Featured

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

Retake Courses vs. Post Bacc? What is right for me?

Hello there premeds!
I get this question all the time and I want to give you the short answer. If you are a non science major or have major work to do in terms of fixing your GPA, look into post bacc programs. They cost money and sometimes you have to travel, but it’s worth the time and investment IF you commit to doing your absolute best (A’s and B’s but mostly A’s.) Some of these programs have conditional admission upon completion of the program. Others are considered Special Master’s Programs and they may have a conditional admission provision if you do well in the program.

Please note if you retake a course, AMCAS averages the retake score with the original grade. It doesn’t replace it. Here is the source:

https://students-residents.aamc.org/applying-medical-school/…/section-4-course-work/

You should retake courses if the following apply:

  1. You did poorly in premed prerequisite courses
  2. You don’t plan to do a postbacc program
  3. You don’t have many upper division science courses

The AMCAS GPA provides the medical schools with a standard way to compare each applicant’s background. The BCPM GPA is comprised of Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Mathematics courses. All other coursework will be calculated in the AO (All Other) GPA. (see source above)

I generally recommend retaking courses such as calculus, physics, organic chemistry or chemistry if you’ve done poorly to demonstrate that you can do the work. It doesn’t really change the BCPM GPA BUT taking further upper division courses at a state university or extension can help in this effort.

Best wishes in preparing for medical school and crafting your best application,

Candice Williams MD

Premed Consultants

*Post any question in our forums http://www.premedconsultant.com/forums

Are taking courses at a Junior College OK?

Hey there Premeds!

This is a sensitive subject as many students cannot afford a state university or extension courses in order to fulfill medical school prerequisites. These courses entail

  • One year of Biology with lab.
  • One year of General Chemistry with lab.
  • One year of Organic Chemistry with lab.
  • One semester of Biochemistry.
  • One year of Physics with lab.
  • One year of English.

These apply at most schools. Some also require Statistics. Please refer to Medical School Admissions Requirements for more information on what each school requires.

See link below:

https://students-residents.aamc.org/applying-medical-school/applying-medical-school-process/deciding-where-apply/medical-school-admission-requirements/

As for whether it’s ok to take these courses at a junior college, it depends on your situation. If you went to a junior college prior to university and took most courses there, then do not fret. If you did well, there is no reason to retake these for any reason. However, if you are in the position of most students, they need to correct a grade or two. This means coursework with C or below. If you are in the position where you have to retake courses, I think this is acceptable if the goal is simply to demonstrate that you can do the coursework. You must get an A or a B at least.

As an overall strategy, if you need to increase a science GPA, I recommend taking the other coursework at a university, extension or post bacc program. Other coursework that helps your science GPA or those that are upper division courses in Biology, Biochemistry, or other sciences such as advanced organic chemistry or physics. Most students focus on additional courses such as physiology, microbiology and genetics. These types of courses help raise a BCPM GPA if taken outside of a formal program after graduation. If they are taken as part of a graduate program, it is listed as a separate GPA.

What questions do you have on how to raise your science GPA?

Post them at our forum http://www.premedconsultant.com/forums

Happy Premeding!

Candice Williams, MD

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

 

Premed Myths Part 1

Hello PREMEDS!!!! Application season is upon us. I saw a family friend and they asked me a series of questions that let me know many myths exist about being premed. I’m working to dispel a few. This is the purpose of this blog.

I will start with a few myths that are important to debunk.

 

1. You have to attend a college with a medical school to have a better chance at admission.

This is patently false. Admissions to medical school is competitive no matter where you attend for undergrad. Perhaps by some associations and premed societies you could meet medical school admissions staff and form connections. With some effort, this can be done regardless of your college of choice. I recommend attending a college that matches your interest and will give you the greatest number of options to explore not only sciences, but other subjects as well. There are combined colleges and medical school programs and these are limited and only few exist in the country. I recommend that a student really do their homework with shadowing physicians, being mentored and being certain of their career choice prior to embarking on something like this. Burnout is a reality and it takes a lot to commit to a path so early. For some though, these programs do prove to be the best choice.

https://students-residents.aamc.org/applying-medical-school/article/medical-schools-offering-combined-undergraduatemd-/

2. If you have a high GPA as a high school student, this means you will get into medical school.

Achievement at the high school level sadly doesn’t always translate to the college level. Suddenly you go from the best in your class to the middle of the pack. Don’t despair. This is a normal phenomenon of college life. It takes perseverance and hard work to adjust to university life. It takes even more to pursue the path to medicine. You won’t be a shoe in because you have a 4.5 GPA now as a high school senior. It takes more than just grades to be ready for medical education and it takes a body of work, achievement and a demonstration that you’ve done your homework to know you really want this path.

Admissions committees see many applications. What will make yours stand out? How are you unique? These questions are important to consider when planning the activities you participate in, your shadowing or volunteer experiences and pursuing your passions and hobbies. All of these facets including the MCAT and your ability to effectively communicate these things in writing have an influence on your application.

These are just two myths that I’ve heard as of lately that I thought it important to address. In part two, I will address if you need to be a “premed” major to get into medical school and other myths about this process. My goal is to lay things out for you so you don’t have to sift through so much information out there. Please ask any questions you like, either here or in the forum.

Keep striving towards your goals!

Candice Williams MD

Premed Consultants

Q&A

Hey there! A little Q&A based on questions I’ve received from premeds or those I’ve seen asked online. Every situation is unique, but in general, these questions are very common along this journey and there are some general rules to consider to give yourself the best chance at success. I will post these often to give some daily insight and inspiration!

  1. When choosing to strengthen my grades, should I do a post bacc program vs. taking coursework at a Junior college or State school?

I see this question all too often. If you have a low science GPA during undergrad OR you were another major that is not a biological  or natural science major, a post bacc program could be a good choice. There are many resources out there and a list of  postbacc programs by the AAMC is a great resource. The considerations are what you can afford and whether you get accepted. IF you find you cannot gain admission due to either a low GPA or poorly written personal statement or lack of activities, I recommend to first have an expert look over your application (ie. physician, medical student or resident, or at least someone good at editing). Have a physician look it over before submission. If all these efforts fail, then the next thing to think about is what can I afford?

It does come down to money and time. With time, as you will see in my posts, I say – take it. Meaning, take your time and prepare a great, outstanding application the first time. If money is an issue and you are supporting yourself, you are a non traditional applicant or don’t have access to extension courses at a major university, I recommend re-taking the lower division courses you did poorly in at a junior college, and upper divisions at a state institution. The caveat is you must do well! An upward trend is looked upon more favorably. Make sure you retake what you received C and below grades in to demonstrate you can handle the medical school curriculum.

That’s my Q&A for today! Check back to see more tips and frequently asked questions.

Till next time,

Candice Williams, MD

Interventional Anesthesiologist and Premed Consultant