It’s that time of  year, when crossed fingers seem futile, hopes get dashed and medical school dreams seem hazy, if not a mere school rejection

When you get a med school rejection, it’s a stinging rebuke after all your years of preparation and hard work. It’s inconceivable. It’s unfair. And it’s enough to make you re-evaluate every one of your life goals and plans. Do you still want to practice medicine? Do you have the motivation to forge ahead? Can you do any better on your next application? If your answer to all of these questions is yes, then by all means don’t give up yet!

What are your motivations for medical school?

After a med school rejection, and before you decide to double down on medicine, take the time to do some self-analysis. It’s time to look at your reasons for pursuing medical school in the first place. Close your eyes and look into your future, where you’re a practicing doctor, doing what you’re trained to do. What is the thing that makes you happiest about this picture? Is it having done something really tough? Is it being able to treat and cure people who need your help? Is it having an M.D. next to your name, and the prestige that brings? Are you thinking of how proud your parents must be? Or are you imagining driving that expensive sports car, and all the financial trappings that come with a medical career?

Once you’re able to put your finger on your truest motivation(s) for becoming a doctor, it will make it easier to decide how hard to push to achieve that dream after a med school rejection. If your motivations are related to something intrinsic to you (fulfillment of a desire to serve, putting your skills to their best use to change a community of patients), then it will be easier to move forward and make a second try. On the other hand, if you’re re-considering your commitment to medicine (even if you’re still in the middle of your undergrad years) check out our post entitled “Is it time to quit my pre-med major?”

How can I avert another med school rejection?

Do not re-apply unless you plan to submit a much stronger application package the second time around! There are a lot of things you can do to improve on your first application, no matter how good you think it was. If you haven’t already done this, ask the pre-med counselor at your school to evaluate your application package and identify weak areas. Read over your essay and consider new, better approaches. Check out my posts here and here: Call the admissions office at the medical school and ask to talk to a counselor about tips for improving your application package. Check out my tips here and here. You probably won’t get specific reasons for your rejection, but you may get some valuable advice and input on the package you submitted.

Here are some ideas for improving your standing before the adcom committee:

—Take a job in a medical setting

—Re-take the MCAT if your score was low

—Take upper level science courses to improve your sGPA

—Complete a “postbac” program designed for pre-med students

—Change your personal essay; get help reviewing and editing it from a mentor

—Consider changing your references, if you have doubt about their input

—Allow for enough time between the first and second applications to impact your application for the better

—Practice your interview skills and use the interview to show how you’ve grown, and what more you have to offer since your first try

You’re in good company

Remember that most med school applicants are rejected. The competition is fierce for the limited spaces in med schools, prestigious and otherwise. So you’re in good company if you received a med school rejection. It’s a well-known fact that many a rejected student is accepted the second time around, and that adcoms appreciate persistence, as long as it’s accompanied by hard work. You’ll need to present yourself as a different person than the first one the committee evaluated.

One final note: when you reapply in a new cycle, make sure to do it early. If you’re re-taking the MCAT, hopefully you’ve already done it, or will soon, so you scores will be available to schools around the time they open for applications. Applications open in May, and sometime shortly after June 1 they can be submitted to the schools through AMCAS. If you miss the first wave of acceptances, your chances will begin to diminish slightly.

So good luck! And make this next year count.