Is it Okay to Hit Pause On Extracurriculars?

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ADG 216: Is it Okay to Hit Pause On Extracurriculars?

Session 216

This college student was a former corpsman in the military for six years. He did not do well in high school and during his first year in college. When he went to the military, that was when he realized that he wanted to become a doctor. He went back to school and for a year and a half, he was focused on classes and has not done any extracurriculars.

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[02:43] Question of the Day

Q: “I really had a quick question… mainly about extracurriculars. I’ve been watching your application renovation application acceptance videos and I see a lot of times you always talked about consistency…throughout extracurriculars. I see all the other students, they got these crazy extracurriculars. And I should be doing that. But then… I just need to handle college right now before I try to mix that in. In my head, it just makes sense to me.”

A: It makes complete sense and it sounds like that is what you needed to do. Lost in context a lot is what specifically works well for you.

For you, you have not been the best student in high school. You have done a year of college and have not been a good student. Most probably you didn’t apply yourself because you didn’t know what you wanted to do with your life. You go to the military, you figure out you want to be a doctor and you come back to school.

Because you don’t have a good track record, you want to focus on school to really prove yourself. It makes complete sense for you that you focus mostly on school and you ignore everything else. 

Now, if you apply straight away to medical school, that may be an issue. But you don’t have to do that.

[04:09] Preparing for Med School Application

You can take another year off and finish school. When you are done with school, got your grades up and have proven yourself, you can now go get a scribe job.

You can work as a medical assistant or as an EMT. You can shadow some doctors, out in the civilian world since you are not in the military anymore and see what that side of medicine looks like. And you will be able to talk about it and show it in your med school applications.

Having that gap of activities may hurt you or it may not. There may be a school out there that will understand that you were a medic, a corpsman for a while and that’s fine even if you haven’t done anything for a year and a half. You could apply and they may accept you.

I’m always very concerned about that angle of what you can do to put together the best application moving forward.

“The best application from everything that we see is having clinical experience – recent and consistent clinical experience, having shadowing – recent, consistent shadowing experience.” Click To Tweet

That means you don’t apply when you are planning on applying right now. You just take a little bit of extra time to get those things under your belt before you apply.

[05:35] Timeframe for Application

I guess maybe just because I was a little bit older, maybe my mindset was..I kind of want to get it as soon as possible because I’m not getting any younger.

A: There are two ways to go about it. Right now, it’s July 2022 and you are going into your junior year. You will apply, theoretically, next year, May/June of 2023. You will need to be able to take the MCAT– January, March, April 2023. You have to add that onto your plate as a student as well.

Make sure that you keep the grades up, make sure that you do well on the MCAT and apply in 2023. You will not be done with classes until May timeframe of 2024 while hoping to start medical school in 2024 – July/August of 2024. That is your current timeline.

The First Option

If you want to continue focusing on school, you are going to add in the MCAT next year and will need to study before then. That is eating into your study time for your classes. And then you have to start working on your application, which is also going to eat into your study time.

“This is a very personal process where I think a lot of what I put out loses that context, like there's no right way to do this for you.” Click To Tweet

If you have found that you are now a good enough student, you can then add on these other things – the MCAT prep, application prep and getting everything ready to apply. 

Red Flag from an Activity Standpoint

If you don’t add on clinical experience and shadowing, you will have to go through the application cycle, still taking classes without any clinical experience and shadowing.

You apply 2023 with no clinical, no shadowing and still taking classes because you are going into your senior year at that point. If you don’t get in, you really won’t find out until January, February, March of 2024

When you’re getting ready to graduate, the next application cycle is creeping up on you and you would have done nothing to improve your application from an activity standpoint.

That is where the big red flag and the need to slow down a little bit comes into play.

The Second Option

You are going to apply and will be getting clinical experience and shadowing because you know that your course load is going down a little bit. You are more confident in yourself as a student that you can add some more things on and still be okay.

You will be applying knowing that you have this gap in activities, but also knowing that you are doing it during the cycle.

First, You can update schools and maybe that will be enough for them. Second, if you need to reapply, your application is already stronger.

[09:46] Shadowing Experience

Q: I recently just had a couple of shadowing experiences with some doctors but I was curious as to how much do I actually have to do?

A: There is no number, it’s about consistency. If you can get a day every couple months then that would be great. After a while, shadowing is boring because you are just standing there.

