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School is Starting! Ready? Tips for Success!

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.

  1. First, KNOW YOUR MCAT SCORE BEFORE APPLYING.
  2. Then, APPLY EARLY! I mean if AMCAS opens in June, then start putting in data. Submit in June/July.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 premedconsultants@gmail.com to set up a discovery call.

Candice Williams, MD

Premed Consultants

Should I give up premed?

Hello all,

I know this post will strike a chord with some as you are in a crossroads. From students I mentor to those on Twitter and social media, every day I see students leave premed. They become a myriad of things: Pre pharmacy, public health, PA school, RN and any other allied health profession. Many of them really have soul searched and found the path that was best for them. This is not what I’m writing about today. In fact, I encourage this! Please do your due diligence in evaluating whether Medicine is for you! For some, the sacrifices you make to get in, make it through and practice medicine may outweigh benefits and motivations if they aren’t not true and pure motives. For instance: money alone won’t make missing your kids first steps or family events worth it. You have to have a deeper why.

No, I want to speak to those who have a clear motivation, purpose and deep call/passion to be a physician and have tried to improve grades, MCAT scores etc, but to no avail. You’ve taken necessary steps and years pass by and you feel it’s past your time. I have three simple words: don’t give up.

Why? Because you’ll never be satisfied with another route and sometimes a bit of reworking your strategy is all it takes to take you from premed to med student. For many students, a general strategy of retaking courses of C and below or B- and below that are basic and upper div sciences along with more upper division biological sciences will help bring up a science GPA. The key is to take the courses at places where you’re likely to get an A because that’s what’s needed to really bring up a GPA. For others, a more targeted and nuanced approach is needed.

Another huge hurdle is the MCAT and that requires dedicated study over months or possibly a year. Take it in spring to know your score PRIOR to applying. My prior MCAT course post that is a sticky has good information for those who are on a budget. AdaptPrep MCAT is a good resource and affordable too.

Sometimes these improvements need a boost with a national level research experience like the National Institutes of Health or CDC. Longitudinal Research for more than 1 year with a mentor that will vouch for you can help greatly in strengthening an application. If you improve your numbers then you are left to explain you WHY and passion. This will take you a long way.

FYI if you are above 25 it does not mean you are too old!!!

Bottom line: if it is for you, it is for YOU. DO NOT GIVE UP ON YOUR DREAMS!!!!!

Candice Williams MD

Premed Consultants

Featured

MCAT!!!!!

Recently I’ve released a survey for premeds on their wants, needs and pain points. I genuinely want to know how I can help.

Here is the link to my survey, please take it so I can understand how to help you! https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/TT5RGR6

A sticking point keeps coming up- that huge elephant in the room: THE MCAT!

I find this to be a HUGE barrier as preparing for the test and scoring a needed score (> 75th percentile or more ideally >85 th for some schools) proves to be difficult for many to afford and accomplish.

Traditionally I recommend prep courses because they helped me and many others score a solid score for admission. Being with other people with a common competitive goal and having face to face accountability help you achieve faster in my opinion. These days, things are so competitive and expensive that for some, having course books and online resources may be a preferred route since the test is in a digital format. However I still emphasize that you retain more if you take pen to paper, listen and/or recite at the same time. Use all your senses to help and utilize question banks that simulate the testing environment.

Khan academy has free resources and the AAMC has free testing resources too. This area has lots of resources including exam content outline (which is key to know what is on the exam!)

MCAT Exam Content

  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems Section
  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems Section
  • Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior Section
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills Section

The AAMC MCAT Official Prep Hub button is where you can access practice exams. Sign in with your AAMC account information and go to Free Resources section. Select Practice with Exam Features Tool.

I’ve recently come upon another online platform for MCAT prep called AdaptPrep MCAT. It lets you identify your strengths and weaknesses on the exam and has 4,000 simulated test questions in a bank format. It gives the ability to asses your difficulty level of questions you can handle as well as flexibility and dynamic practice questions. The writers recommend that you have an “Earned Level” of 7/10 on a 0-10 scale before you are MCAT ready. Their website can be found here. There is also a free three day trial that can be found here.

I know full well how daunting this step is. I remember taking this test in a room full of people near UCBerkeley and my friend and I were the only African Americans in the room. It was intimidating to say the least, but we are now both practicing doctors and moms. I think back and remember the times studying alone, in groups, with friends and using a whole Saturday to take and scored full length exams. I would then adapt my studying based on what I consistently scored poorly on. I knew physics was a weakness and I concentrated on this. It helped- I scored higher on that section than others. Hard work does pay off!!

