NYU Dean of Admissions on COVID-19 & This Unusual App Cycle

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Session 383

How will med schools view online and pass/fail courses? Will the application timeline change in 2020? What about shadowing? NYU Grossman School of Medicine Dean, Dr. Rafael Rivera will help shed light on all this!

If you haven’t yet, be sure to check out all our episodes on Meded Media.

Dr. Rivera talks about what possibly could be expected from the med school side and from the student’s side during these crazy times.

We also talk about what may happen for students who are currently in the application cycle. As of this recording, there are still students in the application cycle from 2019 who had their second looks canceled and a lot of them were disappointed.

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

[02:40] The Future of the Second Look

With regards to admissions, they don’t really know how long this will last and how much it will impact the subsequent cycle. But for this current cycle, it’s generally pretty good. Dr. Rivera had finished their interviews at the end of December. They sent out their first wave of acceptances by the beginning of January. So they’re now they’re sitting tight until the mid-April or end of April timeframe.

Most schools are moving to some virtual second look type event. 

'What you're seeing schools do now is figuring out what they're going to do for their revisit events and their second look events.'Click To Tweet

[05:12] What Students Get Out of the Second Look

There are three main goals to any second look for both parties.

One would be information-sharing. There are certain things that you may not get or you may not pay attention to. They present folks with a lot of information they need. And they’re not paying attention too much until after that interview gets done.

The second look is an opportunity to answer any questions students may have to really showcase what the school has to offer. 

'Any U.S. medical school you go to is a great medical school. You just have to find what the best fit for you is.'Click To Tweet

Also, it’s about finding the right medical school that fits you and part of that is figuring out the information you need to help you make that decision. Dr. Rivera sees socializing as the biggest piece in terms of meeting your future classmates, upperclassmen, and faculty. Get a sense of the people you’re going to be surrounding with. See if that’s going to be a place you’re going to be able to call home for the next three or four years.

The last piece is geographic concerns. Look at how a city or town is going to be a fit for you.

[07:00] What Virtual Second Look Would Look Like

For the virtual second look, you can accomplish most of those things. This actually allows schools to do things in some ways, better. They can create shorter videos that people can choose to watch depending on what their interests are.

Schools can individualize the information available at the applicant’s disposal.

The socializing piece is trickier but there are Skype and Zoom where they can create smaller group sessions. They can bring students to focus on topics they’re interested in such as LGBT health awareness. Then you can also talk about free clinics in another group. It allows people to interact that way.

'Schools are starting to be creative.'Click To Tweet

It allows students to get more information about more schools because you can only be in one place at one time. But now, you could theoretically go to more second looks.


[10:15] What Schools Are Going to Do with Pass/Fail and Online Prereqs?

Check out AAMC’s resources like the MSAR to identify what schools require what. They know this is hard for everyone. They know it’s a really challenging time so accommodations are going to be made. 

'Always touch base with your prehealth advisor through your school in a virtual capacity now obviously.'Click To Tweet

At NYU, they don’t have prerequisites so it makes it easier for them. They would prefer grades if possible. But they also realized that it’s not always going to happen. So they’re fine with pass/fail reading during this time.

One of the things that schools are trying to do is to move closer to online. Dr. Rivera thinks this is a good idea. It’s one of the reasons that they actually moved to not have prerequisites. He thinks it’s wrong of them to be asking more from students each year. They add more and more courses but they never take courses off. They’ve added Psychology and Sociology.

Dr. Rivera it incentivizes schools for putting some extra effort into creating integrated course sequences that will give them all the knowledge they need for medical school in a far more efficient manner.

All of this is to encourage schools to do that and to encourage alternative means of getting information. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where you get the knowledge from. What matters is that you have the knowledge. 

'Online education is something we need to leverage more. It allows us to broaden access to a far larger number of people.'Click To Tweet

Dr. Rivera thinks of the MCAT as the great equalizer. It doesn’t matter where you went to school or where you got the content as long as you do well on this.

Ultimately, Dr. Rivera says he’s fine with pass/fail courses. They’re also fine with online courses. The MCAT will just be as important as it always has been.

Just because they have a preference for letter grades doesn’t mean that they’re not going to fully endorse and embrace a pass/fail grade given what’s been going on. All it means is that if you take a pass/fail grade, as long as you do well on the MCAT, it will be fine. That being said, he doesn’t think this is going to be a major issue.

[18:18] What the Timeline Looks Like Now

Dr. Rivera admits he doesn’t know what it will look like because we don’t really know how long this social distancing piece is going to go out. It all depends on when the first MCAT starts coming online. He doesn’t think they’re going to offer online versions of the test, at least not this cycle.

