Medical schools tweak application process due to COVID-19

Medical students studying in a lab. Recent surveys indicate medical school applications have become more flexible in the pandemic, but potentially even more competitive. (Kaplan, Inc.)

Survey results show that the majority of medical school admission officers have made their admission process more flexible because of the impacts of COVID, but it hasn’t made the process any less competitive. 

The survey was conducted by Kaplan, a corporation that provides educational services to students and universities. It showed 93% of medical school admission officers and teams made their admissions process more flexible because of the pandemic. 

Petros Minasi, the senior director of pre-health programs for Kaplan, said the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) score submission deadline has been extended to January 2021 for people wanting to attend in the fall. Usually the test is taken in the spring; however, it was not being administered at all in May due to lockdowns. 

Savanah Hardcastle, a BYU senior who took the MCAT this summer, said the first big change was the MCAT test dates getting pushed back. She said the normal timeline is to take the test in April or May and then start on your primary application.

“So that was tricky because it was really hard to focus on the application while studying for the MCAT. So my application process kind of got pushed back as well because it’s hard to do both,” Hardcastle said.

Medical schools have also accommodated for limited clinical and volunteer hours caused by social distancing regulations.

“Traditionally pre-meds would say, ‘I want to become a doctor, I’m going to go volunteer at a hospital so I can shadow some physicians and see the clinical setting in person.’ Well right now, hospitals, for the most part, want to limit the number of people,” Minasi said.

Hardcastle said she wasn’t able to do many shadowing hours in hospitals because of COVID. She said this gave her and other students the opportunity to get creative with other ways to serve the community.

“I was able to get some of the young women in my ward who I also served with as a young women’s leader to help me make a heart with phrases of love and encouragement. And then we pasted the hearts on the windows of the old folks home,” Hardcastle said.

Medical schools are also accepting pass/fail grades for pre-requisite courses, which has not been the case in the past. Minasi said they will most likely allow pass/fail courses for some time due to the impact of COVID.

Another significant change has been the interview process for potential medical school students. Medical school interviews are normally in person, but this year schools had to adjust and many did virtual tours or campus walks, Minasi said. 

According to the University of Utah School of Medicine admissions overview, because of COVID and local and state health guidelines, interviews would be virtual for the 2020-2021 application cycle.

Minasi said although there has been a lot of changes, the medical school admissions process is not getting any easier.

The accommodations have made it possible, and maybe more accessible, for applicants to continue the process despite the impacts of COVID. The Association of American Medical Colleges released a report showing the number of applicants is 17% higher than usual.

“We’re already seeing in this 2020 application year, an increase as far as the number of applicants. What we’re not seeing is an increase in the number of first year medical school seats. So it’s very possible that this year will actually be more competitive than others,” Minasi said. 

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