Best and hope these resources help inform your study process and plan!

Candice Williams MD

Premed Consultants

Raising the Bar

Hello Premeds,

I hope your day is going well. Mine is. I’m spending it with my family and contemplating what I’d want to know if I were in your shoes. I was there once and felt that getting into medical school was impossible. I felt as if no matter how high my scores were or my grades, I could never measure up.

The fact is the medical school admissions process is getting more stringent. That’s right – its getting harder. Now more than ever before. some schools are requiring higher GPAs – 3.4 and above and high MCAT scores (> 85th percentile). This is higher than previous times and makes it much harder for students to qualify. Not all schools have adopted these criterion – so don’t fret. All is not lost. I just want you all to be apprised to what is required, so you can improve your grades and scores accordingly.

If I were in your shoes, I’d take longer to do my post bac or retake coursework and I’d study longer for the MCAT with a prep course to ensure I make these scores. The average MCAT score for African American applicants  is near 496 and average MCAT for African American matriculants is 504 which is 61st percentile.     Latino applicants have average GPA 3.4 and average MCAT of 499. Latino matriculants have average GPA 3.6 and average MCAT score of 505.

Source: https://www.aamc.org/download/321498/data/factstablea18.pdf

Having an score of 85th percentile on the MCAT is near 512, which may prove difficult to achieve for students underrepresented in medicine.The reasons are multifactorial. including not having money for a prep course, having to work in order to support oneself and other matters. My concern is that with having these criterion, certain schools will become less diverse in terms of ethnicity and be robbed of a perspective that comes with having a diverse student body.

So premeds, please be advised some schools have these higher criterion. At a minimum in my opinion, to apply to medical school, you need at least a 3.2 GPA and MCAT score of 75% percentile. This seems low, but for some students who are disadvantaged and don’t have the same resources as others, I’d say these are absolute minimum numbers and you MUST apply to many schools (25-30).

Please feel free to contact me with any questions. Just trying to give you all a heads up.

I hope I’m not the bearer of bad news, but I do believe its better to know now vs. not preparing well.

Candice Williams MD, D.ABA

Premed Consultants

Premed Myths 2

More premed myths….

3. I have to be a “premed” major to apply to medical school.

First, there is no such real thing as a premed major, but people usually mean majoring in Molecular Biology, Biochemistry and related degrees. While if you are at a four year institution this helps to streamline completed the medical school admissions requirements, it does not change the fact that you have to do them even if they aren’t included in your major. As such, there is no inherent advantage in having such a major. It helps to have something to differentiate you from the crowd. I recommend majoring in what you want to, what you will do well in, and doing your best in the prerequisites for medical school. This way, you are likely to have and keep a high GPA.

For non traditional students and those who attended community college prior to university, please see these as an advantage. Play up these diverse experiences in your personal statement and use the community college coursework to boost your GPA prior to transfer. This helps have a higher overall science GPA. If this is your situation, it may help to do more upper division sciences at a university to show you can handle the rigor of the coursework.

4.Your  GPA and MCAT score must be perfect, or you will NEVER get into medical school.

This attitude was pervasive at UC Berkeley when I applied. I was told to my Face that I would NEVER get in to medical school with my GPA. They were right. This is why I took more upper division coursework, retool courses I did poorly in at a junior college and had a serious upward trend in my grades. This all occurred after I was able to stop working so much for a short period, as I had to support myself. Many students I know have the same situation. My advice is to take it slow, don’t take too many difficult courses at once, and focus to score highly to fix any GPA problems. That, coupled with a solid MCAT score of 75th percentile (508) and above, helps alleviate Committee concerns that an applicant can not handle the academic rigor of medical school.

If you are only a score then there would be no need for interviews. The fact is if you haven’t adequately explored your motivation for medicine or you haven’t demonstrated dedication through your activities, then your application is at a disadvantage no matter how high your grades are. Committee members can tell if you don’t quite have a solid idea of what you are pursuing. Don’t get them a reason to guess. Prepare yourself by doing free clinic work, overseas medical missions, shadowing, research with clinical focus and clinical exposure, health fairs etc. These are just a few ways to show you know what you are asking to do and why you are asking to do it.

I hope these two myth busters have been helpful. There are many more to come!!!!

 

Best,

Candice Williams

Premed Consultants

 

MCAT DISCIPLES

Another MCAT course I’ve discovered recently is MCAT Disciples. They have online and in person courses that are reasonably priced and effective! The MCAT is a major hurdle, and it always pays to have access to premium content. If you are seeking admissions to Ivy or California Medical schools, your MCAT percentile rank matters! Check them out at mcatdisciples.com