'The worst-case scenario is that things are going to get pushed back.'Click To Tweet

And if that happens medical schools are just going to push their deadline dates back. This is not one of those things that you should be worrying a tremendous amount about. One way or another, this will work itself out.

Sometimes, this can be a blessing as you have more time to prepare your letters and you have more time to prepare for your interviews. 

[20:30] What Happens to the Interviews If This Continued?

The challenge comes with this continues on and they’re going to have difficulty doing the interviews especially for schools doing MMIs. 

One school in New Zealand did an iMMI where they had faculty members, each in front of a different computer. The applicants would sign into their computer and it will be the faculty members who will rotate right around the computers.

That being said, we have to look at ways of doing that if the social distancing continued.

[21:05] Thoughts on Applying Early

Dr. Rivera wants his point to come across with regards to applying early. They actually have an algorithm that uses machine learning to replicate what faculty screeners have done. One of the reasons they do this is the reduced bias.

They would tell folks to apply early because there are only so many interview spots and there are a lot of applicants. You want to be in the running to get one of these spots.

'If a school is not careful about properly doling out the interview slots, then that would be a concern so you would do best applying early.'Click To Tweet

A great applicant doesn’t stand out as much against other great applicants. Take that same great applicant who applies later on in the cycle towards the end, where there are fewer great applicants. That same applicant stands out in a positive way. The likelihood of getting an interview actually increases – that’s if the school doles out the interviews appropriately.

Ultimately, Dr. Rivera doesn’t think people should worry that they’re not able to get their application in on the very first day. People will be a lot more cognizant and understanding moving forward.

[23:55] No to Rolling Admissions This Cycle?

Dr. Rivera actually likes the rolling admission process. That’s because he’s a big advocate of reducing the cost of medical education and the cost of applying to medical school. One of the ways to do that is to get a decision early.

'It's important to get people a decision early so that it helps them whittle down the number of interviews that they're still going to do moving forward.'Click To Tweet

He thinks this is still very important this cycle given the new variable that has been introduced with COVID. It allows more people to get into that interview pool so they could have a shot. 

For instance, if somebody has 10 interviews and after getting acceptance at one school, they can cancel maybe seven of those. Now, there are seven interview slots that other folks can come in and take.

[25:40] How to Navigate Talking About the Extracurriculars

'It's affecting the entire applicant pool. The admissions committee members are going to know that.'Click To Tweet

The key is to make sure you’ve done enough of your extracurriculars before you apply so that your application is complete.

Dr. Rivera is not a huge fan of shadowing because he thinks it’s a very passive process. He’d prefer it to be active like research, public health, and community projects. But he stresses that you should be doing those things to confirm that medicine is the career choice for you. 

'You're going into this profession so you should be going in with eyes wide open and know what you're getting into and say 'I can't see myself doing anything else.''Click To Tweet

[28:05] Taking a Gap Year

As much as he’s an advocate for accelerating education, he also realized that sometimes, you can’t do that. And sometimes, it’s better to take a bit of a longer path.

'The worse thing that happens is you take an additional year. We'll still be here.'Click To Tweet

Take a year off if you don’t feel your application is ready. Whether it’s because you don’t have the experiences under your belt to confirm it’s the career choice for you or to make you a competitive applicant.

You come in when the time is right. Your reality is what you make it and how you choose to view things. Rather than seeing things as something that will slow you down or will make it difficult for you to apply, then maybe it’s an opportunity.

Maybe it’s a gift to give you the time to really think about your decision. You have more time to beef up your application to be a much more competitive applicant when the time arrives.

And with everything that’s happening right now with COVID, there are going to be plenty of opportunities down the road. Just take a breath.

In terms of putting an activity that you didn’t get to do because of the lockdown, well, you shouldn’t do that since you didn’t do it. Don’t put it on your application. You don’t want anything to be misconstrued as being dishonest. Honesty is one of those things that you absolutely have to have.

If you want to talk about something you were meant to do, then you can add that to your personal statement or your secondary essay, the letters of recommendation, etc. Focus on the things you’ve done and what you’ve learned from them.

[33:40] Final Words of Wisdom

Things are going to be okay. It’s a scary time. Make sure you’re doing well during these stressful times. This is your opportunity to show your compassion and help out humanity.

Lastly, although this is a huge speedbump we’re facing, see this as an opportunity rather than an obstacle.

Challenge yourself to be a better person, to be a better doctor, and to see how this could make you stronger, smarter, and more compassionate.

'There will hopefully be a lot of positive things that can come out of this. People should take it seriously, but look at things from an optimistic mind frame.'Click To Tweet

Dr. Rivera is a big advocate of folks who can see the glasses half full and really figure out how to make the glass from half-full to fully full.


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