs and degrees can offer greater affordability and flexibility than a traditional master’s program.
- The fastest-growing jobs in 2021 and the online master’s degrees to get them
- edX MicroMasters Vs Coursera MasterTracks comparison and FAQ
- Why a graduate certificate may be a good alternative to a master’s degree
Improve your job application process.
If you’re at the stage where you feel ready to apply to jobs, it doesn’t hurt to make sure you’re on the right track when it comes to applying. Fortunately, there are plenty of online resources to help you fine-tune your resume, cover letter, and overall networking skills.
- Career experts share their 24 best LinkedIn Premium networking tips
- Coursera’s free online resume course will teach you how to organize, write, and format a resume that gets to the top of the stack
- 5 expert-led online courses to help you write a cover letter and get hired faster
- 34 brilliant questions to ask at the end of every job interview
If you want to take a break:
Remember that this rejection doesn’t define you — nor does going to med school.
Unfortunately, medical school rejections are common — and the reasons for them are often arbitrary. Dr. Rebecca Mannis, an NYC-based learning specialist, describes the school rejection process as “unique as a person’s fingerprint, but also very doable.”
So how do you do it? Mannis suggests getting in touch with your TLC: temperament, learning profile, and context.
Basically, each person’s temperament, learning style, and context that they bring into their personal experiences are different, and that’s exactly why an entire person can’t be defined by a single accomplishment. For example, some people are more relaxed in temperament while others are more irritable; or some learn through talking to other people while others prefer a visual explanation. No one’s experience is one-size-fits-all, and career paths aren’t either.
Reach out to others who may be going through the same thing — or are just good, empathetic listeners.
The trick to coping with med school rejection, Mannis says, is “to develop a team of individuals you can draw upon for support and skills to get to that next point on your journey in a way that is both effective and efficient.” In other words, it’s important to have a support system around you (and that can absolutely include yourself). Lean on professionals, friends, family, and forums or support groups to guide you through this time.
Search for other ways to find purpose right now.
Staying committed to your career path, if you choose to do so, does not have to mean reapplying immediately (or at all). Mannis recommends “keeping some concrete reminders of what you aspire to,” such as reaching out to a sick friend or volunteering at a non-profit.
“That will remind you of ways you can reach that goal, even now,” she adds.
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