Have you ever read the AAMC’s Inspiring Stories segment? It features the inspiring stories of over 50 medical students who all had to overcome challenges during their pre-med journey. Some of the applicants had to take the MCAT multiple times, apply to over 60 medical schools before getting one interview, or apply to medical school twice before finally getting in (and some even all 3 challenges). Their resilience and determination paid off in the end because they were finally able to get into medical school. I encourage you to read some of these inspiring stories as a reminder that the path to getting accepted into medical school and becoming a doctor is not always a straightforward journey.
One of the stories I want to highlight is from someone who had to deal with all 3 challenges. Andy Chen took the MCAT 7 times, applied to over 60 medical schools (twice), and took 4 gap years before getting one interview and once acceptance to medical school. Fast forward to today, Andy Chen is a 4th-year medical student at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine and pursuing Ob/Gyn. You may have been in Andy’s shoes or can relate to his pre-med journey. Maybe you have less than stellar numbers or tried to apply to medical school and did not get one interview last year. You may be experiencing self-doubt and asking yourself, “Should I still apply to medical school this year, even with all the disruptions in my application timeline due to COVID-19?”
This 2020-2021 medical application cycle has been especially difficult because of the temporary changes in MCAT and AMCAS due to COVID-19. This makes answering “Should I still apply to medical school this year?” a more difficult decision compared to past years because applicants are dealing with more variables. When making the decision whether you should apply to medical school this year or next year ask yourself these three questions:
By answering these 3 important questions first, you can break down and clarify your thought process before answering the ultimate question, “Should I apply to medical school this year?”
Write a list of how COVID-19 has affected your application. Here is a list of some of the most common ways COVID-19 has affected applicants:
After writing down your list of how COVID-19 has affected your application, figure out how these changes are going to impact your application this year.
For instance, if your MCAT was postponed, keep in mind that the AAMC is working on releasing MCAT scores in 2 weeks instead of 4 weeks. Also, most medical schools are accepting AMCAS applications, sending secondary invitations, and reviewing applications without an MCAT score. Some medical schools have even announced that they are also accepting MCAT scores from test dates as late as August and September 2020. For the 2020-2021 application cycle, AAMC is delaying the transmission of applicant data to medical schools by two weeks to July 10, 2020, giving applicants 2 extra weeks to complete their AMCAS.
Although it is not ideal that all these changes with the MCAT and AMCAS are happening during a critical time in the medical school application process, AAMC and medical schools recognize the unique challenges that applicants are currently facing. The AAMC and medical school committees are trying their best to extend deadlines, accept later MCAT scores, and be more flexible with the application review process. If you can, use these changes to your advantage. If you believe you can power through with these changes and still submit a strong application, I recommend applying this year.
Use your list from the previous question and organize it into the pros and cons list. Sometimes taking pen to paper by making a pros and cons list can help you organize your thoughts and find clarity so that you can make a good decision.
For example under “MCAT,” you can write a PRO is that you have a high GPA and some medical schools are giving more emphasis to GPA over MCAT. A CON is that you might have to take the new, shorter MCAT in August or September and you are a “slower test taker” and prefer the longer MCAT.
Another example would be “clinical exposure.” A CON would be that your last clinical volunteering opportunity was canceled. Another CON would be that you do not have a lot of direct patient care exposure and it might be difficult for you to justify your interest in medicine. You can write a PRO is that you still showed a personal commitment to help during the COVID crisis by helping to deliver meals for your local homeless shelter or becoming a Red Cross digital volunteer. That shows that you continued to support others and served where you could, even though not in ways you initially planned.
If you have more compelling pros than cons, then apply to medical school this year. If your cons are more compelling than the pros, then it might make more sense for you to hold off and apply next year.
We have written articles about ways to set yourself up for success during COVID-19, strategies to figure out how many medical schools you should apply to, and tips on how to create a reasonable medical school application timeline. All these articles, tips, and strategies are great resources, but at the end of the day, your decision has to pass the gut check. The gut check is an idiom used to describe the moment you stop and take an honest, reflective assessment of your current state. Do a gut check and ask yourself if your decision feels like it is the best decision for you right now in your life.
You know yourself and your current circumstances the best. Maybe you have a serious personal circumstance that has come up due to COVID-19 and you are not able to dedicate the time you need to apply to medical school. Maybe you are experiencing more anxiety and overwhelm and you are finding it difficult to focus and take the new MCAT. Maybe you are switching careers and need more time to shadow or increase your healthcare exposure, and you just won’t be able to complete those hours because of COVID-19. Instead of rushing and “making things work,” take some time and do a gut check. If it doesn’t feel like the right time right now, just remember that the medical school application timeline is different for everyone and there is no “one right path” to medical school. Everyone’s medical school application timeline is different and you need to follow a timeline that makes the most sense for you. Talk to your pre-health committee, a mentor that you trust, or a medical school application consultant and discuss the best medical school application timeline for you.
Andy’s medical school application timeline was far from an ideal, picture-perfect pre-med application timeline, but that did not stop him. On the other side of his numerous rejections (over 60 schools, twice), he found one school that believed in him enough to interview him and accept him. If you have come across your share of rejections and setbacks in your journey, use his story and others from the AAMC inspiring stories segment to motivate you to keep moving forward towards achieving your dream of becoming a physician. The secret is grit and perseverance.
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