Premed Listener Q&A, Volunteering, Personal Statements & More

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Session 86

In today’s episode, Ryan and Allison answer some questions that have been emailed to us over the last couple of months.

This week, we touch on topics involving taking prerequisites at a community college, personal statements, volunteering opportunities, finding a mentor, choosing an undergrad school, and more.

Here are the highlights of the conversation with Ryan and Allison:

Q:  Will taking medical school prerequisites at a community college hurt your chances in going to medical school?

A:  If you had the option, it is optimal to take your prerequisites at an accredited four-year school to show the admissions committee that you can handle hard sciences at the level of rigor that will allow you to be able to handle medical school classes. However, if you’re already at a community college, contact the actual medical school you’re applying to and directly ask if they will accept this. Don’t be shy until you’re actually an applicant. Check out Session 23 and Session 35 where they talk about community colleges.

Q:  What kinds of volunteering opportunities can you participate in that are not health care-based?

A:  Clinical experience and volunteering are both important. Have other volunteering types of experiences such as showing that you are able to put others first and give back to your community. In volunteering, don’t just do it for the sole purpose of putting it on your application; instead, it should be something you enjoy and connect with. There are so many things you can do such as volunteering at a senior center, with the Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers, Big Sisters, Habitat for Humanity, and schools that have volunteering opportunities for tutoring, or volunteering abroad. Check out Episode 68 for additional information about shadowing opportunities vs. patient exposure.

Q:  How do you find a premed advisor or mentor?

A:  First, you can go back to your pre-health office. Then there are tons of information on the internet. You may also seek help from medical schools or consult with paid premed advisors (can be really pricey). The Academy is a paid premed services site with a small monthly fee but you get monthly office hours and the community aspect including webinars and more. Just go to

Q:  What school to pursue – Quinnipiac or UConn?

A:  The name on your diploma doesn’t matter that much. It’s what you’re putting into the effort at the school that’s going to matter. The cost plays a huge role. You don’t want to go to medical school and have a huge burden of undergrad debt afterwards. You can find plenty of research opportunities at a small regional campus as well as plenty of shadowing experiences. Don’t worry about the name of the school because your grades will speak for themselves and all the other things you’ve done.

Q: What is an autobiographical sketch and how do you write one?

A:  An autobiographical sketch is a snapshot of your life and the major, meaningful things and life experiences that make you who are you are. This is is basically the same as a personal statement.

Here are some general tips when writing your personal statement:

  • Don’t make it a timeline.
  • Try to hook them, an opening statement that gets the reader super interested. Make it “salty.”
  • The goal is for the admissions committee to read it and want to find out more about you.
  • Write drunk and edit sober. No editing, just write.
  • If it’s hard to write, talk it out and record it on your phone.
  • Start talking about your key experiences where you interacted with a patient that solidified why you wanted to become a physician.
  • Show, don’t tell. Talk about your experiences instead of saying “I am…”
  • You don’t have to write from start to finish.
  • Always edit for grammar and typos.

Q:  What questions can you ask during an interview or while on admissions tours to find out more about the school?

A:  You can’t be faulted for asking questions. Avoid boring questions. Ask an insightful question that will stimulate discussion. Don’t be afraid of asking hard, opinion-based questions.Check out Session 19 where Dr. Wagner talks about questions to ask.

For tours, ask the medical student what they don’t like or they find challenging being a medical student in that school. Students are the best people to ask questions to.

If you have questions, go to Leave us an audio feedback or shoot us an email from there.

Links and Other Resources:

MSHQ 019: Interview with a Medical School Interview and Admissions Expert

MSHQ 023 : Interview with Dr. Polites of MedPrep at Wash. U.

MSHQ 035 : How to Fix an App After Starting Premed Poorly

MSHQ 047 : Avoid Burnout as a Premed, Med Student and Beyond

MSHQ 068: The Changing Landscape of Medical School Admissions

Check out our partner magazine, to learn more about awesome premed information.

Are you a nontraditional student? Go check out

For more great content, check out for more of the shows produced by the Medical School Headquarters including the OldPremeds Podcast and watch out for more shows in the future!

Free MCAT Gift: Free 30+ page guide with tips to help you maximize your MCAT score and which includes discount codes for MCAT prep as well.

Hang out with us over at Click join and we’ll add you up to our private Facebook group. Share your successes and miseries with the rest of us.

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Listen to our podcast for free at iTunes: and leave us a review there!

Email Ryan at or connect with him on Twitter @medicalschoolhq


Dr. Ryan Gray: The Premed Years, session number 86.

Intro: Hey, this is Z-Dog MD; rapper, physician, legendary turntable health revolutionary, and part-time gardener. And you’re listening to the Medical School HQ Podcast, hosted by the irredeemably awesome, Ryan Gray.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Welcome back. I’m your host, Dr. Ryan Gray, and I believe that competition amongst your premed and medical student peers is detrimental to becoming a great physician. In this podcast we show you how collaboration, hard work and honesty are critical to becoming a superior physician in today’s healthcare environment.

How are you doing today? I am joined again by my lovely cohost.

Dr. Allison Gray: Hello everybody.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Dr. Allison Gray.

Dr. Allison Gray: Hello again.

Dr. Ryan Gray: This is two weeks in a row.

Dr. Allison Gray: Yup.

Dr. Ryan Gray: I don’t know why I decided to bring you back. We got all those complaints about you.

Dr. Allison Gray: Thanks a lot.

Dr. Ryan Gray: No we didn’t, just kidding. How are you doing?

Dr. Allison Gray: I’m doing well, how are you?

