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Applying During and After the COVID-19 Pandemic — What’s Changed?

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Read answers to some of the most frequently asked questions from our information session on applying to medical school during and after COVID-19.

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Students wearing masks

Even in the best of times, applying to medical school is difficult, but the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown new obstacles into the paths of thousands of aspiring doctors. Many applicants worry how COVID-19 will alter their ability to participate in clinical experiences, obtain letters of recommendation, sit for the MCAT® exam, and more. 

To support applicants, the AAMC hosted a live information session with three medical school admissions professionals during the April Virtual Medical School Fair to address many of these concerns and field questions from premeds and prospective applicants. Read the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions below or watch the entire presentation here.  

  • In general, how have admissions committees adapted their processes due to COVID-19? Will there be differences to consider this application cycle?

Christina Grabowski, PhD: Admissions officers across the country understand that there has been an impact on applications due to COVID-19. We understand that your application isn’t going to look like an application from two years ago. You may have fewer clinical experiences during the time period of the pandemic, or you may have a combination of virtual and in-person experiences. We are going to do our very best to figure out how COVID-19 may have disadvantaged people — particularly those who were already at a disadvantage.

Also, keep in mind that we’ll be reviewing applications holistically. In a holistic review process, we look at each individual applicant and we consider what they’ve been able to do in their space with the opportunities and resources at their disposal — holistic review is not about comparing applicants against each other.  

Enrique Jasso, MA: In addition to this advice, TMDSAS member institutions extended the application timeline, extended flexibility for pass/fail courses and online courses, and several schools added additional interview days. These practices are outlined in our newsroom at Inside Health Education

  • During last year’s application cycle, it seemed that deadlines were more lenient due to COVID-19, especially for rolling admissions. Generally speaking, what about this year?

Rafael Rivera, MD, MBA: We understand there may still be some delays this year, and we will be deliberate in terms of reviewing later applications. 

We usually see the largest number of applicants in the months of July – August. However, every applicant that applies by our deadline is fully reviewed. We typically hold off on interviews and portion them out as the application season progresses. Although, the most important thing is to apply when you feel ready — when you can put your best foot forward. The right time to apply might be different for everyone — we encourage you to discuss this with your prehealth advisor and decide on the best time for you. 

Enrique Jasso, MA: TMDSAS encourages you to submit your application as soon as you have put together a quality application. Applicants may submit an application even if their letters of evaluation, MCAT scores, and/or transcripts are not yet submitted. Many schools begin interviewing in August, and while there are a few spots reserved for applicants that submit closer to the application deadline, submitting earlier allows the schools to consider your application for a larger pool of interview dates. We encourage you to work with your health professions advisor to develop a plan for submitting your application within the TMDSAS application timeline.

  • Do you anticipate an increase in applicants again this year? What are some ways applicants can stand out?

Christina Grabowski, PhD: We’re not sure what to expect in terms of number of applicants this year. We had a large increase for the 2021 cycle, and we do suspect that interest in medicine in the future will increase. … For 2022, we are not really sure what to expect. At the same time, some students may not feel prepared to apply based on the impact of the pandemic on activities and schooling.  Even if applications were to be lower than usual, we will undoubtedly still have a robust pool of applicants for medical school.

How can your application stand out? Take all the opportunities you can (in your application) to tell us about your growth and your journey. In terms of your experiences, think about what you’ve done, why you’ve done it, what you learned, and how you grew. In other words, make sure that your application tells a story. I worry about the students who just give the facts on their application — for example, an applicant who says, “I shadowed this kind of doctor for X number of hours,” without giving additional information about the impact of the experience. What did you witness? How did it affect your thoughts about medicine; what did you observe that you’ll take with you going forward in the profession? Think more broadly about why you are choosing your experiences, how those activities have impacted you, and tell us stories about your journey. 

Continue growing and learning even after you submit your application because those lessons will be useful in your training — not just for getting admitted to medical school. And, if you aren’t able to get a seat in medical school in this cycle, you will have more to include in your next application cycle.

  • How do you feel about asynchronous virtual experiences? 

Christina Grabowski, PhD: If asynchronous experiences are what you had access to, and in-person experiences haven’t been safe or available to you, we will understand. Don’t discount virtual experiences or learning materials, especially if you’ve had “aha” moments or lessons from them. In the end, it’s the lessons we’re looking for, not necessarily the amount of time you’ve spent doing something in-person. 

Perhaps there are additional experiences you can participate in virtually that you haven’t considered — for example, interviewing a physician over Zoom or shadowing over Zoom (or some other telehealth platform). If you have family members or friends with chronic illness, interview them virtually and ask them about their experiences with health care. It’s valuable to understand the patient perspective, even if you haven’t been able to observe patients and physicians together.

Have more questions about COVID-19 and this year’s application cycle? Tweet your questions to @AAMCPremed or write to us at aspiringdocs@aamc.org

Thank you to the following contributors: 

Christina Grabowski, PhD
Associate dean for admissions and enrollment management
Assistant professor
University of Alabama Medical School

Enrique Jasso, Jr., MA 
Associate director of the Texas Health Education Service 

Rafael Rivera, MD, MBA
Associate dean for admissions and financial aid 
Associate professor of radiology
NYU Grossman School of Medicine

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