The COVID 19 pandemic has shaken the world. The most common questions I’ve heard are how is COVID-19 going to affect my medical school applications and how is COVID-19 going to affect my MCAT? It is difficult to create one plan to accommodate all the new guidelines, recommendations, and projections because it changes daily. For example, in just a matter of weeks, the MCAT went from reducing the amount of seats available for testing in order to follow the social distancing rule, to fully cancelling all tests globally in March and April 2020.
The next couple of months will bring about a lot of changes and uncertainty regarding medical school applications during the COVID-19 pandemic (and could possibly affect interviews and medical school start dates as the year progresses). The key to being successful this medical school application cycle is to be proactive instead of reactive.
The AAMC has a COVID-19 and AMCAS page with the most frequently asked questions regarding COVID-19 medical school applications for 2020 and 2021. As of today, there are currently no anticipated changes with AMCAS. The AAMC is recommending that you contact schools directly for school-specific changes. If you have not heard anything from the AAMC, this means stay the course and follow your original medical school application timeline until you find out more information. The information could change from week to week as public health policies are updated, but the important thing is that you stay on top of this information and you get your coronavirus medical school application information from trusted sources. Check credible websites such as the AAMC or specific medical school websites daily for the most up to date information. Take the information you read from forums such as Student Doctor Network or Reddit with a grain of salt.
The COVID-19 pandemic is projected to peak in April, begin a downward trend by late spring, and resolve by the summer (June/July 2020). Again, no one knows for sure, but we're guessing here. Some of you may have summer medical mission trips that require travel outside of the country, clinical research in hospitals, or shadowing opportunities planned for the summer. Although the COVID 19 pandemic will slow down by the summer, this does not necessarily mean that everything will be normal by then. There may still be travel restrictions, travel bands, hospital restrictions etc. during that time as a public health precaution to prevent a second COVID peak in the summer or fall 2020. Your summer medical missions trip or shadowing opportunity could still be cancelled or postponed due to public health guidelines recommendations. There may be an extended social distancing period and a decrease in allowable non-essential staff in the hospitals as public health measures to prevent resurgence of the disease. If you planned on doing a bulk of your medically related activities this summer, you may have to come up with a plan B. Use this month to think of other summer plans in case these activities all fall through due to the coronavirus. Ideas for alternative summer activities could be creating virtual workshops or providing virtual tutoring. For example, you can partner up with a local school and provide virtual tutoring to middle school kids on CDC and WHO COVID -19 guidelines. This shows creativity, outside of the box thinking, and a commitment to continuing to serve your community during this global crisis.
Based on the COVID-19 pandemic projections, the pandemic should resolve by early summer. Medical school interviews typically occur between August 2020 to March 2021. Depending on what public health policies are in place during that time period or the accuracy of the COVID-19 pandemic projections, there may be some changes in the interviewing process this year. Most fellowship interviews during March (and into April) were conducted virtually this year due to the social distancing policies. Expect that your interview may be virtual instead of live and to do a few practice virtual interview rounds so you get used to speaking in front of the web camera. Expecting and planning for these changes in advance will help you be prepared for whatever comes your way during interview season.
Spring is one of the most common times to take the MCAT because medical school applications are typically submitted in May and June. The best thing you can do is to develop a resilient mindset and remind yourself to control the things you can control in this process. Set your expectations that any future MCAT date you choose today has a good chance of being cancelled next week. Instead of being reactive, control what you can and find the earliest date to reschedule once you receive the email informing you that your MCAT date was cancelled. If you continue to have your test dates cancelled, then it may be a good time to seek advice from your pre-health advisor or a medical school consultant.
There are a lot of unknowns right now - we don't know how every school will address this, but schools will likely be forced to review applications without a completed MCAT score. UC schools have announced that they will review applications for secondary applications without an available MCAT score. Many other schools are doing the same. Some have noted they would give out intervie invites if MCAT dates keep getting cancelled. The point of the story is: do not delay your application just for the MCAT. Schools will need to be flexible - continue applying with your original timeline.
You may be forced to reschedule for a later date in the summer or fall if there are limited seating restrictions. You may be weighing he risk and benefits of applying to medical school right now vs. pushing back your application to next year. Reach out to your pre-health advisor or a medical consultant before making a decision to figure out how best to proceed with your medical school application.
We were in the thick of an unexpected public health crisis in a matter of weeks. Although COVID-19 projections show that the virus spread will likely die down by summer 2020, there are the economic, political, and social aftermaths of the COVID-19 pandemic that we still have to deal with even after the pandemic has resolved. It may take awhile for everything to get back to normal, but despite all the changes and uncertainty, it is important to have a plan and realize that you may have to change that plan constantly as you find out new COVID 19 information.
For the next couple of months, continue to remind yourself to focus on the things you can control and have a back-up plan for plans that fall through. This is uncharted territory for all medical school advisors and consultants, and like you, we are all learning new information and changes daily as they come in. If your medical school application plan has changed due to COVID-19, we have medical school consultants who can give you their professional opinions on your application so you have the information you need to make the best decision for you.
I want to end this COVID-19 medical school application article on a good note with a slightly tongue and cheek kind of illustration. I know it is easier said than done, but as the saying goes, keep calm and carry on.
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