Med Student COVID-19 Insider Guide: 2021 Cycle


All of the recent changes to medical education due to COVID-19 have left students worried about how they will meet all of their medical school requirements, apply for residency, take board exams, and stay healthy. Below are the current changes and recommendations for how to be successful during this pandemic residency application cycle. But remember COVID-19 is far from over, so it’s best to regularly check-in with each of these governing organizations to ensure you’re staying up-to-date!



Step 1/2 CK/3

USMLE initiated limited capacity starting May 1st, but legislation has allowed testing in phases for all programs starting June 1st. If an exam is canceled, email notifications will go out stating cancellation with specific instructions, based upon the student’s region, on how to reschedule. If an exam date is rescheduled, email notifications will go out which will automatically reschedule the exam, sometimes sooner, other times later than the original test date. No rescheduling fees will be applied,


    • Test takers are required to abide by social distancing practices of 6 feet at all times.
    • All test takers must wear face masks the entire time. Not bringing/wearing a mask will result in a “no show” and there will be no opportunity to reschedule without a fee. Disposable gloves are allowed while taking the test and will undergo usual inspection 
    • There are reduced points of physical contact between the staff and the test-takers. The frequency and intensity of cleaning for testing centers have increased.
    • Anyone with symptoms in the past 72 hours or who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past 14 days will not be allowed entry.

Step 2 CK

The last big change for this year is that Step 2 Clinical Skills has been removed as a requirement.  Testing centers have officially closed for 12-18 months as it is not practical to have everyone travel to one of the testing centers to be in small closed rooms during this pandemic.  Students who have already registered and paid will have their registration costs reimbursed.



Level 1/2CE

Six additional dates in June have now opened. 675 seats in 7 states are now reserved for these exams. Nine states are going using the full capacity of testing centers. Score release dates from exams taken between May 5th and June 26th will be delayed by approximately two weeks.

Level 2PE

Level 2PE testing is temporarily suspended until September 1st.


ERAS Season Changes

Fourth-year medical students have particularly been put in a strange position. We have trained for around three years to take care of patients, but with the lack of PPE, we have been pushed out of the hospital. This often left us feeling useless. Many have found other unique ways to contribute during this pandemic such as volunteering at drive-through testing clinics and babysitting physician’s children. Regardless, being quarantined means no board exams and fewer rotations to complete Sub-Internships and to get letters of recommendation. There has also been a limit on away rotations, a staple in certain competitive fields. Students across the country are panicking about how they will meet all of their medical school requirements, apply for residency, and stay healthy. With these setbacks in mind, the ERAS timeline has been adjusted for the 2020-2021 season. This will hopefully let students reenter the hospital when it is safe to complete Sub-Internships and get letters of recommendation as well as take step 2 CK before submitting their applications.

In a previous post, I discussed a typical interview season.  Below, I will outline the major changes as they stand today. As things are still evolving, please review the official AAMC website for the most up-to-date information.

Another page to keep an eye on is the Specialty Response page by AAMC. This website has statements from 13 and counting specialties about how they are specifically addressing the challenges facing their applicants this application cycle


MyERAS, the electronic residency application system, launched June 8th, 2020. At this time, you can begin to enter your CV and fill out the rest of the application. You can download your letter writer requests and start sending them to your letter writers. Don’t forget to also attach your CV and possibly a headshot as it may have been a few months since you worked with them. 

As many physicians have been stretched thin adjusting their practice to accommodate new rules for COVID-19, they may have less time to write letters. Some may even ask that you write a draft that includes what is important to you. If they do this, stay calm, it is normal. Look online for good example letters and format yours like theirs. The letter writer will edit this and make it their own. 

ERAS Certification and Submission

This year, you can submit your application as early as September 1st, but programs will not be allowed to download your application until October 21st.  I recommend certifying and submitting by October 16th as the system may crash as more people scramble to submit closer to the deadline. MSPE letters will also be released to programs with your applications on October 21st. Make sure your application is complete when programs download their first set of applications on this date. 

In order to get letters of recommendation submitted before the October 21st deadline, I recommend giving your writers the goal deadline of October 1st. This allows some wiggle room if they are a few days late. You may send updates and gentle reminders every 2 weeks as the deadline gets closer. 


Interviews will be conducted slightly later this year, likely November through February. Though this process is not set in stone yet, most interviews will likely be digital to avoid traveling during the pandemic. You should still prepare as usual, and wear both a suit top AND bottom. You never know if you will need to get up during a video interview. 

Likely, we will hear more about this in the coming months. Programs are trying to see how to make this physically work

Rank Lists

Rank lists will be due slightly later than normal to allow for the later interviews. As of now, they are due March 2nd, 2021.

Match Day

Matchday is still planned for the normal date, March 19th, 2021.

SF Match

  • The ophthalmology application opens on July 1st, 2020.
  • The CAS deadline is September 15th, 2020.
  • The deadline to submit rank lists is January 25th, 2021
  • Results of the Match will be released to applicants and programs on February 1st, 2021


People throughout the world have had to make drastic changes to their lives over the last few months in order to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19. Medical students are no exception. As long as we stay informed of the latest updates and remain flexible to the changes, we should all be able to have a successful application and matching season!


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