What Will Happen to Medical School Admissions in 2020? — Savvy Pre-Med

By: Ryan Kelly

Canceled MCATs. Online pass/fail pre-reqs. Indoor gap years. Research projects put on hold indefinitely. Lost positions for “non-essential” healthcare volunteers and staff.  

What was once inconceivable is now reality. And our reality at the moment is just a constant state of flux. 

Every day, we hear new speculation as to how the coronavirus will affect medical school admissions and how the AAMC and individual medical schools will respond.

This is my eighth cycle of helping pre-meds with their applications, and I’ve almost always been able to give them the answers they need.

Unfortunately, there are currently many questions without answers, so I can only join in on the speculation.

BUT I will try to base my predictions on the latest information available, albeit limited, so that you can plan accordingly.

NOTE: At this point, everything is subject to change, so PLEASE take these speculations with a grain of salt! 

Coronavirus Prediction #1 – As COVID-19 Cases Rise, Medical School Admissions Will Continue to Be in Flux

President Trump thinks the country should “re-open” sometime around Easter Sunday (4/12), despite doctors’ warnings that the nation will see a massive spike in cases if Americans return to crowded workplaces or events.

Trump’s “beautiful timeline” represents the blind optimism that many Americans have about the virus and the duration of quarantine.

We Savvy thinkers are a bit more realistic. We urge pre-meds to embrace the full extent of the virus. In our opinion, and the opinion of the Italian doctors, the true carnage is yet to come.

Overall, we haven’t seen the worst of the virus, and it’s hard to say exactly when peak infection will hit. As a result, admissions offices and the AAMC will continue to adjust their policies based on the bad news.

Coronavirus Prediction #2 – Social Distancing Will Last at Least Three Months

On March 16th, the Trump administration called for significant social distancing for at least 15 days. But most experts believe that such measures will need to be in place for one to three months, at a minimum, to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed.

 We could get a big break if the virus’s spread slows down with warmer weather, but so far there’s no indication that will happen. That would allow more people to return to work once the number of new cases begins to fall.

 According to an Imperial College report, major social distancing could suppress the pandemic after five months (sometime in August). But once restrictions are lifted, the virus would likely come roaring back.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the coronavirus outbreak “could easily be a six-month crisis.” British researchers believe that social restrictions may have to be imposed for 18 months or “indefinitely” until a vaccine is found.

In short, we have reason to believe that cancelations will continue, extensions will be further extended, and that life will not go back to normal anytime soon.

So what does that mean for your medical school admissions timeline in 2020?   

Coronavirus Prediction #3 – The MCAT Will Be Canceled Through Early July

Certain colleges have waived the SAT and ACT requirement, and AP exams have been moved online. The MCAT might not change as drastically as this, but there will definitely be adjustments.

So far, the March 27 and April 4 MCAT exams have been canceled globally. Flexible rescheduling has been extended for exams taking place through the end of May.

Recently, the MCAT Twitter page posted the following: “Due to the impact coronavirus (COVID-19) is having on the MCAT exam, we are looking to provide additional testing opportunities as circumstances allow. We will provide more information in the coming weeks.”

In all likelihood, there will be more cancelations for April, May, and even June. Odds are, you won’t be able to take the test until July or August.

But don’t freak out! There are thousands of other pre-meds in your position. Dates will be added and accommodations will be made. The medical schools will understand your plight, and they will extend their deadlines or at least treat them more loosely than in past years. 

If you haven’t already, you should sign up for an April/May MCAT date, even if it will likely be canceled. Students with canceled dates will probably get priority when new dates are announced! Treat this as another precautionary measure!

Coronavirus Prediction #4 – AMCAS Dates and Deadlines Will Change, and If Not, Medical Schools Will Extend Their Own

Currently, things are very much up in the air – every FAQ on the COVID-19 and AMCAS page essentially says, “we’re aware of the problem, check back later.”

It would not be surprising for the entire application timeline to be pushed back, perhaps by a month or two.

