Getting offered interview slots for medical schools you’ve applied to is a huge honor. Getting offered acceptance letters to those schools is an even bigger honor. But what happens when you don’t get offered those interviews or acceptances during your first round of applications? What should you do if you’ve got a few black marks on your academic transcript or job record?

If you’re like a growing number of medical school hopefuls, these issues are probably something that you’re struggling with. While smoothly getting accepted into medical school on your first try is obviously an exciting accomplishment, the reality for many medical students (and current doctors as well) is that they were rejected by admissions committees on their first tries. The key difference between these students and those who never make it into medical school, however, is not usually a difference in intelligence or capabilities. Instead, it is often just a difference between students who know how to take advantage of their failures and those who don’t. If you’re finding yourself wondering how to turn “black mark” situations on your application into competitive advantages, consider these key points.

Be the first to address it

Failure is not something you can easily hide, whether it’s academic failure, failure on the MCAT, or even failure to decide on an undergraduate major in a reasonable amount of time. Your medical school applications prominently display your entire undergraduate academic career, and there’s really no point in trying to hide any of the black marks that might be used against you. Because of this, take it upon yourself to address any particularly outstanding negative issues that might be there. Practically speaking, this means acknowledging such an issue somewhere within your personal statement. While you don’t need to focus your entire essay on a single “failure,” it can be beneficial for you to address that failure and provide an explanation for it. Similarly, you may also choose to address the issue within your essay, followed by focusing on one (or both) of the next two key points:

Focus on what you’ve gained

The key for turning failure into a competitive advantage lies largely in choosing to focus more on what you’ve gained from an experience than what you’ve lost. There’s a good chance you lost time, money, and (probably) your personal pride somewhere along the way. However, learning to focus on what you’ve gained through those experiences will not only give you the strength to keep trying, but it can also be a great discussion point for setting yourself apart from all of the other med school applicants.

For instance, if you had a particularly poor MCAT score on your first try and you chose to retake it, you may have to answer a few questions during you interview about why you failed it the first time. While providing an answer to these questions is important, it’s even more important to draw attention to what your experience with failure has taught you. Has failing once (or twice, or three times) showed you how strongly you really do want to become a physician? Has failure showed you how to study more efficiently in the future? Has failure taught you better time management? Whatever it is, make sure that you redirect the attention from the failure towards what you’ve gained from the experience. Failure is only true failure if nothing is gained from it.

Offer an alternative point of view

As an extension of the last point, choose to offer an alternative point of view to anyone who might be viewing your failure as a negative issue from your past. In addition to pointing out what you’ve learned from the experiences, choose to highlight what your failures (and subsequent decisions to keep pressing on) show about you as a person. You are an over comer. You have endurance, motivation, determination, and strength. You are not someone who fears failure, since you know how to deal with it. While failing feels positively miserable when you’re going through it, choosing to use those failures to showcase your positive character qualities can actually make you stand out as a better candidate for medical school in the long run.