It is very different for you with the experiences that you already have in the medical field. You have to go in with a different mindset and maybe try to explore different fields that may expose you to things that you never saw as a corpsman. 

You just need to go in with a good mindset and do it not from the angle of seeing what the patients are doing or learning about patient-physician interaction because you have seen a lot of that already.

“Be there to learn about the physician's job.” Click To Tweet

Learn about what a physician’s job looks like. Ask questions of the physician, about their job,  their lifestyle, what they like, what they don’t like, what they would recommend and what advice they have for you in terms of a future career as a physician.

[11:44] Tutoring and Clinical Experience

I know you’re talking about some more clinical experiences. I’m supposed to be tutoring next semester as well. My teachers say I got an act for this and can help some of the students… and just recommended that I do it.

A: If I’m looking at your application and I see that you are tutoring, you are doing activities but you are not doing clinical activities. Your tutoring will raise the question as to why you are not getting clinical activities.

[12:50] Addressing the Gap Year

Q: “I was also applying for two things as well. I’m trying to get back my medical skills because it’s been a while since I’ve been out. But I also want to go back and try to do something like medical assistant, paramedic, or something like that. I was also looking into something like doing hospice on the weekend as well. 

And so, I was just trying to juggle tutoring through the week and then clinical on the weekend. But like I said, I didn’t know how they’re going to look at it if you haven’t done anything in two years you’re trying to catch all these in one year.”

A: Don’t worry about the gap because there’s nothing you can do about it at this point. You’re worried about something you can’t change. Rather, make sure that you are doing everything appropriate for you. Don’t go in and add all these different things. Make sure that you stay a good student and add what you can and keep pushing forward. 

“The only thing that you can do is change moving forward.”Click To Tweet

If they ask you what happened with this gap, they will be able to see in your transcript that you were taking classes during that time. They will see your original transcripts for your first year where you didn’t have good grades and you were focused on being a student. They can draw conclusions on their own that you were focused on classes and now you have good grades.

You had bad grades, then you took some time off from activities. They will see what you’re doing now, making sure that you’re getting clinical experience so that you know what medicine is like outside of the military and you understand what you’re getting yourself into and all that stuff.

And if they asked you during an interview what happened during this time, you go ahead and tell them you were focused on being a student.

[15:00] Blinders On

Q: “I guess seeing all the other students with all these crazy experiences, I felt I was lagging behind a lot.

A: Put the blinders on. Let them do their own thing, you are doing you. And they don’t have corpsman experience.

[15:35] Old College Transcripts

Q: Do I have to turn in my old college transcripts for the one year I went out?

A: Yes, you got to show those blemishes. That’s okay. It gives context to where you are now and it shows your growth. Don’t worry about those grades, they’re very early on.

“Hopefully you have better grades now and you can show that growth and it'll be a good story for you.”Click To Tweet

[16:09] Preparing Ahead for Med School

Q: Is there any way to prepare for med school? I know it might be really preliminary right now but I keep hearing every time, people would go to med school and it’s like drinking water from a fire hydrant. It’s just so much information so I guess it never made sense. Can’t we just prepare ahead of time and maybe learn some of the classes on anatomy, physiology or biochemistry?

A: It’s possible, yes but nobody that I know, including myself, recommends trying to get ahead. If you can take a physiology class in college, take a physiology class because then the concepts and the language are not new. The same thing when taking anatomy. The concepts and the visuals are not new.

With the volume of material that you have to learn in medical school, there’s really no way to prepare for that. And so nobody recommends trying to prepare for it because everyone is going in, relatively on a level playing field.

Some people have taken anatomy and physiology before. Some people have majored in biochemistry, so maybe the biochemistry class is going to be a little bit easier for them in medical school.

On a core foundational level, everyone is coming in at the same level, and you are all going through it at the same time.

You are just figuring it out and you will figure it out. Life will never be the same and that’s fun. There are lots of friends that you meet in medical school which is awesome.

Ways to Prepare for Med School

What most people say to prepare for medical school is to take care of yourself. Build good habits now – exercise, sleep, food, and nutrition. 

“Build those habits so that in medical school, when that “firehose” hits you, you can keep and have good health habits built in that you will keep even in the worst circumstances.”Click To Tweet

You could have three tests in one week and everything is coming at you and you will wonder how you are going to survive this. But you still go for that run. You still get your 6-8 hours of sleep. You still take care of yourself because that ultimately is what’s going to get you through.


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