Join me this week for a special IG Live with Pooja from Blueprint MCAT’s Live Online team to tackle all of your MCAT and application questions.
For more podcast resources to help you with your medical school journey and beyond, check out Meded Media.
Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.
[05:02] How to Do Well on the MCAT
Q: What is your biggest tip for doing well on the MCAT?
A: Pooja recommends that you take care of yourself during the process. A lot of people will neglect this. Because if you’re super-stressed and you’re not sleeping, you’re not going to be able to perform well on practice tests anyways so you just end up hurting yourself.'Make sure you're doing the things that continue to make you happy and take care of yourself.'Click To Tweet
[06:26] Handling Virtual One-Way Interview
Q: What is your best advice for a virtual one-way interview?
A: You just have to get used to talking to a camera. And for most people, this is very awkward. So just be your positive natural self. Don’t get freaked out by the limited responses that you get from other people.
For virtual, one-way interviews, pretend there’s someone behind the camera. But for one on one interviews, you’re actually talking to someone. And I recommend that you don’t look at the camera because then you’re not looking at their face. You can’t see their facial expressions and their micro-expressions and how they’re reacting to what you’re saying and what their body language is.
[10:51] How to Write a Proper Letter of Intent
Q: I’m waiting to hear back from some MD schools interviewed. How does one go about sending a proper Letter of Intent?
A: Pooja recommends making it very clear in terms of what you’ve been up to since applying and why you’re a good fit for that school by showing them. Don’t just tell them.
Demonstrate the qualities that you have that the school values. Some schools are more research-intensive. Others are more primary care intensive. Just be mindful of that when you’re drafting that letter.
Pooja adds that don’t be afraid to name-drop. If there’s a specific professor or program that you’re interested in, put that in there.
Show them that you have a vested interest and that you care enough about their school to put the effort in. They want to know that you have an intention and that you’re not just sending this letter out to every single school that hasn’t gotten back to you yet.
[14:34] Postbac Linkage
Postbac linkage is if you get a good enough GPA in a specific postbac program, you have assured an interview. But if you’re getting great grades anyway, you’re probably going to get interviews elsewhere as well.
Pooja adds it doesn’t make sense on hedging your own bets and removing yourself up to options by trying to go to one school to wait for a linkage.
[16:26] Looking for Shadowing Opportunities
Q: How do we get shadowing?
A: You could get a job in a hospital setting and get that networking and exposure to other people. Then they could let you explore and get the things you want to try to do in the clinical setting.
For instance, you could have a clinical research coordinator position and work 100 hours in that job. 75% of it might have been the clinical stuff, and 25% of it might have been shadowing, so you can split it up. Just because you were paid for that time, doesn’t mean you can’t list it as shadowing on your application.
[19:03] Doing What You Love
Q: Is there anything that I should be doing right now while I’m at a community college doing my prereqs?
A: Pooja says if you have free time and you have flexibility in your schedule, you should 100% take advantage of that right. Free time as a premed student is often a rare commodity so make sure that you take advantage of that time to do other things.
If you’re doing a lot of volunteer work and you love it, continue to do that. Build on that in any way you can. But if that isn’t something you love, try to find something that you’re super interested in. There is no right opportunity. It’s whatever makes your heart sing.
On the other hand, where red flags are when it comes to an application is a lack of clinical experience or shadowing. Just make sure you’re getting those types of experiences even now.“Make sure you like being in a hospital setting and you like taking care of patients before you dip your toes into taking classes because that may be a waste of time in the long run.”Click To Tweet
[26:19] No Shadowing Experience
Q: I don’t have any shadowing, because I’ve been working as a physician assistant for 14 years.
A: It’s a super common question, specifically, nurses wherein they’re going to medical school and have been a nurse for eight years, whether they need shadowing. And the answer is yes. There are schools out there that will filter you out if you don’t have any shadowing on your application. So just be careful with that.
You may be working as a PA which is similar, but you’re not seeing to get a full scope of what that physician’s job is.
[28:00] Wondering About MCAT Timeline
Q: I recently found out that I’m going to do an extra year so I’m going to be a fifth-year instead of a fourth-year. But I wanted to understand when should I take the MCAT? I know there are going to be gap years. Should I do a master’s? I do have clinical and shadowing experience.
A: Depending on where you are in your series of courses, you might not be ready to take the MCAT in the next three, four, or five months.'The MCAT has unwritten prereqs where you should have taken these classes so you have the science foundation to take the MCAT to do well on the MCAT.'Click To Tweet
Ideally, if you’re applying next cycle, you’re taking the MCAT from January to April of 2022, which is in the blink of an eye. Based on your timeline of courses, you’re not going to be ready to take the MCAT by then.
