Applying to medical school is a long, arduous process! Despite your best efforts to move forward, you are likely to encounter various hindrances and frustrations along the way, perhaps no more so than being placed on a waitlist.

There are two types of waitlists med schools use. The first, pre-interview waitlists, are used because schools only have a certain number of interview slots; if applicants who are offered an interview invitation decline, schools can offer interviews to people on the waitlist. The second, post-interview waitlists, are used for the similar reason that schools only have so many openings per class, and they can’t completely predict how many of the applicants they accept will choose to attend; if fewer accepted applicants enroll, schools can offer spots to people on the waitlist.

If you’ve been waitlisted by one or more of the medical schools you’ve applied to, we know how agonizing the uncertainty can be! You’re probably hungry for all the information you can get, from how common it is to get off the waitlist to when you’ll hear back from schools. In this post, which focuses on post-interview waitlists, we cover some of the basics.

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How many students get off the waitlist?

The short answer: it depends on the school. Beyond this, it depends on the year, and how many students accept or decline from the initial pool. That said, very competitive schools tend to admit fewer students off their waitlists than less selective med schools, for the simple reason that people offered an acceptance by a very competitive school are more likely to accept.

But, this fact notwithstanding, there is no reason to lose hope if you’ve been waitlisted! Med schools have to be very conservative with the number of acceptances they offer initially, because there isn’t much flexibility in terms of class size. In a chart called “Waitlist Procedures,” the AAMC lists the typical number of waitlist positions each medical school offers, as well as the number of acceptance offers usually made from the waitlist. (Caveat: when looking at this chart, keep in mind the huge potential for variability from year to year.)

UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, for example, usually has a waitlist of about 150 applicants, of whom about 50 receive spots. That’s over 30 percent, meaning if you’ve been waitlisted at UCLA, you have a decent chance of being admitted! At the University of Massachusetts Medical School, the odds tend to be even better: about 70 of 150 waitlisted applicants, or close to half, are admitted. Even at Yale School of Medicine, about 30 of 200 waitlisted applicants are admitted each year. Fifteen percent odds might not keep you sleeping calmly through the night, but they’re nothing to sneeze at, in our opinion.

When will you hear?

According to the AAMC’s “Traffic Rules,” students who have been admitted to more than one medical school must choose where they’re planning to enroll by April 30. This means that, approaching and, especially, effective that date, med schools suddenly have a lot more information about how many of the students they’ve accepted plan to matriculate—and, thus, how many spots they still have left to fill in the incoming class. Beyond this, students offered a spot after April 30 are given less time to decide whether to attend (five days instead of two weeks), so even if other waitlisted applicants are offered a spot before you, the turnover will be more rapid than before the April 30th deadline.

All of this means that the most common time to get accepted off the waitlist is from April through June, as students decline offers of admission and seats open up in the incoming class. That said, because anything can happen—including students who’ve decided to enroll in a given med school changing their minds at the last minute—many med schools keep their waitlists open until the start of classes, so there is a possibility that you could hear at the very last minute.

Are waitlists ranked?

Once again, it depends on the school. Med schools that use ranked waitlists offer spots in order, from the first person on the list to the last; such schools may or may not tell applicants their ranking. Other schools divide waitlisted applicants into tiers, then re-evaluate applicants within each group, from first tier to last, as spots open up. Schools that don’t rank tend to treat their waitlist pool as though it’s a totally separate applicant pool, freshly evaluating whom to admit once spots open up. One reason schools might do it this way instead of ranking from the get-go—which would seem to save time—is that it allows them to evaluate who among the waitlisted candidates would best round out the class that’s already taken shape.

The AAMC chart referenced above details the nature of various school’s waitlist procedures. Florida State University College of Medicine, for example, ranks waitlisted applicants and offers acceptances in rank order, but doesn’t tell applicants exactly where they fall on the waitlist. University of Central Florida College of Medicine, which also ranks, tells applicants their position and probability of being accepted, with updates every four to six weeks. Nova Southeastern University Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Allopathic Medicine has a tiered waitlist, and selects applicants based both on their tier number and how they’ll round out the composition of the med school class. Central Michigan University College of Medicine maintains an unranked waitlist, and selects candidates based on the needs of the current class.

The benefit of an unranked list is that your fate is not sealed: the actions you take during your time on the waitlist can significantly affect your candidacy! So…

What how can you improve your chance of getting off the waitlist?

First things first: follow each school’s policies and instructions! If a school says not to contact them after submitting your application, heed their directive. But if the school allows, and especially if the waitlist you’re on is unranked, we strongly advise sending one or more update letters to inform the school of any updates to your application since you submitted it, and reaffirm your interest in attending.

If you have a clear first-choice school, absolutely send a letter of intent stating that the school is your first choice and that you’d attend if accepted. Keep in mind that you can only send one such letter, and you should mean it! Letters of intent should include a thank-you to the school for continuing to consider your application; a reaffirmation of your interest in the school; any updates to your application; and a summary of why the school is such a good fit for you, and you for it.

Even though it’s possible to get off the waitlist all the way up until the start of the semester, if you haven’t received any acceptances by mid-April and are still committed to enrolling in med school as soon as possible, we advise preparing to re-apply. Keep in mind that this situation is incredibly common and doesn’t at all mean that you’ve failed: only about 42% of all medical school applicants in a given cycle are accepted to at least one medical school, and about 25% of the applicants to medical school each year are re-applicants, meaning that they have applied in a previous cycle. If you’re a re-applicant, that means you have a chance to carefully evaluate and strengthen your application for the next cycle. Do take the time to revise your application rather than submitting the same version that was waitlisted this go-round.

It’s important to remember that if you’ve been waitlisted, you’ve made it really far! Getting onto the waitlist is almost as hard as getting accepted to medical school (which is really, really hard). Being waitlisted also gives you a chance to reevaluate and improve your application—and we at Collegiate Gateway would be happy to assist you.

If you have questions about getting off the waitlist, resubmitting medical school applications, or any other aspect of the medical school admissions process, please contact us—we’re always happy to help.