Everyone is probably aware that this is an “unprecedented time” for medical school applications. With applicant numbers at an all-time high, admissions staff working remotely, and interview dates stretching into the spring and possibly later, this application season has been like nothing we’ve seen before.
But there is one constant in the application process – the seemingly interminable wait as “hold” lists grow longer and waitlists stubbornly refuse to move. The AMCAS Application and Acceptance Protocols (often referred to as the “traffic rules”) recommend dates for both applicants and admissions officers to keep things rolling along. While some dates have changed for the 2020-2021 cycle, the traffic rules have remained constant, and one of their important dates just passed: By March 15 of the matriculation year, [schools are encouraged to] issue a number of acceptance offers at least equal to the expected number of students in its first-year entering class and report those acceptance actions to AMCAS.
Of course, not everyone who received an acceptance offer at a school will take it, and that’s where the Choose Your Medical School Tool comes in. The idea is that as applicants confirm or release their interest in programs, spots will open up like a cascade of falling dominos. At the end, the number of matriculants and the number of openings will (hopefully) align.
Let’s look at how this works. Right now, an applicant can hold acceptances to any number of schools, while still interviewing and remaining on waitlists. Applicants are urged to release any acceptances at schools they know they will not attend, but this is governed by the honor system. Nonetheless, it’s usually to everyone’s benefit when this request is followed, as this example shows:
Ana is accepted at School 1 and School 2, but really wants to go to School 3 where she’s been waitlisted. Meanwhile, Ben is holding an acceptance at School 3, but has his heart set on School 1, where he’s also at the top of the waitlist. Ben’s not giving up his spot at School 3 until he’s sure about School 1, and Ana won’t be accepted at her dream school until something opens up. The situation is deadlocked.
But along comes Charlie. Charlie’s been accepted to four programs, including School 1, but is thrilled when School 2 offers him a spot. School 2’s offer is accepted and the other acceptances are released. School 1 then turns around and extends an offer to Ben. Ben accepts the spot at School 1, and his previous spot at School 3 is subsequently offered to Ana.
Although this is a simplified glimpse of what happens behind the curtain, it illustrates how everyone benefits from prompt responses to offers. What if Charlie had sat on multiple acceptances? What if Ben was out of the country and didn’t see his offer? What about David and Emma and Frank and anyone else who’s on the alternate list at School 4 and waiting for some movement? And what about all the people whose applications are in that limbo known as “hold” or “deferred status”?
The AMCAS Choose Your Medical School Tool is meant to address these questions by helping applicants move closer to a decision. Until April 29, 2021, applicants can designate at which school they “Plan To Enroll.” Applicants can still hold multiple acceptances, remain on waitlists, and interview at additional schools (although applicants are asked to narrow their acceptances down to three by April 15th). The selection is not binding, and applicants can change their selection at any time. Medical schools will be able to see aggregate information on the number of applicants selecting their school, but cannot access any personal information. These numbers are intended to give schools a general idea of how many applicants are inclined toward their school.
Beginning April 30th, applicants are asked to narrow their acceptance to one school, indicated with the status of either “Plan To Enroll” or “Commit To Enroll.” Applicant-specific information will be visible to medical schools at this point. Plan To Enroll allows applicants to remain on waitlists/alternate lists, and this status can be changed if a new offer is received. Only the school chosen will be able to see the applicant’s name. By contrast, Commit To Enroll indicates that the applicant has made their final decision. When choosing this status, it is understood that applicants have withdrawn all other acceptances and waitlist/alternate spots. NOTE: Although all schools where the applicant holds an acceptance are notified, the tool does not withdraw other acceptances/waitlist spots automatically. The applicant must communicate this information directly to the schools.
* The graphic above can be found on AAMC’s website.
Watch: Linda Abraham & Dr. Rona Woldenberg of Zucker SOM discuss the traffic rules
For this mechanism to work properly, applicants need to play their part.
- Respond to offers as quickly as possible, according to the instructions provided to you by the medical school.
- Promptly communicate any changes in your status to medical schools directly.
- Make alternative arrangements if you’re away for any extended period. Designate a parent or other person to respond to offers and notify the programs that this person has authority to act on your behalf during a specified period of time. And as always, be sure to let programs know if any of your contact information has changed.
- Regularly check AAMC/AMCAS communication and updates through their website and Twitter.
Final Thoughts: Keep in mind that the Application and Acceptance Protocols are not binding on either medical schools or applicants. Individual schools may have very different guidelines for the acceptance process. Some do not require use of the Choose Your Medical School Tool; others may request a Commit To Enroll decision at any time after April 30th. The AAMC cautions that:
These guidelines are not intended to supersede the policies, timelines, or discretion of individual schools or programs. The primary, official method of communication during this process takes place between an applicant and a school. This tool is intended to supplement, not replace, that communication.
Additionally, while schools are encouraged to have already issued the number of acceptance offers equivalent to their class size, this does not mean that your future interview invitations are in vain. I expect this date will be more fluid this year and that the delays starting the application season will inevitably affect its ending. In other words, if you’re invited to interview at this late date, give it your all, and continue to express your interest in each program. We’ve all got a long way to go before this unprecedented cycle finally ends.
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