How to Get Off the Waitlist and Negotiate Better Financial Aid for Medical School

It’s that time of year again! Every April, medical school applicants begin the last phase of the medical school journey: negotiations. 

  • April 15th, MD applicants with multiple acceptances must narrow their acceptances down to 3 final schools. 
  • April 30th, applicants with multiple acceptances may now only hold 1 acceptance. 

While you can still maintain all of your positions on any waitlists, this narrowing process allows for mobility. New spots become available for individuals to move off of waitlists, additional financial aid frees up to be redistributed, and added movement creates the perfect opportunity for negotiation. These tips helped me turn my dream school (UCLA) from one of my most expensive initial offers into the cheapest option overall! Through our admissions consulting program, these strategies have also helped my students get into top 10 medical schools and save hundreds of thousands of dollars in financial aid. I hope they can help you too!

 

Whether you are hoping to turn a waitlist into an acceptance or get more financial aid, you must understand that asking never hurts. The worst thing that can happen in negotiation is that the medical school says…. no. If the worst-case scenario plays out, you’ll simply be back in the exact position from where you started. With a huge potential payoff and minimal downside, realize that advocating for yourself at this stage may be the most critical piece in applying to medical school. This realization empowered me to be bold in three key ways. 

1. Communicating interest/intent (most important)

To achieve success in negotiation, medical schools need to know that they will gain something from the process. Your most powerful bargaining tool is your willingness to attend their institution. Understand that medical schools care deeply about their retention rate (the percentage of admitted students who ultimately choose to attend). Even the schools with the highest retention rates only retain about 70% of their admitted students. So if a school can guarantee that they will keep you, this dramatically improves your chances of a successful negotiation.

When negotiating, you can extend promises to various schools depending on your interest level. The strongest commitment you can send a school is “____ is my top choice for medical school and I will attend ____ if admitted, no matter the cost or other circumstances.” This commitment is the best thing you can say to increase your odds of turning a waitlist into an acceptance. The next most powerful thing you could say would be, “This is my top choice and I will attend ____ if admitted, barring any significant financial barriers.” This allows for some wiggle room if you ultimately decide not to attend. The least strong statement you can make is, “____ is one of my top choices for medical school and I am extremely interested in matriculating, barring any significant financial restraints, etc.”

This final statement does not guarantee anything to the given school other than your interest. However, if you make these statements, you must follow through with your promises. While you want to make the school believe that you will attend, you do not want to lie. Lying in negotiations is not only wrong, but it can ultimately hurt your chances if discovered. You must follow through with any clear commitments that you make. Remember, the more a school is convinced of your commitment to attend, the more favorably they will treat you.

2. Updates

Updates are another essential part of negotiation. They communicate your interest in the school and potentially sway a committee to extend you an acceptance or more aid. Yet, updates are not as important as expressing interest. For the most part, if a school interviewed you, that means that they believe you could succeed at their institution academically.

Understand that once you make it past the interview, your job is to show how you would contribute to the class, not to prove that you are competent. New publications, significant awards, and updated hours help to establish a pattern of excellence but try to frame these updates into how they would benefit your classmates rather than how impressive they make you seem. 

3. Negotiating with multiple medical school offers

Whether hoping to move off of a waitlist or more financial aid, you should always use competing offers as bargaining tools. If you are hoping to get off of a waitlist, use other offers as a way to express your commitment to your top choice waitlists. Tell them that you would instead attend school ____ than your current offer. If you can promise them that you will attend, this will further increase your commitment in their eyes. Other offers can also help negotiate financial aid with competing schools. Be careful. Playing schools off each other can be extremely delicate as you still want to establish that you are deeply committed to attending the school of interest.

However, you’ll need to play hard to get. If you tell them directly that you will happily attend with their current financial package, there will be no need for them to increase your aid. Not all schools are open to negotiation, but if they are willing, I would highly recommend this approach. For example, you could express that attending a different school would allow for a lower cost, better location, proximity to family, any factor that could influence your decision. Ultimately, simply asking could save you thousands of dollars. 

