Coronavirus and Medical School Admissions: Changes in the Cycle

Padya Paramita

Coronavirus and Medical School Admissions: Changes in the Cycle

With the AMCAS submission date of May 28 approaching, it’s time for medical school candidates to start preparing the different components of their primary application. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic at large, things have become difficult. Uncertainties remain with MCAT administrations and college classes transitioning online. So, you might want to learn more about the Coronavirus and medical school admissions landscape.

In this blog, we’ve included the ongoing updates regarding Coronavirus and medical school admissions, including the current state at different medical schools, whether anything will change with the application cycle, cancelation of MCAT test dates, and finally, discussed how to continue building your application while ensuring your own safety. We will keep updating this page with all changes to ensure you are in the loop.

Impact of the Coronavirus on the Medical Community

Before we get to the impact of the Coronavirus and medical school admissions, it’s also important to keep in mind how the situation has affected those currently enrolled in MD and DO programs. 

  • College Closures: If you’re in college, your classes have shifted online. Many schools such as UPenn, Duke, and Dartmouth have also implemented a pass/fail policy. As you transition to online sessions, make sure you’ve created a study space with minimal distractions so that you can focus on your courses and start polishing your application components.
  • MD and DO School Closures: Like colleges, most MD and DO schools have made the transition to online classes. Those that haven’t yet are working on switching to virtual instruction via apps such as Zoom and Google Hangouts. And it’s not just class sessions. So far, 72 programs have either moved exams online or canceled them entirely. 168 medical schools (87.96% of the total number of institutions) have officially suspended or canceled clinicals, as the AAMC has asked that medical students avoid participation in any activity that involves patient contact for at least the next two weeks. This enforcement will be re-evaluated on March 31st. 
  • USMLE Step Exams: Meanwhile, the USMLE announced on March 17 that Step test centers in the US and Canada will be closed at least until April 17. USMLE will continue to monitor the pandemic to plan for future test sittings.
  • Match Day: You might have also already heard that when it came to residency placements, match day was held virtually this year. Most 4th year students found out their next steps via email instead of through a match day celebration. 

Impact on the Admissions Process

If you’re worried about the Coronavirus and medical school admissions specifically, you probably have questions about whether there will be any changes to the actual application process. Because you are required to submit all the elements of your file virtually through the AMCAS or the AACOMAS, there won’t be any major changes because the process is already designed to operate through the Internet. 

Medical schools have already moved remaining interviews for the ongoing admissions cycle online and arranged for all admitted student events to be conducted virtually. If the pandemic is still a pressing issue when committees need to meet, they can schedule deliberation meetings over Zoom. 

Changes in the Application Cycle

The AAMC has announced that the AMCAS opening date will remain May 4. But, the exact date for the AMCAS to send students’ data has been pushed back by 2 weeks — from June 26 to July 10. 

Now, it's all the more important to submit your application early as it still takes about 2 weeks for the AMCAS to verify applications. Since the AAMC will now send all applications to medical schools starting July 10th, you must make sure that you’ve submitted your primary application at least 15 days before July 10 so that the AAMC can transmit your completed file by this date. You want your application to be on top of the pile — so keep this date in mind as you work towards finishing up your primary application!

Know that admissions committees are well aware that there is a global pandemic. If your college has switched grading to pass/fail like many schools have, the reader will know why your GPA reflects these changes. If your MCAT was canceled, the admissions committee members are also aware of testing modifications. 

Changes Made by Individual Medical Schools in Light of COVID-19 

The following schools have made announcement regarding the new grading policies and testing disruptions:

  • Baylor College of Medicine: BCM will accept pass/fail grading for prerequisites courses taken in Spring 2020. It will also review applications submitted without an MCAT score but expect students to submit their results before application decisions are made.
  • Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine: Case Western has announced that it will accept pass/fail grades for pre-requisite courses.
  • Columbia Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons: The admissions committee at Columbia has voted to allow pass/fail grades for prerequisite courses taken at schools who have decided to go pass/fail for this semester.
  • Emory University School of Medicine: Emory has announced that it will count pass/fail grades. It will also accept 2020 MCAT scores for the 2020-21 application cycle
  • Harvard Medical School: HMS will accept pass/fail grading for spring and summer coursework during 2020. The school has also encouraged students to submit their application without an MCAT score if they weren’t able to take the test due to COVID. Candidates will still be required to submit their MCAT results once they’ve sat for it.
  • Johns Hopkins School of Medicine: Johns Hopkins will accept pass/fail grades for the Spring 2020 semester.
  • Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine: Feinberg School of Medicine will be accepting MCAT scores for the 2021 Admissions Cycle through October 2020.
  • Ohio State University College of Medicine: Ohio State will allow students to submit pass/fail grades for courses taken this spring. The school is also allowing candidates to submit their application without MCAT scores — but expect them to be sent before admissions decisions are made.
  • Oregon Health and Science University School of Medicine: OHSU will accept courses taken pass/fail during spring and summer 2020.
  • UC San Diego School of Medicine: UCSD will accept grades of Pass/No Pass for all coursework for Winter 2020 & Spring 2020 coursework. 
  • UCLA Geffen School of Medicine: UCLA will accept pass/fail grades for courses taken during the COVID-19 pandemic. The school will accept applications from students who were unable to take the MCAT due to the virus as well as send out secondaries without the MCAT results. However, assuming conditions improve by October, the school will wait to receive MCAT scores before making final admissions decisions.
  • UC San Francisco School of Medicine:  UCSF will permit applications from individuals who were unable to take the MCAT due to COVID-related test cancellations - but expect students to submit the scores before admissions decisions are made. The school will also accept online courses and pass/fail grades for courses taken during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • University of Michigan School of Medicine: Michigan will allow pass/fail grades for pre-requisite courses. The school will allow students to submit their applications without an MCAT score and base interview decisions on a holistic review of the entire application. However, a final admissions decision will not be made without an MCAT score on file.
  • University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill: UNC will allow pass/fail grades. The latest date for MCAT score submission has been extended to September 12, 2020.
  • University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine: Perelman will continue to welcome applications from students from all institutions, including those which have implemented pass/fail grading policies. The institution will accept applications from those who were unable to take the MCAT due to the COVID-related test cancellations but expect the submission of results before the adcom makes application decisions in February. 
  • University of Virginia School of Medicine: UVA has announced the allowance of pass/fail grades in light of COVID-19.
  • University of Washington School of Medicine: UWSOM will accept pass/fail grades and online courses as part of students’ application. The current UWSOM deadline to take the MCAT is September 30, 2020.
  • University of Wisconsin - Madison School of Medicine: UW will make individual allowances for applicants taking pass/fail coursework in the spring and summer terms of 2020. The school will allow students to submit MCAT scores through mid-September 2020 for the 2021 cycle.
  • Vanderbilt School of Medicine: VSOM will accept pass/fail grades as well as allow students to submit individual letters of evaluation instead of a committee letter. Vanderbilt encourages candidates to consider submitting their AMCAS application for verification without the MCAT, but affirms that no admissions decisions will be made without the MCAT.
  • Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis: The committee will allow pass/fail grades for courses taken in the spring in light of COVID-19.
  • Weill Cornell Medicine: In view of the COVID pandemic, WCM will accept Pass/Fail grades to fulfill prerequisites for courses taken in the spring semester 2020.
  • Yale University School of Medicine: Yale has announced that it will accept pass/fail grades for classes taken during COVID. Meanwhile the school has also extended its AMCAS deadline to to November 15 and the secondary application deadline to December 15.

                                  Changes in MCAT Administration

                                  Due to the implementation of social distancing policies, the March 27 and April 4 MCAT exam administrations have been canceled. The May dates have not yet been changed — those registered for the March and April sessions are allowed free rescheduling for test dates until the end of May. But make sure you check regularly in case there are any alterations to the May sitting as well. 

                                  The AAMC has also stated that it is working to find new dates so that students can receive more opportunities to take the MCAT. As the situation develops, the organization will have a better assessment of whether circumstances will allow the introduction of new exam dates. 

                                  Again, medical schools are aware of these changes. But remember, your MCAT score does still matter. Make sure you’re in the right space mentally and in good physical health to sit for the test. If you believe that your performance might be affected by the circumstances, register for a later session.

                                  College Closures and the Medical School Application Process

                                  If you’re still in college or taking post bac courses, your classes have also moved online. Not being physically present on campus may disrupt some components of your medical school application. But, if you’re sure this is the year for you to apply to medical school, schedule a few hours every day when you’re free to work on the application components that you can get done from home. 

                                  • GPA — Your GPA and MCAT scores are two extremely important application components. While it is not convenient to switch to online courses mid-semester, you must find ways to stay on track. Create a comfortable study space with minimal distractions, make a schedule and stick to it, and use various productivity tools to make sure you’re staying organized. 
                                  • Letters of Recommendation — The spring is the ideal time to ask professors for recommendation letters if you are applying this cycle. Even though it is great to talk about letters in person when possible, you’ll have to do this process remotely. Email your professors to see if you can find a time to speak over the phone and let them know of any necessary deadlines and requirements. If you have asked your recommenders previously, touch base to let them know about your plans in light of COVID-19.
                                  • MCAT — As we mentioned, there have already been MCAT cancelations. If you were planning to take the test in one of the sessions that was scrapped, use your free rescheduling opportunity to register for a May session — do not register in another part of the country, as there may be travel restrictions. Remember that you should aim to submit your primary application as soon as the AMCAS opens. So, if you already have an MCAT score, consider whether your previous result is strong enough to complete your application. If not, continue studying for the exam to keep up your preparation.
                                  • Personal Statement — When you’re not in class (or work), utilize your time at home to start drafting your personal statement. While witnessing COVID-19 is definitely a story to share, unless you have a very unique case, don’t use it as a topic for your medical school essay. There will be many students taking that approach, so think about what distinguishes your background or experiences from other students. This is a component that can help you stand out as a memorable candidate. 

                                  Everyday there are new updates when it comes to Coronavirus and medical school admissions. While the situation is far less than ideal, it is also a key time to get started on the road to becoming a doctor. Once you’ve ensured a safe study environment, it’s time to continue working on your profile. Keep up with your MCAT preparation while finalizing the rest of the components, so that in three months, you have everything ready to submit your AMCAS application.

                                  Hear Mariana Guerrero, a Graduate Coach from Weill Cornell Medical College, discuss Coronavirus and medical school admissions in this webinar:

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