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BU graduate schools of medicine, public health, dentistry see spike in applications

Applications to the Boston University School of Medicine increased by 26 percent this year. JINGYI LIN/ DFP FILE

The Boston University School of Medicine saw a 26-percent increase in applications this year in a phenomenon likely related to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Kristen Goodell, associate dean of Admissions at BUSM.

BUSM will keep its class sizes the same, at 150 students, regardless of the size of the applicant pool. 

“The size of the student body really is not determined at all by the number of applications,” Goodell said. “The size of the student body is based on: how many people can we provide an excellent medical education for?”

Goodell said she has several hypotheses about why the pandemic is driving an increase in applications, the first being the country’s economic decline. More people apply to medical school when the economy is “lousy,” she said, because it is harder to get jobs right out of college, and medicine promises more secure financial prospects.

“If those opportunities are not there, they think, ‘Well, alright, fine, I’ll just go to medical school,’” Goodell said.

Goodell said COVID-19 has also raised interest in public health and health care, because more people are wanting help in the context of a pandemic. She added prospective students might be motivated by social justice as well.

“There are a lot of people who are humanitarians, who go to medical school,” Goodell said, “because what they want to do is to make the world a better place.”

Goodell said despite the high volume of applicants this year, the quality of them has remained around the same as in previous years. Most people who apply are well-qualified for medical school, Goodell said, but now each applicant automatically has a lower chance of admission.

Like BUSM, BU’s School of Public Health and School of Dental Medicine are also seeing higher application numbers.

SPH has seen a solid increase in applications from Fall last year to Fall this year, according to Ann Larese, SPH senior director of Admissions.  

Larese said she believes this is a result of increased interest in public health in the wake of the pandemic, but also of the school’s choice to drop the Graduate Record Examinations requirement.

Unlike BUSM, SPH will be admitting more students, which will result in larger class sizes. Larese said she is confident the school can accommodate the increase.

SPH has also seen a 12-percent increase in deferrals, which Larese said she believes is also a result of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, BU’s Dental School is the only institution of the three whose increase in applicants is likely not related to the pandemic, according to Admissions.

David Russell, assistant dean for Admissions at the Dental School, said the near-20-percent spike in applications is the result of “three key things”: its group practice model, its focus on digital dentistry and its newly renovated building. 

Like BUSM, the Dental School will not be admitting a higher number of students but will keep its class size at 117 students per year. 

The public health crisis that swept the world this year has instilled a sense of excitement in young people hoping to pursue medicine, according to Goodell, who had asked her students how COVID-19 affected their outlook on their future as medical professionals. 

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“A key feature for people that want to go into medicine,” Goodell said, “is that you should do it because the idea of wading right into a health crisis, or reaching out to help other people and being the person responsible for fixing this big difficult problem, should excite you and motivate you.”

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