03 October 2008

Playing the Waiting Game and Keeping Your Sanity


You scrambled around and made sure that every one of your writers of your letters of recommendation did their respective jobs. You started your Personal Statement early and left plenty of time for editing and corrections. You started to fill out your AMCAS application as soon as it was available and you made sure that there were no mistakes. Finally, on the first day that you could, you pushed the submit button and the “waiting game” started. You had heard that in every circumstance, early application is the best strategy for success in getting into medical school. So now, you find that it’s early summer, school is out, and you are in for the wait.

Starting the Wait

Your next hurdle is to receive word that your AMCAS is verified. This can take six weeks or more if there were no mistakes or lost transcripts and can often take much longer if things are not moving efficiently. This step has to happen and it can cause worry if things are delayed. I can tell you that, in terms of medical schools, early summer is a non-time in terms of admissions. Most of our time is spent on getting the current class underway and gearing up for the start of receipt of new applications. For us, that early lag of time between when you can submit your application and verification is vacation time, organization time and just plain much-needed down time for us in terms of application review. It is also the time when we try to put the finishing touches on the class that is set for the new year.

The best strategy for you at this period is to make a folder for each school that you have applied to. In this folder, you will place copies of your personal statement, copies of any completed secondary applications one they have been received and completed and copies of any correspondence that you receive from that school. You can also put an envelop on the front of the folder with a copy of your itinerary once you have made travel plans for your interview. In any event, start making the folders and securing a safe place for them.

The next thing to do is make and Excel spreadsheet. On that sheet, you should make a book for each school that you have applied to. You will eventually log every date and every receipt of correspondence that you will receive. You columns should go something like date received, date sent, and date of school’s receipt. (Needless to say, anything that you send to a school should be sent by certified mail with receipt notification). Repository services such as Interfolio will also post dates of when they send your materials and when they were received. You definitely want to make sure that you keep your application materials and correspondence with each school very organized and safe.

Plan B

Plan B is what you will do if you are not accepted. In the business of medical school acceptance, nothing is a certainly except you won’t get accepted to a school if you don’t apply there. Acceptance, even if you have submitted an application with a 4.0 uGPA and 45 MCAT is not assured for anyone. It is wise to have a carefully though out and planned Plan B. From experience -mine and others- the more elaborate and complete your Plan B, the less chance you will have to use it. Start planning and working on you Plan B.

Financial Aid Forms

Right after you have submitted your AMCAS, you should begin and complete your FAFSA forms. You will need to obtain a financial aid transcript from every school that you have attended whether or not you received financial aid. If you are not applying for scholarship or financial aid for medical school, you can skip this step.

When you complete your FAFSA, have the results sent to every school that you have applied to. This will save you time in the long run. If you are not accepted, having your financial aid information sent is not going to make a difference one way or the other. If you are accepted late, having your financial aid information already in place can save plenty of headache when school starts.

Senior Year

If you are an undergraduate, you want to plan a strong senior year. I know that “senioritis” sets in and you are tempted to want to coast because you are done with MCAT and done with the majority of your courses but don’t do this. Take some seminar courses and expand your knowledge base or take some research courses and pick up some valuable skills. My senior year of university was spent writing and presenting my honors thesis work. This was actually great experience for me and propelled me into the world of research scholarship. Use that senior year to shore up any possible deficiencies that you might have and to finish strong.

This is also a prime time to begin a solid exercise program. My biggest regret in medical school was that I didn’t stay in good physical condition. If I had kept up with my conditioning, I would have been an even more efficient student and a student with far less stress. Take this time to start and hone a solid aerobic exercise system that you can complete in 30 minutes to 1 hour each day. It can be as simple as taking three 10-minute brisk walks or climbing a couple of floors of stairs until you work up to 14 floors daily (only up direction counts). Even today, I make sure that I do at least 14 floors up every day. I can find steps pretty easily and do a couple of floors between cases or when I need a break from my desk.

Early Fall

By this time, you should be keeping your senior coursework strong and completing all secondary applications within one week of receiving them. Another thing that you need to do is go to a professional photographer and have some professional head shots taken of you in your interview attire. You will need these for many secondary applications and you will need them later for things like USMLE application. Don’t use a cheap “Passport photo” service. These cheap services will take photos that make you look like you have been in prison. Use a professional photographer and groom yourself as if you were going for interview. That secondary application should look polished and professional. Once you have chosen a good photo from the proofs, have several passport-sized sheets made and keep these in a safe place.

Again, as soon as you complete and post a secondary, make a copy and place this in the folder for that school. It’s a good idea to make a copy of everything that pertains to each school including things from their website (names of deans of admissions, names of admission coordinators) along with dates of any phone conversations. Also place copies of any e-mails that you have received for each school.