Dr. Ryan Gray: I’m doing excellent. What are we talking about today?

Dr. Allison Gray: We are doing a question and answer podcast today. We get so many emails form all of you wonderful people out there, and we thought that we would answer some questions today.

Questions and Answers

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yes. Yeah, we do get a ton of emails, and I love getting all the emails and I love answering them. But it’s more a one-on-one question and answer; I’m not able to share those answers with everybody, which is why I prefer- I prefer if listeners, if you had a question leave an audio question and that way we can play it here on the podcast. We can give our answer, and then everybody can benefit from it instead of just me emailing you. And I’m okay if you don’t like your voice, or your recorded voice like I didn’t when we started this, that’s fine you can email us and we’re happy to email as much as we can. Sometimes we’re a little behind but we do the best we can to get back to you. So if you want to ask us a question, and you want to leave some audio questions that we can play here on the podcast, just to and you can ask a question there. There’s a little button and you can ask away. But we- Allison and I went through and selected a bunch of emails that some listeners have sent us, and so we’ll go through those, answer them. I think most of them we’ve already answered, and maybe there’s one or two that we haven’t answered yet, and they’ll get their answer here.

Dr. Allison Gray: Sounds good.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright, so to start let’s go with- and I’ll probably butcher this name because it’s spelled Late. I don’t know if it’s ‘Late’ or ‘Latte’ or ‘Latey’ I’m so sorry. But he’s asking- or she’s asking- I don’t even know, is that a guy’s name or a girl’s name? I don’t know. Anyway, it’s so hard. This is why I prefer audio, because then I know.

Dr. Allison Gray: I know.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Right? Alright, anyway-

Dr. Allison Gray: Well we just have a disclaimer for everyone out there, we are so sorry. We’ve- each of us- has had- well I don’t know if you have. I’ve had my name butchered on many, many occasions.

Dr. Ryan Gray: How do you butcher Allison?

Dr. Allison Gray: Well it’s more of the last name, but-

Dr. Ryan Gray: How do you butcher Gray?

Dr. Allison Gray: Well someone called me Dr. Grant, I don’t know how that’s possible but when I was Cohen- my maiden name is Cohen, Allison Cohen, and it would get butchered all the time. ‘Paging Dr. Cone,’ I mean it goes back to my days- well I won’t tell you what people used to make fun of me, you know with the nicknames, the horrible middle school nicknames. But anyway, the point is that we’ve all suffered from name butchering, so forgive us if we’re doing that back to you, we just don’t know how.

Dr. Ryan Gray: So here’s actually a piece of advice that you can use in your medical career, is when I walk into a patient room, and I know that I am totally going to butcher a name, I won’t even try to pronounce it. I’ll ask, be like, “Can you pronounce your name for me?”

Dr. Allison Gray: So- but you have the advantage Ryan, of going into a room to see a patient after that patient has already been brought into a room, because I’ve seen you do this at work by your medical assistant. And so for me, I go pick up my patients in the waiting room, so the question become how do you handle that properly?

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah, it’s called get an assistant.

Dr. Allison Gray: Well we have assistants, but- and actually some of the physicians at my practice have their patients brought back, but I just like as a practice to just bring mine. Anyway.

Dr. Ryan Gray: You ask the front desk to screen those hard names, and write it phonetically for you.

Dr. Allison Gray: That’s a good idea, but- well yeah, you know what, so when I look at my schedule at the beginning of the day or the day before, I should see that and make a note of it and ask them. That’s a very good idea.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah, and make them write it phonetically.

Dr. Allison Gray: Because you know what I do, is I either wing it and I say the name and then I ask them as I’m walking down the hall, “So did I-”

Dr. Ryan Gray: You turn bright red.

Dr. Allison Gray: Well, maybe but “So did I pronounce your name correctly?” Or “How do you pronounce your name?” Or I just call them by their first name which some people don’t like. Or I just say-

Dr. Ryan Gray: But you can butcher first names too.

Dr. Allison Gray: I know, yeah.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Anyway.

Dr. Allison Gray: Anyway, major tangent, but yeah sorry if we are butchering your name.

Prerequisites at Community College

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah. So he or she is asking about taking medical school classes- pre-req’s at community colleges. That’s the subject of his question, he goes into a big discussion about why he had to do it, he’s actually English as a second language, he’s an immigrant from Africa. But here’s in Boston, he’s in our hometown, he actually goes to school right here on the corner from us at Brandeis which is awesome. So he’s obviously flourishing with English as a second language on his way to hopefully get into medical school. And I’m going to say ‘he’ just- I’m sorry if you’re a she but I’ll keep saying ‘he.’ But he needed to take some classes at community college to be able to start the higher education process. So the question is, is that going to hurt him getting into medical school and what should he do next? Should he re-take his pre-req’s at a four year school at Brandeis which he’s at now, or should he look on continuing to build on those pre-req’s and take the higher level courses in those sciences? And it’s a very common question, we get this question a lot about community college, and what are your thoughts on this Allison?

Dr. Allison Gray: So I think that certainly if you have the option of taking these classes at an accredited four year school, that’s better in a sense. I mean that’s optimal I would say. But there are many of you out there who either nontraditional students who are working and don’t have the finances to also be in school at a big private university-

Dr. Ryan Gray: Or night classes.

