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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

How did Operation Varsity Blues make you feel?

Hello there medical community,

I’ve been waiting to comment on the college admissions scandal, aka Operation Varsity Blues, as it struck a chord with me immediately upon hearing the charges and accusations. This is a sensitive subject, and the opinions shared here are simply my own thoughts on the scandal and higher education. You may choose to agree or disagree with my point of view, but I feel it is important to share as a physician of color and advocate for students.

Everyone thinks the system is built solely on merit, but as suspected, this story is one that shows that is not always so. I for one resented the assertion that someone with wealth could simply bribe their way into institutions that I and several colleagues spent years preparing for and working our tails off in order to get in and graduate from. UC Berkeley, my alma mater, was named in the scandal, as well as UCLA, my medical alma mater. These schools were literally hell to get into and make it through, especially as an underrepresented minority student from inner city Los Angeles. I was told in no uncertain terms many times while on campus, that I did not belong there. I was questioned on many occasions why I needed to take Organic Chemistry, or if I was on a sports team. I was pretty out of shape for any sport, so these comments were difficult to take at 17 years old. While the scandal is about money and someone buying their way in, my feelings immediately went towards the students who couldn’t buy their way in AND who were told they didn’t belong, myself included.

During a silent protest that I participated in while on the campus of UC Berkeley that was to bring to light that the voice of African American students on campus was not being heard, various insults were hurled at us calling us Nigger, saying the only reason you got in is affirmative action and the most hurtful – a professor told us that this campus was not designed for people like you.

These words stuck with me. Although they stung, I was determined to prove the campus was for people just like me. I graduated with a Molecular Biology Degree, music minor and was well prepared for my future career in medicine. I conquered that place and as a practicing anesthesiologist and pain specialist, I seriously consider the question – “Who is the University of California designed for?”

The answer is that these campuses are designed for the diverse student body that reflects the population the state of California. I and my black colleagues had every right to be there because we worked hard and earned it – not because our mom or dad paid someone to let us in.

I’ve heard the argument of “race doesn’t matter” in admissions assumes that a meritocracy would be inherently fair. This isn’t fair if those with resources to get the grades needed are only from certain ethnicities while others are purposefully left out. It’s definitely not equitable if some with money are allowed to simply buy their way in. This scandal has caused many to lose faith in the system – the one that says – if you work hard, you can gain admission.

On the cusp of decision day for UC Berkeley and many other schools, I reflect on the lack of diversity, especially concerning students of color and it’s disturbing to me. There are so few African American students admitted that will attend both UC Berkeley and UCLA (medical school included) compared to the population in the state. A couple of years ago, I attended a welcome event for students accepted into UC Berkeley in Southern California. I saw 1 African American student at this large reception with at least 200 students. I was disappointed, but realized that in this day and age, many students are opting for other environments other that UC, such as historically black colleges or private universities.

It was often assumed I didn’t belong in undergrad and in medical school just because of the color of my skin, but someone else who is another race inherently is assumed to belong. I think of so many students of color who are treated as if they are taking away spots from the “good” students, with the assumption that every African American student has a 1.0 GPA and just walked in the door with no credentials. These ideas are often freely shared on SDN (Student Doctor Network) and other premed sites. This was an unhealthy place for me as a premedical student and eventually I learned to make other communities and connections. These assertions are patently false. This experience prompted the creation of Premed Consultants and this blog.

Sadly, racism, classism and discrimination are rampant in higher education and there is an idea that certain students are deserving and others are not. In regards to medicine, medical schools in particular need to put their actions where their statements are and truly make strides to ensure they are treasuring diversity, treating students well and as if they belong, no matter their culture. If this occurs, maybe UC Schools wouldn’t have as much trouble in their recruiting efforts amongst some ethnic groups.

I hope this admissions scandal brings these conversations to light and helps everyone understand the importance of diversity and transparency in higher education. No one should be able to buy, lie or cheat their way into a school at any level of education.

What are your feelings about the admissions scandal? Should the students have their degrees taken away? Should parents be solely responsible? Should universities be held liable?

Blessings to all,

Candice Williams, MD

Premed Consultants

Interview Season is Upon Us….

Hello Premeds and Medical Students:

Interview Season is here! It’s such an exciting time. It’s the time to show the medical school or residency program of your choice that YOU belong there. You landed the interview, they’ve seen your file, your writing, your motivation for medicine. So now you get the chance to sell it! But how do you do this? First- let me share some of my experiences with you.

