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The Medical School Admission Waitlist Process

As a medical school applicant, one of the most difficult decisions you may face is how to handle a waitlist decision from a school you really want to attend. Should you just sit tight, fearing that submitting unsolicited material will annoy the admissions committee and ruin or chances? Or should you flood the school with additional material, hoping something you send will convince the school to admit you?

The best advice is: follow the instructions from the admissions committee. If they say that you should not send in additional material, then you should stick to their policy. Even though you are anxious to let them know how interested you are, ignoring their request will put you at a disadvantage.

While you want to remain in contact with your school while on the waitlist, you need to be careful not to overstep the boundaries. Sending an additional 10 letters of recommendation may convince the admissions committee you are qualified to attend, but may also make them question the kind of student you will be once on campus.

We always suggest an applicant remain positive while on a waitlist. Many people who are placed on a waitlist and are not accepted decide to transfer to that school a year or two later. Medical school candidates who are considerate during the application process will be thought of more positively the next time they apply. In a similar way, a candidate who is not thoughtful and does not present him or herself well in the application process may not be favorably considered in the transfer application process.

Waitlists are used to control class size. Medical schools have a certain number in mind of how many students they want to enroll. But admission is not an exact science. If too many students accept an offer to enroll, the class will be too big. If too few accept, it will be too small. To avoid having a class that is too small, admissions offices maintain a waitlist. If a student denies an admissions offer, the office will review the applications on the waitlist and consider admitting one. Typically, the list is not ranked, but it can help schools maintain diversity. So, if someone with a similar background to yours declines admission, you are more likely to be admitted.

The waitlists at many medical schools are often large, and only a few students on the list are expected to be admitted. In addition, waitlists are often used to craft the class later in the admissions cycle. By May or June, admissions offices have a good idea of what the class looks like. So, when they look to the waitlist, they are often looking to balance or solidify certain aspects, gender balance, diversity numbers, geographic distribution, or to make sure the financial aid budget can be met.

Some candidates on a waitlist may hear their fate quickly, as some schools review their waitlists after first deposits are due around April or May. Elite schools have a policy to eliminate waitlists by early to mid-July, but other schools keep them longer and may not let students know they've been admitted until a few weeks before classes start. It is a good idea to determine how long you are willing to wait. Set a date. If you have not been admitted by then, call and ask to be removed from the waitlist. Either way, you will want to pay your deposit to enroll at a college by the Candidate's Reply Date, May 15 (April 30 if classes start on or before July 30), just to be sure you have a spot somewhere. Keep in mind, you will be expected to forfeit that deposit if you are offered and accept a spot off the waitlist at your first school of choice.

Being placed on a waitlist certainly causes anxiety, but try to be patient. That particular medical school obviously saw strengths in your application and they want time to reevaluate it. Staying positive is key, as schools almost always accept people from the waitlist later in the process. Remember, you are still in the game!

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