Without the study skills of a type A kind of student, Steven found himself struggling to keep up his grades, here’s how he turned around a 2.4 freshman GPA.
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Steven’s Initial Encounter that Sparked His Interest in Medicine
Steven first realized he wanted to be a doctor when he was around 14 years old and hurt his knee. His mom took them to an orthopedic clinic where he saw a physician assistant and became fascinated by the musculoskeletal system and the work that medical professionals do. This initial encounter sparked his interest in pursuing a career in medicine.
When Steven was around 14 years old, he injured his knee playing basketball. His mom took him to the local orthopedic clinic to get it checked out. There, he was seen by Dr. Smith, a physician assistant. Steven found it fascinating listening to Dr. Smith ask questions and examine his knee to determine the nature of the injury. He was intrigued seeing all the posters on the walls about the musculoskeletal system.
Before leaving, Steven asked Dr. Smith about her job and was surprised to learn she had studied music in college before becoming a PA. This positive experience receiving medical care from knowledgeable professionals sparked Steven’s early interest in pursuing a career in healthcare.
The Difficulty of Avoiding Comparisons Among Highly Motivated Premed Peers
One of the biggest struggles Steven faced as a premed student was constantly comparing himself to others. He was surrounded by highly motivated and accomplished peers who made the rigorous pre-med coursework look easy.
Steven found it difficult not to measure his own progress and achievements against students who seemed further along in the application process. For example, he mentioned feeling intimidated having an upperclassman as his organic chemistry TA, realizing this student already knew the material and had taken the MCAT.
The competitiveness of the premed track made it hard for Steven not to worry about others getting into medical school before him or taking fewer gap years to apply. He had to work hard to avoid getting discouraged by classmates who appeared ahead in their journey.
While Steven tried to portray an outwardly stress-free persona, he admitted internally struggling with these comparisons. It was a challenge not feeling compelled to constantly size himself up against his exceptionally talented peers through this pre-med marathon.
“It’s not a one-to-one competition or anything like that… But you’re just surrounded by it and feel compelled to compare yourself sometimes.”
Steven’s Difficult Transition to College Life Away from Home
Steven’s transition to college life was quite difficult as an out-of-state student. Moving over four hours away from home to attend State University presented some significant challenges for him. While he thrived academically in high school with good grades, college proved a much steeper learning curve.
The faster pace and heavier workload of college-level courses caught Steven off guard. He struggled using the same study habits from high school, which were no longer effective for retaining higher-level course material.
Living so far from campus also made it tough for Steven to fully immerse himself in student life and dedicate sufficient time to his studies. The long commute back home each day drained Steven’s energy. He found it difficult maintaining focus after long travel times. Between adjusting to collegiate rigor and spending hours commuting, Steven’s grades suffered tremendously his freshman year.
With a GPA falling to 1.9, it was clear his high school methods were not serving him well in this new environment away from the support of home.
Steven’s difficult transition highlights how the independence of college life, especially living hours from any support system, posed unforeseen challenges to his academic performance at first. It took time for him to adapt his approach to thrive outside of his familiar high school context.
Reshaping His Premed Journey
During a meeting with his academic advisor, Steven realized he needed to make changes if he wanted to succeed. He moved to an on-campus apartment to reduce his commute. Steven also started attending every office hour and study group session for his tougher classes. This helped him form stronger relationships with professors and peers. With his new commitment to studying, Steven was able to steadily improve his GPA each year.
The Role of a Premed Advisor
Steven’s meeting with his academic advisor proved pivotal in getting his premed journey back on track. When she reviewed his degree plan listing both pre-med and pre-PA goals, she directly asked him to choose one path. This forced Steven to definitively decide whether he wanted to commit to medical school or PA school.
In that moment of crossing out pre-PA, Steven solidified his choice to focus solely on becoming a physician. Having his advisor demand that level of clarity was instrumental in helping Steven clarify his own priorities and direction.
She also took the time to counsel Steven on improving his academic performance given his struggling first semester GPA. The advisor guided him towards resources and strategies to turn things around, like living on campus, attending office hours, and joining study groups.
