With the New Year, comes a fresh start. Last month we discussed shaping your personal statement, but in the New Year, let’s shift the focus onto your overall plan.
Depending on where you are in your pre-med studies, you are going to need to do different things, but at minimum, you want to make sure you have a solid plan. A good template for a pre-med plan includes three categories – academic performance, academic potential, and the qualitative factors that shape you. Let’s break down how you can maximize each of these three categories:
Medical schools pay particular attention to not only the grades you receive in your classes (pre-med and overall) but also to the trends in your grades, the types of courses you take, and the variety of courses. The great thing about being pre-med is you can major in whatever subject your heart desires. If you look at the typical cross section of a medical school class you will find students who majored in engineering, art, music, business, languages, English, and pretty much anything you can think of. Regardless of your major, however, you’ll need to take pre-med prerequisite classes such as General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Biology, Physics, and for the upcoming 2015 MCAT changes, Biochemistry, Psychology and Sociology.
The diversity of the required pre-med classes means that eventually you’re going to run into a topic that will challenge you academically. The key is how you respond to the struggle, and how you balance your overall schedule that term so you can dedicate the right amount of time to each course you are taking.
My short advice is major in something you love – after all, you will be taking the most courses in that subject in school. One of the biggest mistakes pre-med’s make is majoring in a biological science just because they are pre-med. How boring would the world be if all doctors were cookie cutter copies of each other?
It is perfectly normal to be worried about the MCAT regardless of where you are in your pre-med years. After all, it will be the most important exam you take as part of the medical school admissions process. The MCAT is not an obstacle for gaining admission to medical school. In fact, it is used by medical schools to measure your academic potential in medical school. To be clear, it is not predicting if you will make a good doctor; it is predicting how you will likely perform in medical school pre-clinical courses.
But strong performance on the MCAT is achieved by building a strong foundation in your pre-medical classes, so don’t let the distraction of the MCAT interfere with your coursework. When the time comes, you will turn your attention to the MCAT, but until then, stay focused and follow your plan!
Going through college as a pre-med doesn’t mean you have to study all the time. There are lots of really neat medical-related opportunities, such as shadowing a physician or volunteering in a hospital. Additionally, there are tons of non-medical opportunities. You can study abroad! You can join an obscure club. You can use this time to explore all of your interests and make some great friends in the process.
The bonus here is that your quirky hobby could make your medical school application that much more memorable! Everyone who applies has shadowing experience and has volunteered throughout their college experience, but not many were concert pianists or the president of the unicycle club. Interviewers love to talk about your passions and will remember you better because of them. Don’t be afraid to try something new!
These qualitative factors will actually comprise the majority of your application. You will discuss them in your personal statement, discussion of extracurricular activities, work experience, and in the interview – so give them the time they deserve, but never just do something because you think it will look good on a medical school application – participate in things you are passionate about.
All in all, take control of your future, and take the right steps at the right time, and you will get what you want – a crisp white coat!