The pandemic has disrupted so many areas of our lives. For premedical students and future medical school applicants, their plans to volunteer in the community–whether medically-related or otherwise–have been upended. Strict distancing measures have by necessity interrupted students’ plans to volunteer in the community. However, there are still ways to get involved; and medical schools will scrutinize applicants to see what actions they took to help others during a global pandemic.

Shadowing and Medical Experience

Shadowing in person has become very difficult to do, for obvious reasons. The same goes for volunteering in a hospital; many hospitals have barred volunteers. The one exception to this–and this is subject to change–has been some Veterans’ Affairs hospitals. Check your local VA hospital to see if they are accepting volunteers. This is obviously a fluid situation, which varies by location; in addition to the VA, check with other local hospitals to see if they are taking volunteers.

Some organizations have launched virtual shadowing, which can take different formats. For more information, check out Web Shadowers, the Heal Clinical Education Network and Virtual Shadowing, to name a few. I cannot personally vouch for these organizations since I have not used them but they do offer shadowing opportunities.

Community Service

Medical schools’ secondary applications posed questions during this cycle about how the pandemic impacted applicants. Schools want to know how this affected you and also what actions you might have taken to have a positive effect on your community during a crisis. There are so many ways to help–from volunteering at a food pantry or Meals on Wheels or at a homeless shelter. The Crisis Text Line is another great organization that was taking volunteers early in the pandemic; check to see if they still need volunteers. And the Suicide Prevention Lifeline is another potential organization where you could volunteer. Think about the needs in your local community and see what you can do to positively impact those around you during this crisis.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consultant

Posted in COVID-19, Shadowing | Comments Off on Getting Medical and Community Service Experience During COVID-19

As a medical school admissions consultant, I often am asked by applicants how and when to communicate with medical schools. Medical school applicants should keep schools informed throughout the application process, as events unfold and preferences evolve. If new information develops since submitting the secondary application, applicants should inform the schools through an update letter. In addition, if applicants have been through the interview process and have a clear first choice they may write a letter of intent.

Letters of Interest

But what is a letter of interest?  By default, if you’ve applied to a particular school you have an interest in enrolling. But sometimes it is worth conveying your interest as the process unfolds. You will gather more information about schools you genuinely like based on your interview experiences.

A letter of interest should come close in content to a letter of intent but stop short of expressing that you would enroll if admitted.  The purpose of the letter is to convey to the school that it is high on your list and that you would be thrilled to enroll. Continue reading

Posted in Letters of Interest | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Letter of Interest for Medical School



Medical school applicants often wonder whether they should update schools with new information after submitting their application. This “update letter” can serve several purposes and is an important vehicle for keeping the medical schools informed as the application year unfolds. Applicants often wonder what merits sending an update to the medical schools; only significant additions to your application should be reported. The following list includes the chief items of interest for the medical schools.

Honors or Awards:  If an honor or award is achieved since submitting the application the medical schools should be informed.

Publications/Abstracts/Presentations at National Research Conferences: If an applicant has conducted research and it has culminated in a new publication, abstract, poster, or presentation this information should be provided to the medical schools.

Changes in Classes:  If courses change and a class which was included in the application is dropped it should be reported to the medical schools, especially if the course is a requirement at a particular school.

New Jobs or New Responsibilities in the Workplace:  If you switch jobs or assume more responsibilities/roles in a job your had when submitting your application it is worthwhile to update the schools with this information. Continue reading

Posted in Update Letters | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Medical School Update Letters

The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting all areas of our lives. For medical school applicants and medical school students the effects are widespread. The American Medical Association recently had a blog post that summed up some of the issues impacting medical school applicants. The AMCAS has a statement on how COVID-19 is impacting its constituents. The AMA also has “guiding principles to protect learners responding to COVID-19“. California medical schools issued a joint statement on the COVID-19 situation.  Many medical schools have announced how they are handling the situation in regard to medical school requirements and changed grading systems (P/F) by various colleges/universities. Here is guidance from Baylor, West Virginia, Johns Hopkins, Mt. Sinai, University of Massachusetts. Visit other medical schools’ websites to get the latest information. Inside Higher Ed also posted information pertaining to medical school admission and the change in grading schemes.

In addition, TMDSAS has put out a statement on COVID-19 and how it might impact its application process. The MCAT has also been impacted.

Medical school interviews during the 2020-2021 application cycle will be virtual.

