By: Rob Humbracht
It's back-to-school time, which means buckets of questions from incoming freshmen about how to kickstart their pre-med careers. We've compiled our Top 6 Tips for helping make sure freshman year is a rousing success. Without further ado:
Get as many A+'s as you can. Do not settle for mere A’s. If you get anything less than a 4.0 freshman year, you're never getting into medical school.
Start studying for the MCAT the summer before you enter college. By the time junior year rolls around, you should finally be ready.
Take double the number of courses (so, eight each quarter or semester) so that you can graduate early. If you're sleeping more than four hours per night, you're not working hard enough.
Don't make friends. They're not important. Besides, you'll probably have to stab them in the back to make sure you get an A+, so why even bother with the pleasantries?
Don't have any fun in college. Becoming a doctor is about sacrifice, and by having fun, you dishonor the memory of all the pre-meds who have struggled before you.
Did you really make it this far and still think we’re serious?
Hopefully you've noticed the sarcasm by now. Yes, being pre-med is hard. Yes, it takes long nights of hitting the books. But no, your life doesn't end freshman year (your life actually ends in medical school).
Scouring the internet, I noticed two types of advice for incoming pre-meds, which mostly boiled down to either:
- Work hard and sacrifice! (not helpful)
- Don't worry; you'll be fine (also not helpful)
On the one hand, you know you're supposed to work hard. Reminding pre-meds of how hard they’re supposed to work just scares the pants off them.
On the other hand, you should worry because most pre-meds DON'T get into medical school (the acceptance rate at US MD schools is roughly 40%, and many more pre-meds drop out before ever getting to the application process).
So dear freshman, how do you become a more discerning pre-med - a Savvy Pre-Med, if you will (see what I did there?). How do you make sure that freshman year goes well while trying to enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that college represents?
Here's the non-obvious list of what every freshman pre-med needs to know:
1) Don't take the harder version of any class.
Unlike applying to college (where you get bonus points for taking AP or Honors courses), everyone applying to medical school has taken hard classes. Medical schools don't care if your Calculus class is for engineers or for normal people, and taking the harder version of a class will just make getting A's that much more difficult.
The flip side of this advice is to take the easy A's wherever you can find them. For example, why tell your college that you took AP Calculus or AP Biology so that they place you into harder courses? If re-taking those courses in college will mean an easy A, then by all means re-take them. Plus, most medical schools frown on AP credit, so you'll want to re-take the classes anyway.
2) Your major doesn't matter.
It's like underwear: nobody really cares what it is as long as you're wearing at least one pair. Pick a major you like, not one you think is sexy. You’re the one who has to live with the chafing.
3) Learn why YOU want to be a doctor.
You may think you know, but you probably don’t. Shadowing is the best way to stay motivated through the tough courses, to see what awaits you on the other side of the struggle. Find a physician near your college or when you're home on break. Not sure whom to shadow? Go clinic to clinic with resume in hand. Show that you're eager to learn more, and you'll find a doctor who will let you tag along.
4) Find a mentor.
There are loads of secrets about being pre-med at your particular college, and you don’t know them. Find someone - an older pre-med, a professor, maybe a pre-health advisor - who can teach you what you need to know. Even if it's just a list of professors to avoid or a particularly interesting research opportunity, any tip that someone can give you is gold.
5) Get involved, but don't overdo it. Think two or three clubs max. You should probably join an umbrella pre-med organization (e.g. AMSA) to learn about what’s available at your school. That's one. Another one should be your favorite pre-med activity, whether that's research, becoming an EMT, volunteering in a hospital, whatever. That's two. And the third one should be an activity completely unrelated to medicine: a cappella, improv comedy, the Rubik's cube society. You only go to college once, so make the most of it.
6) Plan to take a year off between undergrad and medical school.
The average age for those starting medical school is 24, so if you want to blaze straight through, you will be up against people with significantly more extracurricular and life experiences. That's okay if you're an academic rock star and everything goes smoothly for you in college. But that's not the norm.
The norm is that it's really hard to do well on the MCAT the first time you take it. The norm is that applying early to medical school helps your chances, so you probably want to apply in June right after you graduate (rather than later in the summer after junior year). The norm is that life happens: people get depressed, or their grades aren't perfect, or they need more time to make themselves the best possible candidate. Getting into medical school takes time, and you'd be wise to give yourself the most time you possibly can.
Or think about it this way: a gap year is the last free year of your life. Once you go to medical school, you basically die. So, what would you do with one year left to live?