By: Rob Humbracht
Pretend you're a four-year-old trying to draw a rainbow. You know you need the following six colors:*
*(if you correctly noted that you need Indigo too, you're not doing a very good job of being a four-year-old.)
Okay, so you dutifully turn to your crayon box and see the following:
Pretty easy, right? Six colors, six crayons.
Now what if, in addition to the colors above, your crayon box also included:
How do you pick which blue? Is there really a wrong choice? You're only going to pick one if you want your rainbow to look like the ones you've seen in books.
Who has a hard time getting chosen for the rainbow? Anyone who's blue.
FOR MEDICAL SCHOOL, YOU'RE PROBABLY BLUE IF:
- you're majoring in biology, chemistry or physics
- your parents are doctors
- you want to help people
- you're white or Asian
- you go to a "pre-med factory" (like the UC's)
- all of your extracurriculars are designed to get you into medical school
- you don't know your professors that well
Wouldn't you rather be one of the other crayons, competing for fewer spots in the rainbow? What do the reds, oranges, yellows, greens, and purples look like?
If you Google "Medical School Class Profile _____" (followed by the name of the medical school), you can often find a document that shows the profile of the incoming class. Here's one from Ohio State School of Medicine.
Note what the school brags about: the diversity of undergraduate institutions (e.g. Hendrix, Lipscomb, and Wofford), the diversity of undergraduate majors (e.g. Drama, Architecture, Theology), the "unique experiences" of their incoming class. Want to be a different color? Here's your playbook.
Among the most interesting backgrounds from previous students that caught my eye were:
- Carpenter's apprentice
- Disc jockey
- Glassblowing teaching assistant
- High fashion model
- Murder mystery play actress
- Prison basketball program participant
These are pre-meds who followed their non-pre-med passions. They weren't born with these qualities (perhaps except for the fashion model). Instead, they chose to spend their time differently from the blue crayons.
Look, there's nothing wrong with being blue: it's a beautiful color, and we need blue colors in our rainbow. But for every blue crayon, Ohio State accepted a red or a yellow. It's easier to get accepted if you're willing to discover what color you really are.
THE GOOD NEWS: YOU CAN CHANGE COLORS
Feeling blue? Don't worry, you can change to purple or green, but you'll have to prioritize. In addition to the rest of the pre-med checklist (volunteering, leadership, etc.), you'll have to spend time working on the things that make you different.
TIP #1 CULTIVATE NON-MEDICAL INTERESTS
You’re probably thinking that you don’t have time for anything other than studying or racking up hours as a researcher and volunteer. But you’re wrong. There’s no doubt that pre-meds are busy, but if you focus on depth over breadth in your pre-med checklist (fewer activities with deeper commitment), you should be able to manage your time to include things you enjoy.
Everyone is different, but here are just a few fun ideas:
- start an Etsy page for your homemade crafts
- try your hand at investigative journalism or slam poetry
- create your own board game
- record original songs
- plan an unusual sightseeing or hiking trip (hot sulfur geysers, cross country skiing, etc)
- join the debate or speech team
- make a documentary
- experiment with original recipes and baked dishes
- audition for a play on campus
- design a smartphone app
These activities should be fun and provide respite from the stress of your life, but hopefully they also offer some enrichment, creative expression, and reflection along the way. Besides their intrinsic value, these activities will help your application, essays, and interviews stand out.
TIP #2 TAKE A SELF-INVENTORY
Many pre-meds we encounter consider themselves to be average. They cower when they read essay prompts about diversity, and they insist there’s nothing unique about them.
But that’s probably because they’ve been misled about what’s okay to include and emphasize in the application. They often hesitate to deviate from typical narratives about struggle or growing up in a low-income area. Unknowingly, they ignore great material or don’t think hard enough about what makes their lives interesting.
Take a long, hard look at what you’ve done. You might be a different pre-med color than you actually realize. Find old resumes from when you were applying to college, internships, or previous jobs. You might discover a golden nugget that you had forgotten. Ask your close friends and family whether any of your past activities or experiences stick out to them.
TIP #3 GO BACK IN TIME
Not literally, of course (although that would certainly help many pre-meds).
We’re referring to those activities you participated in during childhood and high school that you’ve abandoned.
Don’t take up piano or violin again if you hated it in the first place. But you should still consider the activities that you were either too busy or too immature to appreciate at the time. If you return to an activity with a new approach in the present, you can convey personal growth through your writing and discussion of it in your application and interviews. It’s also possible that what you did before you were pre-med - when you had more time to be you - is potentially more interesting to the admissions committee than the usual stuff they read all day.
TIP #4 USE YOUR GAP YEAR WISELY
Feeling average? Take a gap year. It will give you the time to fill in any holes in your application and build on what’s interesting about you. This could come in the form of travel, a new hobby, or a short-term personal goal.
What are the things you envied about other students’ experiences while you were slaving away as a pre-med? Take this gap year as an opportunity to catch up on anything you feel like you missed during college. This will ensure that your experience (and the subsequent writing about the activity) is compelling and personally meaningful.
TIP #5 MIX COLORS
Remember how fun it was to mix paints as a kid (blue + yellow = green, or all of them = brown)?
You can apply the same strategy in your application experiences to make yourself stand out. Sometimes all it takes to be original is combining two existing things together. If you can create a hybrid experience that cuts across multiple disciplines or interests, you’ll be more memorable in the eyes of the admissions committee.
Here are a few examples:
- Art Heals: a program that aims to use art as a means of connecting patients and caregivers. Besides giving patients a chance to express themselves through art, it also provides a venue for pre-medical students to gain more exposure to the humanities, and vice versa, for art students to gain more exposure to the healthcare field.
- Elder Tech: a hospice and nursing home program designed to pair young volunteers with elderly persons who need assistance with technology. This could mean connecting with relatives on Facebook or paying bills online. The goal of the program is to lessen isolation and increase access to useful resources for more independence in the future.
- Slammin’ Down the Stigma: an event designed to raise mental health awareness by offering students and community members the chance to express their thoughts, fears, and feelings through the artform of slam poetry. All donations and proceeds go towards charities for mental health advocacy.
We hope these tips allow you add some new color to your application, or maybe even change colors completely.
Best of luck letting your true colors shine!