Congratulations!! If you’re reading this post, you might have just finished interviewing for MD/PhD programs. This alone is a huge accomplishment. Be very proud of yourself!
In this post, we outline a few things about what to expect after you’ve interviewed for an MD/PhD program. We’ll give a general timeline of when schools tend to give acceptances, talk about the rules regarding how many acceptances you can hold, and also discuss what to do in the awkward period where you’re waiting acceptances. We won’t specifically discuss being waitlisted in this particular post, but if you check out our Application Corner homepage, you’ll see that we plan to do so in the near future. Stay tuned!
TIMING OF ACCEPTANCES
As described in our previous post regarding the timeline of the MD/PhD admissions season, interviews will typically occur between August and February for MD/PhD programs. In theory, acceptances can be offered pretty much any time after you interview!
In reality, however, you might have to wait a bit. 🙂 Some schools will contact you within a few weeks, but most MD/PhD programs will offer acceptances in batches. This means that while they may interview about once per month, they will only have maybe two acceptance periods.
For example, UAB tends to interview once per month, from October to January, for a total of four interview periods. Then the MSTP Advisory Committee will meet twice: once in December, and once around early February. The applicants who interviewed in October and November will likely hear something in December (either acceptance, waitlist, or rejection), and then everyone will have heard something by mid-February when the committee has met again.
Thus, you will likely have heard something from most of your programs by late February, and you are required by AAMC rule to hear back from each program by March 15. Note, however, that it is fairly common for programs to waitlist you at this point, so stay tuned for a later post in the Application Corner on what to do if this happens to you!
OFFICIAL DEADLINES AND RULES
As mentioned previously, one of the AAMC rules is that schools must give you some type of decision by March 15. Another caveat to this rule is that on this date, schools that have either waitlisted or accepted you can also see your current acceptances. While it may seem scary, this does not usually have any bearing on your status. It simply shows schools how likely their candidates who have not yet replied are to accept so that they can plan to appropriately fill their spots. (For example, if they are waiting to hear back from a student who is also holding 10 other acceptances to programs that are “better ranked,” they can conclude it might be unlikely for this student to attend and might prepare to accept students off of the waitlist).
Beyond the March 15 date, the other major deadline is April 30. This is the day in which students who have been accepted to multiple programs must choose only ONE program. As a result, tons of waitlist movement occurs around this date! Students may drop multiple programs where they held an acceptance. If lots of students do this, there will be many new spots open for those on the waitlist! And as you might notice, this waitlist movement can actually make the April 30 acceptance rule very complicated. While students must pick only one of their accepted programs by then, they may still remain on waitlists for other programs.
Let’s say, for example, that “Sally” was accepted to three programs: schools X, Y, and Z. Meanwhile, she was waitlisted at an additional three, including her #1 choice: School A. By April 30, Sally must select only one acceptance to hold, so she declines her acceptances to schools X and Y in favor of school Z. Once the waitlist movement starts, however, a spot may open at her #1 choice, school A, where she still remains on the waitlist. Sally can then accept the offer from School A, which means she will drop her spot at School Z. As a result, someone else will be pulled from the waitlist at School Z (yay! And good job, Sally!).
Thus, the time around April 30 tends to mark a LOT of waitlist movement, and this movement can continue for weeks as students make final decisions and spots open up at various schools. One dropped acceptance can result in changes to multiple students’ plans.
Ultimately, you can be accepted at really any point up until the very first day of classes at a certain institution. It can get complicated if you are accepted to one school but still waiting on your #1 choice. You may have to put some plans, like finding a place to live, on hold as you figure things out. Be prepared to experience a little bit of stress! At the same time, it’s important to try to minimize stress on other applicants whenever possible by making your decisions as promptly as you can (only if you are sure about them, of course – you don’t need to rush at all, but try to be courteous!).
Remember that one of the best qualities in a physician (and future physician) is patience. While application season can feel like it is the end-all/be-all, it is in reality a very small part of a larger future journey. You must be willing to be very patient (cue doctor joke here about “patients”? No?) and accept that you may not hear answers for months.
Be very careful with any emails you send to admissions or MD/PhD program leadership. Realize that they have many applications to sort through, many evaluations to compile, and many tough decisions to make. The process certainly isn’t perfect, but an angry/impatient email to a program will never help the situation.
With that being said, it can oftentimes be a great idea to send a quick follow-up to a program after you’ve interviewed to reiterate your interest. One common way to do this is to send the MD/PhD director a brief email. You’ll want to be sure to thank them for the chance to interview, while also bringing up a specific example of how you saw yourself fitting in at the school (for example, perhaps you met with a certain researcher and could see yourself in that lab). I once had a very wise MD/PhD director tell me that if a decision ultimately comes down to you and another applicant, it helps if the program can envision exactly where you’d fit in.
Additionally, if you have any significant updates since your interview, go ahead and add a quick sentence about that. You might typically want to finish by summarizing that this school is a top choice for you, and you are grateful that you had the opportunity to visit. However, there is a catch here – keep it BRIEF. Programs are extremely busy, and the important thing is mainly to throw your name out there and state your interest. This email should not be any more than a few sentences.
If you’re waitlisted, there are many other avenues for contacting your school of interest…. Stay tuned for a future post on this!
WHAT CAN I DO WHILE I WAIT?
As you wait to hear back from schools, the best thing you can do is to just reflect on your interview experiences and options. Weigh the pros and the cons of each school you visited and think about what your life might look like in that program. Would you rent an apartment? Would you need to explore public transportation? Did you feel like it was a good fit for you, both personally and professionally?
It can help to preliminarily form an idea of which programs were your favorite. Of course, this can be dangerous territory – be sure not to grow too attached to any program, as you do not know yet if you will have the opportunity to attend. However, it is definitely wise to think through your preferences before you hear anything back. If you receive multiple acceptances, it helps to have an action plan of what you will do. Hopefully this will also allow you to more quickly drop your spot at any programs you know you will not attend in favor of another program… someone on the waiting list will definitely thank you!
By now, you might have noticed that there’s a quick way to sum up much of this post: wait… potentially for an uncertain amount of time, for an uncertain amount of schools. It can be a frustrating process, and oftentimes there isn’t much else you can do. Simply be patient, think through your options carefully, and hang in there as best as you can! Again, even having the guts to apply for MD/PhD programs says a lot about you… I’ve found that the rest will work itself out somehow for those who remain perseverant yet humble!
Emily Hayward, MS-1