Despite remote learning, medical school applications are more competitive than ever.

This may have been a rocky year for students trying to complete their undergraduate work, doing labs virtually, and studying biochem on a computer. That hasn’t stopped the number of medical school applications from reaching an all-time high. Here’s what you need to know to stay competitive:

Why is there an application boom?

According to medical schools all over the country, as well as the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) itself, approximately two dozen medical schools have already seen a 25% jump in applications this year. In addition, the numbers are still climbing as schools continue to receive applications for the class of 2025.

Researchers aren’t yet sure what has sparked this increase in applications, but some experts believe it has to do with the COVID-19 pandemic.

A possible factor is the spotlight the media has recently been shining on healthcare workers around the world. There are plenty of commercials, social media posts, and news articles hailing doctors and nurses as heroes as they battle the Coronavirus epidemic, and this visibility may be causing more people to reconsider their career options. Watching the world struggle to contain this virus could be the call to action many people needed as they looked for ways to help their community and loved ones.

Another factor could be the stability of a career in medicine, which can seem especially appealing in these tumultuous times. Particularly with the excessive amount of free time people are finding themselves with during lockdown, taking this time to study and pursue a stable career can be comforting. Extended deadlines and increased class sizes in medical schools across the country make this a convenient time to buckle down and get through those applications. 

Image Credit: Chartr

The “Fauci Effect”

Of course, people are crediting another phenomenon that’s been dubbed the “Fauci Effect”. Dr. Anthony Fauci has become such a prominent figure in the medical field that more and more people are being inspired to follow his lead. Seeing how important one man can be (and healthcare workers in general) has inspired a whole new generation.

“That, I think, may have a lot to do with the fact that people look at Anthony Fauci, look at the doctors in their community and say, ‘You know, that is amazing. This is a way for me to make a difference,'” Kristen Goodell told NPR.

We’re seeing this not only in an increased interest in the medical field, but also in the specialties students are pursuing. There has been a drastic increase in students wanting to enter careers in infectious disease research. This pandemic has shown how important this kind of research can be, and many students are trying to think ahead to potential future pandemics.

This past year “makes me think, there’s probably going to be another pandemic…So I want to be on the front lines of the next one.” Sam Smith told NPR.

However, not everybody is convinced this trend is here to stay. Some experts are crediting this spike in applications to the lockdown. With more free time, it’s been easier this year to turn in early applications which could contribute to these early numbers. Some schools have also dropped the Medical College Admission Test, tempting more students to try applying.

Should you wait until next year to apply to medical school?

According to our application advisors, the answer is no…mostly. Just like any year, your application decision should be based on whether you think you are ready or not. These past couple of months have been difficult for many, so if you feel that you are not emotionally or mentally ready to begin the rigors of medical school, then you are better off waiting.

Similarly, if these past months of online schooling have left you feeling less confident in your mastery of the material that will be covered on the MCAT, then you could consider waiting until next year as well. Online schooling simply isn’t for everyone. If you’re one of those people, then look out for yourself.

However, you should not wait just because of the increased number of applications. Numerous admissions directors have already spoken out to say that they are aware of the difficult timing of this application cycle and will be taking that into consideration when reviewing applications. The pandemic has caused many people to miss opportunities they would have otherwise had access to, but this doesn’t necessarily hurt your application since it is such a wide-spread problem.

How can you stay competitive?

The sheer number of applications is giving candidates steep competition. As reported by the Lansing State Journal, Michigan State University College of Human Medicine has received nearly 9,000 applicants for their class of only 190 students.

If you plan on applying this year you need to make sure that you can compete, though with quarantine and the shutdown there are only so many ways you can do this. The normal route of internships and volunteering may have been impossible for you this year, but that doesn’t mean you should lose hope.

In this situation, the first thing you should focus on (other than any current undergrad work) is scoring as high as possible on the MCAT. Depending on your situation, you may have extra time during quarantine that you can devote to your studies. If not, don’t worry, there are still plenty of resources out there to help you study. Online MCAT tutoring can be an excellent way to help you study the material and familiarize yourself with the test itself. These MCAT experts can also teach you test-taking strategies to help ensure that you don’t get tripped up on any trickily worded questions, which can help get you those few extra points to put you to the top.

Application advising can be another strategy to help make sure that you stand out to the admission panel. This year is going to be chaotic as candidates with all kinds of backgrounds and experiences try to land those coveted seats, which means that knowing how to sell yourself in your application is important. An online application advisor can help you word your applications to highlight your strengths and any experiences you do have so that the medical schools you’re applying to can see why you’ll be an asset to them.