Dr. Allison Gray: Right, you’re taking night classes, you’re in a place out in the middle of nowhere, I mean there are all sorts of circumstances that could lead you to have to take classes at a community college. And the major reason why we say it’s optimal if you can be at a four year school is that you’re- part of what you’re doing with your pre-req courses is you’re showing the admissions officers, the committee, that you can handle hard sciences and at a level of rigor that is going to allow you to then be able to handle medical school classes. So if they see that a lot of your classes were at a community college and you got all A’s, they may say, “Well that’s great, but that doesn’t tell me that this person can be successful in those subjects or even harder science subjects at medical school.” So what we often will recommend is that if you know that you’re going to be- you’re already in community service- sorry, community service. You’re already in- that’s our next questions. You’re already in community college classes, or you’re planning on it and you really have no other way around it, email or contact- call or email the actual medical schools that you’re interested in applying to and ask them directly. Say, “Look, you know these are my circumstances, how do you feel about me taking these classes at a community college? Is that something that will be acceptable or not looked well upon?” and see what they have to say.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah. And if you haven’t listened to some of our older podcasts, Carrie back in session 74 actually talked about this. She talked about how she had to do some pre-req’s at community college and how she reached out to the few colleges- or medical schools that she wanted to go to because she was limited geographically, and explained her situation. Said, “Here’s what’s going on, this is what I’m thinking about doing, and what do you think?” And she got sign off from admissions people at these medical schools and she stayed in contact with them, and that’s always I think is the number one answer for anybody asking that question. Is go reach out to the medical school. They’re very open, unless you are an applicant that year, then there’s some restrictions on the communications that they can have with you, but they’re very open when talking to you.

Dr. Allison Gray: I think people get very nervous about that. That you feel like until you’re in medical school, you have your foot in the actual door and you’re still premed just depends what part of the premed process you’re in. But I think people get very skittish about actually contacting the medical schools directly. So our comment to you is don’t be shy until you actually are an applicant. Then as Ryan said, there are some restrictions on what information can be asked and given and all that. So- well not asked, you can always ask.

Dr. Ryan Gray: You can always ask.

Dr. Allison Gray: Yeah but you know, certainly before you actually submit your applications, be open, call them. Just you know, make sure you know what you want to say before you call so you don’t sound like a crazy person and you hang up the phone because you’re too nervous or something.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah. There was also- speaking with Dr. Polites from Wash U who’s a premed advisor there as well as somebody that’s involved with admissions at the medical school. I interviewed him back in session 23 and session 35, and I believe in both or one of those we talked about community colleges as well. So that’s where you can get some more information about community colleges. So the next question is about volunteering options. Allison, you want to talk about that one?

Volunteering Experiences

Dr. Allison Gray: Sounds good. So this person, Bethany, talks about her experiences with volunteering and she’s asking where- what kinds of things can she do in a volunteering way? What kinds of volunteer opportunities could she participate in that are not really healthcare based? And it’s interesting, she talked about how she’s a nontrad and she’s been working as an EMT- or I’m sorry, not as an EMT but as a volunteer on an ambulance, and for quite a long time, for seven years. But she’s now looking for what other volunteering opportunities are out there. This is a great question, and I think you can hear more about this on episode 68 with the University of Utah Assistant Dean of Admissions. And he and Ryan talk about the difference between shadowing opportunities that you can have with a physician and patient exposure. Because there really is a difference there. And shadowing is sort of more of a passive activity, interacting with patients, patient experience, that’s really more getting your hands dirty. So they’re making a distinction there, and I definitely recommend you all go back and listen to that episode if you haven’t. But it’s important when you think about opportunities- the experiences really is the word I’m looking for, that you’ve had. You want both clinical experiences and also some volunteering. And the clinical experience part is a given, because you’re trying to show medical schools- you really have to in this day in age, that you have taken the time to spend time with a physician to really try and understand what they go through on a daily basis. What life is like as a practicing physician. And you have to be really- as we always say, close enough to smell the patient because you have to be- you have to have that interaction with patients alongside that physician to really get a sense of the totality of it all, about what is it all about. But I think- and medical school admissions committees would agree, it’s really important to have other volunteering types of experiences. Part of that is showing that you have the ability to put others first, to give of yourself to other people, to give back to your community, because these are things that as physicians we- that’s part of what we do, that’s part of what we should be doing is to give back. And-

Dr. Ryan Gray: We talked a lot about that with our session on burnout back in session 47, we talked a lot about why we burn out and it’s because we’re putting others before ourselves.

Dr. Allison Gray: Yeah, so there’s a balance there, absolutely. But I think it’s really important if you’ve gone through your whole life and you’ve never really had the opportunity to give back to another person, a community, a group of people, in a way that’s not about just forwarding your own life and your own ambitions. You’re really missing out, it’s a really important thing in this life, in my opinion, to give back to other people, and not just because it’s a resume booster, because you’re trying to put it on your application for this, that or the other. And-

Dr. Ryan Gray: Before you get into some of these finer details, you mentioned earlier that you’re trying to show to admissions committees that you-

Dr. Allison Gray: So that’s true.

Dr. Ryan Gray: That you’re showing them that you like medicine, you’re aware of all of the heartaches, and blah, blah, blah. But it’s also showing yourself what you’re getting into-

Dr. Allison Gray: Oh 100%.

Dr. Ryan Gray: And making sure that you actually like being around patients.

