College of

Admissions Update

November 10, 2020

Among the countless aspects of life disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, one posed a significant problem for the College of Human Medicine: how to continue interviewing students who apply for admission.

Until this year, top candidates were invited to the East Lansing or Grand Rapids campuses for a series of interviews.

“I actually thought about this way back at the end of March when I saw that this was not something that was going to go away magically,” said Joel Maurer, MD, the college’s assistant dean of admissions.

The answer, he and other administrators decided, was to interview applicants online, which posed multiple technical and logistical obstacles.

Before the pandemic, applicants underwent a series of one-on-one interviews with faculty members, each on a specific topic. The college first tried to duplicate that approach online, but it quickly proved unworkable, Maurer said. A better approach was to have each student interviewed through an online Zoom conference with one faculty member who would cover all topics.

A related problem was figuring out how to show off the campuses to prospective students. Pre-COVID, they would tour the college while visiting for interviews. The solution, Maurer and his colleagues decided, is virtual tours of the Grand Rapids and East Lansing campuses conducted by current students, which went online in September.

Even that posed a challenge, Maurer said, because the college buildings were closed to students due to the pandemic, requiring special permission for the students to conduct the video tours. With a very tight budget, Francisco Velazquez, communications coordinator for the office of admissions, arranged to record four students on each campus conducting the tours.

“Medical students are the biggest sellers of a medical school,” Maurer said.

The changes in the admissions process come as the College of Human Medicine and other medical schools are seeing a large increase in the numbers of students applying. The Association of American Medical Colleges recently reported that applications to medical schools are at an all-time high.

Applications to the College of Human Medicine increased from 8,800 last year to more than 11,200 this year, a jump of about 27 percent, Maurer said. Exactly why is uncertain, but he speculated that some students might have decided against taking a year off between undergraduate and medical school due to the pandemic, while others likely were inspired by the heroism of healthcare workers and a desire to help relieve patients’ suffering.

“I’m seeing more applicants this year in their essays expressing more of a passion to serve disadvantaged communities,” Maurer said.

He said he is “extremely satisfied” with how the admission process has adapted to the pandemic, but he added: “I hope that a year from now we are in a different place and can resume in-person interviews.”