Coronavirus Dos and Don'ts: Discussing it in Med School Applications

Padya Paramita

Coronavirus Dos and Don'ts: How to Talk about the Virus in Your Med School Applications

We’re nearly a month into COVID-19 disrupting life as we know it. If you are a prospective medical school candidate, your road to applying has become tougher, from trying to figure out when you’ll be able to take the MCAT to considering how to continue volunteering while ensuring you are safe. As conditions remain the same with no end to the lockdown in sight, you may be wondering how to acknowledge and incorporate the virus in your application.

It can be challenging navigating extracurricular options and securing research opportunities when you’re not able to leave your house. To guide you through tips on how to prepare your application during this pandemic, we have included some Coronavirus dos and don’ts as you finalize the components that make up your profile. 

DO Explain If Your MCAT and Grades Were Disrupted

Number one on our list of Novel Coronavirus dos and don’ts during your medical school application covers the uncertainties surrounding MCAT test dates. The March and April MCAT dates have been canceled, and the administration of future dates is up in the air. If you’re among the students registered for one of the canceled sessions, you’re probably stressed out about how this will play out in terms of your admissions decision. 

If you’ve got a previous score, you may just have to use that. If not, or if the score you have doesn’t reflect your ability, make sure you register for the earliest date possible — even if it’s after the AMCAS is open for submission. Medical schools are likely to extend the deadline for MCAT score submission, as many students have been impacted. Many students ideally want to submit by May 28, when the AMCAS is open for submission, but if you can’t send results by this date, medical schools are likely to understand if your score comes later in the cycle. 

In your application, explain that your MCAT sitting was delayed because of COVID-19. This is a global pandemic and admissions officers will take the effects into account when evaluating your application. During secondaries, nearly all schools will provide an additional information section. This is a place where you can succinctly explain how the virus impacted your plans and how you worked around the changes.

On another note, if your classes this spring have switched to pass/fail, you can mention this in the same portion of your secondaries. Admissions committees will note the change when they view your transcript — but, it doesn’t hurt to reiterate that you didn’t receive letter grades in the final semester. 

DON’T Make Your Personal Statement All About COVID-19

Obviously, the current situation is far from ideal. Your daily life has been disrupted, all plans have been canceled, and you’re stuck taking classes or doing your work from home. As you try to boost your medical school application components on top of this, you may be tempted to write your personal statement about the effects of COVID and how it has inspired you to understand the importance of medicine. This brings us to the first don’t on our list of Coronavirus dos and don’ts. 

The virus has impacted people all over the world — it’s not just you. If you’re applying to medical school this year, chances are, you made this decision before the virus spread worldwide. Saying that COVID-19 was the primary force behind your decision to pursue a medical career won’t sway admissions officers to advocate for you, especially when there will be applicants who have been put in much more dire situations as a result of the pandemic. 

We can assume that numerous candidates applying this cycle will probably write about the virus and how it has affected them. The goal of your application should be to stand out and help the admissions committee remember you. If the majority of applicants write about how their lives were disrupted by the Coronavirus and you’re one of them, you won’t be memorable. 

DO Write About the Pandemic If Your Circumstance Is Unique

The previous point may not apply to you if the virus did actually have a profound impact on your life. While many students considering covering COVID-19 in their personal statement may not have unique stories to tell, there will be applicants whose lives may have been massively affected as a result of the pandemic. If you unfortunately had someone close to you contract COVID-19, or your education or family life was severely damaged as a result of the situation, and you’re okay elaborating on your experience, it is possible capture a specific personal narrative through your essay. Think carefully about how you can tailor your writing to convey the way the virus changed your perspective or contributed to solidifying your interest in a medical career. But remember: take a step back and think about whether your circumstances are truly unique before going down this path!

DON’T Take Your Pass/Fail Classes for Granted

All colleges have now made the transition to online classes, with many universities implementing a pass/fail policy instead of assigning grades to students this semester. You might think that this new protocol allows you a chance to relax and not take your classes seriously. But, as a prospective medical student, this shouldn’t be your approach. Set up a study space with minimal distractions, pay attention in your classes, and work hard to perform well in them. 

Even if your performance doesn’t directly add to your GPA, admissions committees will expect you to keep up a strong effort. Your professors will still be writing your recommendations and can allude to whether or not you stood out in your courses. If you remain focused and perform well despite the circumstances, this will be a positive on your application. That said, if your home conditions don’t allow you to do as well as you would have if you were in college, explain your situation in your application. Admissions committees will want to know if a student’s performance significantly deteriorated as a direct result of the pandemic.

DO Seek Remote Opportunities 

Your usual activities such as volunteering initiatives or shadowing experiences may have been disrupted due to the social distancing policies. But, medical schools will still expect you to have a substantial amount of volunteering, shadowing, and research hours under your belt. So, the next on our list of Coronavirus dos and don’ts is make sure you don’t use the pandemic as an excuse to ease up on building your extracurricular profile. 

Even though you can’t physically attend most of your activities, keep working towards displaying your commitment to the profession virtually. Run club meetings online through Zoom. Seek remote internships or research assistantships, see if you can get a research article published in a journal. Use your imagination to start a creative project, perhaps a YouTube channel or podcast that covers your niche interest within medicine. While you aren’t allowed to be physically present at hospitals, you can help out in other ways — many students have volunteered to help healthcare workers with child care, for example. Admissions officers will appreciate knowing that you didn’t let the situation stop your pursuit of medicine. Rather, you were able to make the most of what you have access to and help others in the process as well.

DON’T Disregard COVID-19 Entirely

Your application shouldn’t focus on the pandemic throughout. But, as a future doctor, you should definitely be aware of what’s going on in the world. Admissions committees will be curious about how you engaged with the situation as someone working towards applying to medical school. Even though you’re not allowed to be in the battlefield and interact with patients, you can still conduct projects that explore the world in the face of a pandemic. Some examples of what this may entail are outlined below:

  • Compare response towards the Novel Coronavirus outbreak to H1N1 or SARS
  • Write a paper on the impact of the virus in your community
  • Research the efficiency of different testing methods used across countries
  • Analyze the effects of the pandemic on individuals and communities
  • Record a podcast interviewing a medical professional on how they are dealing with COVID-19

It’s all the more crucial to stay informed and acknowledge the present climate. While staying indoors, you can still incorporate an awareness of this historic virus into your projects and activities. 

Undoubtedly, it’s a tough time to be preparing your medical school applications. But we’re also living in an era where healthcare professionals play an exceptionally key role in people’s lives. Remember to be sensitive to the situation, but continue to make the most out of your resources and work on your profile remotely. We hope you stay safe and wish you the best of luck on your road to applying. 

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