Dr. Allison Gray: Yes, and I think that’s the other side of it. They’re- both of those are equally important. And so I think with volunteering, someone once told me don’t do something that you’re going to do just for the sole purpose of putting it on your application. You want whatever you’re going to volunteer in, whatever you want to participate in to really be something that you take hold of, that you enjoy, that you- that you devote yourself to. Because it’s going to be very obvious to people when you are asked about it. You know, “So tell me about that experience you had when you went to Honduras and you built homes for this community of people,” and you’re totally not interested and talk about how you went to the beach the whole time or something. It’s- not that many of you I’m sure would do that, but it’s important to find something that you connect with and ideally maybe you’ve been doing this anyway, but if you see that you’re going to apply for something and you need some volunteer experience, try to look for something that you can really connect with. And so to answer your question Bethany, what suggestions for people who want to branch outside of healthcare for meaningful and qualifying, as you put it, volunteer experience. So there are so many different things that you can do. You can volunteer at a senior center and read to elderly people, play cards with them, spend time with them. You can volunteer with the Boys and Girls club, you can volunteer with Big Brother / Big Sister, which is a wonderful program where you interact with kids who have had difficult time for one reason or another and they’re looking for a mentor. You can also volunteer- a lot of colleges and high schools have volunteering opportunities for tutoring, which don’t- you don’t get paid for anything but just an opportunity to help the other individual with whatever subject that they’re having trouble with. You can volunteer in terms of- also in a lot of schools they have enormous numbers of volunteer opportunities where you can go abroad to different locations. My friend in college participated in a program called Three Amigos where she went to different countries in Central America and absolutely loved it.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Wouldn’t it be Tres Amigos?

Dr. Allison Gray: It might actually be called that and I apologize. But- and she just actually went for her reunion recently and Habitat for Humanity is another wonderful one. So there are just tons and tons and tons of great volunteering opportunities out there. And I don’t think that this has to have as much sort of strict criteria around it as the clinical experience does. When we think about clinical experience you have to be close enough to smell the patient, working alongside a physician; those are equally important. And for enough period of time where it’s not just like once or twice. For volunteering, I think you still want to be doing something where you’re doing it for at least a significant period of time. Again, not just once or twice. But there are far fewer restrictions on it I would say, wouldn’t you, Ryan? I mean really the sky is the limit. As long as you’re giving of yourself to another person or people, you’re not getting paid, and you’re doing it more than once or twice.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah. And it’s something that’s meaningful.

Dr. Allison Gray: Yeah.

Dr. Ryan Gray: You just mentioned not more than once or twice; this is something where you want to show consistently, just like with- shadowing you can kind of get away with a little bit, but the clinical experience you’re going to have to- and there are some differences there as well.

Dr. Allison Gray: We can give our own examples. I mean tell- share with us what you did when-

Dr. Ryan Gray: I did Habitat.

Dr. Allison Gray: Okay.

Dr. Ryan Gray: I loved doing Habitat.

Dr. Allison Gray: I didn’t know you did Habitat.

Dr. Ryan Gray: I did Big Brothers / Big Sisters, too.

Dr. Allison Gray: Yeah, I did Big Brother / Big Sister, I also volunteered at an epilepsy ward at the Montreal Neurological Institute when I was in college where we would just go around and hang out with the epilepsy patients who were there for monitoring and play cards with them, or talk with them, read with them.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah, there’s a ton of opportunities, you just got to get out there and look. But Habitat is most definitely my favorite and it’s funny because Bethany said, “Something other than Habitat.”

Dr. Allison Gray: Maybe she doesn’t like to- well with Habitat you build houses, right?

Finding Advisors or Mentors

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah, you do. Alright moving on. So Brianna asked a question about finding an advisor or mentor. She graduated from a college in 2012, and she’s in touch with her advisor, but she’s finding it difficult finding answers to premed questions. And she’s looking for where she can find this advisor relationship. So my first thought was since she graduated from a university to go back to their prehealth offices and say, “I’m a graduate of your institution, I’m an alumni here, and I would like some help.” A lot of these health professions advising offices will continue to advise graduates. So if you still have questions, go back to them first.

Dr. Allison Gray: And she actually even said that, but I guess the struggle is she’s no longer on campus, and that can be challenging.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah.

Dr. Allison Gray: Because it’s that face-to-face time, right?

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah, yeah. So there are other places. Obviously the Internet is there, there’s all of the resources that we talked about actually a couple podcasts ago about ten premed resources. You can go to Reddit, you can go to Twitter, you can go to Student Doctor Network.

Dr. Allison Gray: I like how you coughed through that one, I was wondering if you were going to mention it. Yeah if you’re looking for advice, and honest and up-to-date information I probably wouldn’t go there.

Dr. Ryan Gray: We won’t knock it too much.

Dr. Allison Gray: No, no, no it’s okay.

Dr. Ryan Gray: So those are places you can go to. And then you can look at medical schools. Don’t think that for premed advising that- you can go to the medical schools just as we were talking about. They’ll answer questions. Just say, “Hey, I’ve graduated, I’m kind of in limbo here, I really want to go to your school, what do you recommend?” Or go to them with your thoughts on what you are doing, don’t just go with a blank slate. Go with what you have planned out and ask what their advice is, then you’re getting it straight from them.

Dr. Allison Gray: Yeah, and some of you may be thinking, ‘Well gosh you guys can ask them, you’re already out and you’re practicing.’ But we really mean it. We have talked to so many advisors and- on admissions- sorry, not so many advisors. Well, them too. But so many admissions officers at this point, and I remember at a conference we were at last year, they kept saying, “Please ask us. We are- don’t be afraid, come tell us what’s going on with you. What are-” and by ‘you’ they’re talking about the premed student. “Let us know what your concerns are, and we’re happy to talk with you.” They said that so many times.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah. So don’t forget about them. And then there are paid premed advisors. And it’s typically very expensive. There are a couple out there that’s $300 – $400 an hour to talk to people, there’s package that are $3,000 – $4,000. And that’s a stretch.

Dr. Allison Gray: That’s an option.

