During the Application Year

My applications have been complete at schools since August and there are several schools that I haven’t heard from. How should I interpret not hearing back from a medical school? Does this mean that my application is on hold but still in consideration?

Every school has its own process and timeline – they may not have even reviewed your file once at this point, they may have reviewed it and put it ‘on hold pre-interview’ meaning that they could revisit it later, or they may have decided not to pursue your candidacy and haven’t told you. There’s no way to know which situation you face at any given school, so best to just assume that an interview is still possible. In the meantime, stay productive in your activities, consider people you may ask for one more letter of recommendation if needed, seek out more information about the schools so that you can send messages describing your continued interest with new details, and be in touch with us at HPA so that we know which schools you’re particularly interested in hearing from in case we’re in touch with the schools. Over 200 interview invitations were extended November and later last application cycle, so keep hanging in there! 

Is it a good or bad idea to send a letter to medical schools? For the ones I haven't heard from, I was thinking along the lines of restating my interest and tying my application together more.

There are different kinds of letters that you can send, the most serious of which is the letter of intent. You should wait to write this letter, however, after you have finished most, if not all, of your interviews - you wouldn't have much credibility if you told a school they're your first choice when you've only visited one or two (and you might change your mind with more interviews)!

Apart from the letter of intent, you can send new information about your activities or accomplishments, updates when you have new grades, and otherwise indicate your continued interest with the schools where you have not been invited to interview or have not heard anything at all, but do not make a commitment as you would in a letter of intent. Again, keep the letters brief and to the point.

For schools where you have interviewed, some will let you know when you interview what kinds of additional information they might want (or you can ask if they don't bring it up). Generally, it's fine to send updates of significant information (grades, publications, etc).

I'm a senior, applying to med school right now.  Will the med schools I've applied to see my fall grades?  Should I send them a transcript when the semester's over?  Do my grades from this semester count?

As they say, "It ain't over 'til it's over."  Some of your medical schools will request a fall transcript and you should comply with this request.  So, yes, your fall grades "count," meaning they may be scrutinized by some of your schools.  For the medical schools that do NOT make such a request, you can send an update with your grades proactively if your performance is on par (or better) than previous semesters (you can include grades within an update letter and offer to send an official transcript upon request, perhaps including some information about upcoming classes and activities). Also, if you're a non-science major who has the minimum of science classes OR a student with a borderline science GPA, then your performance in additional science this fall should be shared with medical schools.  The most common situation in which a medical school asks for a fall transcript is when the applicant has been put "on hold" or officially waitlisted; in some cases, schools may even request a spring transcript, though most admissions decisions will be made by the time you complete the spring term.  Make sure you have the Registrar send a transcript that's "official," not merely a printout of the grades you access online. 

Some of my medical schools start sending acceptances next week. What’s the proper way to respond to news of acceptances?

Starting October 15 for medical school, and December 1 for dental school (others schools’ dates vary), you may begin to receive acceptances from schools. A few DO schools are sending acceptances starting in late summer. First of all, if you’ve just been accepted, congratulations! Go and celebrate, and then come back to this answer!

This may sound obvious, but accept the first seat you’re offered, even if it isn’t at one of your top choice schools and you’re confident that you’ll receive another – it’s always better to have one seat than none at all. If you later get accepted by another school that’s higher on your list, send professional letters 1) withdrawing from the first school, and 2) accepting the second school’s offer (this is a good time to become familiar with the AAMC’s traffic rules if you’re applying to MD programs).

Many schools will give you specific instructions on how to respond to an offer of admission. If you are offered a seat at a school and do not receive specific instructions, the basic first step is to write a letter to the Dean of Admissions, stating that you accept the position. Include your name (obviously) and your relevant contact information for the time from acceptance to matriculation, as well as any other information that you are asked to provide. If you haven’t done so already, this is a good time to get a permanent (non-Princeton) email account, so you won’t have to send an update when your Princeton account expires (please use a professional username). Most schools require a deposit, which is often refundable, to hold your seat. Send your response by certified mail, with a return receipt, so that you will know when the school receives it. At this point, you should also send letters withdrawing your candidacy from any school that you haven’t heard from, that you would not attend given your current acceptance. This gives them a more realistic idea of their applicant pool, and may be of benefit to others who are still waiting for interviews and acceptances. It’s okay to hold off on sending such a letter to schools you still wish to gather more information about – there is nothing wrong with staying in the applicant pool for numerous schools even after gaining an acceptance.

Also note that acceptances are contingent on continuing to do well. Maintain your good academic and disciplinary standards, and in general avoid doing things that could result in having your acceptance rescinded.   

How can I convey that a school is my top choice?

If you are certain that you would attend one medical school over all others – and you have interviewed at that school – it is appropriate that you write that school and say so. This is commonly called a "Letter of Intent". You would write the dean or director of admissions (always check proper titles, name spellings, in the MSAR online). If you really hit it off with your interviewer, he/she may be copied on that letter. While we would have told you several years ago that these letters had to be snail-mailed, we are hearing more and more from medical schools that email is fine. We don't think a mailed letter on good quality paper can hurt, but follow the school's advice for communication. We are happy to read over your letters before you send them. Please also forward a copy of your letter to HPA so that we have a heads up about your interest - medical schools are in touch with us about applicants from time to time.

This should be more than an I-really want-to-come-please take-me-letter. You should describe why you and the school are a good match. Be succinct; don't say the same thing three times. These are busy people. If you have grades to send, such a note could “introduce” those. Indeed, it is a good idea to send an update note whenever something of note happens in your academic or professional life. Finally, follow this letter up with brief notes, still expressing your interest, to the admissions dean/director every three to four weeks. At the end of the day, medical schools want applicants who want them, and they will be gratified if you have expressed a commitment to them.

As a postscript to our larger audience, if you are not ready to commit to one school this way, that is FINE. But you can still write letters of interest to the medical schools that you particularly like. 

What is the best etiquette for the letter I will send to XYZ School of Medicine telling them that I will not be attending? I have been accepted and I feel bad saying no to anyone.

Saying no is just part of this process for many applicants, and medical schools accept it and don't take it personally -- they want you to attend the school that's the best fit for you, and they have plenty of other eager applicants to fill your spot! Follow the instructions that you were given, if they were given -- often this will mean uploading something into an online portal or sending an email. If you weren't told specifically what to do, you could do both. Address your correspondence to the dean/director of admissions. If you have already accepted a seat in their entering class, simply say something like, "Thank you very much for your offer of admission, but I have decided after considerable thought and discussion with my family to attend another medical school. I am very grateful for the time spent considering my application.  Sincerely . . ."

If you were interviewed but still don't have a final decision from the school--and still know you'd like to go elsewhere--, you can say, "I write to withdraw my application from further consideration at XYZ School of Medicine. I am grateful for the time spent considering my credentials and the opportunity to interview.  Sincerely . . ."

Remember that AAMC "traffic rules" dictate that you choose ONE school by April 30.