How Does the Med School Waitlist Process Work?

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Session 360

So you’ve been put on the waitlist. What now? Here are some tips for continuing to stand out while respecting individual school policies.

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October 15 is a big day in the premed world where the AAMC tells allopathic medical schools to communicate with students about their acceptance. AACOMAS doesn’t do this with DO schools.

At this point, interview invites are still going out. So you still have a chance! Usually, the reason for students who are not getting those interview invites is due to lower stats. 

If you have amazing stats, maybe there are other reasons for this. If you don’t get an acceptance to medical school, check out to Application Renovation. Get the chance for your application to be reviewed in-depth as we help students try to figure out potentially where they went wrong.  (Click here to apply.)

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

[06:15] The Application Timeline

The applications open up in May and June. For AACOMAS (for DO applications) and TMDSAS (for Texas applications), you can submit immediately. For AMCAS (for MD applications), you can’t submit until the end of May and the beginning of June.

'Most schools are on a rolling admissions basis. Submit your application as early as possible.'Click To Tweet

The earlier your application is in, the earlier it can be verified. Usually, they send out the first wave of applications for AACOMAS and AMCAS to the medical schools by mid till late June. At this time, secondary essays start to flip back.

Then the interview invites begin to come at the end of July through the beginning of August. The acceptances for DO schools happen as soon as they want and they don’t limit who can be accepted or when they can be accepted.

If you’re applying to an MD school and wondering how someone got accepted in October, there could be a couple of reasons for this. It could be a DO applicant getting their acceptance to a DO school. Or it could be an Early Decision applicant.

Early Decision students basically apply to one school in the hope of being interviewed at that school. A decision has to be made by the end of September. So if they don’t get in the Early Decision, they can go through the general application process.

[Related episode: What Does the Med School Application Timeline Look Like?]

[08:36] No Interview Invites? Don’t Panic

If you are not getting any interview invites at this point (mid-October), there’s still a chance. If you haven’t received any by the end of November, you have to start thinking about ways to improve your application for the next cycle.

'If you haven't gotten any interview invites by the end of November then it's time to start thinking about how to improve your application for the next cycle.'Click To Tweet

There’s no need to panic. It happens to a lot of students. It just means, not this year – not yet. There’s something in your application to improve upon which you can work on. 

[Related episode: 9 Med School Application Tips That Will Give You an Edge]

[09:45] Post-October 15

At this point, the decision comes down from the schools and they may send you acceptances. You typically have to put down a deposit to hold that spot. MD schools are better at regulating deposit amounts than DO schools.

So you can be accepted or rejected. Others are put on a waitlist. And it’s not as complicated as most students make it out to be.

But what is a waitlist?

[11:15] The Pre-Interview Waitlist

A pre-interview waitlist means the schools are keeping their options open with you. You’re not bad enough for them to reject you. You’re also not good enough for them to have you immediately. So they’re just going to keep you at arm’s length to see if they want to come back around to you.

'A pre-interview waitlist doesn't necessarily mean you're rejected. It just means not quite yet.'Click To Tweet

Some schools would be sending update letters. If you get one, be sure to send a thank-you note. Then really check in with each school to see what they expect or require or don’t want as far as updates during the application cycle.

[13:07] Post-Interview Waitlist

'There may be some schools where almost all of their students go right to a waitlist and then they make their decisions later.'Click To Tweet

The post-interview waitlist is kind of a mashup between rolling admission and a regular process. They’ll do rolling admissions for the interviews and then they’ll wait until all the students have interviewed. Then they take a look at all their students.

Do your homework to know which schools do this. Ask questions. During the interview process, a potential question you can ask is what percentage of students they waitlist.

Once you’re waitlisted, again, take time to say thank you by sending them a short and sweet note.

Please respect the school’s policies around update letters and letters of intent and letters of interest. An email in response to being waitlisted can sidestep policies as you’re just responding to them notifying you of being waitlisted.

Pay attention to the policies of the school.

'You don't want to send an update letter to a school that doesn't want update letters.'Click To Tweet

[15:10] Reasons for Being Waitlisted

The waitlist process is really hard for students. Let’s assume you interviewed at one school and got waitlisted at that school. And that’s the only school that you have a potential shot at.

A lot of students are in this situation and they feel trapped. They’re confused as to what their next steps should be. They’re frozen in fear of doing anything.

During this process, you really need to be introspective and find out potentially why you’ve been waitlisted. A lot of waitlists come because of poor interviews.

'Poor interviewing is a really good reason to be waitlisted.'Click To Tweet

A lot of waitlist will come because of stats. Not every school is going to interview you and ignore your stats post-interview. A lot of schools will still look at your stats and compare you to other students. And you may just not make the cut on that day. That’s okay.

[Related episode: How Does the Med School Waitlist Process Work?]

[17:10] Chaos Around Available Spots versus Waitlisted Applicants

'Coming off of a waitlist is a painful process because you just don't know when it's going to happen.'Click To Tweet

The AAMC changed their “traffic rules” in 2018 and caused a lot of chaos. It was a different waitlist for students. Schools are trying to figure out what their numbers look like. This caused a lot of trepidation among schools to accept students. As well, this caused a lot of delays.

Hopefully, as we move through this process year after year, things will get better. Schools will understand their numbers better and estimate better who they need to accept to fill their class.

Remember that schools are accepting students over and above the number of seats they have. This springs from the thought that there’s always going to be a percentage of students who are going to be accepted at another school. Then they go to that school for one reason or another.

Schools are always playing this game trying to balance out the numbers of students they’re accepting. 

This process starts around February and goes through March and April. Students are logging into this tool where they could see the schools they’re accepted to and commit to enroll at those schools. The schools base their number of available seats on this tool which is what’s causing some chaos.

'This game of selecting schools you plan or commit to enroll at is what's telling schools how many seats they have available to offer to the waitlist.'Click To Tweet

[19:30] When a Waitlisted Applicant Gets Accepted

Another scenario is when a student has multiple acceptances and they have been accepted to another school they really want. But then they’ve also been accepted to the school you’re waitlisted. Hopefully, they will contact that school so they can withdraw their application from that school.

In theory, this will open up a seat. Depending on how the school has their waitlist, that may mean you get that next email saying that you’ve been accepted.

'Schools can either have ranked or unranked waitlist.'Click To Tweet

A ranked waitlist is a list that’s ranked in order. As the seats open up, they will pull from the top and then the number moves up as one opens after another.

An unranked waitlist means a pool of students on the waitlist are reviewed by the school again. They will look at the old notes and figure out where you stand and whether they want to offer you an acceptance at that point.

Once schools can see the number of seats available to offer then there’s movement from the waitlist. This again depends on whether their waitlist is ranked versus unranked. This is another question you can ask on your interview day.

Some schools will also tell you where you stand in a ranked waitlist. Unfortunately, not all schools will give you this information.

Let’s say you’ve been waitlisted at one school and only one school you can get into. You can be accepted up until that school year starts, and maybe even after orientation. That has happened. That can happen and will happen to many of you.

'Especially with the new traffic rules, schools can still accept students as long as they have a seat available.'Click To Tweet

[24:13] Application Renovation

If you’ve gone through this process and haven’t gotten in, understand where your application fell short. Go to to be a part of the Application Renovation series.


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