Demand Transparency in MD Admissions at Penn State Hershey College of Medicine

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The Pennsylvania State University’s College of Medicine receives thousands of applications from across the United States for admission to its MD program every year. The medical school application system (AMCAS) begins to accept applications to nearly all U.S. medical schools in June of the application cycle each year, and the process of receiving a secondary application afterward and submitting it, waiting for an interview or pre-interview decision, and then waiting for a decision on an interview can last up until March or April, depending upon the school.

This year, in the 2017-2018 application cycle, The Pennsylvania State University’s College of Medicine’s Admissions Office sent a message to students on Friday, March 2nd, at the very end of the application cycle, saying that there was a mistake on the AMCAS application and that students who selected the erroneously added “Combined Medical degree/Graduate” had applied for a program which is “not a degree program that we offer at the College.” For reference, PSUCOM actually offers multiple options to pursue a combined medical degree/graduate in the form of an MD-MPH and MD-MBA dual-degree program option available at the College, so their statement is unfounded.

The decision they state later is that due to these circumstances, my application for the MD program, among 170 total from across the country, has been withdrawn from consideration. This was done without any warning, any alternative, any permission from applicants, or just process for these applicants to the entering class.

Students who call the admissions office are being told that our applications have not been touched for the past eight months, since my application and secondary application to this school were all complete and submitted in July 2017. We have been provided no reasonable explanation for why our applications were not looked at and withdrawn while other students’ applications were treated as they should have been. Personally, I have not been given an explanation for why I was told that my application was under review when I called the admissions office throughout the preceding months if they had not looked at it and also received no response for how they were able to add an update to my application only two weeks ago without realizing that they had never even looked at my own and 169 other applications until now. There is a scandal here that is being kept very quiet, and applicants who were withdrawn are receiving one-word answers when they call the admissions office to ask why their applications were unjustly withdrawn. We deserve an explanation that is fair to us as applicants to the medical school, even if it means for PSUCOM MD Admissions to own up to their terrible mistake this year.

We applied for the MD program via the same application system and the same process as other applicants. We made absolutely no mistakes in the application process to PSUCOM. Yet, we received a message that frames us as having made the “wrong choice” on our applications, and which makes it seem like it is our fault that we have not been considered for admission this year.

Every application designating “Combined medical degree/graduate” has unjustly been discriminated against and is being considered differently from applicants who expressed interest in the MD program only, while every other school across the United States is considering all applicants for the MD program before opening up consideration for any dual-degree option to those who expressed interest in AMCAS.

As icing on the cake, applicants whose applications were withdrawn received a refund of $39 from AMCAS for the fee we paid to add PSUCOM to our list of schools in the system, but PSUCOM has made absolutely no formal statement about refunding the secondary application fee of $80 that applicants paid directly to the university. As of right now, PSUCOM has fraudulently stolen thousands of dollars from many of this year’s MD program applicants with zero explanation or mention of this fact. [Update March 9 - Penn State has issued a formal statement regarding a return of secondary application fees]

There are a number of demands that applicants to The Pennsylvania State University’s College of Medicine’s MD Program would like for the Admissions office to consider for now and for the years to come in order to increase transparency in the application process and give applicants a fair understanding about the status of their application over the course of the application cycle:

1) Immediately return the secondary application fee of $80 to thousands of applicants whose applications were unjustly withdrawn from consideration due to the Admissions Office’s egregious mistake in this 2017-2018 medical school application cycle.

2) At the beginning of application review each year, ensure that all applications that were submitted are actually in the pool for consideration.

3) Send email updates to all applicants about the status of their particular applications every two months during future application seasons, beginning in September of every year until the end of the cycle in March of the following year, starting in the 2018-2019 application season and continuing for years onward.

4) Update the applicant portal with a timestamp every time an application is opened by the admissions office, admissions committee, or IT department with a brief description of the purpose for which the portal was opened, whether it be for system maintenance, for the admissions committee’s review, for troubleshooting, upon request by the applicant over the phone, or for another reason, and allow applicants real-time access to these updates via the portal.

5) When applicants call to inquire about their application status, update the applicant portal’s communications tab with the time and date of the phone call that was made.

The demands we make of the admissions office are very reasonable after PSUCOM Admissions’ horrendous mistake in this year’s process, and are only made with the intention to improve the process for years to come and to have some justice come out of this whole scandal. The amount of time, effort, money, and energy that goes into applying to medical school, along with the stress that applicants are put through waiting for a decision that determines the trajectory of the rest of their lives, is already a heavy burden on applicants. To tell applicants like myself that their applications were not even opened once and were withdrawn from consideration entirely without our consent or notice, even after the Admissions office added updates to them and assured applicants their applications were under review for the past eight months, is beyond unjust. We hope that this petition will be enough to prompt administrators to increase transparency in the admissions process at PSUCOM for years to come without escalating this situation any further.