It's okay for applicants to feel some anxiety when placed as an alternate. That's normal. More uncertainty isn't something an applicant begs to endure. But don't necessarily take it as a bad omen either. More than disappointment, you should have hope. You still have a chance, after all.
Considering the sheer number of applicants across the country each year, the truth is that it's actually pretty common to be in this situation. Thousands of accepted students matriculate off the waitlist each year. With only 5-10% of students matriculating from the waitlist at some schools, others accept as high as 50-60% of their incoming class from waitlisted applicants.
The question then is, "What should I do now?"
Waitlist does not mean rejection. While this isn't ideal, getting your name onto a waitlist is an accomplishment and shows you certainly are qualified. You've made it this far without being rejected, so keep in mind that you are among few still considered competitive enough to keep an eye on.
One of the main questions that applicants have from here is whether they actually have a decent chance at admission. Depending on the school, you may be able to find online statistics and annual trends.
Some schools rank or tier their waitlist. The MSU College of Human Medicine (CHM) however does not do either. Since we use a mission-based holistic assessment of applicants, the admissions committee will choose applicants off the waitlist who help balance the acceptance pool with characteristics and/or experiences that enhance the incoming class.
At CHM, the number of applicants accepted from the alternate list varies each year. Schools will have a better idea of whether they need to reach into the alternate list once applicants accepted at multiple schools are required to choose. Pay attention to this year's multiple decision deadline.
Still, alternates have been admitted as late as a few days before the start of prematriculation and Orientation Week. If you are placed as an alternate, your file will remain under consideration for acceptance until we notify you of a change in your status.
It is okay for applicants to be a little antsy through this time, but don't be discouraged. Instead...
Some medical schools highly encourage waitlisted applicants to submit updates and additional materials. Taking initiative to try and help differentiate yourself from the rest of the alternates certainly won't hurt.
That is, if the school allows updates. Some institutions, in contrast, request that applicants not communicate with them at all. It's very important that you follow each school's instructions and requests.
The MSU College of Human Medicine does indeed accept updates from waitlisted applicants. In fact, this is the only circumstance in which we do.
Highlight new activities and recent accomplishments—academic or otherwise. A new experience, award, shadowing opportunity, publication or research project are good examples. Here's your chance to report updated grades as well. If possible, additional letters of recommendation can also enhance your update.
There are many things you can submit but don't overstep your boundaries. One or two update letters should be just fine. In other words, there's no need to send an update for every little thing.
A strong letter of intent can tie all of your materials together. In your letter, get to the point and make sure you give clear, legitimate reasons as to why you want to attend that particular school. Two points to make here: make sure it coincides with your "sales pitch" and make sure you personalize these reasons to each school.
The waitlist can be a let-down, but use it as another opportunity to be proactive about showing the admissions committee why you'd fit right in. Med schools want students who will enthusiastically and unequivocally attend. Those who are eager to show it will give themselves the best shot if spots open up.
Come to terms with the possibility of rejection
The tricky part in that last sentence is, "if spots open up." Remain positive but understand that there is also a possibility that you may not matriculate this cycle. Consider the possibility of reapplying. Some apply twice or even three times before they matriculate. For many, it's part of the process.
What you can do moving forward is take advantage of this idle time to prepare your application for the next cycle, just in case. The AMCAS opens again in June so continue being proactive after your submit your updates.
If you know you're going to be reapplying should you not matriculate, think about ways to change your approach. Self-awareness is vital so it's important you use time now to identify areas of your application that can be strengthened.
Be aware of how you feel and what you've learned from being on the waitlist. Use this experience to exhibit growth in the next cycle.
Either way, showing some patience and persistence may be just what you need to make it into med school. Hang in there.