Coronavirus and Medical School Admissions: Q&A — Savvy Pre-Med

Contributing Authors:

Rob Humbracht, Janet Snoyer, and Ryan Kelly

With special contributions from all of you, dear readers. We will be monitoring COVID-19 and updating this article periodically, so please help us by leaving:

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Most Recent Update: 3/17/20

Your life’s dream has been to get into medical school. And now you’re facing hard questions about the timing and feasibility of this dream due to COVID-19.

Remember: we’re in this together. Whenever there’s a catastrophe that involves everybody, then EVERYBODY understands. That includes admissions officers, who are humans and who will be as accommodating as they can. If you face problems with online courses or transcripts, admissions officers will understand. If you have to reschedule your MCAT because of illness or family emergency, admissions officers will understand. Admissions officers will do their best to help everyone this cycle get their applications in.

This is your chance to step up. We expect our doctors to give selflessly for the rest of their lives, and now you find yourself:

  1. With most of your extracurricular activities canceled

  2. With time to spare since all of your classes have moved online

  3. With an urgent need right in your own community

Yes, you have to be careful not to infect your family members. But you’re young. You’re healthy. You’re much less likely to have complications from this disease.

How will the medical school admissions timeline change?

We don’t know.

Applications are still slated to open May 28 (AMCAS) and early May (AACOMAS, TMDSAS). Historically, our advice has been to apply as early as possible, since the deadlines aren’t the deadlines.

My best guess at this point (March 2020) is that the application process will be much more spread out. Whereas last year, the majority of candidates applied in June-July, this year you should see a much larger spread of applications, which means it’s probably okay to apply a little later in the cycle.

Application deadlines generally aren’t until the Fall (October and beyond), so you should still have plenty of time to take the MCAT and get your applications in this cycle.

See our full post: Medical School Application Deadlines 2020-21 Cycle

Will I be able to shadow a doctor?

Probably not. Non-essential people who are considered potential virus carriers in the clinical setting are the first people to be excused. 

But the shortage of doctors and nurses could give you the opportunity to put on your hazmat suit and rubber gloves, if you are permitted, and pitch in. 

For example: you could call your local public health department and volunteer to assist staff at drive-in testing centers in Walmart, Walgreens, and Target parking lots. 

Now is the time to provide service and show that you’re a leader. You could invite your friends virtually into an organization that provides care and attention to the most virus-vulnerable populations. Educate others. Bring groceries or medications to a shut-in. Reach out to the isolated. Teach them how to use Zoom, Skype, and FaceTime. Generate a list of ways to help,  just like we generated this tip sheet.

Oh, and by the way, you can write about it in your medical school applications.

Is it bad that my extracurricular activities are getting canceled?

Yes and no. It is not bad for two reasons. First, since this is happening to most pre-meds, you can rationalize that the expectations will be lower in the coming cycle. Secondly, you may be able to find a way to carry on your activities virtually. And you may be able to institute new ones, as mentioned above.

It is bad because you need extracurriculars to have a multi-dimensional, strong application. If your particular set of extracurriculars are canceled, leaving you with few to none, you ought to look for others.

Will I be able to take all the courses I need to apply to medical school?

Many colleges have moved classes online, so the obvious concern is whether you will be able to complete all of your prerequisite courses in a timely fashion.

We want to remind you of a critical insight: admissions offices require that courses be completed prior to matriculation, NOT prior to applying.

For example, let’s assume the following dates for your application process this cycle:

May 1, 2020 – TMDSAS/AACOMAS may be submitted

May 28, 2020 – AMCAS may be submitted

August 2020 – First interviews held

October 2020 – First acceptances go out to applicants

April 2021 – Most candidates pick their final medical school

July 2021 – Most medical school classes begin

Under this case, your prerequisite courses are due by July 2021. You can continue to take those courses while applying, and there is typically no penalty to your application. 

Which colleges have canceled classes or moved classes online?

226 colleges and counting as of this writing. This spreadsheet has the latest data (though, due to demand on the spreadsheet, it doesn’t always open smoothly).

Will medical schools accept online classes to satisfy their prerequisites?

It used to be that medical schools did NOT accept online courses to satisfy admissions requirements:

“I polled more than a dozen medical school colleagues, and nearly all reported that they did not accept online courses for the required sciences. Some schools do not accept even non-science online courses.”

This will change for this cycle. While medical schools have traditionally been skeptical of online courses, we’ve never seen an entire applicant pool whose science classes have been moved online against their will.

If you spot such language on a medical school’s website, understand that it’s a vestige of old policies that will not be continued through the present.

Nevertheless, you want to take reputable online courses. The most reputable require that you be tested in person with a proctor whom the school approves. This probably can’t happen during the social isolation period of spring 2020, but it will remain the gold standard to preserve the integrity of the examination.