Dr. Ryan Gray: But it’s an option, and obviously these companies are there and they’re out there doing their thing, so people are paying for it. And one of the things that Allison and I thought about when we started the Academy was how crazy these prices were, and how most premeds can’t afford it. But kind of along the same lines as doing a question and answer podcast like this, is we get so many questions and how great would it be if we could kind of aggregate all that information in one community, and that’s why we started the Academy. So it is a paid premed advising site, but it’s very different. It’s a small monthly fee, but you get monthly office hours with us, you get the community aspect, you get webinars and a bunch of other stuff. So that’s- we are premed advisors in the Academy. It’s a paid option which not everybody can afford, but pretty cheap. Go to and you can find out more.

Dr. Allison Gray: Yeah if you buy a couple pizzas a month you can afford it.

Dr. Ryan Gray: A couple pizzas? Like four coffees from Starbucks.

Dr. Allison Gray: There you go, yeah. Four mocha lattes and you’re set.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah.

Dr. Allison Gray: But we really- we love interacting with the community and providing as much information and advice as we can give. And we interact one-on-one and the community is made up of a whole- you know a ton of premeds and other- and experts as you will, just sharing information and in a collaborative way. So we’re delighted to help folks who want to participate.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah, So the next question from Camille, who asks- he’s a senior in high school which is awesome. Isn’t that cool we have high school students listening?

Comparing Medical Schools on Cost

Dr. Allison Gray: Oh I love it, absolutely.

Dr. Ryan Gray: High school senior, he wanted to get into Harvard or Yale but that’s okay that you didn’t get in there because that’s okay. There’s a big study about getting into those top notch schools and your perception of happiness just drops.

Dr. Allison Gray: Is that true?

Dr. Ryan Gray: That’s- yeah, yeah.

Dr. Allison Gray: I wonder why.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Because you’re being compared now on a level with other people that are just way above what you’re used to, and you’re there and it’s a stretch, and you’re working probably harder than you thought you might be. And so your happiness just drops.

Dr. Allison Gray: Interesting.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Where- and your grades might not be as good, and you’re- it’s just- there’s a- I think it was in the book ‘Decisive.’ Didn’t we- we read that together?

Dr. Allison Gray: Yeah, and I-

Dr. Ryan Gray: Or listened to it together.

Dr. Allison Gray: Yes. And I would say that many of the smartest people out there are Harvard rejects. It’s true.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yes. Are you one of them?

Dr. Allison Gray: Of course. Well, sort of. I was up until residency and then I- and now I’m Harvard trained, but yeah. Oh I was a Harvard reject, I was rejected from Harvard undergrad and Harvard med. I’ll be honest, we’re all about authenticity here.

Dr. Ryan Gray: So Camille is asking- his two top choices are Quinnipiac and UConn. And his- really his question is around finances. Quinnipiac is $17,000 a year versus UConn is $6,000 a year which is awesome. I’d always advocate for the cheaper price. The name on your diploma doesn’t really matter that much. It’s what you’re putting into the effort at the school that’s what’s going to matter.

Dr. Allison Gray: It’s so true. You know even at the Harvard of Canada where I went to school at McGill, they- I will never forget the head of the entire science school- science faculty got up at the front of the room in front of all these hundreds and hundreds of freshman, of new students who were all going to be in different areas of science; Physiology, Bio, you name it. And he took out a big top hat and he had his hand out, and he said, “Okay I’m going to put my hand in here, and who thinks that I’m going to get a rabbit out?” And he had this like magician’s outfit on so of course everybody raised their hand and they thought, ‘Yeah, you know he’s going to pull out a rabbit.’ So he reached his hand in, and he pulled out nothing. And he said, “So answer me smart people, I put my hand in and I didn’t get anything out of it, why is that?” And someone raised their hand and he said, “Yes?” And they said, “Because you didn’t put anything in.” So his whole point to this was you will only get out of it what you put in, and that stuck with me forever.

Dr. Ryan Gray: That’s awesome, I like it. So you’re saying all magic tricks are fake?

Dr. Allison Gray: Yes, that’s my whole point.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah. So Camille, he’s saying, “Okay $17,000 versus $6,000.” Obviously that’s one choice. But then he goes on to differentiate that he’s getting into the regional campus of UConn which is maybe a little bit different, a little bit smaller, less chances of research, and should that change his decision any more? And I responded back to him already and I obviously mentioned the first thing, that the cost should definitely play a huge role. You don’t want to be in medical school and have this huge burden of undergrad debt, even though you don’t have to start paying it yet because you’re still in school, you’re still in your educational journey. But the other piece of that was again, you get out of it what you put into it. So there are plenty- you will be able to find plenty of research opportunities at a small regional campus. You’ll be able to find plenty of shadowing experiences. There are doctors everywhere. So you can find some shadowing experiences, you can find maybe some clinical research experience, maybe not bench research, maybe they don’t have a lot of labs doing research. But there’s plenty of opportunity there. So if you can go to a regional campus for a little bit, might be a little bit cheaper too going to regional, I don’t know. And then transferring to the larger campus after a couple years or staying at the regional campus, it’s not that big of a deal in my opinion.

Dr. Allison Gray: Yeah, I think people- I agree, I think people worry a lot about the name and I think- again your grades will speak for themselves, and the other things that you’ve done, your MCAT scores, all these different things. The name is less important.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright. Next question.

