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Premed and Applying to Medical School During COVID-19? What You Need to Know

By April 20, 2020April 23rd, 2020Admissions Advice, Other Topics

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, spring break trips have been canceled, classes have transitioned online, students have had to evacuate their dorms early, and lives have been disrupted. There has never been anything like this in our lifetimes. Yet, premeds are wondering, “What should I do now?”

Many premeds are greatly affected: grades turned to pass/fail or credit/no-credit; the MCAT canceled most March, April, and May test dates; summer internships are canceled or decisions are postponed; medical school interviews are moved to virtual interviews; and there are no more in-person second-look weekends for accepted medical school applicants. Talk about a lot of changes!

COVID-19 Premed Topics:

Have other questions or specific questions related to your medical school applications? Ask us down below, and we’ll respond!

Since this is the hot topic that Drs. Rachel Rizal and Rishi Mediratta are asked multiple times a day, here are some of our tips and thoughts about how medical school applications will be affected. Additionally, when available, we cite helpful resources and posted links so you can read further! Finally, we give ideas about how you could make the most of hunkering down at home. We will try and update this blog post regularly so you have the latest information! If you have suggestions for COVID-19 volunteer opportunities or updates you want to share to other premeds, please fill out our contact form and we will update our blog with pertinent information. Thanks 🙂

Last updated: April 20, 2020

If you have specific questions about your medical school applications for the 2020-2021 cycle, feel free to reach out to us by filling out our contact form or emailing us at info@crackingmedadmissions.com!   Please tell us more about yourself and the circumstances of your situation.

Q. I was planning on shadowing and doing more extracurricular activities this semester. How will my medical school application be affected?

Sometimes, we get a variant of this question: “I barely have any clinical experiences and extra-curricular activities because they all got canceled for this spring and summer. Should I still apply this application cycle?”

As we tell premeds, your medical school applications are a reflection of your interests in medicine for the past several years. Hence, your extracurricular activities should be longitudinal.  Even without the coronavirus pandemic, you will less likely have a strong application if you only do a majority of your extracurricular activities over the last few months.  You should not be doing extracurricular activities in the last semester to count the hours towards clinical experiences. 

For more of our thoughts and ideas about extra-curricular activities during this COVID19 pandemic, please jump down below to the “COVID-19 and Extracurricular activities” section.

 
Q. When should I ask my professors and advisors for letters of recommendations?

Each state – and each county – has been affected by the coronavirus cases differently.  If you think your professors are stressing out because of the pandemic, common sense should push you towards waiting for a better time to ask for a letter of recommendation. For example, let’s say your professor is a practicing emergency room doctor in New York City. Perhaps it’s better to wait until the number of cases go down before asking for your professor for a letter of recommendation.

If you’re not sure how your professor is being impacted, it’s wise to ask for a letter of recommendation sooner rather than later.  Our Cracking Med School Admissions team recommends asking letter writers for a recommendation letter at least one month before submitting your application.  Given that it’s near the end of April, you may want to start lining up a list of your potential medical school recommendation writers now. Start contacting them about the possibility of writing you a strong letter of recommendation.

For more tips about letters of recommendation, be sure to read our blog posts “How To Ask For Strong Letters of Recommendation” and “How To Submit A Strong Medical School Letter of Recommendation.”


Q. Are they going to postpone the opening of the AMCAS?

Based on the AMCAS website, the AMCAS application portal will open on Monday, May 4, 2020. You can start submitting applications on Thursday May 28, 2020.  The AMCAS is delaying the transmission of applications to specific medical schools until July 10, 2020. What does this mean? That means if you submit your AMCAS application, it will start to get verified. It will not be sent to medical schools until July 10th. This gives applicants who submit their AMCAS a little later than others a more equal playing field. 

We will continue to update this blog post with more information as we hear it! Stay tuned.


Q. What about committee letters?

If your school has a committee letter, please follow your University’s policies for when your premed advising office needs letters of recommendations by.

If your school submits and writes committee letters, please still expect to ask your university for a committee letter.