When I was a premed student like many of you, I doubted myself and my ability to be a physician, let alone a good one. I didn’t feel I belonged in my undergrad science courses at UC Berkeley, let alone in medical school. So – how did I go about mustering up the courage to stare Dean’s of admissions in the face and tell them – I’m the one you want, I belong here and I can contribute something to your class? The honest answer is I’m not entirely sure, but I know that I wanted it so badly. I came so far, I invested so much and I was not going to let anything stop me from achieving my goal, including fear.

I employed a number of strategies that I found worked for me, and I want to share them with you. These also apply to residency interviews as well, so medical students, don’t check out. 🙂

1. I prepared for my first interview well as a template for the rest of my interviews.

What does this mean? I looked up the Dean of Admission and Assistant Dean, their specialties and major research areas in the medical school. I rehearsed speaking out loud at a mirror stating why I wanted to pursue medicine and what it is about the school in particular that made me want to study there. I took care to wear a black, conservative suit and pearls. I did everything I could think of. I arrived, and I can pretty much say my interview day was anything but successful. I remember being asked why I wanted to attend there, why would I come there, and when I gave answers, I was simply grilled further. I was asked to design a research study on the fly. This threw me for a loop as I hadn’t given thought about this before. I tried my best but I knew I was floundering in both my interviews. Finally, the one of the Deans of Admission used a term that I interpreted as harkening to the Old South and slavery. For me, this was the last straw.  I instantly knew this place was not for me, no matter how badly I wanted to attend medical school.

So what was that? A failure? A flop? No. It was practice. Yes, I used this first interview to get the kinks out, to learn how to think on the fly and to answer unanticipated questions to the best of my ability. I realized that if an interviewer was hell bent to seeing me in a negative light, all I can do is present my best self – that is all. So in each subsequent interview, I did just that. I learned from the first one, devised a sample research study based on my prior work, knew my research projects inside out and was able to discuss them in detail and shored up those weak areas so that I shined on subsequent interviews.

2. I want to say that I rested well, took care of myself and all those things. It’s just not true. I was a tragedy mess on my medical school and residency interview trail. I was on flights, in and out of airports and walked in New York once so far in high heels I had a blood blister on my foot the whole interview day. I’m confessing this because I don’t want you to do this. Don’t walk through New York crying because you didn’t bring the right shoes. Wear tennis shoes with your suit and change a block away. Bring a purse big enough to house said shoes. Bring a nice portfolio with you to carry around with you. Bring extra deodorant, mints, pins for your hair etc. Believe it or not, these simple things can help allay the stress and anxiety that comes from preparing for one of the biggest days that determines your admissions status to medical school or residency. If you are rested, calm and collected, that goes a long way. I also must stress to SMILE even if you are not a people person. Smile at the staff, greet the front desk people, shake hands, look them in the eye. DON’T look down at your phone continually. Be a human being and be polite to everyone. This helps believe it or not. The admission staff have very much pull in this process. If you are rude to them over the phone or in person, especially on interview day, this could ruin your chances of admission or matching.

3. I made sure to let my first choice institution know that I would go there above any and all schools. Interestingly I don’t remember my medical school interview at UCLA. I do remember my residency one, and I embarrassingly messed up on a question I knew the answer to with a faculty member I knew. I was scared. It happens. I tried my best to recover. I another interview with the Chair of Anesthesiology, I asked her how she trailblazed as a woman to be Chair and what advice she would give an up and coming student who wants to pursue academic medicine. This changed the tide of our interview and the tone. It was not going in a good direction as she was questioning my involvement in a minority based program and implying I was excluding those who were not of color. I told her, on the contrary, the organization I worked with was national and appealed to all students and those who had a passion for serving underserved populations. Just as I felt that this was not going well, I  asked this when she asked – Do you have any questions for me?

This is key. You MUST come prepared with questions.This is paramount. I did this and it saved my residency interview. I also recommend that after you finish the interview, send a thank you letter by email or snail mail or both. In this letter to UCLA during my medical school application process, I stated unequivocally that UCLA was my first choice. Further, after I was waitlisted to the school, I emailed the Dean of Admissions in a last ditch effort plea to let him know that UCLA was where I felt I belonged and could contribute a diverse perspective to their student body as a woman of color that is from Los Angeles and who desires to serve the patient population locally. I didn’t think this would work and I don’t necessarily recommend that everyone try this approach as it is a real gamble. I did however a few weeks later, receive acceptance from UCLA off the waitlist. It was my first choice and I was elated.

I hope these tips help you in your interview season and beyond. Hit me up with questions via email or in the Forums. What questions do you have about the application process to medical school or residency?

Candice Williams, MD, D. ABA

Premed Consultants