Admission into healthcare professional programs is becoming increasingly competitive. Indeed, the national average acceptance rate for medical school, dental school, and other healthcare programs often does not exceed 30-40%. This means that a large percentage of applicants must reapply every year.
The most important thing to remember is having to reapply is not a big-deal, but you must ensure that your reapplication is stronger and shows clear acknowledgement and improvement of the weak components of your initial application. Submitting the same application from year-to-year is a surefire way to be denied an interview invitation or offer of admission. In fact, the TMDSAS application asks all reapplicants to submit a brief statement detailing the specific steps that were taken to strengthen their application. Be sure to review our guide for taking a gap-year to improve your application.
As you begin the reapplication process, you must first reflect on the reasons you believe you did not get in. Be honest with yourself!
Potential Reasons For Not Getting In
There are several common reasons that an applicant is not admitted. Keep in mind this is not an exhaustive list nor are these reasons mutually-exclusive. There may also be other factors that can affect your likelihood of being admitted that are out of your control, such as the makeup of the applicant pool when you applied.
Poor Academic Performance
Most applicants are not admitted due to poor academic performance and low GPAs, especially in prerequisite courses. Admissions committees are also very attune to trends; that is, it is not just the overall GPA that is considered but the manner in which an applicant structured their academic career. Did the applicant challenge themselves with difficult courses? Did the applicant attempt science courses in combination? Did the applicant struggle during Freshman year but improve each year thereafter? Were most of the courses completed at a 4-year institution or a community college? Additionally, it is not recommended that you rely on a strong test-score to make up for poor grades, as admission committees will question your work ethic and wonder why the same effort put into your test-preparation was not given to your undergraduate coursework.
If you consider your academic performance to be your primary area of weakness, we strongly encourage you to consider completing a postbaccalaureate or specialized Master's program. If you decide to take additional classes to improve your GPA, we recommend focusing primarily on courses that will impact both your overall and science GPA.
Poor Entrance Exam Performance
While most admissions committees have moved to using a holistic review process, entrance exam performance is still used as a predictor of later success in a health professional program. If you know that your test-score is far lower than those who are normally admitted, it is strongly recommended that you consider retaking the test to gain a higher score. This is especially true for those applicants who may have only taken the test once.
That said, it is important not to rush into a second-attempt (or third-attempt). Just like your overall reapplication, a repeat attempt at an entrance exam should not be taken lightly and you are expected to show some improvement. A lower score in a repeat attempt is often worse than a low initial score.
Before scheduling a new test-date, it is important to you reflect on your study-habits/plan, the amount of time you will have to prepare, and any specific limits a health professional program may have on repeat attempts (e.g., medical schools usually limit applicants to three MCAT attempts, many nursing programs limit applicants to two TEAS attempts).
Timing of Application/Late Application Submission
One of the most overlooked aspects of the application process by prospective applicants is simply the timing of when you complete and submit your application materials. This is especially true for the medical school application, where applying later in the Summer can significantly impact the likelihood of securing an interview invitation as the overall number of interview slots begin to dwindle.
While our office always recommends taking your time and not rushing any component of the application, we encourage applicants to submit as early within the submission window as possible (e.g., by mid-June for medical school applications). For many applications services (such as TMDSAS, AMCAS, or AADSAS), applicants can submit their primary applications without a test-score, letters of evaluation, or official transcripts. Be sure to review the individual application timelines of the healthcare area in which you are interested.
Apparent Lack of Knowledge of Chosen Healthcare Profession
It is the expectation of admissions committees that applicants have at least some reasonable knowledge of the tenets and practice of the field of healthcare in which they are applying. Many applicants denied admission, despite strong academic and test-performance, often lack direct clinical experience or exposure, often gained through volunteering, shadowing, or employment. In fact, many healthcare professional programs require a letter of evaluation from an associated practicing healthcare professional (e.g., osteopathic physician, physician assistant, physical therapist, etc.).
Since you are making a long-term commitment of entering a healthcare profession, it is your responsibility to research the field and have some working knowledge of the nature of daily practice as well as the social, economic and political issues surrounding your chosen profession. There are many issues surrounding patient care that go beyond diagnosis and treatment such as liability insurance, federal or state funding of medical care, research ethics or health insurance systems. For more information on where to gain clinical experience, check out our list of opportunities within the Houston-area.
Lack of Extracurricular Involvement
Healthcare disciplines are multi-faceted careers that involve more than just knowledge of scientific principles. Therefore, admissions committees strongly favor applicants who go outside the confines of the classroom to pursue opportunities in which they are interested. These opportunities could include clinical experiences, but may also include those in research, athletics, employment, community-volunteerism, and student-organization engagement. The strongest applicants are those that show a clear ability to balance challenging coursework with extracurricular activities.
If you feel most of your undergraduate career has been "one-note" and mostly focused on coursework, consider taking time to participate in activities either on-campus or in your community that can showcase other aspects of your personality and character. For reference, review the AAMC Core Competencies and consider whether you have engaged any activities that best exemplify these traits.
Poorly Written Personal Statements
While there is no template for how a personal statement should be written. Applicants should be able to express their reasons for pursuing a career in healthcare in an organized and meaningful manner. Typically, the personal statement needs to include an applicant's underlying motivation for a career in medicine, personal qualities they possess that will benefit the profession and their future patients, potential careers goals in medicine. Some applicants also use the personal statement to highlight or address adverse changes in their academic record or significant learning experiences that may have influenced their personal or professional development.