Q. Should I delay submitting my medical school applications because I am waiting for a higher MCAT score?

No. In our opinion, delaying the submission of your AMCAS until July or August, even if it will be processed with a faster turnaround time, will hurt your chances of getting an interview spot or getting accepted into medical school.

We are advising students to work on their applications now with the plan of submitting their medical school applications when the AMCAS opens.

One thing that the Cracking Med School Admissions team is fantastic at is helping pre-meds go after or create interesting extracurricular activities around their areas of interests.  We have had a lot of fun brainstorming extracurricular activity changes with our mentees, so if you have questions, certainly contact us!

If you are an organization and would like to let other pre-med students know about volunteer opportunities, please send us information so we can share it with pre-meds on this blog post and through our social media channels!

Q. My summer internship is canceled. What should I do?

We think you should try and find another internship. Be persistent. It’s really unfortunate that internships are getting canceled, and that some organizations are not recruiting.

If you cannot find a full-time internship or job this summer, try to string together a few different volunteer opportunities.   For example, Dr. Rizal lost her sophomore summer internship in the middle of a financial crisis. She ended up finding a part-time job in another city, contacted other doctors to shadow in her new location, and volunteered for four-hours per Saturday at a nearby free clinic.

We think there’s still a lot of merit to finding non health-related internships and summer jobs. You can learn a lot from working as a waitress at a local diner! For instance, you’ll learn a lot about task management and customer service.

Finally, another option to look into, especially if you are a freshman or sophomore, is to take summer classes.  It may be advantageous for you to finish pre-requisites to leave you more space in your schedule for upper-division courses, an extra major or minor, and extracurricular activities next year!

Again, if you have questions about your extracurricular activities and internships, contact us and let us know your situation.

Q. The lab I was supposed to work at is no longer taking new students like myself. What should I do?

First, if you really want to work in the lab, ask your PI or professor if you can start working there once the coronavirus pandemic dies down and things go back to normal.

If your lab doesn’t see hiring as a possibility in the near-term future, then you might have to start looking for another research opportunity. Even though some research opportunities are no longer hiring, our mentees have actually found a lot of research opportunities and projects related to COVID-19! One of our mentees is doing antibody testing research.  Another one of our mentees is working with a University professor for COVID-19 epidemiological research.  There are tons of possibilities!

The first place we would advise you to look is at your own university.  Look to see what innovations are happening and which professors are starting to work on coronavirus projects.

Also, explore secondary data analysis. Many researchers are sitting on data that has already been collected. Look at what researchers are publishing on PUBMED and see if they would be open to you running a secondary data analysis on their data. If you take the initiative of reaching out, researchers may take you under their wings.

If you cannot find any research opportunities, similar to our response to the question above, look for other opportunities.

Q. What health-related opportunities are there for pre-meds?

Shadowing:

You can still email physicians and ask if you can shadow them once volunteers and observers are able to go back to the hospital.

To read more tips about shadowing doctors and finding shadowing experiences, check out our blog post “How To Shadow A Doctor.”

Virtual Shadowing:

One pre-med we spoke to recently mentioned that her physician mentor is allowing her to shadow on the virtual visits. If your physician mentors can also make this happen, this could one possibility to still gain some clinical experience now! 🙂

Other experiences:

Read the next question down below for other ways to get involved around various healthcare initiatives.

Q. What health-related opportunities are there for pre-meds?

Unfortunately, several volunteer opportunities, scribing positions, and shadowing opportunities are not happening during the height of the coronavirus crisis.