Here is a sample letter:

Hi Dean ______,

My name is Theo Stoddard-Bennett, and I have been admitted to the _____ School of Medicine. I am writing to see if we could have a 15-minute conversation on the phone about the timeline for matriculation. _____ still remains my #1 choice for medical school and I will attend here above all other options if offered a financial package competitive with others. My interviewer suggested that I reach out to you to see how realistic that would be. 

I received multiple merit scholarships at other institutions and so I wouldn’t be attending ____ without similar aid, even though I want to matriculate here more than those other options. I will rank my final three options as ____, _____ and ____. 

Let me know what times work to chat this week! I am incredibly driven by the mission of ____’s commitment to under-resourced communities. Again, I can promise that I will attend without hesitation if offered _____, but I will seriously consider any other offer as well! Again, ___ is my top choice and I would attend here above ____/_____ etc if given a similar scholarship, but as of now I could not justify the $___,000 difference in cost.

Thanks again for your time and consideration,

Theo

This opening letter establishes intent, using the second-highest form of commitment: commitment to enroll if there are not significant financial barriers. I also told the school that they were my #1 choice. Here, I promise to attend their school if they offer a specific amount. 

Bonus Tip: Playing hard to get 

Remember that sometimes you need to start with a higher request in negotiations than what you expect. In negotiation, the receiving end may counter-offer with a lower amount until you arrive at a happy medium. This is exactly what happened to me! The school I negotiated with came back and offered me more aid, but an amount that was significantly less than I had hoped. In response, I decided to play hard-to-get. While I do not always recommend this choice, there was nothing to lose at this point.

Again, I cannot stress enough the maintaining your commitment to attend the school. Even while playing hard to get. Your commitment to attend the school is your most powerful bargaining chip, do not spend it lightly. 

Dear Dean ____,

As time progresses, I feel more and more confident in attending __NOT_YOUR_SCHOOL__. Again, I want to be as transparent as possible. I really, really love ____ and want to make it work, but it’s just hard trying to make this huge decision with one foot in both schools. So I am trying to fully set my heart on ___ and to do that, I think I can no longer promise that we would come to ____ if offered the ___. I believe that there is still a VERY VERY VERY HIGH chance that we would. But my gut right now is feeling better and better about __NOT_YOUR_SCHOOL__ where before it was fully set on ____. 

I hope this makes sense and doesn’t come across as me trying to reject ___ at all. I would feel terrible if I wasn’t honest about how I felt. If you wanted me to make a 100% promise about committing in order to receive a better offer, then I understand if this removes me from the running. But again, I think I can still say I would come with 95% confidence. It’s just hard to keep waiting because I need to feel confident about whatever decision I make on April 30th. Thank you again so much for your continued consideration for me, especially in such times of financial stress. I also really appreciate your commitment to make medical school affordable for all students.

Thanks again,

Theo

After sending this letter, the school I was negotiating with came back with the offer that I was hoping. Now, I will never know whether this letter was the ultimate reason for my successful negotiation, but similar tactics have worked for other students as well. I hope these tips help get you off waitlists and negotiate for better financial aid. Medical school is incredibly expensive, but remember that this investment will be worth it regardless of cost.

If you need personalized help in applying for medical school, please reach out to me or another tutor for a FREE consultation. We have just launched a BRAND NEW application advising course and also offer one-on-one consulting sessions for those needing a personalized advantage. Just starting out, boost your MCAT score with our 100% FREE eCourse that covers everything you need to know for the MCAT. I used this free course and it helped me get a perfect 528 score on the MCAT!

Warm regards,

Theo Bennett

 

Theo Bennett scored a perfect score (528) on the MCAT and has been accepted at Harvard, UPenn, Columbia, UCLA, and other top 10 medical schools across the country. You can learn more and sign up to work with him one-on-one here.

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