New year, new YOU, right? We all know that New Year’s resolutions are only as useful as one’s ability to actually follow through on them, but now is as good a time as ever to develop new habits and plans that will increase your chances of acceptance into medical school.
Whether you’re five months or five years from applying, we believe this list will give you some valuable targets and inspiration to make the most of the new year. Let’s get right into it!
Everyone applying to medical school has letters of recommendation (that's required), but not everyone has excellent letters. The most successful students are able to get up to five letters of recommendation from people who know them well, both inside and outside of the classroom.
What makes a letter of rec excellent? Primarily, it's the stories that a professor, mentor, or doctor can tell about you. The status of the letter writer doesn't matter as much as the quality and specificity of the letter itself.
Letters of recommendation allow the people who know you best to brag on your behalf. As an applicant, you can’t brag much, because the admissions committee won’t believe you. But your letter writers can really go to bat for you. They can say that you’re one of the best students they’ve ever worked with and rave about your personal characteristics. It’s why medical schools consistently rate letters of recommendation as one of the most important qualities for admission. According to an AAMC SURVEY, letters of rec were ranked second - behind only the interview - as the most important factor for deciding whom to admit.
As we’ve explained in our comprehensive FAQ, the ideal set of letters looks like this:
If you’re worried about asking for and securing these letters, we’ve written several articles that can help you overcome this challenge:
A survey conducted by KAPLAN in a sample size of 400 pre-meds indicated:
The pandemic has aggravated this problem with a decrease in opportunities to engage in humanistic activities, such as volunteering activities at medical clinics or hospitals (which may be something most pre-meds are highly passionate about). Now, pre-meds have more time to focus solely on academics and the MCAT, which may not necessarily be a good thing! You might already be experiencing burnout, but if you’re unsure, check out this QUIZ to see where you stand.
The transition from a pre-med to a medical student does not lighten the load in terms of stress and burnout. A widely accepted fact is the correlation between medical training and a high rate of burnout, anxiety, and depression. Understandably, this is the beginning of the domino effect which might follow physicians throughout their careers.
There is no doubt that this pandemic has negatively affected student wellness and increased the need for implementation of effective stress-management routines for pre-med and medical students. This is where self-care comes into the picture!
If you’re worried about burnout, we’ve written several articles that can help you overcome this challenge:
It’s easy to feel inferior as a pre-med. You look around your classes and see people who are smarter than you, work harder than you, who have overcome unbelievable obstacles to get where they are today. And then you look at yourself and feel, well, average. Nothing interesting defines your life. You certainly haven’t overcome much in your two decades and counting on this planet. How, then, can you stand out in your medical school application given that you feel so average?
You’ve probably never heard the advice we’re about to share, and we think it’s guaranteed to elevate your application above the pack.
**Drum roll please**
We think pre-meds should do a capstone project too. In a stack of similar applications, a significant accomplishment or distinct undertaking CAN SET YOU APART AND MAKE YOU MEMORABLE.
But how do you create your own? We believe your ideal capstone project lies somewhere in the heart of this venn diagram:
Creating a Capstone Project isn’t easy, but it’s a surefire way to separate yourself from the pack of other candidates. If you’re interested in taking this leap, we’ve written several articles that can help you shape your own project:
When we searched “how to pay for medical school” on YouTube, there was a wide range of videos on this topic. Most of them were people sharing their personal experiences funding their medical education entirely through loans. Depressing, yet realistic. Other videos were relatively more uplifting, like people talking about how they paid off their medical school loans.
Stepping away from YouTube, a Google search on “how to pay for medical school” will lead you to resources such as the AAMC PAYING FOR MEDICAL SCHOOL webpage, which, again, discusses loan options. This October 2020 ARTICLE from the AAMC mentions that in 2019, the average four-year cost for public school and private school medical students is $250,222 and $330,180, respectively.
Loans. Loans. More loans. Would you like a side of loans with your medical education? Or are you willing to donate a kidney?
What we didn’t find was a resource that solely featured loan-free ways of paying for medical school.
