Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, medical school applications increased 463% on registration opening day, suggesting more students seek to become doctors.
On MCAT registration opening day, the AAMC observed such a spike in traffic that the website crashed. On the day that med school applications opened, a boost of more than 50% was observed versus last year. These surely are unprecedented times as COVID-19 spreads throughout the nation, but more doctors are on the way.
Stretching far beyond sporting events and rock concerts being canceled, health and safety concerns caused students to shift to remote learning. Flattening the curve and risk reduction also forced the canceling of testing dates for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) in March, April, and May 2020. Because of these cancelations, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) adjusted for pre-medical students who still needed to take the exam.
On April 24, the AAMC announced several changes to the MCAT for the rest of the 2020 year. These changes include a shortened time and length of the exam from a seated time of 7:30 hours to 5:45 hours, the administration of the exam three times a day, and three additional testing dates.
While there are many changes to the exam, the difficulty and number of scored questions will remain the same. This is possible because other aspects of the exam are being shortened, such as the tutorial and end-of-day survey. Students will receive the same scores on this new, shortened exam as they would for the original, full-length exam.
MedSchoolCoach has created a MCAT Score Conversion Calculator where students can find out what their MCAT score converts to in the shortened AAMC practice exams.
In addition to the changes to the actual test, the AAMC introduced changes to the testing environment to ensure a safe and healthy testing environment for all those involved. These changes include:
With changes to the administration of and the actual exam, the AAMC is hoping that all of the students who had their exams canceled, along with all of the students hoping to take their exam this summer, will have enough test date and time options to do so while still maintaining safety precautions for the students and test administrators.
Medical schools are adjusting in the face of an atypical application cycle. For starters, they are preparing admissions officers for a fair application review processes while receiving applicant MCAT scores later than they have in previous application cycles. Simultaneously, med schools are also preparing for the rush of applications.
On May 7, 2020 – the date that MCAT registration reopened – the AAMC received 62,000 applications. This is an increase from the typical 10,000 to 12,000 people than normally register on the AAMC website on the opening day of registration. That is a one-day lift on 463%.
Despite preparing extensively for opening day, this unforeseeable increase in students interested in taking the exam caused the website to crash within the first couple of minutes. For the first few hours, technical difficulties and system revamping delayed registration until the early afternoon, where all 62,000 students were eventually able to schedule for their exams after waiting several hours longer than they had anticipated.
Currently, there are upwards of 78,000 registered for exams between May and September. There are still thousands of seats left for students still interested in taking their MCAT this year.
This spike in student MCAT registrations indicates that there is an unprecedentedly growing interest in medical schools this year, despite the obstacles that the pandemic has produced.
The growing number of students interested in medical school was also observed in the number of people that initiated their medical school applications. Applications opened on May 4, 2020 and within just the first couple of days, there was already a 50% increase in the number of students that initiated applications compared to 2019.
Students can then start submitting their applications on May 28, 2020. Therefore, this early lift does not necessarily mean that more students will ultimately apply in this cycle. However, those at AAMC are cautiously optimistic that this is the case.
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It is evident that this is an unusual medical school application cycle. With the nation battling a pandemic and three months of MCAT exams canceled, there have been unprecedented changes to the structure and administration of the exam. This will impact tens of thousands of registered applicants.
MedSchoolCoach is the leader in medical education while coaching students with MCAT tutoring and admissions advising. They have also been riding the wave of the increased need for students to get into med school.
Ken Tao is one of the country’s lead authorities on the MCAT and is the MedSchoolCoach Director of MCAT Tutoring. “Our MCAT tutoring hours have increased by 74% this April compared to last April. This is largely influenced by student’s needs to have human coaching while they are not attending live classes. This is also likely tied to increased competition.”
Prior to the pandemic, just 42% of students applying to medical school were accepted.
Ken added: “Students who received MCAT tutoring from us were accepted to medical school at a rate of 92%. With more students than ever registering for the MCAT, the importance of a student boosting their exam score just a few points is crucial for them to get into their school of their choice – or even to get accepted into any school at all.”
Despite the challenges presented to pre-medical students due to exam cancellations and registration site crashes, there still seems to be a growing interest in applying to medical schools this year. MedSchoolCoach has already helped more than 13,000 students get into medical school, and that number is expected to rise sharply in 2020.
Many experts are hopeful that the recent COVID setbacks did not discourage students from pursuing careers in the medical field. And early data seems to indicate the opposite may actually be true – that the interest in becoming a doctor may actually be on the rise.
Amy Lu is a pre-medical student at Johns Hopkins University studying Biology, Spanish, and Visual Arts. She is interested in incorporating her love for languages and the arts with health, so she teaches public health lessons to Spanish-speaking immigrants and prepares arts and crafts activities for pediatric patients at the Johns Hopkins Hospital.
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