Autobiographical Sketches / Personal Statements

Dr. Allison Gray: Alright, so this next question is from Tara, and he is asking about- actually I think I apologize, ‘she’ is asking about autobiographical sketches. She says that she’s actually a Canadian student, yay Canada, and she’s looking at the different applications and some are asking for a personal statement, but in some of the Canadian schools they’re asking for an autobiographical sketch. So her question is what is an autobiographical sketch and how do you write one? So I think to answer first, and we did a little background on this just to verify. But an autobiographical sketch for the most part when people are asking for that, is another way of saying personal statement. It’s basically- it’s not asking for your autobiography which would be your entire life’s story, but it’s asking for basically a snapshot of you, a snapshot of your life. And what are the major meaningful things or experiences in your life that make you who you are?

Dr. Ryan Gray: It’s a personal statement.

Dr. Allison Gray: It is, and it’s just another way of sort of saying that. So the thing not to do, I would say, is ‘My name is so-and-so, I was born in so-and-so, and you know-‘ and kind of go from there.

Dr. Ryan Gray: ‘I was here, I worked here.’

Dr. Allison Gray: Right don’t make it a timeline, right? So number one, don’t make it a timeline. I think- well even before that number one, is try to- so these are just some general tips then because she asks you know, how do you write one? So these are- we’ll just provide quickly some tips on how to write a good personal statement. We talk a lot about this in the Academy where we actually review- help review people’s personal statements for them. But number one would be try to hook them. So you want the hook as they call it. It’s an opening statement that is going to get me, the reader, super interested in what you’re going to tell me. And the reason is you have to remember, these admissions committees are looking through hundreds and hundreds, sometimes thousands of applications and personal statements. So if you start out by saying, ‘My name is Allison Gray, and I was born in Dayton, Ohio,’ okay that’s nice, next one? Because that’s just boring, right? Versus, ‘I rushed down the hall-‘ and I mean I can’t come up with something super interesting on the spot because I’m not the best creative writer. But the point is, you know something which is, ‘Oh, what are they talking about? That’s interesting, I want to read more.’ So hook-

Dr. Ryan Gray: There’s a term that I heard today which I need to find- I need to dig around some more and expand on it. It’s ‘make it salty.’

Dr. Allison Gray: Ooh.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Make is salty.

Dr. Allison Gray: Because then you want more, yes, you want-

Dr. Ryan Gray: It’s you need to quench your thirst.

Dr. Allison Gray: Yeah.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Keep getting more.

Dr. Allison Gray: I like that, I like that a lot. So yeah, so make it salty. So really try to hook the reader because again, you have these 5,000 characters or so to really hook people, get them to get who you are, and you’re done.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah the goal is for an admissions committee member to read it or glance over it as they will probably do, and want to find out more about you.

Dr. Allison Gray: And i.e. interview you, right? So don’t make or break yourself. I mean don’t break yourself based on this. Try to just get them interested in who you are. So try to provide a catching first line. Definitely one thing Ryan and I always talk about, this concept of write drunk and edit sober. So that doesn’t mean that the folks at Medical School Headquarters are telling you to go out and get drunk, we’re just saying try to write as if there are- you’re just writing from the heart. There’s no red tape, no editing, just write.

Dr. Ryan Gray: And a famous person said that, we don’t say that.

Dr. Allison Gray: Yes, that’s true, that’s true, exactly. So the reason is that you don’t want to be preventing yourself from getting all of your great ideas out there. The time to edit is afterwards, once you have a whole mess of words on the paper, and ideas. I think the best place to start from, because a lot of times people write in and they say, “Well what am I going to write about? I have no idea what to talk about. How do I start?” The best way to start is just sit down and- if it’s hard to write just talk it out, and I know-

Dr. Ryan Gray: Record it on your phone or anything.

Dr. Allison Gray: Yeah, exactly, or just pull your significant other or your best friend aside, your dog even, whatever, and just start talking about what are the key experiences, clinical experiences you’ve had where you interacted with a patient that really propelled you or solidified for you in your mind, ‘This is why I want to become a physician.’ I’m sure for all of you out there who’ve had clinical experience, you hopefully have had at least one or two of these experiences that were just so meaningful to you in one way or another. Either because they were tragic, or because they were so exciting or just whatever it was, you’ll carry those stories with you, those experiences forever and you can draw from those when you’re writing your personal statement. Another reason that we always say if you can, keep a journal with you. So those are some just basic points about how to write a good- or at least a starting place to- and if you’re interested in learning more, you know certainly in the Academy we talk a lot about it. But I’m sure at some point Ryan and I will do another podcast about personal statements.

Dr. Ryan Gray: We did one, it was a little bit more towards residency personal statements. But we did another one with Vinny, Dr. Vinny Arora.

Dr. Allison Gray: Yes.

Dr. Ryan Gray: But two other tips on that. So the write drunk, edit sober. And then show, don’t tell.

Dr. Allison Gray: Oh that’s my other big one, yeah.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah, it’s another big one that we heard somewhere else that we kind of stole. But it’s just generally good advice.

Dr. Allison Gray: We didn’t steal, we borrowed.

Dr. Ryan Gray: We borrowed, we always borrow. And it’s- if you’re reading your personal statement, and it’s something I look for. If it’s ‘I,’ ‘I,’ ‘I did,’ ‘I saw,’ ‘I- I- I,’ then you’re telling. We’re looking for showing. So if you say, ‘I’m empathic,’ or ‘I enjoy working with the impoverished,’ or ‘I enjoy the operating room,’ or whatever. Show us how you enjoy that by talking about your experience in the operating room. Show us a moment in your life where you were empathic; that’s what we’re looking for, that’s what admissions committees are looking for.