After talking to pre-meds and conducting our own research, here is a list of 10 ways you can get involved:

  1. Get Involved with Student Organizations & your School: Find out ways you can help your local community through the coronavirus crisis. Some pre-med organizations have done fundraisers to raise money for hospitals and medical supplies, while other pre-meds assembled face masks to help healthcare practitioners.
  2. Volunteer at local organizations: Several NGO’s around your city need volunteers during these difficult times! Some popular places to look at include food banks, homeless shelters, and senior citizen homes. As an example, in Boston, The Greater Boston Food Bank is recruiting for volunteers for stock pantries and distributing food. Portland, Maine is recruiting volunteers to deliver food for the elderly.
  3. Volunteer at a local hospital or public health center: Several cities, counties, and states are posting ways you can volunteer. For example, Michigan state has a website with several ways you can volunteer: public health volunteers, medical volunteers, and local volunteers to name a few positions. At Johns Hopkins, volunteers helped make thousands of face shields for healthcare workers.
  4. Start a program! If you can’t find a local organization around that needs volunteers, think about the needs of your community and start your own program. There are many initiatives happening around the country. Here’s a great news cast about “volunteers step us to aid senior citizens during coronavirus crisis.”  With the power of social media, you can start something as little as a social media buddy program and pair younger individuals up with elderly individuals.
  5. Advocacy: Several organizations around the United States (and around the world) are doing advocacy work. Look at your university, local organizations, and professional organizations to see what advocacy work interests you!
  6. Write: We have read several heart-warming and eye-opening articles from our physician colleagues. But as a pre-med, you can write too! Look at your local newspaper, school newspaper, online magazines, and online journals for article submissions. The New York Times has a student section where you can submit your opinions, thoughts, and experiences during this stay-at-home period.
  7. COVID-19 Research: There are several university researchers and groups who are collaborating to do coronavirus research.  Reach out to these individuals to get involved with a study or a clinical trial!  For example, around Santa Clara County and Stanford University, volunteers were recruited for a large scale antibody study: Eran Bendavid Leads Research
  8. Join a Hackathon: Want to put your innovation hat on and come up with new solutions? One cool way to do it is by joining a hackathon. There are several hackathons, including MIT’s Solve Health Security Pandemics challenge. Read more about COVID-19 and social distancing hackathons on this great Forbes article The Hackathon Approach To COVID-19.
  9. DIY Face Masks: More and more states are requiring people to wear a mask outside. In fact, the CDC advises all individuals to wear a mask or face covering. You can sew and create masks for individuals. Here’s a good website with a possible print pattern.
  10. Educate Others: As big fans of public health and health education, we think this is one easy and important way to make a difference around you. Get to know the facts about the coronavirus and educate others.  Here’s a good video on how to wash your hands properly. Simply learning and showing your family members and friends good public health measures is helpful!

If you want to brainstorm ideas about extra-curricular activities with us, please contact us at info@crackingmedadmissions.com or contact us using the button below. We love hearing and helping students with their initiatives!

Similarly, if you are an organization and want to publicize volunteer opportunities, please email us or contact us here.

Q. How will Pass/Fail Grades or Credit/No-credit grades affect medical school application chances?

Many medical schools still have no official policies about how they will consider applications during the next medical school admissions cycle. But given that so many undergraduate intuitions are turning to mandatory pass/fail, here’s what we think: as long as you have taken the pre-requisites and minimum requirements for medical school, medical schools will likely count your current semester of a “pass” grade towards the minimum requirement.

If you are applying to DO programs, here is what the AACOMAS officially announced:

Congruent with our philosophy, AACOMAS participating schools intend to adapt their application review process to the following to mitigate the many obstacles you may face:

  • Accept all pass/fail/satisfactory/unsatisfactory coursework, regardless of whether your school required this, including pre-requisite coursework in the context of your entire academic history
  • Accept all online coursework, including laboratory credits
  • Review your application without all required laboratory coursework, if you can demonstrate that your institution was unable to provide these courses due to COVID-19; proof of completion may later be required

You can read more from AACOMAS’s official letter here: https://choosedo.org/osteopathic-medical-schools-adapt-admissions-processes/

The Texas Medical Schools who accept the TDMSAS applications also made statements about this upcoming medical school admissions cycle.

On 4/10, TDMSAS stated:

TMDSAS member institutions have agreed to accept all courses graded as pass/fail or credit/no-credit as equivalent to graded courses during the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically the spring 2020 academic term (including winter 2020 quarter term). Member institutions will continue to review candidates utilizing a holistic, individualized review process, considering candidates based on the totality of their academic career.