Applications to medical school have increased  in this cycle, perhaps as a result of the pandemic. According to the Wall Street Journal, at the end of August 2020 applications were up 17% over the prior year at the same time. That may level off by the time the application process is over but it is a marked increase over the prior year.

This is an evolving situation. For the latest information continue to check schools’ websites along with the application services (AMCAS, TMDSAS, and AACOMAS). A recent article in MedPage Today described applicants’ frustration with the Association of American Medical Colleges and its handling of the MCAT and other issues during the pandemic.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consultant

Originally posted April 9, updated April 13 and July 9

Posted in COVID-19 | Comments Off on How COVID-19 is Impacting Medical School Admission

This application cycle brings a host of complicated issues stemming from COVID (cancelled and postponed MCAT dates) and new tests for medical school applicants. The CASPer test has been around for awhile and is now required at many medical schools. It is a situational judgment test that presents scenarios via video after which applicants must write an essay about how they would handle the situation. It is open-ended in terms of the responses. The results are shared with medical schools but not with applicants, leaving them in the dark regarding their performance on the test.

New this year is the AAMC’s Video Tool for Admissions (VITA), which is an online tool with six text questions, answered by recorded video. The VITA aims to assess an applicant’s preparation for medical school (their journey, i.e. the experiences that have prepared one for medical school) along with five of the competencies that medical schools value in entering medical students (social skills, cultural competence, teamwork, reliability/dependability, and resilience/adaptability). The idea behind this is that since all medical school interviews are virtual this year, this tool will eliminate the need for actual interviews to spend time assessing these traits; it frees up more time in interviews to market the school and to assess other aspects of an applicant’s background. The VITA is meant to complement a medical school’s actual interview instead of replace it. For the details regarding the format of the test please click the above link. Medical schools can view your video responses and interpret them how they wish; VITA is not scored nor do you receive information as to how you performed. Not all medical schools are requiring the VITA this year; for the list of those that require it click here.

Again new this year is the AAMC’s Situational Judgment Test (SJT), which has been eight years in the making. It is being piloted at only two medical schools this year, the University of Minnesota and the University of California at Davis.  This test assess eight pre-professional competencies that medical schools value highly (and which overlap with the VITA):  social skills, cultural competence, teamwork, reliability/dependability, resilience/adaptability, service orientation, capacity for improvement, ethical responsibility to self and others (the additional competencies tested on the SJT as opposed to VITA are bolded). The SJT is designed to promote holistic review of applicants such that schools can assess them more broadly. It is a remote proctored examination that tests applicants’ understanding of effective preprofessional behaviors; they are not expected to have mastered these behaviors. Unlike the VITA, the SJT is a scored exam with results between 1 and 9 (9 being high); the score is reported on a scale with a rank. For the details on scoring and other particulars of the test, please visit the link above and the AAMC’s other materials on the SJT.

It remains to be seen whether the SJT, VITA and CASPer will be required in future application cycles; my guess is that the SJT may supersede the CASPer and obviate the need for the latter exam. The CASPer is not designed specifically for medical school whereas the SJT was designed by medical schools in conjunction with the AAMC. The VITA may only be used in this cycle; time will tell.

For information about how to prepare for these exams or to schedule a mock interview please contact me at

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consultant

Posted in CASPer, Situational Judgment Test (SJT), VITA | Comments Off on How Do VITA, SJT, and CASPer Differ?

CASPer (Computer-Based Assessment for Sampling Personal Characteristics) is an online exam that is used increasingly in the medical school admissions process. It assesses an applicant’s situational judgment in various scenarios. According to the organization that administers the CASPer, it “increases fairness in applicant evaluation by providing admissions and selection committees with a reliable measure of traits like professionalism, ethics, communication, and empathy.” For more information about why admissions committees find it helpful, read this blog post from the company that administers the CASPer.

Here is the most recent list of MD schools requiring CASPer. Please check the CASPer website frequently, as the list of schools changes:



Boston University

Central Michigan

Case Western

Central Michigan


East Tennessee State (Quillen)

Florida Atlantic



Indiana University

Kaiser Permanente

Medical College of Georgia (Augusta)

Medical College of Wisconsin



Michigan State

Mount Sinai (FlexMed)

New York Medical College

Northeast Ohio

Oregon Health and Science

Penn State

Rosalind Franklin

Rutgers New Jersey Medical School

Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson

San Juan Bautista


SUNY Upstate

Stony Brook (Renaissance)

Temple (Katz)

Texas A&M

Texas Tech University Health Science Center (El Paso)

Texas Tech University (Lubbock)


U of Colorado

U of Illinois

U of Miami (Miller)