But even if the AMCAS opens for submissions as normal, there will be fewer people submitting on Day 1 than ever before. Submitting in July used to be considered late, but this year it might be considered average.

Coronavirus Prediction #5 – There Will Be Fewer Applicants, with Better Chances for Those Who Actually Apply

Since clinical hours, shadowing, letters of recommendation, and the MCAT have been negated or thrown into disarray, many candidates who were planning to secure these elements at the last minute will opt not to apply.

If you are/were one of these last-minute candidates, it’s likely that you didn’t have a very strong application anyway, so delaying your application until the following cycle might be a blessing in disguise.

Although medical school application numbers tend to remain steady during recessions, the COVID-19 situation is unprecedented, and we expect the overall numbers to decline, potentially giving this cycle’s applicants a relatively better chance of getting in.

Coronavirus Prediction #6 – Your Gap Year Will Be Remote, Insular, and Restricted

Your grand plans of medical missions trips abroad, your new scribe job, or volunteering at the local needle exchange will likely be scrapped.

However, since everyone is similarly isolated and quarantined, any actions you take to help others will stand out even more.

For example, you could do any of the following:

  • Offer free online tutoring to underprivileged kids

  • Deliver groceries to elderly shut-ins

  • Disseminate COVID-19 information in other languages

  • Start a blog that raises awareness about the virus

  • Create social media pages or YouTube channels that answer coronavirus question in layman’s terms

Resist the temptation to be completely idle during your gap year!

Coronavirus Prediction #7 – Medical Schools Will Accept Pass/Fail Coursework, but Their Guidelines Will Vary

Traditionally, medical schools highly preferred or only accepted courses with letter grades, but due to the current situation, the medical schools will have no choice but to accept pass/fail courses.

Recently, we received an insider tip that the medical schools are currently deliberating among themselves and posting their projected policies regarding this type of coursework on a shared spreadsheet.

So far, from what we can tell, only two of the ~40 contributing schools have given a flat-out “no” towards pass/fail courses, but some will be requiring applicants to show some kind of proof that the pass/fail course was taken out of necessity.

Coronavirus Prediction #8 – Transcripts Will Not Be Due Until After You’re Accepted to Medical School

The University of California system already operates this way for college admissions, where applicants send final transcripts after they choose to enroll at a college.

We could see medical schools adopting a similar approach.

This would keep people from having to go back to work. It would save time for overburdened university and AAMC employees who process the applications. 

Plus, by only requiring transcripts to be verified next spring, we could postpone this critical work until our society has a chance to cope with coronavirus.

Coronavirus Prediction #9 – Shadowing Requirements, Letters of Rec, and Secondary Essays Will Be Eliminated This Cycle 

This cycle, shadowing is impossible for many pre-meds. Shadows are non-essential personnel, and even if pre-meds find a shadowing opportunity, this requirement would put pre-meds and their families at risk just to watch doctors in action.

Medical schools are full of conscientious and educated people, so our guess is that they will be lenient towards this requirement.

We have similar feelings about letters of recommendation. These letters should not be the priority for overworked advisors, professors, and medical professionals. It’s silly to think that doctors and healthcare workers should pause their day-to-day jobs to write a letter of recommendation.

Will some applicants already have letters and be able to send them? Sure. But this cycle, admissions offices might view letters as an optional bonus, rather than a requirement.

Depending on how long COVID-19 lasts, secondary essays could also be waived. Admissions offices will be running on a shoestring this cycle. Many people who review applications are medical students and doctors, and they have better things to do than review essays.

If these essays are eliminated, it will make the process easier on admissions offices and applicants. It would let admissions officers use the saved time to process applicants faster, and they could pass those savings along to applicants by reducing the fees of secondaries.

If you have any news or information that would confirm or refute these predictions, please don’t hesitate to leave us comments, so that we can keep our post as up-to-date and useful as possible.  

Please be responsible and stay safe during this chaotic time!

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