Her guidance held Steven accountable for taking ownership of his shortcomings and motivated him to make necessary adjustments. With the roadmap and commitment to pre-med she helped establish, Steven was able to steadily improve his grades in subsequent years of undergrad. His advisor played a key role in setting Steven up for future success.
“Surround yourself with people that are doing what you’re what you want to do.”
Gathering Perspectives to Determine the Best Path Forward
When deciding his next steps after graduation, Steven considered pursuing a master’s program during his gap year to strengthen his application given his borderline GPA. He applied to and was hoping to be accepted into a one-year biomedical sciences master’s program.
However, to Steven’s surprise, he did not receive an acceptance into the program. At the time of his application, his senior year grades were not yet finalized and likely would have raised his GPA even higher.
This rejection reinforced Steven’s uncertainty about whether he needed further postgraduate education before applying to medical school. As some of the key factors in his application had not been fully reflected yet, it made Steven question if he was at a disadvantage. He felt that if admissions committees looked at his full profile including upward GPA trends, coursework, clinical experiences, and improved MCAT, it would show he was capable of handling medical school rigor.
In the end, he decided to apply without further postgraduate study and see how his application fared. He was simply trusting his overall upward trends and improvements would demonstrate his ability to succeed in medical school to admissions committees.
Gaining Clinical Experience and Preparing His Application
During his two gap years after graduating college, Steven was determined to strengthen his medical school application. He gained valuable clinical experience working as a medical assistant at a local clinic. This allowed Steven to interact with and care for patients on a regular basis.
Additionally, Steven continued learning about the medical school admissions process from MSHQ’s extensive library of resources like podcasts and YouTube videos. He had been accessing these materials for years, which helped him understand the intricacies and hidden curriculum of applying.
Steven felt these clinical experiences and non-clinical preparation directly addressed weaknesses in his prior application like concerns over his borderline GPA. He also improved his MCAT score substantially through dedicated studying.
By the time Steven formally applied to medical school, he was confident the holistic view of his full profile – including upward academic trends, clinical exposure, and refined personal statement – would demonstrate his readiness to succeed in medical education.
Addressing Past Weaknesses While Emphasizing Growth in the TMDSAS Essays
In the optional TMDSAS essay where applicants can provide unique experiences, Steven briefly addressed his early academic struggles in college. He took full responsibility for his poor freshman grades without making excuses. Steven clearly explained the factors that contributed to his struggles and the specific actions he took to improve, such as moving on-campus and attending office hours regularly.
In the personal characteristics essay, Steven discussed coming from a Mexican-American family and having relatives without health insurance access. He framed this experience as giving him a unique perspective to contribute diverse viewpoints to classroom discussions that could benefit his future patients and physician colleagues.
By directly but succinctly acknowledging his past issues, and then highlighting the strengths he developed from overcoming adversity, Steven aimed to reassure schools that he had matured into a highly motivated applicant committed to serving medically underserved communities.
The Reward of Acceptance
Steven applied to 12 medical schools and received six interviews. On Match Day, he learned he had matched at his top choice of State University Medical School.
Getting that first acceptance validated all of Steven’s hard work and perseverance overcoming academic struggles to achieve his dream of becoming a physician.
Final Words of Wisdom
Never lost sight of your goal.
If he were speaking to his past self or another student facing challenges, Steven would encourage them to never lose sight of their goal of becoming a physician. He would emphasize that while the journey may be long and difficult at times, it is absolutely possible to overcome any obstacles in their path.
Ask for help.
Steven advises students to actively seek help from others when needed. Reaching out to advisors, professors, and peers allows one to gain valuable guidance, support, and perspective during trying periods. No one succeeds in this endeavor alone.
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions.”
Stop comparing yourself to others.
He would also say not to dwell on comparisons to other premeds or be discouraged by slow progress. The most important thing is focusing inward on one’s own continuous growth and learning from mistakes. With hard work and determination over time, students can develop into the type of applicant that medical schools are seeking.
Finding mentors who have faced similar struggles, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds, would give students the encouragement needed to persevere through challenges. Having others believe in one’s abilities helps sustain motivation.
Lastly, Steven believes it is crucial for premeds to prioritize self-care and mental well-being as much as academics. This journey requires resilience over the long haul, so nurturing overall health and balance is just as important for success.