The best-case scenario to set yourself up for success is to take the MCAT from January to April 2023 and apply to medical school in 2023 to start in 2024.
Note: We’ve just given this student a six-month Blueprint live online course. So be sure to participate in our next Instagram Live for a chance to win a free giveaway.
[35:41] Chosen Major and Community Volunteering
Q: Does the difficulty of a major have some impact on admission to medical school?
A: No, almost none.
Q: I was looking recently for community volunteering. I came across an interesting one that was related to action on universal health care and certain aspects of that from a political perspective. They were basically trying to train and mobilize people for things like universal health care, or treatment for veterans, and things like that. Now, is that something that would be a reasonable thing to do as my main volunteering, if I think it’s important?
A: At the end of the day, your application should be filled with YOU. Write the things you feel are important in this world, not the things that you think medical schools want to see. Yes, you need clinical experience. Yes, you should have some shadowing, ideally, right there. And so, if you feel it’s important, do it.“Write the things you feel are important in this world, not the things that you think medical schools want to see.”Click To Tweet
Pooja adds that it’s very clear that you care a lot and know a lot about what you would potentially be doing. And that is what will make you stand out.
Every school wants a diversity of applicants, not only in their background but also in their thought and their experiences. And so if you’re doing things that you like, that will make you unique. You’re not trying to fill this arbitrary checklist. But you’re doing things that you care about and finding ways to integrate that with your medical interests.
Q: I am a nontraditional student who currently has a career in marketing. I have a Bachelor of Arts in liberal arts. And my goal is to start medical school fall of 2024 and to take the MCAT on January 23. I’m kind of fuzzy on everything leading up to that point.
What I’ve done this year, just to prove to myself that I really could tackle the harder math and sciences was take some classes at the community college. I’m wondering now if having such a significant number of hours at a community college for those prereq requisites is going to be an issue.
I would like to transfer to a four-year university to finish them out but I’m finding that a lot of them will only admit me to finish out a bachelor of sciences.
I’ve done significant volunteering and clinical social work. And I feel like I have a really strong story there of why I want to transfer over. What I’m planning to do is finish my certification for EMT basic by end of December, and actually start that as my full-time or like 30 to 40 hours a week job in January. So I would have something to help me continue to tell a story and prove that I’ve had clinical experience.
A: First off, you’re perfectly fine to stay at community college since you already have your first degree. Ultimately, try to reach out to a few medical schools, and just ask them what their thoughts are. As a nontrad student, you’re basically doing a do-it-yourself postbac right now.
There’s no need to go to a four-year university assuming that the community college has the courses that you need. But if you want to transfer to a four-year university, and you’re finding that the university local to you is giving you a hard time. And they’re telling you that you need to be degree-seeking, then you can just drop out. There’s no rule that says you have to finish the degree. That doesn’t look bad and you don’t have to put that on your application at all.
[47:14] Overcoming Math Challenges
Pooja shares how she overcame her math challenges. The first is to look up the common math type problems. It’ll be like a seventh-grade website, which will make you feel bad inside, but it will help you.
Do it just so you can develop a solid math foundation. Then do more math problems. And knowing how the MCAT is multiple choice, you don’t need to do the exact math all the time. But just figuring out ways where you can start estimating. Try to create strategies for yourself to reduce the amount of math you have to do.'There's a lot less like math on the MCAT than you initially think.'Click To Tweet
Check out leah4sci on YouTube where she teaches math for the MCAT.
[51:45] Narrowing Down Your School List
Q: Do med schools view kinesiology as a soft major? Is this a myth?
A: No, my major was exercise physiology and Pooja’s major was human physiology.
Q: I have to go through each school in the whole United States to find out which schools fit this algorithm? How can I just narrow it down?
A: As you’re working on your applications, every day, just go through two or three schools, typically through the MSAR that’s probably the best bet for MD schools. Look at what their prereqs are, and see if you’re missing anything. And if you are, either email them and ask if you could substitute it with another class. Because a lot of them are flexible.“For almost every school out there, the prereqs that they have are prereqs before starting med school, not before applying to med school.”Click To Tweet
If there’s one school on there that has this random prereq and you think there’s no way you can get that in before applying, you can still apply to the school. Then just figure out a way to squeeze in the class before starting med school.
Q: Will I have to ask my letter recommendation, people to resubmit another letter recommendation for the following year or will it carry over?
A: Ideally, your letters of recommendation are dated the year of your application because you want them to capture the most recent version of yourself.