In this episode, I talk about some of the most common things I see premed students struggle with—the students I work with for application prep or those doing personal statement editing and mock interview prep.
These are common trends and themes I see in questions directly emailed to me and questions we get over at the Nontrad Premed Forum.
Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.
What I wish every premed would know:
You can go anywhere you want to go for your undergrad education. Go wherever you will be happy.
This includes community college. Too often, they say that community colleges are off-limits. There may be some schools that are going to frown upon that, but that doesn’t mean all schools will.
The key thing here is to consider these things:
- What do you require?
- What fits into your schedule and your budget?
Based on these, figure out what you can do, and if it means going to a community college for a year before transferring to a 4-year college, then great. If it means going to community college for your entire premed requirements, that’s okay too.
[Related episode: Jackie Shares Her Path from Community College to Medical School]
The premed world says you need to go to a top undergrad institution to get into medical school and study all these upper-level science courses to be a competitive applicant for medical school. But that is total crap.
You can major in whatever you want and go to medical school. You can major in the humanities, political science, or basically anything you want and still go to medical school. Study whatever is going to fit best for you.You can major in whatever you want and go to medical school. Click To Tweet
You’ll see a trend here: It’s all about YOU. You cannot go through this process always wondering what someone else thinks you should be doing: “How this is going to look for my application?”
You’re choosing a school and you’re asking, “How is that going to look?” Then you’re choosing your major and you’re asking, “How is this going to look?” You’re looking at volunteering opportunities and thinking, “How is that going to look?” “Does this research look good?” “Does this publication look good?”
You cannot go through your education as a premed thinking that. You’re going to drive yourself crazy and burn yourself out. And in the end, when an admissions committee member looks at your application, they’ll be able to tell if you’re not passionate about anything you’re doing and you’re just checking off boxes.
You have to do what you’re passionate about. So that’s number two, study anything.In the end, when an admissions committee member looks at your application, they'll be able to tell if you're not passionate about anything you're doing and you're just checking off boxes.Click To Tweet
Collaboration, not competition.
Work collaboratively with other people. What’s so great about the MSHQ community—whether it’s in our forums, on the Premed Hangout Facebook Group, or elsewhere—is that students understand that it’s all about working together. It’s about collaboration.
Be nice. Collaborate. Work together with other premeds. Work together with the hospital staff and nurses when you’re getting clinical experience. Be a team member. Don’t compete. Don’t be a gunner. If you throw somebody else under the bus for your gain, it will only come back to hurt you in the end.
Respect the MCAT.
You need to understand, the MCAT is not like any other test you take in your classes. You need to practice for the MCAT just like you’re going to take the real MCAT, which means sitting down for 8 hours for several practice tests and figuring it out.
Check out the best MCAT prep materials at Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep). Use the promo code “MSHQ” and save $50 on their tutoring and classes or save 10% on 10 MCAT practice tests.
Again, take a lot of practice tests.
[Related episode: How Many MCAT Practice Tests Should I Take?]
Understand that there is no checklist for medical school.
You need to go through this process and experience everything through your own eyes, then figure out what directions you want to take.
If you like research, then try to get research experience—but you don’t have to do research. If you’re just going to do it to add it to your application, then don’t do it. Don’t do things just because you think they’re going to look good to the admissions committee—they can see right through that.Don't do things just because you think they're going to look good to the admissions committee—they can see right through that.Click To Tweet
Apply to medical school early in the cycle.
Medical schools have deadlines for the primary application. But most schools also have rolling admissions, so by the time the actual “deadline” rolls around, the schools have already filled up their spots for interviews and acceptances. So apply early, usually around June every year depending on the application service.
[Related episode: What Does the Med School Application Timeline Look Like?]
Writing your personal statement is hard.
It’s hard to write about yourself. The majority of students see the personal statement as an autobiography. That’s not what it is.The majority of students see the personal statement as an autobiography. That's not what it is.Click To Tweet
The purpose of the personal statement is to tell the admissions committee member why you want to be a doctor. So you need to talk about your initial exposure to medicine, the initial seed that got planted in your head, and what has been watering that seed all along the way.
- Why do you want to become a physician?
- What has reinforced your desire to be a physician?
- Why do you want to “waste” four years of your life and accumulate huge debt to become a physician?
- What is driving and motivating you?
This is hard to do. That’s why you need to write several drafts of your personal statement.
[Check out my Personal Statement Editing services here.]
Writing your extracurricular descriptions is just as hard.
You get roughly 725 characters for your extracurricular activities, so it’s hard to squeeze everything in there. Most people write a job description. But that’s not personal enough.
You need to talk about the impact you had with your extracurricular activity, and the impact it had on you. Then this becomes specific to you and not merely a job description.
[Related episode: 5 Common Mistakes Premeds Make with Extracurriculars]
Know your professors to get strong letters of recommendation.
Asking for a letter from somebody who doesn’t know you is not going to be very helpful. You need letters of recommendation from professors who know you well.
So get out there. Introduce yourself to your professors and TAs. Make yourself known so it’s easier for you to go to them at the end of the school year and ask for a strong letter of recommendation.
Don’t look at GPA and MCAT averages to pick the schools you’re going to.
Many times, students look at their GPA and MCAT scores, then they open up the Medical School Application Requirements (MSAR), and they choose which schools to apply to based on their scores. This is the wrong way to go about selecting schools.
GPA and MCAT averages are numbers derived from a lot of high numbers and a lot of low numbers, which are squished together into one number. Plenty of students get accepted with much higher numbers and much lower numbers.
You need to apply to schools that are going to be a fit for you personally. Look at conditions like weather, location, class size, curriculum, research opportunities, affiliated hospitals, and so many other things.
[Related episode: How to Choose Which Medical Schools to Apply To]
You need to prepare for your interviews.
You need to hone your interview skills, and you need to hone your message through doing mock interviews. Prepare for the interview just like you’re preparing for the MCAT: with realistic, simulated practice.
Always keep in mind why you’re doing this.
This is a long process. It’s expensive. It’s grueling, painful, defeating, frustrating, and exhilarating. Truly it’s a little bit of everything.
Keep in mind why you’re doing it—otherwise, you’re going to lose track of yourself and allow those tough times to defeat you. If you lose track of why you’re doing this, you’re going to get down and depressed and you’re going to want to quit. So stay in touch with why you’re doing this.
When you have those long days of MCAT prep, remember why you’re doing it. Picture that patient that you saw while you were shadowing. Remember that patient you saw when you were volunteering at the hospital. Picture yourself in scrubs one day with that stethoscope around your neck, with that short coat on walking around the hospital helping people heal. Imagine yourself doing that.Picture yourself in scrubs one day with that stethoscope around your neck, with that short coat on walking around the hospital helping people heal.Click To Tweet
Know why you’re doing all this work now, and you’ll get through these tough days easier, less jaded, less frustrated, and more willing to help everybody along the path who needs your help, whether that’s patients or your classmates. Remember what it’s all for.
Links and Other Resources
- Check out my Premed Playbook series of books (available on Amazon), with installments on the personal statement, the medical school interview, and the MCAT.
- Related post: Premed 101: What You Need to Know to Get into Medical School.
- Related post: 10 Books Every Premed Should Read (While Not Studying).
- Need MCAT Prep? Save on tutoring, classes, and full-length practice tests by using promo code “MSHQ” for 10% off Next Step full-length practice tests or “MSHQTOC” for $50 off MCAT tutoring or the Next Step MCAT Course at Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep)!