Will I be able to take my MCAT?

If you’re testing in March and would like to reschedule your exam at no cost, you must call Pearson VUE at 866-281-7532. Be advised Pearson VUE is currently experiencing long wait times. 

If you’re testing in April and would like to reschedule your exam at no cost, please reschedule your exam online rather than by phone as a courtesy to those testing earlier. You will be charged a rescheduling fee, which will be automatically refunded. Please allow two weeks for your refund to process.

These policies will be updated as the situation changes; however your opportunity to reschedule will remain at least until the end of March.

Test center cancelations will be posted here.

Will the application dates and deadlines change?

Anything is possible, but nothing will move closer, only later.

Will my schedule be disrupted?

Most pre-meds are planners: they fill their days and weeks with studying, extracurricular activities, volunteering, and more. You crave routine and stability. You need it to accomplish your prodigious set of goals.

The currently chaotic climate could be a test of your resilience and adaptability, and it’s time to flex those muscles. Talk it over with a good listener, and take it one small step at a time to reset your schedule and routine. One great thing about social isolation is that it frees up lots of time.

Should I be worried about moving home?

People don’t want to go home and possibly infect their parents or grandparents. Plus, home can often be chaotic: siblings, parents, various disruptions. You may not even have your old room back.

But you probably don’t have another option if your college has shut down. 

Remember that home may be worried about having you back as well. Practice kindness and good communication to come up with the best solution.

How can I stay productive while working virtually?

Just think back to the time when you transitioned from high school to college; you probably felt that you had so much more time under your discretionary control. Then “WHAM!” You were busier than ever… how puzzling it was.  

Working from home is similar. It can feel lonelier, more chaotic, distracting, and lazier. Many students have conditioned minds that tell them the thing to do when they get home is just to “sleep it off.” Sleep off the stress, the sleep deprivation, the ever so slightly dysthymic feeling of being in that constricting (and comforting) container you sprung from to go to college. 

You have developed skills to work in a disciplined way from anywhere. It’s best to write them down on your first morning at home and systematize them so you can develop new habits with efficiency. 

Will I be able to get letters of recommendation?

You probably won’t be able to ask in person (or probably shouldn’t). But you can definitely use FaceTime Video or another video conferencing app to ask face-to-face. It’s worth scheduling this because it’s just warmer and friendlier than email. 

Be professional: prepare to make the ask, don’t just wing it. Have all the background info you want them to have at your disposal, and be ready to send it in the way the writer prefers (Google Drive link, email attachment, messaging attachment, etc.).

Will I be able to start medical school on time?

Unanswerable questions like this about the future ought to be stored on a list. You have enough in the present to occupy yourself. If you attend the virtual fair on 3/27, you can ask all the medical schools this question and create a great body of data for our next blog posts! 

Are medical schools canceling second-look days?

Yes, and it’s a bummer. Look for virtual substitutes and form connections with everyone who can enlighten you about the school. Ask the admissions office to put you in touch with M1 and M3s in particular. 

What will happen to scheduled med school fairs?

Medical school fairs are a critically important way for you to introduce yourself to admissions offices. Unfortunately, schools are canceling their spring fairs, which is unfortunate, but there is a silver lining!

According to the AAMC: “We endeavor to support prospective applicants with meeting your respective goals amid uncertainty.”

The AAMC has decided to hold a Virtual Medical School Recruitment Fair on March 27th from 11 am – 8 pm ET. Mark your calendars. This is your chance to connect with admissions officers, learn what others are wondering, and get your own questions answered.  

This is all we know now, since the details are still being worked out, but you should take advantage of this opportunity. It’s likely that nearly every US medical school will participate this time, a far more complete list than the February 20th virtual fair. 

There is an action you can do, and I hope you will. It’s quick, and it will help all pre-meds: write to the admissions offices of medical schools of interest to you and ask them to please hold a booth at this fair. They do not have to pay for a booth like  they usually do, so please encourage them!

All medical school fairs on college campuses are closing. For example, the UCLA medical school fair will be held virtually.  This may mean that you can attend fairs that were formerly open only to a school’s own undergraduates!

Will this affect traveling for the medical school interview?

While we don’t know the extent of the infection or the rate of its spreading, the virus has already affected the traveling for medical school interviews.  

Make sure to offer to interview via video conferencing software. 

Does this mean I should definitely take a gap year?

If you are already concerned about whether you’re going to be able to complete all of the application requirements and are now dealing with the disruption, this is another reason to wait. Also, you are more likely to have USMLE Step 1 be pass/fail!

Where can I study up on the latest coronavirus developments? 

Applicants will need to know the latest developments about COVID-19, since that will likely be asked about in your medical school interview.  

We like this website:

This article from the Washington Post about quarantines vs. social distancing is well worth a read:

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