Ready for your upcoming year?
School is starting, summer is ending and the kids are going back to school. If you are premed, you are likely preparing for your next school year or in the midst of applying to medical school. Being organized and having a plan is key for pretty much anything we do in life, including school and application season. Below are some tips to get you started on the right foot for next year!
1. Make a plan: Seems obvious but write down your vision and plans for the year. It’s important to have a long term vision and a shorter term vision. This way you can make progress towards your goal.
When I was a premed student and a college student in general, I wasn’t very organized. I just registered for classes, put on sweats (i.e. pajamas) and showed up. I didn’t understand the effects of that “early class” or being late or which professor was easier to pass a certain class etc. I ended up with a lot of C’s which I had to plan later to retake or do more upper division courses to correct. If I had a better plan, I likely would have avoided some of these pitfalls. This leads me to #2.
2.Organize a friendly class schedule: Do not take Biochemistry and Calculus with English and other classes simultaneously. Spread out your Pre Med prerequisites wisely.
Yes- I didn’t do this. I was young and thought I could conquer it all and I was going to get into med school faster! Nope. I walked away with a B- or C and was frustrated. I was so fed up in fact that I left premed for taking the music placement exam in my junior year and tried to ditch premed to be a music major. I could sing and play for grades. I loved music. I saw another student with an O-Chem book in our music course and felt like a failure. She was a double major. I thought wow, I gave up just because things were hard and because of a few setbacks. I honestly thought I wasn’t good enough or smart enough. Couple that with being the only African American student in many of my classes or one of the few, this had a psychological effect on me. The University of California, Berkeley was a place full of opportunity, but it was large, and often an intimidating place to be. When I met with the music dean, I found out it was too late to graduate with a music degree from my school. I went back to premed, but never lost my passion for music. (More on this in a later blog post). These course corrections caused me to graduate later than desired, but fortunately I took my sweet time to apply to medical school AFTER I corrected my grades and had a decent MCAT score.
3.Space out your work schedule: Be careful to space out your hours at the lab or in your job so it accommodates your study time for classes and/or the MCAT. If you work too much, you may not be able to study effectively, thereby defeating your efforts.
I worked in all kinds of places as a premed student. I worked in a soil chemistry lab that I hated and people treated me terribly. I beat rocks for a living. It was horrible. They treated me like I was stupid and basically like I didn’t belong. It was clear it wasn’t going to work out. I tried another lab and it wasn’t a fit either. None of the labs I was interested in would accept me and I was frustrated. I worked instead in the school of Law and Society and one semester in Genentech. The School of Law was flexible and helped me survive financially. It was the perfect job to balance coursework with. Genentech was cool, but a disaster. I had to drive a long way, work as a lab tech and then tried to take Biochem and Calculus at the same time. I had to drop these courses. It was just too much. Learn from my mistakes and really consider your financial needs vs. taking coursework. Find a job that is flexible and not necessarily a “premed” job. You can get experiences later in formal research programs or other pursuits. This is what I did eventually to build up my experiences.
4.Plan out your application strategy: For those of you ready to apply (i.e. fixed grades, MCAT score > 75th percentile but preferably > 80th percentile, 1-2 years of medically based experiences (where you touch people) AND research with a clear motivation to apply!!!) you MUST have a game plan.
Here are some tips.
- First, KNOW YOUR MCAT SCORE BEFORE APPLYING.
- Then, APPLY EARLY! I mean if AMCAS opens in June, then start putting in data. Submit in June/July.
- Have a game plan for writing essays. You will need it. Write about a difficult experience and how you overcame it. You will be glad you did. Expand on your most important volunteer or life experiences so you have these ideas written already.
- Save cash for secondaries and have good credit for AMCAS. The application fee alone is $170 processing fee and $40 each school for 2020 application. The FEE ASSISTANCE PROGRAM is key to apply for is you have financial hardship and can save you lots of money. Secondaries cost usually $100 each. Apply widely to schools that fit your criterion using MSAR and it’s ok to have a few “reach” schools, but bear in mind that each school has an additional fee to add to AMCAS. Use MSAR to plan out your application strategy and depending on your situation you should aim to apply to 25 schools or more.
- Plan financially for how you will afford interviews, flights and travel. Do your best to coordinate trips to states together or closely to save money. Stay with friends or family in other states if you can.
I know this is a lot of information, but these are things I WISH I knew when applying and as a college student. As a former premed student, med student, resident etc. I intimately understand the process of applying to medical school and navigating the training process to become a practicing, board certified physician.I know first hand the University of California educational system and how many students are intimidated and discouraged from pursuing premed as a field due to the rigor and competitiveness. As a former admissions committee member, I also have seen poorly planned applications and the difference between students who had polished applications vs. those who were not adequately prepared.
I hope this advice helps you prepare for your upcoming school year. Continue to visit our blog for more tips and insights. If you are interested in Premed Consulting and Coaching, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a discovery call.
Candice Williams, MD