It is important to remember that the personal statement is your first opportunity to provide an admissions committee insight into who you are as an individual beyond "the numbers" and why you have chosen to pursue a particular career path. Consider re-reading your personal statement to see if it "gets to the point" in a clear and concise way. Personal statements that are overly-dramatic or oblique with regard to explaining the reasoning behind your career goals are never received well. For more help, be sure to review our tips for crafting a strong Personal Statement. We also recommend utilizing the University of Houston Writing Center.
Letters of Evaluation
Most healthcare profession programs require a minimum three letters of evaluation for admission; however, meeting this requirement alone is not sufficient for a strong application. As a reapplicant, it is crucial that you evaluate both the specific individuals that may have submitted letters on your behalf and the content they may have included in their letters.
First, nearly all programs will require at least two science professors, while many also require an additional letter from a healthcare professional (e.g., dental medicine, osteopathic medicine, physician assistant, physical therapy, etc.). Not including the specific letters that are requested by healthcare profession programs will automatically disqualify you for admission. Further, submitting "old" letters (i.e., letters that include dates from past application cycles, or from letter-writers that you have not recently interacted with) can only serve to harm your overall application. When reapplying, consider adding "fresh" letters from evaluators that you have recently worked with or those that can detail a distinct aspect of your personal/professional life (e.g., supervisors, coaches, etc.). Finally, there is such a thing as too many letters. Consider an admissions committees time and ask yourself whether an additional letter will actually add any new information or will simply reiterate something that has already been addressed by another letter-writer.
Assuming you have met the minimum letter requirements, you will also want to make sure that your letter writers are including the information that admissions committees find valuable. Too often, letter-writers (especially faculty/instructors) only describe an applicant's class performance. While important, this information is easily found in the transcript and, therefore, does not further enhance an application. When asking a potential evaluator to provide a letter, ensure that they can also include information about your overall demeanor, personality, and overall suitability for the healthcare field in which you are interested.
For more information, review our Letters of Evaluation guidelines.
Did Not Interview Well
Getting an interview is only half the battle to gaining an offer of admission. Since one of the key components of healthcare practice is communication, interviews are a very important part of the admissions process. As a reapplicant, the first thing to remember is that if you were successful in getting interviews, then your application (at least from a "numbers" perspective) is likely strong. Instead, your focus in reapplying should be on honing your interview skills, both in terms of how you communicate and the content of your answers. Once common mistake applicants make during interviews is not adequately researching the program with which they are interviewing. Admissions committees are always looking for applicants that show a clear and sincere interest in their program, so it is important to do your research and have specific reasons for why you are interested in a given program and how you feel you would contribute.
For more information, see our tips for preparing for interviews.
Contacting programs for feedback on application
Some healthcare professional programs offer applicants who were not admitted a chance to receive feedback on their applications and the potential reasons they were not invited to interview or offered admission. For example, McGovern Medical School allows reapplicants the opportunity to speak with an admissions representative to discuss their file each Spring. Importantly, not all programs offer this service, so it is important you carefully review the policies of the program before contacting an admissions office.
Consider alternative career in healthcare
Many students fail to realize that there are a plethora of meaningful and rewarding careers in healthcare. In fact, optometry, dental, allied-health, and nursing careers are rapidly growing in both popularity and in terms of the number of positions available across the country. Further many of these fields, though still competitive, have admission qualifications that are not as high as medical schools. For instance, the vast majority of physician assistant programs accept applicants with an average GPA in the range of 3.2 - 3.6.
While there are distinct differences in the prerequisite requirements to gain admission into other health professional programs, a prospective medical school applicant will largely have most of the required courses and experience. Click here for more information about other careers in healthcare.
Consider applying Early Decision (EDP)
Many medical schools will accept students with slightly below-average GPAs and MCAT scores through the Early Decision Program (EDP), if it is obvious that the applicant has a clear commitment to medicine and a strong desire to attend that particular institution.
Always Assume You Will Not Be Admitted
Many applicants feel compelled to slow down or quit activities after submitting their application. Our office strongly recommends you always proceed with the assumption that you will not be admitted, even if you are extremely confident in your application. Doing so will prevent the situation in which you are not admitted and must scramble to find ways to improve your reapplication.
If you have already graduated, we recommend applicants maintain some involvement in their community and health-related service activities. It is our perspective that healthcare is a profession of service and admissions committees look to find those who continue to engage themselves in these activities.
Failing to Complete the Prerequisite Courses
While most healthcare professional programs do not require that all prerequisite courses be completed before applying, not having a substantial number of these courses finished can significantly harm your application. Our office strongly recommends you complete at least 75% of the required courses for admission before applying in order to confirm to admissions committees both your commitment to your chosen career path and ability to perform well in the required coursework.
Not Including Specific Information in Response to Activity Questions
Assuming that you have participated in a number of extracurricular activities and clinical opportunities before applying, it is equally important that these experiences are adequately described in your application. Indeed, many applicants spend the bulk of the character-limits describing activities in which they were involved, and fail to discuss the overall impact and meaning of these activities. For example, assume that an admissions committee knows what shadowing is and, instead, spend the bulk of your allotted space outlining what you learned from this experience. Lack of information or providing inconsistent information does not present itself well on your application.