I recently unearthed a super-long email (if you didn’t know before, I’m reallyreally verbose) that I sent to a friend about 2-ish years ago, so I thought I’d share the pertinent advice! This is more specific to people who want to go into medicine, but parts of it are probably relevant to a whole lot of other programs.
These are my top 10 tips for pre-meds, how to prepare for medical school while you’re in college, whilst making the most of your college experience! (Be forewarned, however, that I was somewhat of a workaholic in undergrad, and that part of me hasn’t really changed all that much. :] )
- Find out early what your major requires of you, and if you can, make sure you complete all requirements for med school before you graduate. Because trying to get into classes when you’ve already graduated with two degrees puts you at the bottom of the priority bucket (…especially if you’re trying to retake classes).
- I’ve talked before on how sometimes, working towards your dreams requires making sacrifices, but don’t be afraid to still have a life. I think medical schools do like to see that you have a life outside of school–just don’t go overboard with it. The key (as with most everything in life) is to find a balance.
- Apply as early as possible. Most of the schools are on rolling admission, so the earlier you apply, the better your chances of getting secondaries/an interview. Secondaries are basically their chance to
(a) get more money from you, and (b)(sorry) get to know you a little better. They usually have several essay questions, but once you answer one of them, you can basically cut and paste things from it to answer the rest, since they usually don’t get too crazy with their questions.
- For interviews, most schools just really want to see what kind of person you are (aka preferably someone kind + considerate, and not a sociopath), so just relax and be yourself. I know the whole “being yourself” thing sounds super cliche, but it’s true. (Unless you really are a sociopath, in which case, please don’t apply. 😡 )To practice for my interviews, I just pulled up the questions from SDN’s* Interview Feedback page and had my parents or a friend ask them to me. It might help to record yourself answering questions (or to just answer them while standing in front of a mirror). It helps you to see if you have any weird mannerisms and if you make any weird facial expressions while answering questions.
- Save up money to take your MCAT, apply to schools, pay for secondaries, a professional-lookin’ clothes + traveling to and from interviews. It all adds up and it is not cheap. ;_; For the record, this is not the time to test out your super-short skirts, stiletto heels, multiple facial piercings, and/or pink and purple hair.
- Shadow different doctors, and try to get a good letter of recommendation from at least one of them.
This lets medical schools know that you at least have somewhat of an idea of what it takes to become a doctor, and that it takes hard work. It is nowhere near as “glamorous” as society makes it out to be, and generally speaking, you do not spend all your spare time (hah) rolling around in mountains of cash.Do NOT become a doctor because you want to be rich. There are better ways to do it. I live on < $10k/year, and I’m still looking at ~$250k in loans by the time I graduate. And no, this does not include the interest on said loans.
- If you can find community service that involves direct patient interaction, do it! My internships and clinical experiences were monumentally helpful for me because it gave me a good idea of what to expect, and the direct patient care experience was extremely valuable.
- Do research if you can. MD schools tend to care about this than DO schools. I hated research, so I initially chose not to do any, because I loved doing community service a billion times more.I never ended up applying to any MD programs because I was fairly hell-bent on Family Medicine/primary care from the start, but I did eventually go to an accelerated grad school program too, where I did research on different FM residency programs across the country, and whether or not they provided any training to residents on how to work with individuals with developmental disabilities.
- Taking Anatomy, Biochemistry, Microbiology & Immunology would probably make med school a lot easier for you. Of those, I would make a majormajor plug for Anatomy (especially one that involves a lab with human cadavers), because that’s the section most of the people in my class (and a lot of people I’ve talked to) failed or had a ton of trouble with. Since I took it in undergrad, it was a piece of cake for me and I barely had to study that part, so it left me with a lot of time to (a) study everything else, and (b) tutor other people in it.
- Try to get at least 5 recommendation letters from professors/directors of places you’ve volunteered at/physicians. I would also fudge the deadline a little so there’s more leeway.
*Student Doctor Network (SDN) contains a wealth of resources + information for pre-meds, but I’d advise you to stay out of the “What are my chances?” forums. Last I checked (…back in ’08), it was pretty soul-sucking, and it felt like people were just posting all their scores + stats to brag, but mayhaps things have changed?
I’d also recommend looking into the mission statements of each school that you apply to–find out what they’re looking for in an applicant, find out about their accreditation status and if there are any curriculum changes.
If you can get a hold of a student from a program you’re interested in and they don’t mind being grilled, do it!
- Are there any other pieces of advice that you think would be helpful? Share them in the comments!