Let’s face it, being waitlisted is hard. It feels like a perpetual limbo with no end in sight. For some schools, there is very little you can do to change your placement on the waitlist. For some, demonstrating interest does a lot. Here’s a step-by-step guide of navigating life on the waitlist to acceptance from the point of view of someone who’s done it!


Okay, so you’ve finished your medical school interview and you finally get the email with the results: WAITLISTED. There are probably a thousand things rushing through your mind, but one of them (especially if you haven’t received an acceptance yet) might be some feeling of not being good enough. Stop right there. If you’ve been waitlisted, that means that school believes you will be a great doctor and is willing to have you come to their school this year if they get to you on the waitlist. Be reassured in that. The school believes in you, so you should believe in yourself, too.


Different schools have different suggestions on what to do if you’re waitlisted. Below are some easy steps to follow that work for many schools. If the school provides direction on how frequently/infrequently to contact them, follow that over anything I write.

01. Respond

As soon as you receive notification you’ve gotten on the waitlist, let the school know if you’re still interested in staying on it. If you’ve gotten in elsewhere and would rather go there, even if you get off the waitlist, then take yourself off the waitlist. If you haven’t gotten in anywhere else yet, keep that waitlist position and let them know how interested you are in the school. It helps to cite specific things about the school/program so they know it’s not just some canned response you’re sending every school.

02. Update

Did you just complete a relevant course with a good grade? Get published? Anything else that benefits your application? Update the admissions counselor/director, whoever the appropriate contact is for that school. Don’t have any updates? That’s okay. If you can, try to look into things that will boost your application; even if it won’t be done by this application cycle, it could help next year if need be and it shows your ongoing dedication to joining the profession this year, too.

03. Reiterate interest

Whenever you email the admissions department, reiterate your interest in the program. Some schools don’t want emails unless they include an update. Some schools tell you to check in every month or so (more often once they start making movement on the waitlist) to reaffirm your interest and provide updates if applicable. Adhere to those suggestions and/or timelines if given. Some schools will bump individuals up on waitlists if the student continues to demonstrate interest.

04. Be ready

Be ready to up and leave. Upon acceptance, a deposit is usually required quickly and can be up to a few thousand dollars. If you can, keep that in a savings account readily accessible. You’ll also need housing, so put aside some money for a down payment and first month’s rent as well as furnishings you may need. Your loan usually won’t come in until the first day of school, and you’ll need housing before then.
If you’ve started an internship or a job that you can’t leave for school or it’s just too close to the start of the school year for you to be able to up and move and start school, respectfully request to be taken off the waitlist. I’d recommend thanking them for the opportunity to be on the waitlist and reaffirm your interest in the school and excitement to reapply next year. Also explain why you’re removing yourself from the waitlist, especially if it’s going to be an application booster for you. As I was advised by my pre-med advisor, if you stay on the waitlist, get in, and then decline that acceptance, you are unlikely to get in again, even at a different school. It’s not impossible, just incredibly difficult, even with big boosts to your application. So be aware of that. If you stay on the waitlist, be ready to go.


When I got off the waitlist, it was exactly 2 weeks before I was required to be 20 hours away from where I was living (and I know people who had much less than two weeks to get to school). I had very little in savings; I had just adopted a dog; I was in the middle of a busy time at work; I was about to sign a lease on a new apartment in a location with a much lower cost-of-living than where I was moving; I had a bachelorette party to go to the next weekend; I had a life I was busy living. In two weeks I had to find a house and rent it sight unseen, get financial aid in order, start training someone for my job, and move 20 hours away. I worked until 5 p.m. Friday night and had my white coat ceremony on Monday. It’s been totally worth it. But I wish I’d been more ready. Since I’ve started school, I can tell you there has been no difference in people who got in off the waitlist and those that were admitted right after their interview. It is a struggle trying to keep up with school while also trying to move in and get settled, but that’s a short term struggle. Long term, we’re all on the same playing field, working to become the best we can be for our patients.


That’s okay. Disheartening, for sure. But you showed that school that you were interested in them and they are definitely interested in you! That is progress. Reapply at that school  and others. Reaffirm your interest in the school. Boost your application, whether that be through volunteer work, research, coursework to bump your GPA, retaking the MCAT, etc. Don’t lose faith though. A lot of people go through multiple application cycles. You’re going to be a great physician! Just keep telling yourself that.