Dr. Allison Gray: Yeah, I always feel like, ‘Oh,’ when I read when somebody writes that. Like, ‘I’m an empathic person.’ Like oh gee, just show me that, don’t tell me because it’s just- it’s so different.

Dr. Ryan Gray: And then the other piece of advice, just writing advice, is you don’t have to write from start to finish.

Dr. Allison Gray: Oh yeah, not at all.

Dr. Ryan Gray: You can just start writing about a story, and then jump around, and just keep writing and worry about everything at the very end.

Dr. Allison Gray: Yeah, organize later.

Dr. Ryan Gray: And a lot of people say don’t write the beginning until the end once you understand what the whole picture looks like, then you’ll write a better beginning.

Dr. Allison Gray: Definitely. You know write it all out, organize it, and then the final thing is don’t forget to edit for grammar and typos, because the last thing you want to do is have this beautiful personal statement and then they find all these spelling errors because you were just worried so much about the content that you forgot about the silly stuff. But it will stick out like a sore thumb if you have some typos in there and spelling errors. So just check those over before you submit.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yes.

Dr. Allison Gray: Seems like a no brainer.

Dr. Ryan Gray: You would think.

Dr. Allison Gray: Yeah.

Dr. Ryan Gray: And I’ve talked to admissions committee members that say they’ll toss an application for spelling stuff.

Dr. Allison Gray: Yeah because again it’s sort of- it may come across as being lazy or not caring enough, and that’s the last thing you want to say, right?

Appropriate Questions to Ask

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah. So last question here from Meredith who’s a high school Spanish teacher which is awesome. She’s definitely nontraditional. And she’s asking about questions to ask while on admissions tours or questions to ask maybe during the interview, questions to ask in general to find out some more about a school. What are your thoughts on that?

Dr. Allison Gray: I think that I would just- in terms of like the do’s and don’ts. So I think you can’t really be faulted for asking any question, even if there’s something that you read off the website and you feel like you want to ask something related to that; you’re not going to get faulted for that. I mean you’re showing interest, you showed up number one with a question. The last thing you want is to not have any questions, that’s not good. So if you’re in an interview and they say, “What questions do you have for me?” At least if you ask a question that’s pretty easily searchable from the website, okay fine. But ideally try to have something which is not so boring, you know what I mean? Because-

Dr. Ryan Gray: Something you can find black and white.

Dr. Allison Gray: Yeah, because you want to- the idea- okay so let’s say you ask this question and they give you the answer. Okay then what, right?

Dr. Ryan Gray: No follow-up, no discussion.

Dr. Allison Gray: Yeah you want something if you can that’s going to show that you’re trying to stimulate discussion. So recently just to give an example, we were talking with one of our members about- he’s applying now to medical school and one of the schools that he’s applying to, their school is actually on probation right now.

Dr. Ryan Gray: We were doing a mock interview with him.

Dr. Allison Gray: We were.

Dr. Ryan Gray: And this was a question that he came prepared with.

Dr. Allison Gray: Yes. And it’s interesting because someone might say, “Well gosh, you’re going to ask?” So he was going to ask why- not just “Why are you on probation?” Because I think that was easily searchable.

Dr. Ryan Gray: “How will this affect me?”

Dr. Allison Gray: Right. “How will this affect me as a student?” And that, you might say, “Well jeez that’s kind of a touchy subject,” but really that’s great because it’s showing that number one you’ve done your research, you know what’s going on with the school, you’ve tried- or at least you’ve tried to find out what you can about what’s going on with the school, and you’re asking a really insightful question. “How is that going to affect my education?” And it’s going to simulate- I keep saying simulate, what I mean is stimulate discussion with that other person. So don’t be afraid about asking hard questions. I think- you know I wouldn’t necessarily say, “Well what do you not like about being an educator here?” or something that’s kind of just negative. But I don’t think you need to be afraid about asking more tough questions that can really, really stimulate a lot of that good discussion at an interview.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah, opinion-based questions are okay, and that’s something that we had talked a lot about with Dr. Wagner back in session 19- which all these session numbers that we’re talking about you can get at and then whatever number of the episode or session. Or you can go to and that will give you everything.

Dr. Allison Gray: Absolutely.

Dr. Ryan Gray: But with Dr. Wagner, she’s been the Dean of Admissions at three different medical schools; at Rush, Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine and University of Colorado. So she knows her stuff.

Dr. Allison Gray: Oh yeah.

Dr. Ryan Gray: This has been her life. And we talked about questions to ask, and so go back and listen to that one. But she definitely said opinion-based questions are okay. And actually a different mock interview we were doing with one of our applicants, the Academy applicants, was he had asked, “Would you want your daughter to go to medical school here? Or your son?” Or whatever. I thought that was a really good question.

Dr. Allison Gray: Yeah, it was a very interesting question.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah.

Dr. Allison Gray: The other thing too I would add, Meredith also asked about what you can ask on tours. So tours are often different because they’re given by a student, a current medical student. And in that situation I do think it’s totally acceptable, and actually a really good idea to ask that student, “What do you not like about being here?” Or maybe phrase it differently, “What have you found most challenging about being a medical student here?” I think that’s probably the best way to ask that question. And the reason is this is your time, I mean this is the key time to find out that information. Now they may- I really don’t think- I mean some schools some students, they might sugarcoat it, but really they don’t need to. There’s no reason for them to sugarcoat it. Everybody wants to get into medical school, so it’s not like it’s some job and they’re trying to make sure they only show you the good side of it. No, I mean they’re probably going to be honest with you about what the challenges are. I can tell you if I had given a tour in my medical school, I would have been very blunt about what was great, what was challenging. So don’t be afraid to ask that information because it may be your only opportunity to really find out.