Interview Time

Most schools spend July and August reviewing applications and interviewing Early Decision applicants. You can expect to receive notification that you are complete but not much more information from your schools. Early Decision applicants have to be notified by September 1 so their applications are processed first. After the first couple of weeks of September, some of the earliest regular applicants may be notified of acceptance by some schools. If you receive a notification of invitation to interview at this time, this is great but don’t read anything into not receiving an invitation to interview. At this point, it is way early and you should be either working on Plan B or working diligently on your coursework. In short, don’t start obsessing about timing.

Many schools will not even begin interview session until late October and early November. Again, if you applied in early June, it will have been a long time. Don’t get crazy and don’t begin to call schools. If you have received a “complete” notice, then you wait. Find something else to do. If you have an interview notification, then work on your travel plans and logistics. Elsewhere on this blog, you will find posts about traveling to interview.

If you haven’t heard from any school by the end of October, consider applying to more schools. If you were in the very early applicants, you may need to broaden the number of schools that you have applied to. A major mistake that many applicants make is overestimating their competitiveness for medical school. If you are not securely above the averages for matriculants (uGPA 3.65 and MCAT 31) then you likely need to add more schools. If you are above those averages, you can hold but you probably should have head from schools by now. If not, make sure that your application materials have arrived.

Holiday Time

You applied early and haven’t received any interview notifications. Yes, it’s easy to fall into the trap of being depressed but this is the time to plunge into the holidays and not get insane. Yes, I know that it’s only your future here but you cannot do anything more at this point. I will repeat in all caps for emphasis, YOU CANNOT DO ANYTHING MORE AT THIS POINT. If your application is complete then you have to wait. It’s a good time to plan your trip home for the holidays and take a breather from coursework.

January and February

These are very heavy interview months. You may find that the interview invitations will roll in at this time. Again, there is still plenty of time to receive an interview and receive an acceptance. This is also a time when many of the early interviewers will begin to receive acceptances. If you have done a couple of interviews but received no acceptance, don’t panic here either. Again, work on and finalize your Plan B.

If you are a dedicated reader of The Student Doctor Network, don’t obsess over the fact that others have been accepted but you are still waiting. Timing is out of your control and dependent on things like the number of applications received by the schools that you have applied to and the competitiveness of those applications. The only thing that you can do at this point is WAIT (dread).

March and April

By the beginning of April, some folks will find themselves on wait lists and without an acceptance. This is not entirely a bad situation though you may want to make a decision as to whether you will begin to collect the things you need for reapplication. If you need to do things like re-take the MCAT, you need to have gotten started on your study and planning for the test. You can’t wait too late and you can’t do a re-take without some significant review and preparation. The worst thing that you can do is post an MCAT retake with a mediocre score.

If you are on a wait list, remember that there is a huge wait list movement on and after May 15th. May 15th is the date when people cannot hold multiple acceptances. I always advise folks to release acceptances as soon as they have either been accepted by their first choice or when they have made the decision as to where they want to attend. I released my acceptances by the third week of February because I had made my decision. I am sure that five people were grateful that I did that because they were able to get in that year.

May and later

In general, after May 15th, you are not likely going to gain acceptance. There are exceptions, especially the schools with rolling admissions but by this time, you should either have an acceptance or gathered your materials for reapplication. You can look at my previous post on when to give up on application to medical school but if you don’t have an acceptance by now, you likely need to take an objective look at your competitiveness and do some application upgrading.

If you need more coursework, this is a good time to get registered for post bacc work. If you are planning to enter a SMP (Special Masters Program), then you need to get busy fast. These SMP programs have deadlines too. In short, these may become your new Plan B and you need to get to work. If you are on a waitlist at this point, it will not hurt you to go ahead and plan on reapplying. Sure, you will lose the money of submitting your application but if you are not accepted off of a wait list, you will be happy that you reapplied early.

If you reapply, change everything that you can change about your application. Do not apply to the same schools with the same application materials. We do compare old and new applications. If you were unsuccessful and submit the same unsuccessful application materials, you are most likely not going to be successful next year either. The average matriculant uGPA and MCAT scores have always gone up. Also, unless a school tells you that you need more extracurricular activity, you likely don’t need to add more here either.


You may want to look into the following:

1. Getting the services of a professional pre-med counselor. For nontraditional applicants who have been unsuccessful, this is money that will be well spent.

2. Taking more undergraduate coursework to raise your uGPA. If you are significantly below 3.5, you likely need a year or two of more coursework.
If you have an MCAT score below 28, you need a re-take period if you are applying to allopathic medical schools.

3. Making sure that you have applied to a wide range of schools. If you only applied to schools in the Northeast, you may want to go out of that region. You need a minimum of 10 schools if your are a strong applicant and 15 to 20 if you are less than competitive.

4. Don’t thumb your nose at osteopathic medical schools. If you are under the averages for allopathic but your uGPA is above 3.2 and MCAT above 27 but less than 30, you stand a good shot at osteopathic medicine. If you get into osteopathic medical school, you can have the same career as attending allopathic medical school. If you want to be a physician, they are definitely the way to go.