HPA Fall 2020 FAQ

Information for Class of 2024

What classes should I take this fall?

This will depend on placement tests, potential concentrations of interest, and what health profession you're interested in. Most first-year students who don't come in with General Chemistry credit would start in the first term of General Chemistry (CHM 201 or CHM 207). Most first-year students who don't come in with Calculus credit would start in MATINFO1. Beyond that, we recommend looking into small classes that will help you build community with peers and faculty, like Writing Seminar and Freshman Seminars, plus courses that help you explore interests. 

The Preparing Guide for class of 2024 should be online before course selection, and that will provide more information about how to plan your prehealth courses. Keep an eye on our page for first-years for more information!

How can I maximize my time on campus this fall as a first-year prehealth student?

In your first term, focus on making as smooth an academic and social transition as possible. Get to know your peers and faculty, and gauge how you need to adjust your study skills and time management. Chat with our HPA Peer Advisers about what they're involved in on campus.

Information for All Students

How can I stay involved in prehealth activities while I'm home?

This is a time of uncertainty and disruption for everyone, so it may be hard to start a new volunteering position or other formal activity since folks in charge of organizations may not have time to bring new people on. Many in-person volunteer and clinical activities will also be suspended to try to maintain social distancing. Here are a few ideas--we'd love to hear other ideas that you might have.

  1. Be an active, helpful member of your home community. Volunteer to cover childcare needs for neighbors or to check in (by phone/from a distance) on the elderly. If you’re part of a religious community, see if there are ways that you can provide support through them. Check with organizations where you have volunteered in the past to see if you can step back into previous roles. 
  2. Use idealist.orgvolunteermatch.org, and local volunteer opportunity databases (like NY Cares) to seek other local options, but be ready for slow responses. Connect with the Pace Center as they generate ideas.
  3. Read books that provide insight about being a doctor, applying to medical school, or learning about other health careers. For ideas, use our list of titles available in our HPA library.
  4. Contact alumni physicians near your home by searching by location in the Tigernet Directory and LinkedIn. Shadowing may not be possible for a while, but it will be interesting to chat with them about their experiences as physicians, especially during this time. See HPA Networking Tips for guidance on connecting (although you may want to wait until we're in a more stable situation).
  5. Learn more about the next step in your education: Surf through websites for medical schools in your home state (links to each of them are available here). Listen to the All Access Medical School Admissions podcast). Attend Virtual Fairs, virtual open houses, and other educational opportunities online (we’ll post these opportunities in our Vitals newsletter as we hear about them).
  6. Engage in free online learning opportunities, like this class about pandemics from Harvard or one about community change in public health from Johns Hopkins or essentials of global health from Yale.
  7. Do some prehealth reflection and journaling. We will post reflection questions regularly on the HPA Facebook page.
  8. Keep taking good care of yourself! Princeton is compiling resources for you here: https://winter.princeton.edu/virtual.

An evolving, crowd-sourced list of ideas for prehealth students.

Will medical schools accept online courses for prerequisites?

From conversations with medical schools since the pandemic began, they understand the extraordinary circumstances that future applicants have to navigate. When you apply to medical school, we provide a letter of recommendation that provides context about your academic trajectory, which will include information about how the pandemic affected your choices.  Medical schools consider each applicant holistically and we expect them to consider your circumstances individually in light of the pandemic.  We're happy to chat with you about your individual situation. 

Is it okay to PDF prerequisite courses?

When you are given the option of taking the prerequisite science courses for grades, we would strongly recommend maintaining the grade option. However, if circumstances like illness, lack of access to appropriate resources, or other hardships are preventing you from performing at the level that you know you are capable of, health professions schools understand that we are all facing unprecedented circumstances during the pandemic.

If you feel that you need to PDF a science course, reach out to us so we can talk with you and provide advice based on your specific situation. We will try to help convey your rationale and your specific situation in our committee letter of recommendation, but it is still unknown how schools may respond. A number of medical schools that have moved to competency-based entrance requirements rather than specific courses, so there will be some schools you can apply to, even if other schools ultimately will not accept the PDF grades for prerequisites.

Keep in mind that many medical schools are using online learning within their curricula, so this will provide helpful practice. Be sure to use the McGraw Center’s resources to maximize your online learning. 

We continue to recommend that you demonstrate academic readiness for the rigor of medical school by engaging in robust graded science preparation (at least 10-12 biology, chemistry, science, and math courses, ideally taken during a full course load), securing strong academic letters of recommendation, and doing well on the MCAT. 

How can I learn about specific medical schools' policies?

Most, if not all of them are updating their admissions websites with relevant information. You can find links to these many of these websites on our webpage.

Information for Health Professions School Applicants

I plan to apply to medical school this year but I won't be on campus. Is that a problem?

Not at all! This past year, about 60% of our applicants were alums and none of them were on campus--we always plan for virtual information sessions and ways to interact with advisers. 

I'm a junior and I'm worried that I haven't gotten enough clinical experience because of the pandemic. What should I do?

It's hard to get significant clinical experience as a junior even in a normal year, which is part of the reason that only about 15% of our applicant pool in recent years has been juniors. If you can find ways to develop an understanding of the day to day work of physicians and to develop the competencies that medical schools seek in other ways, it may still be possible to be ready to convince medical schools that you're ready by this year, but we expect that more students may take glide years in coming years than in the past.

What if I take a glide year in the middle of college to wait out this pandemic and then apply after junior year? Isn't this the same as taking a glide year after medical school?

There are many reasons that students take the post-graduation glide year, including:

  • Your senior year grades will be on your application, which can give more evidence of readiness for medical school.
  • You'll have access to letters of recommendation from smaller classes and your thesis that you undertake in senior year.
  • You don't have to manage interviews during the academic year.
  • You have a year to gain real world "adulting" experience before returning to academics.

We will talk more about pros and cons at our Applicant Information Session, which will take place in October.

Will it significantly weaken my medical school application if my thesis research is remote this year?

For starters, it’s helpful to think in terms of what medical schools might value in students who have participated in research, and my impression is that it is less about specific techniques that you learn at a lab bench and more about the competencies that you gain in a research setting. In terms of intellectual/thinking competencies, these can include the ability to critically read primary literature, to devise your own hypothesis-based line of inquiry, to generate and analyze results, to write those results up and present your findings to others. In terms of interpersonal competencies, these can include working collaboratively, learning to take constructive criticism, being organized and reliable, being resilient and adaptable when research doesn’t go the way you expected. 

So, all of these competencies can be accomplished in many disciplines (not just science!) and in many settings. It may become harder to provide as much evidence of teamwork ability when you aren’t working side by side with folks on a regular basis, but otherwise, you will not lose as much as it seems like you might by being remote. 

The place where it may be more of an issue to not be doing in-person science research is if you want to pursue an MD/PhD in an area where you’d ideally be at the bench. It’s easier to know for sure whether you want to devote your life to bench work if you’ve spent more time in that setting before applying. 

The other thing to be thinking about upfront is that the letter of rec from your thesis experience can be one of the most powerful letters that you can get, since it’s from someone (or multiple people—often a postdoc or grad student will cowrite with your advisor) who works with you one on one over a long period of time. Try to make a point of giving whoever is overseeing your work a chance to get to know you well in this remote setting!