Applying to Medical School during COVID-19

Megan and Adina recount their experiences and lessons learned from applying to medical school during COVID-19. The pandemic has the potential to forever change how applicants apply to medical school. We hope these insights and tips help applicants for years to come as they navigate this already complex process. 

Megan
Medical Student at the Medical College of Georgia

The COVID-19 pandemic obviously affected every aspect of our lives over the past year, and that included the medical school application process. The already grueling process of taking the MCAT, completing the necessary requirements and classes, filling out primary and secondary applications and interviewing became even more stressful due to the general uncertainty in our lives. Here are some of my experiences applying to medical school during the COVID-19 pandemic!

The MCAT

The very first thing for me that was affected by the pandemic was the MCAT. The AAMC cancelled all MCAT dates pretty early on when the pandemic hit, without any hint of when we would be able to reschedule. Since I had scheduled my date for the end of May, I was included in the thousands of applicants that did not know when they would take the MCAT for weeks. I stopped my MCAT studying for a few weeks due to the disappointment and uncertainty of the situation. Eventually when the MCAT dates were released, the AAMC announced that the testing time would be shortened!

AMCAS

The AMCAS application deadline was also pushed back, and the biggest thing that was affected by the pandemic for me was getting letters of recommendation. I was planning on asking for my letters of recommendation in person from professors. However, when schools shut down, I had to rely on email for contacting people to request letters. I had to learn the importance of written communication and ensuring that I could provide them with adequate information to write a unique, personal letter of recommendation.

PRO TIP: One thing that helped immensely was having my personal statement finished early in the cycle to send to my letter writers, so they knew more about me and my journey towards medicine!

Interviewing

Personally, the interview process was made easier for me because of the pandemic. All interviews were in an online format through Zoom or a similar platform, which for me meant that I could be in a familiar environment like my room and not have to worry about finding the location of the interview, waiting in line with other applicants or driving to an unfamiliar location.

I felt like I was much less nervous and stressed than I would have been had the interviews been in person, which I believed helped my performance and helped me to be more myself during the interviews. The virtual interviews also cut down on the costs of transportation, hotels and other costs of traveling to schools to interview.

Tips for Applying

Pandemic or not, the medical school application process is long, gruesome and stressful. So, take breaks and make time for yourself!

Make sure you take time for yourself every day.

It’s easy to get caught up in MCAT studying, perfecting your personal statement and filling out secondary applications. Do at least one thing you enjoy every day!

Try to finish your personal statement and start requesting letters of recommendation as early as possible!

Starting to have an idea of what you are going to talk about in your personal statement months in advance can help prevent you from falling behind and getting stressed when the AMCAS application opens.

Try not to get caught up in comparing yourself to others.

It’s really easy to go online and read blogs and other people’s experiences and worry about whether your application and experiences compare, so limit the time you spend on Reddit or similar websites.

Pre-write secondaries!

Most schools use similar or the exact same prompts, so doing a quick Google search of the secondary questions that the schools you are applying to used in previous years can help you to get an idea of the kind of questions and topics you are going to want to reflect on.

Spend time with friends and family.

Keep your mind off of medical school applications and MCAT studying for at least a few hours each day and just enjoy the company of people you love.

Adina
Medical Student at the University of Arizona, College of Medicine Phoenix

In March 2020, I was gearing up for the upcoming medical school admissions cycle. I had started brainstorming drafts and anecdotes/stories for my medical school personal statement, reflecting on my four years of undergraduate education at UC Berkeley including all of my extracurriculars.

Like many pre-medical students, I was working on weaving together my story to answer the simple question- “Why medicine?” For me, that answer had never been so easy, such that preparing early before the applications opened in June was important.

I had already decided that I was going to take one year off to work in between undergraduate and medical school (a gap year) while applying. Little did I know then that this year off would be during a global pandemic- with new obstacles to overcome, even more than just the 5,300 characters of my personal statement

Learning to Adapt 

Like many, I had to adapt to the challenges of the pandemic. In regard to the medical school admissions cycle, I felt anxious about the uncertainty of applications with the state of the world in lockdown. Schools began to release their “COVID-19 updates

  • Optional MCAT
  • Extended deadlines 
  • Virtual interviews

Coming from a family with no previous members applying to medical school, the application was already a daunting task and the changes from the pandemic definitely did not help. 

What was there to do in a time like this? 

Well, I reached out to multiple resources including pre-health advisors at my school and the Motivate MD team. Advising sessions with the Motivate MD team helped me put a plan in place to apply to new positions for my gap year (my original job became no longer available due to the pandemic) and helped me create a schedule to edit and finalize drafts for my personal statement and works and activities list. Applying to med school during the pandemic was something completely unprecedented, but knowing that I had a plan in place left me feeling confident for the cycle. 

Apply Early 

For me, applying early was a game-changer, and the impacts from COVID-19 actually gave me a lot more time to work on things like reflecting deeper on why I want to go into medicine and drafting secondary applications.

Even as the admissions cycle came to an end, I still felt the effects from applying to medical school during COVID-19. 

  • I never got to visit the campuses I interviewed at
  • I did not get to see any in-person second look events
  • Networking with current students over zoom definitely increased the challenge of understanding the community at each school. 

But, like many of you, I am adapting and learning to rely on other resources like virtual tours and zoom panels/events. 

I feel that the pandemic has helped me cultivate resilience that I will and have utilized in med school! To all of you premeds that may feel overwhelmed by applying during such an unprecedented time, know that you are not alone. I encourage you to take this time to keep reflecting on what motivates you to go into medicine

Share your journey with the admissions team and know that everyone has gone through increased challenges and stress during this past year. My best advice for applying to medical school during COVID-19: prepare early and start practicing those virtual interviews.

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