Learn more here: https://www.txhes.com/newsroom/updates/tmdsas-covid-impacts-ey21.html

We are waiting for AAMC to issue a similar statement.

Q. I have the option of making my courses graded. Should I make my grades Pass/Fail or a Letter-Grade?

We wanted to come up with a few considerations to help you with your decision:

  • What grade do you expect to get in the course?
  • Will a grade in a course increase or decrease your overall GPA?
  • Will a grade in a course increase or decrease your science GPA?
  • If you receive a pass/fail grade this semester, will it affect your chances of getting into any upper-division courses in the future? In other words, has your university mentioned that you need to have a letter-grade as a pre-requisite for another course in your major or minor?

We think most medical schools will consider your grades this semester similar to what is posted on UCLA’s School of Medicine’s website:

Our schools will accept pass/fail grades, without prejudice, for courses taken during the COVID-19 pandemic. It has always been our practice to consider grades in the context of numerous other aspects of the application, and an international crisis certainly provides a unique and compelling context. In making this statement, we are cognizant of the fact that some undergraduate schools are providing an option for students to take courses either for grades or on a Pass/Fail basis. We therefore want to be explicit that applicants should not feel pressured by us to choose the graded option.  Students and their families are facing many challenges at the moment – maybe even life and death challenges. The pressure for grades need not be one of them.

Read more: https://medschool.ucla.edu/apply/covid-19-impact-on-admissions

Turning to a virtual classroom and facing an international pandemic is very stressful and requires a lot of changes. Making your grades pass/fail or letter-graded is based on a case-by-case basis. If you have questions regarding your situation, please contact us and explain your situation some more.

Q. I was hoping to get a letter of recommendation from one of my Professors this semester. Now with virtual classes, how can I do that?

Many professors and Teaching Assistants (TAs) are still holding virtual office hours. So go to them and make yourself known! From one pre-med we spoke to, she mentioned that office hours are now more popular ever since students started studying from home.

If you cannot go to the official office hours, don’t hesitate to ask your TA or professor to meet separately.

Q. Will medical schools count my pre-med requirement course if I took it pass/fail this semester?

Each school will have a different policy, but we believe many medical schools will count your pre-med requirements that were taken online this semester.

Here are what the Texas state schools have to say:

All prerequisite courses that were transitioned to an online format in the spring 2020 (including winter 2020 quarter term) and summer 2020 academic terms will be applied towards the education requirements for all TMDSAS member institutions.

We know this time is extremely stressful for MCAT test takers! Not only do you have to stress about when you will take your MCATs, but you also have to modify your study schedules. You may have to keep preparing and practicing for the MCAT for the next few months.

Q. My MCAT date was canceled. What should I do?

You should work with AAMC to re-schedule an MCAT date, even if it’s in mid- or late-summer.

The way we keep abreast with AAMC is to actually follow it’s Twitter handle @AAMC_MCAT. We think it’s the fastest way to get updates and information straight from the testing folks themselves!

Q. My MCAT date was canceled. When should I submit my medical school application?

As of now, we have not heard of any delays for the opening date of the AMCAS. We advise students to use this time wisely and start working on their medical school applications.  If you finish your medical school applications early, then you will give yourself more time for MCAT preparation and extra-curricular activities once the country opens up again.

If you want to work with the Cracking Med School Admissions coaches on your medical school application, check out our 2020-2021 application packages here.

Q. I took the MCAT before and my score was low. I signed-up to retake the MCAT this spring, but my test date got canceled. Should I still take the MCAT?

This depends on your previous MCAT score and the medical schools you hope to gain admissions for. Please contact us about your situation and we can help guide you further.

If you have any additional questions about medical school applications and your current premed situation, please feel free to contact us and ask questions. We would love to help you and give you our insights! 🙂

We know this time is extremely stressful for MCAT test takers! Not only do you have to stress about when you will take your MCATs, but you also have to modify your study schedules. You may have to keep preparing and practicing for the MCAT for the next few months.

Blog post written by Dr. Rachel Rizal

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