Dr. Ryan Gray: And if you don’t go on a tour beforehand, during your interview day is a good time to go find some students and typically you’re available to go ask students. The students are the best people to ask questions to.

Dr. Allison Gray: They really are. They’re on the frontlines, they’re doing this, and they’re a hop, skip and a jump right from where you want to be so ask them those questions. Lunch is a great time often, where medical students will sit with you and can answer your questions. I would just say be cautious too because you are always being observed, so if you say something because you think it’s sort of a casual encounter with a medical student and you don’t think that they’re really- I mean remember, they’re working closely with the admissions committees. So you don’t want to-

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah they’ll go back and give feedback.

Dr. Allison Gray: Right, there will always be feedback. But don’t be afraid about asking challenging questions. Just- oh one final piece of advice, don’t ever argue with them about the price of parking. Because I kid you not, I think I’ve told this story one other time on the podcast. There was someone- the residency program, not in the program but an applicant who actually got into an argument about the cost of parking.

Dr. Ryan Gray: For that day? Or for like if he was a resident there, or she.

Dr. Allison Gray: No if he or she was a resident there.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Wow.

Dr. Allison Gray: And I’ll tell you- I mean it wasn’t super cheap, but it wasn’t super expensive, it doesn’t matter though. I mean this was a very accomplished person from the story that I’ve heard, and the application was tossed in the garbage, so sad, so sad.

Dr. Ryan Gray: That’s awesome. But if they’re going to- yeah I don’t even want to.

Dr. Allison Gray: Anyway, but yeah. So- but great question Meredith.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Okay. Any other final thoughts Allison?

Final Thoughts

Dr. Allison Gray: I think just keep sending us these and like Ryan said, we love any form of question, audio is the best because it allows us to hear directly from you in your lovely voice, we won’t butcher your name then and we get to really even more clearly get to interact with you. But keep sending us your questions. If you don’t feel like speaking directly, or you have a little bit of public speaking anxiety then feel free to email us and we will try as best we can to get back to you as quickly as possible, and we just love it, yeah.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah. So we talked about it a lot today, and it was kind of- not intended to but we talked about the Academy a lot.

Dr. Allison Gray: I think it’s just because we really enjoy it. We’re having a blast with it.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah, and what we were talking about was- and involved with that as well. So if you have no idea what this Academy thing is that we keep talking about, go to It’s an extension of what we do with the podcast, it’s group premed advising, we have a community of seventy plus premed students, we have other physicians there, we have medical students in there, all offering advice. We do monthly question and answer kind of office hours, we do monthly webinars. This month we kind of pushed aside the webinar just because we did three straight weeks of mock interviews for the students that are applying this year, helping them with their applications, personal statement reviews, all that kind of stuff. So it’s awesome.

Also we want to remind you, go check out, our partner magazine, the Premed Life Magazine, awesome content they have over there.

And one last thing I want to talk about today are the two five star ratings and reviews that came in from you, from listeners. We have AmbieSJ that says, “Love it. This podcast has helped me realize that my dream of becoming a physician is attainable.” Attainable. And that- I think I’ve mentioned it a couple times, that if I can get one person that leaves Student Doctor Network and thinks that they can’t become a physician, and they listen to our podcast and they realize that they can, then I’ve won. That I’ve done my job. And so that AmbieSJ just proved that we’re doing our job.

Dr. Allison Gray: Yeah.

Dr. Ryan Gray: And so we’re shutting down.

Dr. Allison Gray: Just kidding! JK!

Dr. Ryan Gray: JK, really? Anyway. You know we’re not going anywhere yet. So AmbieSJ, thank you for that. And then we have Xavier OrozcoPR who says, “#bestpremedpodcast.” I don’t know if that’s the place for hashtags, but I love it.

Dr. Allison Gray: I love it.

Dr. Ryan Gray: “This podcast is just great, third year computer engineer- comp engineer major. Switched to biotechnology,” and he says keep going because he recommends the podcast to all his friends.

Dr. Allison Gray: That’s awesome, thank you guys so much.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah, thank you. If you found this podcast helpful, if you want to help us be exposed to more students that are looking for this type of content, go to where you can leave an honest rating and review. Five stars would be awesome, but we realize not all of you think that. So whatever honest feedback you have for us, that’d be great.

We’re up to 180 five star ratings.

Dr. Allison Gray: Wow.

Dr. Ryan Gray: That’s awesome.

Dr. Allison Gray: That’s so great, it’s just awesome, thank you guys.

Dr. Ryan Gray: 176 in the United States.

Dr. Allison Gray: Wow.

Dr. Ryan Gray: We have four from outside the US, that’s awesome. Alright so I think that’s it for today.

Dr. Allison Gray: Yeah.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Thank you for taking the time again as always to listen to us, we greatly appreciate each week you coming and putting us in your ears and running with us, or driving with us, and learning from us. So if you have questions go to, you can leave some audio feedback there, you can shoot us an email from there as well. So as always again I hope you learned a lot from today’s podcast. And I hope you join us next time here at the Medical School Headquarters.

Hey if you liked listening to this type of content, questions and answers, we’re thinking about starting a whole new podcast. A question and answer podcast where we’ll take one question from a listener that calls in and leaves a question, and we’ll answer that, and we’ll do that on a weekly basis or maybe even more than a weekly basis depending on how many questions we get in. So even if you may know an answer to something, but you think it’s a great question that people should know, then leave us a question. Go to, leave us an audio feedback question, and we’re going to try to start a whole new podcast.