HPA Spring 2020 FAQ

HPA Prehealth during a Pandemic FAQs

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.

I have heard that Medical Schools don't like online courses. How will they respond to the fact that all of our instruction is being done virtually? What about lab courses?

Medical schools may see online courses as an indicator that an applicant was trying to take an "easy way out". Nothing about this transition from in person to online is easy, and none of this was a choice that you (or students at many institutions) have actively made! Everyone is trying to be flexible right now, medical school admissions included. And, a lot of medical school instruction is moving online these days, so some practice in this modality may actually be beneficial down the road. Proceed with your spring prerequisites as planned.

What will medical schools think if I opt to PDF my prerequisites or science classes?

As of March 26, 2020, there is no consensus among health professions schools regarding whether P/F grades will be accepted in place of letter grades, but most schools are being flexible and open minded in these unprecedented times. Most who have set policies are willing to accept PDF grades for courses where the PDF is mandatory. Many are willing to accept PDF for any course. You can view schools' policies on this shared google spreadsheet, which is being updated by admissions offices in real time.

When you are given the option of taking the prerequisite science courses for grades, we would strongly recommend maintaining the grade option. Consider PDFing other courses, which would allow for more time to focus on those science courses, and be sure to use the McGraw Center’s resources to maximize your online learning. 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 this spring.

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. We hope to learn more from schools as the semester progresses. 

Keep in mind that many medical schools are using online learning within their curricula, so this will provide helpful practice. In medicine, you will often be required to perform under stress and in unexpected circumstances, as you are this semester, so navigating through this semester will provide some life skills that you may develop in ways that you wouldn't have in normal times (we look for the silver linings where we can right now!). Your ability to get through this semester will be a testament to your resilience and adaptability, which are among the core competencies that medical schools seek in future physicians.

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. And of course, reach out to us to let us know how you're doing! We miss seeing you in person and would love to hear from you.

Would I have to retake a prerequisite course that a professor has changed to PDF only this semester?

For courses that become PDF-only, we would explain the situation to medical schools in our committee letter of recommendation and we hope that schools will be understanding of these circumstances. While there is no consensus among medical or other health professions schools, individual schools are continuing to post their policies on their websites and on this viewable google spreadsheet

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.

In these cases, please keep in mind that this is an opportunity to focus on learning without the stress of graded assessment NOT to do the bare minimum in order to pass. Many medical schools offer pass/fail grading, knowing that their students see their education as critical to their own professional growth and the outcomes of their future patients. Use this as a chance to prove to others and to yourself that you can hold yourself accountable in your academics for the good of your own enrichment and in preparation for your future. 

I'd like to take a summer premed prerequisite in person, but is it okay to take it if the course is only offered online?

We would not recommend taking any prerequisite courses online if you have the choice to take them at a later date in person. This semester, no one had a choice in moving into an online environment. The same will not be true of the summer classes. It is also impossible to know whether the course content and learning environment will provide as solid a foundation for you as a prehealth student, which could have longer term implications when it comes to future classes and standardized tests that build on the knowledge from these summer courses.

If you’re a sophomore and your intended concentration requires that you take a summer prerequisite, or have another compelling reason that you need to take premed courses this summer, chat with us about the circumstances—this is information that we can share with schools when you apply, but it would be helpful to have a conversation now to talk about your specific situation and potential options.

We are still waiting to hear whether or not medical schools will accept online prerequisites, and they're more likely to question the rigor of these courses. If you want to take a course online, we'd recommend taking an elective or gen ed, so that you can potentially lighten the load in the later term when you take the prerequisite courses. 

I’d like to take classes this summer, but I can’t afford them. Do you have ideas for learning the psych and sociology content for MCAT, or taking other premed-related courses for cheap/free?

Check in with your dean or director of studies, or with SIFP if you’re part of SIFP, to see if they have ideas on funding courses. Since most courses are online this summer, you may be able to find cheaper classes through public state schools that are at a distance from where you live, so check those options. Remember that any courses you take at an accredited two- or four-year college/university must be reported to professional schools when you apply even if those courses don’t transfer back to Princeton, so if you do take classes, focus on doing well!
There are many free, non-credit bearing ways to attend to your learning and your MCAT study. For the psychology and sociology materials on the MCAT, the AAMC (who administers the exam) offers free modules and practice questions through Khan Academy and recommends text books you can use to cover the material. Harvard edX (an online MOOC) offers a free Biochemistry online course (if you take this, let us know how it goes—we don’t know anyone who has taken it before). Since this course is not credit-bearing, you would not have to report it when you apply to professional schools (and it cannot count for prerequisites). More ideas for online learning in this document.
Many of our med school applicants, especially those who engage in science-heavy semesters at Princeton, also struggle with the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) section of the MCAT, which involves reading dense text from the humanities and social sciences. Spending your summer doing some dense non-fiction reading to exercise that part of your brain could also be beneficial! Use your local library or the Princeton library to access e-Books.


I was supposed to be interning abroad this summer--what should I do?

Your internship program provider is probably trying to make some evidence-based decisions right now, so try to be patient as the situation unfolds. If you're looking for alternatives, see the Career Development Center's new Planning Your Summer guide and an evolving, crowd-sourced list of ideas for prehealth students.

I’m pretty sure that my summer internship will be canceled. What should I do instead?

We’re sorry that this pandemic has created so much upheaval in semester and summer plans. Try to think about what you were hoping to gain from your summer in terms of knowlede, skills, connections. What questions were you hoping that this experience would help you answer for yourself? What did you hope you could demonstrate to admissions committees based on this experience? Then, try to brainstorm alternative ways that you might seek answers to these questions or demonstrate these competencies. HPA can help with this brainstorming once we have a better sense of the big picture goals you were setting for yourself.
Broadly, service to your local / virtual community is one of the first things we’d recommend—bringing supplies or checking in virtually on elderly neighbors, assisting on an online crisis line … there are many ways to get involved and more ideas will likely spring up as time goes on. Giving blood is another tangible and critical way to contribute right now, even if you may not ultimately put it on your resume.
Ultimately, in this time of crisis, it’s okay to not get that ideal internship opportunity—no one will expect it of you. Take care of yourself, those around you, and the greater community.

I was hoping to spend time this summer shadowing, but given the pandemic, what else could I do to learn more about the day to day of medicine from health professionals?

Aside from the many books, documentaries, blogs, YouTube videos, and other online content, there are still people out there ready to talk one on one. Interactions with people generally will be virtual, but two groups who could be very helpful right now are medical students and retired physicians.
Medical students are faced with remote learning just as our undergrads are, and they’re looking for ways to be of service to others. Use the Princeton LinkedIn alumni search tool to locate Princeton alumni medical students who share similar backgrounds or locations. Use the TigerNet alumni Directory to find their contact information, and reach out to see if they have an hour or two to talk about their path to medicine, offer tips on the application process, describe their medical school experience, and otherwise give you a more realistic understanding of the next step in your professional preparation. Local medical students (like the alums featured in this article) may also have volunteering opportunities that you could get involved in.
Retired physicians are faced with self-isolation and are watching the pandemic unfold with a career in medicine behind them. They may be harder to locate on LinkedIn, but may be found through your personal networks (family, friends, religious organizations, TigerNet, a local chapter of the Princeton Alumni Association). Chat with them about their careers, how they’ve seen medicine change over the year, their advice for folks entering the profession now, and their perspective on the pandemic.
See Career Development guides on networking and informational interviews, and HPA’s Networking Tips handout for more ideas on how to connect and what kinds of questions to ask.

As an applicant this year, will anything change with my HPA committee letter?

We will conduct HPA preapplication interviews by Skype, phone, or Zoom. We will hold all of our applicant seminars online and continue to share resources via Canvas. We realize that it may be more difficult for recommenders to meet our priority deadline. Please do the best that you can with negotiating letter deadlines, but we will try to write committee letters without individuals letters if necessary. We still expect you all to meet preapplication interview paperwork deadlines, but we are being as flexible as possible. We have already provided some extensions to those with interviews in the next few weeks and we will continue to adjust as needed.

What if my MCAT is cancelled?

As of March 16, Pearson VUE has closed test centers for the safety of employees and examinees

  • Follow the guidance provided by Pearson to reschedule your exam. 
  • Use your practice tests as a gauge for your performance on the exam.
  • We recommend submitting your AMCAS by mid-June for fast processing, which allows for earlier access to secondary applications and earlier file completion at schools.
  •  You can submit your AMCAS with a single school selected. This will put you in the queue for application verification.
  • Your application verification is not dependent on MCAT results.
  • We recommend having your file complete at your schools by early August. File completion includes: AMCAS, secondary application, MCAT score, letters of recommendation. 
  • To be file complete at your schools by early August, you'll want to take the MCAT by early July so that your score will arrive at your schools by early August.

Those of you applying this year, a later-than-anticipated MCAT will not count against you in regards to the HPA File Completion Deadline. We will write your committee letter and will send it as soon as your score is released (this way, we can comment on your score in the letter if it is warranted).

MCAT COVID-19 Updates from the AAMC