U of Michigan

U of Mississippi

U of Nevada, Reno

U of North Carolina

U of North Dakota

U of Rochester

U of Texas, Houston

U of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston

U of Texas, San Antonio (Long)

U of Texas, Southwestern

U of Vermont (Larner)

U of Washington

Virginia Commonwealth

Virginia Tech

Wake Forest

West Virginia U

To get ready for the CASPer, read about the format of the exam and what to expect. Here are tips to help you prepare for the exam, provided by Altus, the company that administers the test. Samples of CASPer scenarios are provided here.  To discuss how best to prepare for the CASPer please contact me via email at

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consultant

Post updated May 22, 2019

Post updated June 7, 2019

Post updated June 14, 2019

Post updated June 19, 2020

Posted in CASPer | Tagged , | Comments Off on Medical Schools Using CASPer

The impact of COVID-19 is far-reaching, affecting every segment of society all over the world. The pandemic has also had an impact on medical students, many of whom had early, virtual graduation ceremonies.  Students graduated early so that they would earn their MD degrees and thus be able to help combat the pandemic.  Inside Higher Ed touts the bravery of medical students in facing COVID-19. The Association of American Medical Colleges summarizes the phenomenon of early medical school graduations. On the contrary, one medical student weighed in on why she did not want to graduate early. COVID-19 has also had an effect on USMLE tests, which has upended the normal progression through medical school and put medical students in limbo. A recent article in the Johns Hopkins student newspaper described the effect of the pandemic on medical students.

Here is a small sampling of medical schools that offered early graduations:  Harvard, Columbia, Boston University, Uniformed Services University, Stony Brook, University of Kansas, University of Rochester and NYU.

The accrediting body for US medical schools issued a statement on early graduation.

David Brooks of the New York Times recently reflected on the rigor of medical training. In an opinion piece titled, The Age of Coddling is Over, he touted the value of rigorous training and its value in this time of great need.

Finally, the University of Virginia created a course to help its medical students reflect and learn about how art “shaped our understanding of plagues.”

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consultant

Originally posted April 20; updated April 22, May 6, and June 10

Posted in COVID-19 | Comments Off on The Impact of COVID-19 on Medical Students

An editorial in AAMC news advocates including more topics related to the health of LGBTQ patients.  It cites a study, now dated, that surveys the LBGTQ-related content in medical education curricula. A study in 2012, published in the Ochsner Journal, looked at integrating such content into a medical education. A video from the Association of American Medical Colleges describes the initiatives being taken to produce a curriculum to respond to the needs of LGBTQ patients; a recent article written by a medical student states that the content related to LGBTQ-related health issues/concerns is inadequate. Slate also reported on this issue. Finally, NPR did a story on medical students’ push to incorporate more LGBTQ training so that they will be adequately prepared in the future to address health disparities.

Medical schools are making an effort to address any inadequacies in their curricula. Some examples are at Stanford, Brown, the University of Vermont, the University of Louisville, Vanderbilt, the University of Michigan, and Johns Hopkins.  Two students at the University of California-Irvine made changes to its curriculum to include more LGBTQ+-specific information.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consultant

Originally posted in 2019 and updated in 2020.

Posted in LGBT Applicants and Issues | Tagged , | Comments Off on How Do Medical Schools Incorporate LBGTQ Health Into the Curriculum?

Which medical schools are the hardest to get into?  I’ll bet it’s not what you think. Of course, this raw data does not take into account the caliber of the applicant pool. There was an article in US News and World Report regarding the medical schools which have the lowest acceptance rates. Here are the top 10 in order of most competitive, according to US News:

Florida State


University of Arizona–Tucson

Virginia Tech

Mayo (Minnesota)





West Virginia

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting

Posted in Medical School Admission, Rankings | Tagged , | Leave a comment

US News has come out with its annual ranking of medical schools.

In the research category, here are the top 10 (some are tied in rank so the total number goes over 10):


Johns Hopkins

University of Pennsylvania

NYU & Stanford (tied for fourth)

Columbia, Mayo, UCLA, UCSF, Washington U (all tied for sixth)



University of Washington

University of Pittsburgh

University of Michigan

In the primary care category, here are the top 10 medical schools:

University of North Carolina

UCSF & University of Washington (tied for second)


University of Michigan

University of Virginia

Oregon Health and Science & UC-Davis (tied for seventh)

University of Colorado



University of Maryland




Posted in Medical School Rankings | Tagged | Comments Off on Best Medical Schools