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Medical School Applications Are Up Amid COVID Pandemic

Written By: Rachel Lorenc, Blueprint MCAT Tutor

By now, it should come as no surprise that the medical school admissions process is incredibly competitive. With an average medical school acceptance rate of just 7%, it can be overwhelming to even think about tossing your hat into the ring. Now, the Universe has thrown COVID-19 into the 2020-2021 admissions cycle and it’s becoming clear how COVID will affect medical school admissions. Thus far, it seems to have prompted a bump in application numbers expected to continue for the coming years. Just this cycle, the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) and American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) reported a 14% and 18% increase in respective applications as of August 11th—making the need for a competitive MCAT score even more apparent! 

In a time of universal uncertainty and a global focus on the medical sciences, it seems natural that more students are drawn to careers in medicine. The increase in applications mirrors the boom in computer science seen in the early 2000s as Apple and Microsoft took center stage in the media. The difference between computer science and medicine, however, is that while career prospects in silico have expanded, the number of federally-funded residency slots has remained relatively constant for the past decade. Although the AAMC petitioned Congress to increase the number of federally-funded residency programs, it is unlikely that a major increase in job prospects will materialize in time for the class sizes for 2025 and 2026 to expand enough to meet demand. 

COVID-19 adds a unique twist to this tail. Stay-at-home orders have caused numerous MCAT cancellations and forced many students to reschedule since March. While some students have climbed the chaos ladder, countless more have decided to hold off on applying until next year when, hopefully, a more stable MCAT and admissions cycle awaits. 

The average accepted applicant already has impressive statistics. What does that mean for next year, when there could be another increase in applications vying for the same 21,869 spots? It is even more important to work towards boosting your application now to “wow” admissions committees and put your best foot forward. Now, if you’re like this MCAT tutor, simply hearing “do better” riddles you with anxiety. If this sounds like you, don’t despair! With the help of the Blueprint MCAT Team, I’ve come up with a list of actionable items you can pursue to increase your chance at success during this unprecedented time in healthcare history. 

Tips to improve your medical school application during COVID

A competitive medical school application has four big-ticket items. While this ranking isn’t set in stone for all medical school admissions committees, it provides a helpful framework to start thinking about ways to bolster your application.

1. Grades

While we’re all stuck at home at Zoom University, working remotely, or at the very least, going out to fewer social engagements, there is more time to study—if you need an extra incentive, some college classes might help you on the MCAT. During this time, focus on increasing your commitment to actually reading the textbook before lecture and attending office hours. Seriously – what else are you going to do? If you’re a non-traditional applicant with a GPA to boost, look into online community college classes or educational opportunities offered by institutions affiliated with your employer. May jobs have tuition assistance, and if you’re associated with a University, you may have the opportunity to take courses for little to no fees. 

2. MCAT 

Start early, review often. Check out this blog post to learn more about starting your MCAT adventure and to figure out what MCAT prep might work best for you. The AAMC will release test dates for 2021 in mid-to-late October, so look at your calendar and prepare to register early in order to make sure you get a spot at the testing center you prefer. With more applicants coming in, the median MCAT scores for your dream school may not be representative of the applicant pool. Try aiming 2-5 points above where you might have last year, and make sure you have the time and tools to reach your goals. A competitive MCAT score will become an integral part of your application as we continue to see how COVID will affect medical school admissions.

3. Extracurricular activities. 

This step is tricky in the middle of a global pandemic. Many hospitals are not accepting new volunteers and clinical volunteering has been cut down to prevent COVID exposures. Believe it or not, there are still ways to contribute. Many states designate food pantries and distribution centers as essential, and they are always looking for help, especially as summer ends and students go back to school. Organizations like Meals on Wheels rely on volunteers to distribute food to high-risk individuals, nursing homes and hospitals are accepting cards and pen-pals, and some states may have a Medical Reserve Corps you can apply to if you have certain certifications. Rest assured, medical schools are not expecting you to have a normal extracurricular repertoire during the pandemic. These are doctors after all, and they understand the importance of prioritizing the health and safety of yourself and your community over a few hours wiping down wheelchairs in the ED.

4. Letters of recommendation

Make sure you get your letters from professors and supervisors who know you well. Make the time to attend office hours, ask questions, and participate in class discussions. If you have a professor you find uniquely inspiring, ask to meet with them and talk about their research and career path. Your professors want to see your success, and will more than likely be touched by your interest. 

Yes, it’s likely COVID will affect medical school admissions. It’s going to be harder to reach your goals. However, harder does not equate to impossible. There are steps to take and a dream to chase. And as always, the Blueprint MCAT Team is here to help every step of the way!

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