While we recognize that graduating from a medical school with zero debt cannot be the case for everyone, we believe that all students have the potential to graduate with a manageable amount of debt. On that note, we put together a list of ways to help you pay for medical school without going broke.
If you’re worried about finances, we’ve written several other articles that can help you get your money in order:
There is a vast pool of advice on the internet about how to study, so we decided to dive deeper into a few trendy study methods we have seen, so that we can explain whether we think they’re useful to you or not.
The POMODORO TECHNIQUE has become increasingly popular because it allows for study breaks that seemingly prevent burnout during study sessions and prevent distractions. But how effective are they really?
Since this technique is based on ratios of focused time: break times, which is usually 25 minutes of studying : 5 minutes of relaxing, it requires planning ahead of time to figure out what exactly you want to accomplish.
Therefore, there are many limitations of the technique, including a rigid schedule that does not allow for many changes to be made, disruption of flow while working when the study interval ends, and distractions if your work does not fit into the timeslot. For example, if you’re trying to cram for an exam, you may require a deeper level of thinking that exceeds the mindset in place using the Pomodoro technique.
Therefore, while we think that this technique definitely creates a disciplined schedule, it seems to be more hurtful than helpful.
How many of you pre-meds enjoy jamming out to music while studying? But how helpful is music to effective studying?
It provides both pros and cons: listening to music of preference will generally put the student in a better mood to get studying done, but it can also be distracting. The “MOZART EFFECT” has been studied for many years, and most researchers have found that while classical music can improve cognitive abilities, SILENCE IS NECESSARY for developing new brain cells in the hippocampus, which is responsible for learning and memory.
This connects to the effects of listening to loud music, such as rock and rap music, while studying. Although it might help make studying more entertaining, it overall distracts from the task and produces a lower quality, less productive study session. This stems from its fast rhythm and significant amount of beats per minute.
A new trend, which involves listening to hour-long loops of white noise or “ALPHA WAVES,” has also been investigated to find its correlation with increased academic performance. It has been deduced that alpha waves play a vital role in removing sensory information from the environment to home in on a given task.
Therefore, we would conclude that music in and of itself is distracting, but listening to white noise, such as alpha waves, is much more productive because it allows for mental relaxation and an increased level of concentration.
At this point, most students have heard about ANKI, the new and improved QUIZLET. However, if you are unfamiliar with Anki, it is a tool that helps with memorization using digital flashcards and spaces out the material to allow for maximum retention.
While this seems relatively easy to operate, Anki is unique in that you must also learn how and when to use Anki for mastery of the desired material. Making the cards and decks for different purposes, while time-consuming, is one of the best ways to learn because you are actively recalling material over periods of time instead of simply reading the textbook or notes.
Although memorizing information is entirely different from understanding material, we believe that Anki is an effective study tool for short-term and long-term memorization due to its spaced repetition method.
Anki should be used with other study techniques, such as making flowcharts of the material or practicing problems to aid in preparation. Overall, Anki is a great tool that, when used properly, makes the daunting task of memorizing much easier to do!
In the modern world, technology has been integrated into all aspects of life, especially studying. In the effort to become more efficient, apps such as STUDY BUDDY and FLORA were designed to aid in getting the most out of each minute.
Whether it be having a virtual companion to focus with on Study Buddy or planting an imaginary tree for each study session in Flora, these apps make studying more enjoyable and motivating so that you are held accountable for something even greater than your GPA.
From our students’ experiences using Flora, we found that most became more obsessed with starting small sessions in pursuit of growing a pretty garden rather than using their time in the most effective way. Although it forces students to stay off their phones for longer periods of time and adds incentives, it overall seems more distracting than productive. Some solutions that allow for the same intended purpose can be turning off your phone, rewarding yourself with time off, or even having your friends hold you accountable.
Finding the perfect studying techniques for you is definitely challenging and takes trial and error, but it’s important to know that everyone has a unique studying style. Some useful study tips to get started include anything from learning in a group setting, using visuals such as flashcards, or utilizing mnemonic devices to make memorization easier. Regardless of current trends, trying the tips for yourself is the best way to personally debunk them and succeed in the future.
Want more advice on finding the best study tips, check out our other articles: