UPDATE: as of April 2016

After a two-year-long hiatus, you may be wondering what I’m up to…did I get accepted to medical the first time around, did I reapply, did I end up choosing another career…???

I’m happy to say that I was accepted in 2014 (the time I started the blog). I am now a second year medical student.

My future plans are to update the blog with more posts about my application process, as well as hopefully post about what it’s actually like in medical school!

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The unspoken emotionality of applying to medical school

I didn’t realize how emotionally tied I was to the application process until I was on the phone with an admissions counselor from UCI’s School of Medicine. This wonderful lady was going over my application and giving me application feedback so I had a better understanding of why my application didn’t quite make the cut for their class. She affirmed that I was a strong applicant, and everything looked good, and the passion was clearly there. It felt good to hear because it assured me that the work I put in during those 4 years of undergrad did not seem in vain. However, it became more perplexing to me then, why I was not offered a spot in their class, or at least granted an interview. All she could tell me was that the pool of applicants were so competitive this year, and there were just so many great applicants, many many more than there are seats for their class. She said it was almost like luck: the admissions officers are human, and it depends on who reviews my application and their own interpretation of it.

I could feel a pang of helplessness and frustration burn through me. All those years of hard work, and to hear that my fate had something to do with “luck”. And coupled with my desire (which has only grown stronger since I applied) to finally begin the path to a career that I truly feel is for me. It felt like the door was shutting in my face again after repeated rejections from schools. I was being denied of the opportunity and access to what I truly wanted to do, what I believe I was meant to do, and only thing I believe I would enjoy doing (the lack of fulfillment in my current job all the more affirmed this). I was too overwhelmed at the moment for words, but I quickly composed myself and expressed the very crux of the emotion that has plagued me over the last year. My voice shaky with emotion, I let out, “This is frustrating…”

Suddenly, I felt a burning in my chest, and my eyes immediately began to well up. I was surprised at how emotional I became with the slightest trigger of my own words, and was even a little embarrassed by it– that I was sharing this deeply personal moment with a woman whom I didn’t even know. Quickly, she comforted me and expressed confidence that I will become a doctor. You will get there. And reminded me that if it is truly what I wanted to do and what I thought I was meant for, then keep going and not to give up. Don’t give up. Don’t give up, she insisted. It stopped the tears from flowing, and I was finally able to catch a breath.

She quickly changed the subject and started telling me how she thinks the phrase “nontraditional applicant” should no longer refer to applicants who take a gap year or two because it is so prevalent these days (60% of the class is made up of students who had taken gap years, mostly 1+ years). She suggested that this phrase should refer to applicants who were perhaps undergoing a career change, and are usually in their 30’s. It did comfort me to know that it was more common for medical students to take some time off before starting medical school. Personally knowing of people who entered medical school immediately after college skewed my perception of when the appropriate time to start medical school was, which made me anxious about my gap years. In turn, it fueled my frustration when I thought about the prospect of reapplying and thus, delaying everything another year. But I think my gap years were well-spent, and I probably would not be able to succeed in medical school if I had not taken them.

After we hung up the phone, I continued to sit there and let the residual tears fall to the floor. It was the result of pent up emotions that had I unknowingly suppressed for the sake of not letting this whole process take over my life. I had never talked to anyone about the emotionality of applying to medical school, and how it was influencing how I felt day to day. And when she said she knew how I felt, that she could feel my frustration and that my heart was every bit in it, she had tugged on a loose thread that had unraveled a flurry of emotions I was not able to contain in that moment. But by the end of the call, I was brought back down to reality. This isn’t necessarily the end. That it can work out for me. That it WILL work out for me. And after drying those last bits of tears, I stood up and continued on with the rest of my day.

Test-Prep Books I Used to Prepare for the MCAT

I know shopping for MCAT review books and test prep can be a little stressful because you don’t know if one type of book or test company might work better for you than another. I had to just trust other people’s reviews, and that wasn’t easy for me because I’m a skeptic. And what works for one person, may not work for me. However, I bought test prep books thinking it’s better to have more study materials that I can use, than to be short of study materials. So I went out, shopped around, and bought some test prep books here and there. Despite by promise to never touch an MCAT prep book AGAIN after my MCAT, I went and dug up my prep books so I can list all the self-study materials I used to prep for the MCAT, as well as my input on them. Hopefully this can give you a better idea of whether you want to add this to your collection of study materials or not:

To review and learn content: (These were included in the Kaplan MCAT course, but you can them buy individually on Amazon)

  • Kaplan MCAT Organic Chemistry Review Notes
  • Kaplan MCAT Biology Review Notes
  • Kaplan MCAT Physics Review Notes
  • Kaplan MCAT General Chemistry Review Notes
  • Kaplan MCAT Verbal Reasoning Review Notes
  • Kaplan MCAT Flash Cards

=> My take: I think Kaplan’s review books are comprehensive and contain everything you need to know for the MCAT, so you don’ t need to worry about  missing out on any information if you choose to study off of these books. The Verbal review book contains strategies for tackling this portion of the test, as well as some test questions where you can try out the strategies. I didn’t refer back to this book as much. The Kaplan MCAT flash cards were only somewhat helpful. The flashcards cover all the science topics: biology, org chemistry, gen chemistry and physics. It’s good for reviewing some key facts here and there, but the MCAT is really a comprehension test, and I seemed to have more problem with that part, than simply remembering the definition of chirality. But if you think you will benefit from the Flash Cards, then go ahead with them, or make your own!

 For practice tests and practice questions:

  • Kaplan MCAT Practice Tests – 7th Edition

=> My take: The beginning of the book contains obligatory MCAT introductory information and some helpful tips and strategies on tackling the test, but that is not the focus of the book. The rest of the book contains 2 full-length practice tests as well as detailed answer explanations. The explanations are pretty sufficient. They’re not as bad as some unhelpful, terse ones that I have seen from other test prep books. Overall, they’re just good additional practice tests if you need more practice. Kaplan practice tests are known to be a bit tougher than the AAMC practice tests.

  • Exam Krackers 101 Passages in MCAT – Verbal Reasoning (2nd Edition)

=> My take: This was an integral part of my preparation for the verbal portion of the MCAT, which is a section that some of us scienc-ey pre-meds have the most difficulty with. I used this only on my last re-take, when I was desperate to raise my verbal score and would have tried anything. I liked this book because of the sheer number of practice tests – 11 full verbal tests (60 min, 40 questions). Many people seemed to like this book and think that its level of difficulty matched with the verbal passages on the AAMC tests, but I thought the Exam Krackers passages were more interesting, less dry, and the topics were more variable. Needless to say, I did raise my verbal score by +2 points after this, but I can’t say it was solely due to this book, but it definitely helped.

  • Exam Krackers 1001 Questions in MCAT Chemistry

=> My take: This is a book of discrete MCAT general chemistry questions. They are not associated with any passages, so if you want passage and question type of practice, this is not for you. And the type of questions are not written in “MCAT-style”, but are asked in a direct manner, as if they are fact-checking. This book is broken down into different topics in General Chemistry, and under each topic is just a slew of discrete question. Answers and short explanations are in the back of the book. I found that this wasn’t as helpful because some of the questions were a hit and miss. Some questions were great and high-yield for the MCAT, whereas others were very left-field. I could have done without this book.

  • Exam Krackers 1001 Questions in MCAT Physics

=> My take: This is a book of discrete MCAT physics questions. It’s structured the same way as the 1001 Questions in MCAT Chemistry book, with just pages and pages of discrete questions. Again, the questions are not written in “MCAT-style”, and are more for fact-checking and making sure you know the difference between two types of Forces, for example. I felt that this book was much more helpful than the Chemistry one. So if you want to brush up on some Physics definitions and calculations, then  you can practice with this book.

  • Exam Krackers 1001 Questions in MCAT Biology

=> My take: This was the best out of all my Exam Krackers prep books. It helped me improve my Biological Sciences section score, but more importantly it made me feel more confident when tackling the Biological Sciences section of the AAMC tests. The book contains actual passage-based type of questions, AND a few discretes so it feels like an actual practice test. The passages and discrete questions are grouped together by topic, and this book covers all topics from blood to viruses and evolution. I would recommend getting this book, especially if you need help in the Biological Sciences section.

  • AAMC Full-Length Tests (all of them)

=> My take: I think no one goes into their MCAT test without having practiced with some full-length AAMC practice tests. This is a crucial part of your preparation because it’s the closest you’ll ever get to the type of questions and formatting that will be on the real test. I would recommend you do as many as you can, especially as you get closer up to the taking the real thing. These were really the best indicator of how I was going to do on the real thing, and my scores were always +/- 2 away from how I scored on the real test. I would take two tests a week leading up to my test date. After each test, I would review all questions and my mistakes, and then focus on problem areas using my other prep material (i.e. reread chapters, or do additional practice questions). Each AAMC practice test is $35 each, (but I think you get a slight discount if you buy all at once?), but they were each worth it.

I know the MCAT is changing in 2015, so I’d be interested in seeing how the new test will look like, and how the test prep material will change to reflect that. However, despite the new change coming in 2015, the biological sciences, physical sciences, and verbal reasoning are staying the same (for now), so I can imagine some of these test prep materials above still relevant.

“This isn’t even the hardest part” – Deciding between MCAT Classes vs. Self-Studying

I think it’s a misnomer to say that MCAT courses are for students who are less disciplined and therefore need a class to help them keep up, whereas self-studying is for students who are well-disciplined and can stick to a study plan. You need self-discipline for both, and much effort and time. The main difference is that a MCAT course will just lay out all the resources you need and propose a study plan, with additional feedback and encouragement from a teacher. I ended up doing both: taking an MCAT course my first time around, and self-studying for the repeat tests. I break down the pros and cons of both below. But I remember when I first decided to take the MCAT, it was difficult for me to decide between taking a course, which is usually intensive and very very expensive (few thousands), or self-study. In the end, I ultimately chose to take Kaplan’s MCAT classes, which cost me around $2,000. And I signed up for the on-site classes which was taught in an actual classroom with a teacher and fellow students.

In retrospect, I think it was a good idea to take an MCAT course, especially if it is your first time studying for the MCAT. The class really helped me get familiar with the entirety of the test, and I learned a lot of strategies (not only test strategies, but how to mentally prepare for the test as well). Plus, I think its great to get support from your teacher and fellow classmates while studying for the MCAT, and going to class keeps you accountable when studying and doing your homework (and I had a lot). In addition, included in the cost of the class, was a bunch of online resources – particularly practice tests. They have entire practice tests, or just section tests if you need to just focus on general chemistry, verbal, etc. And it is even broken further to subject tests if you just want to focus on, say, blood in biological sciences or kinematics in physical sciences. Even though I devoted the entire time I was enrolled in the class to studying the MCAT (well, 90%), I did not even go through half of the resources they provided to you along with the class. However, I would say that if you decided to take an MCAT class of some sort, plan on doing nothing else really time consuming while you are taking the class. Especially if you are paying that much for classes, you should really take advantage of the the resources and getting the most of the course. I was studying for the MCAT full-time during the entirety of the course, which I should specify was a 2-month summer intensive course. And I still felt overwhelmed. Maybe it was just me, because I know some of my other classmates were also doing research or had jobs on the side, and were hitting their target scores half way into the course, which I clearly wasn’t. So if you know standardized tests are NOT your thing, consider devoting a good few months, if you can, to studying for the MCAT. I know us crazy pre-meds are used to balancing a heavy academic load AND activities outside the classroom, but I would not take the MCAT lightly. Some people in my class were planning on taking the MCAT upon completion of the class, when summer ended and before fall semester started. And some people were planning to take the MCAT a few months AFTER the course ended to continue studying and practicing ON TOP of their fall semester classes. I did the former, but I don’t see the problem of doing the latter, especially if you plan ahead and choose a light class load your fall semester. Just as long as you don’t think you’ll burn out and you can keep up with studying for the MCAT so you don’t forget the content.

Now, I wish I could say that after I completed the Kaplan MCAT course, I took the MCAT, and then I was done. Money well-spent, that chapter of my life is over, yada yada yada. HOWEVER, I ended up taking the MCAT two more times after that. And I decided to self-study both of those times. It wasn’t because the MCAT course didn’t prepare me enough. They really give you everything you need to know and learn up front, but it’s a matter of what you take from it, and the time you put into learning and practicing yourself at home. Not hitting my target score the first time around was more of a lapse on my end. I was not in the right mindset to study for the MCAT, and I did not fully take advantage of the resources offered by the course. Three months personally wasn’t enough time for me to study for the MCAT (2 months of classes + 1 month of self-study when class ended).

I think self-studying is fine for repeat test-takers because you already know the MCAT, you can go at your own pace, and you know your weaknesses so you can spend more time focusing on that.  For my self-study, I re-used some of the Kaplan resources that I got when I registered for the course, like the Review Notes and flashcards, but the online resources are no longer available to you after that window of accessibility closes (which was a few months after the course ended). So I bought additional test prep booklets, particularly the Exam Krackers 1001 Questions in MCAT _____. Self-study materials I used can be found in this post: here. Believe me, it hurt to know that I spent all that money the first time around for a surplus of study prep material, only to buy additional test prep material again. Since the Kaplan full-lengths were also not available to me anymore, I had to buy full-length tests from other test companies, mostly the AAMC full-lengths. What I did when I studied for the MCAT again was to review ALL the content again, focus on areas of weakness by doing additional practice questions and tests, and taking full-length practice tests and reviewing what I did wrong.

I want to break down the pros and cons of taking a MCAT course vs. self-studying, in my opinion and based on my experience:

MCAT Classes

Pros:

  • Good if you are unfamiliar with the MCAT (i.e. 1st time taking it)
  • Many resources (content review + test questions and practice tests)
  • Proposed study plan
  • A lesson plan taught by a teacher, personally breaking down difficult questions and topics
  • Classmates, if you like making friends and learning with others

Cons:

  • Expensive $$$
  • Heavy course-load / time consuming
  • Online resources unavailable after a period of time after the course ends

Self-Study

Pros:

  • Cheaper than taking a course
  • Go at your own pace
  • Personalized study plan (you can take more time to focus on weak areas)
  • Don’t need to go to a classroom (although there are online MCAT courses)
  • If you cannot afford the time to take a course and keep up with homework

Cons:

  • Need to seek and buy own prep material
  • Need to be more self-disciplined to stick to study plan
  • Better for self-directed learners

 

Self-Reflection: What if I was NOT a pre-med…

A part of me always wondered how my college experience would have been like if I did NOT choose the pre-med route. Perhaps I would have been more involved with hobbies or activities outside of the classroom, made more and different friends, and would have been less stressed and uptight overall. I think my major and my decision to pursue medicine did affect how I approached college: I was a pretty focused student and it was apparent that academics was my top priority. I took this approach because I knew medical school admissions was tough and I had to get that GPA up as high as I could. I wasn’t a great standardized test taker so I predicted my MCAT score would not look stellar on my application, and I wasn’t worried about getting the “personal” side of my application (personal statement + extracurricular activities) across to medical schools. So that is why I, like many other pre-meds, dedicated a majority of my time to studying in college. That just goes with being a pre-med, and I know other pre-meds who can testify to this as well.

Don’t get me wrong. The “pre-med life” isn’t all about the books. There are some pre-meds who manage to have a very active social life and balance it all (I just call them “smartys” because they don’t need to study as much). I did get to go out with friends, and I did get to have fun in college. But it wasn’t as much as I would like. I remember many a times being stressed for an upcoming test and blocking out practically the week leading up to it, just so I can study. And this involved no or minimal hangout time with friends. A quick dinner might do, but no long, weighty conversations afterwards. This might seem extreme, but for me it was necessary so I can learn the material and get ready for the test. There were times that I thought, if I went into a completely different field of study, say, History for example (I am a bit of a history buff), how would my college life been different? And now that I’ve graduated, how would my post-grad life been different? I imagine that if I WAS a history major, maybe I would have had Experience A, which would lead to Experience B, and then a life-changing Experience C. I could have been headed in a whole new direction altogether! Isn’t that something exciting to think about!

And as I see my friends enter their careers, fresh out of college and starting their adult-life, a part of me wonders if I would have been happier doing the same. Instead of wracking up debt, I could have been earning and saving. Instead of signing myself up for more years of intense schooling, I could have been signing myself up for a 9-5 job where I can have my weekends free and an active nightlife, if I wanted. But then I remember this is the route I chose. This is what I’ve decided to do. This is what I believe would be fulfilling to me – to be a physician – and nothing else is quite the same.  No doubt these moments of self-reflection will enter my mind again, but then I’m quickly reminded, as they all say, that it will be worth it in the end if this is truly what you want to do.

 

“To retake or not retake” – Should You Retake the MCAT?

Let’s just all agree – the MCAT test is HARD. Not everyone reaches their target score the first time around. Hence, the retake. However, the thing that pre-meds fear the most about re-taking the MCAT is if they score LOWER than their first time around, and therefore risk looking like a weak applicant.

Deciding whether or not to retake the MCAT depends on the situation. For example, if you scored a 33, but your target score was a 35…(because I would have killed for a 33)…I would say keep it!! A 33 puts you over the average of most medical schools. However, if you’re super crazy confident that you can pull a 35, then I guess you can retake, but is it really worth risking? Truthfully, a 35 would obviously look better, but by how MUCH more? Considering there are people struggling to break the 30 mark, I think a 33 is fine. Let’s say you retake and score a 34. In the context of where you are scoring (in mid-30s), the difference is not that much greater to garner some nods. Yet, there are people who pull low-30’s, retake the MCAT and end up scoring 36/37!

However, if you scored low the first time around (below 30’s), I would strongly recommend to retake to try to break the 30 mark. But this is also in the context of where you are applying to. If you are looking to get into to D.O. schools, MCAT scores aren’t as competitive so maybe you don’t have to retake it (28/29 is okay). However, if you’re looking to get into M.D. schools, then I would say a 32 is a very good comfortable score. And if you’re somewhere in between high 20’s to low 30’s, then maybe you should apply to both types of schools, OR if you’re just gunning for M.D. schools, then apply to more lower-tier schools and make sure everything else in your application is strong.

What if I do worse when I re-take the MCAT? This is a legitimate fear, and one that holds many people back when deciding to re-take the MCAT. First of all, it is possible, and it happened to me (more about that later in another post). That is why the risk of retaking is great, but the reward of doing better can be greater. Don’t delude yourself into thinking that maybe the first time was just a fluke, or you just weren’t feeling 100% that day, and that the second time should be much better because you already know what it’s like, etc. etc. While these things may be true, the greatest predictor of whether you will do better is if you are scoring consistently better. As pre-meds, we might be rushed into following this “pre-med timeline” and cross things off our list by a certain time. If you are planning to retake the MCAT and are not scoring consistently better than before, then taking the MCAT the second time and hoping to score better is very risky. That was the biggest mistake that I made. I was probably scoring around the same or only +1 to 2 points higher than my original score. Yet I was going in to my re-take test hoping I would score in my upper range, but did quite the opposite. So, don’t re-take unless you are confident you can do better. It’s okay to delay applying another year if you need more time to study for your MCAT. Otherwise, if you end up scoring worse, you would need to re-take and delay another year anyways. At least with the first option, you don’t have the blemish of a bad re-take on your application.

The MCAT is undoubtedly an important part of your application, but with the holistic approach that medical schools are now taking to evaluate applicants, it’s not the end-all be-all of your application. However, if everything else on your application looks good, except your MCAT score, you might have to answer during the interview why you didn’t try to re-take the MCAT for a better score.

“Not all made the same” – How I Chose Which Medical Schools to Apply To

Choosing which medical schools to apply to was nothing like choosing which colleges to apply to. That was easy. I just applied to a good couple of schools in my home state and voila! – I ended up matriculating at UCLA. However, I knew I couldn’t just do the same with medical schools because all the ones in my home state were very competitive schools, so I needed to cast my net wide, to schools out-of-state, of which I knew nothing about. I saw the list of medical schools on the AMCAS website and felt overwhelmed because I have not heard of 85% of the schools. I knew I had some researching to do.  That actually took a big chunk of my time – researching which medical schools to apply to – and understandably so. I didn’t want to just shell out my money to apply to a schooI I knew nothing about. Plus, schools usually ask, “Why here? How would you fit in here? What would you contribute here?” and you wouldn’t want to give some generic response. Thus, its not only about the number of schools you apply to, but which schools you apply to. Some schools are similar, yet many vary in their own mission statement, philosophy, application requirements, curriculum, and competitiveness. You want to choose the ones are favorable for you, and ones you actually have a chance at, instead of naively applying to schools that you don’t know much about (which will decrease your chances of garnering an acceptance). These are a couple of factors that I looked at when choosing which medical schools to apply to:

1) OOS friendly vs. In-state preference: These are popular terms thrown around a lot in pre-med vernacular (in particular, Student Doctor Network). Some schools have preference to admitting medical students that are from its home state, and would explicitly say so on its website. The good news is that there is no guess work here, but the bad news is that your chances of being accepted to that school are that much more slim. I found a pattern that schools named “University of (state name)” usually have in-state preference. But it’s good to confirm on the school’s website. I also avoided applying to schools in which less than ~15% (some cap it off at 20-25%) of their class are out-of-state residents (stats can be found on AAMC website here). It just tells me that there is a strong preference for admitting local residents. On the flip side, there are schools that are “OOS (out-of-state) friendly” and around half, or even more than half, of their class is comprised of out-of-state residents. However, I found that these schools can be more competitive even though the GPA/MCAT scores are just average because many more applicants are applying to that school (Jefferson, George Washington University are Drexel are the ones I know). Thus, I wouldn’t put all my eggs in these baskets, and apply to other less popular out-of-state schools.

2) Competitiveness by numbers: This is probably a no-brainer, but you would want to apply to schools in which your stats (GPA & MCAT score) are around that of the school’s average of their incoming class. Applicants like to divide the schools they apply to into 3 categories: safety, match, and reach schools. Doing this ensures that you have some schools under each category, and that you’re not all applying to schools way out of your league. Even though there is no such thing as a “safety” school when applying to medical school (as I’m sure you heard), it just means that your stats are above their averages, and that you might** be viewed as a competitive or strong applicant. Because of my MCAT score, I didn’t have the luxury of really having “safety” schools (boo hoo). And schools with average stats lower than mine usually have strong in-state preference. Thus, my safety schools were really my “match” schools, or schools in which their average MCAT was +/-1 of mine (29-31), and that I could have a chance at if all else on my application looked good. Luckily, there were more schools in this league that I could apply to. However, there were many more schools that had average MCAT scores of 32+ and that I to categorize as “reach” schools for me. Yes, it was painful to scroll through these schools and see their average scores being higher than mine, knowing that it would probably take some miracle for them to be interested in me.

3) Environment/location: This is more of a personal preference. I didn’t really bother considering this as much because by the time I narrowed down medical schools by #1 and #2, I had enough medical schools to apply to and didn’t want to take my chances whittling down the list even more. Plus, I’m not choosy with location (as long as I remain in the U.S.), and my adult-curiosity was using medical school as an opportunity to move to a new location and explore a new area. BUT for some, location is very important because it can affect how you do in medical school. That’s where you’re going to spend the next (at least) 4 years of your life eating, sleeping, learning, building connections with people and places, and connecting culturally. Do you want to be in a busy city vs. middle of nowhere, warm vs. cool weather, touristy vs. quiet suburbs, close to home vs. far away, etc.? I remember reading an applicant’s letter of interest to UC Riverside, expressing how important it was for her to remain close to home because of the connection and support she has with her family in the area. She ended up getting an interview (whether it turned into an acceptance is still unknown to me). So maybe you want to stay close to home, so you only apply to schools that are either in your home-state, or only one state away. I just applied everywhere, and basically dotted the map of the United States.

4) Tuition: If you need help narrowing down your list even more, then maybe consider the tuition cost of schools. I only slightly took this into account because I wanted to be cautious and have it that I apply to more schools than less, by disregarding the tuition cost. If you didn’t already know, out-of-state tuition is usually much more expensive than in-state tuition. It can be a different of a few thousand, to almost ten thousand. But if you just want to compare tuition costs for out-of-state residents, some range from ~$35,000 to upwards of ~$58,000!! So maybe narrowing down the list of schools by tuition cost isn’t such a bad idea after all. However, they say that you’ll be in so much debt, what’s a few thousand more anyways?

I know there are potentially many more factors to consider, like research opportunities, class resources, grading system (pass/fail vs. grades), prestige, student opportunities outside the classroom, etc., but you can consider these things after you have received acceptances. I think the goal here is to apply to good range of appropriate schools.

 

**Schools are switching to a more holistic approach to evaluating applicants, so being viewed as a “competitive applicant” means more than just the numbers. But they are still an important part to your application.

“Hopeful, but Grim” – Preparing to Reapply to Medical School

It seemed as though everyone around me had no problem gaining admission to various medical schools and ended up matriculating at reputable schools too. However, when I ventured online, I realized that my sample pool may have been biased because NOT getting into medical school actually happens…to a lot of people. It really is competitive, nothing is guaranteed, and even great applicants don’t do as well as you think in the application year. When my application year wasn’t looking so good (really, I wasn’t getting interview invites), I had trouble accepting the fact that I might have to reapply the next round. I spent so much time and money into applying that I wasn’t ready to “give up”. I was so uncomfortable with the thought of reapplying that I REFUSED to create a back-up plan. However, I realized that making a back-up plan was NOT synonymous to throwing in the towel on my dreams. You can still remain hopeful and continue to have a positive mindset, but it’s good to have a back-up plan so you can start working to boost your application for the next round as soon as possible in case nothing falls through for you this round. This is what I did to help myself get ready to reapply to medical schools:

1) Get your mind right: I did a good amount of beating myself up when I wasn’t receiving interview invites and seemed to only land on waitlists. I thought, perhaps I wasn’t cut out for medical school, maybe I wasn’t good enough to get into medical school in the first place. I felt so inadequate and unworthy. It was as if I could not separate my identity from how successful or unsuccessful I was. I then realized how ridiculous and unhealthy it was for me to tie my daily affect to how I was faring with medical schools. “I’m a pretty awesome person. There are other things in my life that are going good…” I thought to myself. Why should the way I feel about myself be so dependent upon medical schools? This was the first step I took: separating “me” from medical school admissions. Once I did this, I was able to handle rejections better, and begin to think of a back-up plan because I wasn’t holding on so intensely to this application year as if I was holding on to my life and my whole being.

2) Get pumped: Applying to medical school is exhausting. Believe me, I know. Even worse is when you think it was all in vain because you failed to gain acceptance somewhere. This can dampen your spirit, instill doubts, and you might lose your motivation to apply again. However, you should remind yourself that you have come so far in the process: starting from college when you were working extra hard to get that GPA up, to when you turned down a friend’s party because you had to study for the MCAT, to filling out all those secondaries late into the night. You’ve done ALOT, and you should be proud of what you have achieved thus far. And it has not been in vain. You were just continuously working towards a goal that you can still achieve. Not gaining acceptance this round just means another year or two-year delay, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not that much. So, do what you need to do to recharge. Maybe you need to take some time off from thinking about medical school. Start a new hobby, travel, or even explore other career options. It can give you perspective and remember why you wanted to go into medicine in the first place. I remember for me, applying to different jobs made me realize how much less fulfilling some of these jobs would be for me, compared to being a physician, and it made me want to jump back on the proverbial horse.

3) Get feedback from medical schools that have rejected you: If you reapply, you will have to wait an extra year, or maybe more depending on when you decide to reapply. The extra time can be used to boost your application to increase you chance of gaining admission and/or engage in other hobbies (a.k.a. have fun!). Schools would probably want to see a significant difference or improvement from your last application. And there is nothing more crystal clear about what you need to improve on for your application than to receive feedback from the schools that have rejected you. I talked about this in another post here: “It’s not you, it’s me” – Dealing with Medical School Rejections. I’ve copied the contents below:

⌈Some schools offer to give applicants real feedback on their application, and I think this is invaluable information, especially if you want to find out concisely what is holding your application back. How do you go asking for feedback from schools? I e-mailed admissions (or, hit “reply” to the sender of the rejection e-mail) and or called them if they weren’t responsive by e-mail (I found that it works best to call them). Then I schedule an appointment to talk over the phone (for 15-30min) with someone from either someone on the admissions team, or an admissions counselor. Schedule an appointment ASAP- they fill up quickly. For UCI and University of Louisville, they were booked for the rest of the month. Some schools don’t offer counseling until May (UCD and Loyola- Stritch School of Medicine). And some don’t offer counseling at all (Albany) ⌋

4) Make a plan of action: Now that you have received feedback from schools, make a plan of action! Or if you haven’t, I’m sure you can speculate what you can improve on – no one’s application is perfect, right? It actually helped me to write down a plan of what I was going to do with the additional year. It just materializes it and motivates me to stick with it. What I did was write down at the top of a blank paper “Areas to improve” and listed what I thought my application needed polishing up on (this was before I received actual feedback from schools- I didn’t want to wait). Then at the bottom of the page I wrote a month-by-month timeline leading up to the start of the next application cycle. I would put the items under “Areas to improve” under the months that I would be doing those “improvement” things. For example, if I was going to retake the MCAT AND plan to get more clinical experience in, I would put “Study MCAT” under the months I plan to study for it, “Take MCAT” under the month I plan to retake it, and “Clin Experience” under months that I would hope to be gaining some clinical experience. Once you have this plan in front of you, then you can start making phone calls, emailing, researching online, or do whatever you need to do to make this plan come true.

These things may be obvious to you, but I know it may be difficult for some to move on and start considering the next application cycle. So for those are coming to grips with applying again, I hope this helps.

My Transition from College to Corporate

Having never had a “real” job before (I’m not counting my part-time research position or my tutoring gig when I asked a 2nd grader to add 121 + 30), working an office job after graduating from college was quite an adjustment for me. Luckily for me, I was able to get a job only a few months after graduation, but that also meant getting acquainted to adulthood much sooner.

I was suddenly plucked from a world of my peers and thrust into a world of CEO’s, senior managers, investors, etc. It was a fish-out-of-water experience for me. I was one of the youngest in my company (2nd youngest to be exact), and everyone else had years of industry experience under their belts and were pretty well-established. What I hated the most at first was small-talk. The awkward encounters in front a water cooler are NOT just something you see in TV. It happens in real life too. We have a small break room, so I feel an obligation to say something, just anything besides a “hi”. And it was hard for me to think of something to talk to them about besides the regular…the weather. They all had families and did who-know-what for fun.

Another thing that annoyed me was my own inexperience. It’s frustrating when you’re in a meeting and everyone is talking about something and you have no idea what they’re talking about. I know this is kind of expected, though. No one comes into a new job knowing everything; even if they always held the same position or done the same kind of work, there are always new things to learn working for a new company. However, I had absolutely no prior experience in the industry and had to start from square one. The thing that helped me get by was my ability to learn quickly and think critically, combined with my attention to detail that I all honed in college (see you DO learn skills in college).

Then you have co-workers. At school you might have lab partners, or be stuck with a certain group of people for a project and be forced to work with them. Sometimes it can be great and everyone in your group is cooperative and contributes equally. Hey, you might even make some long-term friends. Sometimes it’s not so great and you might not get along with one or two, or all of the members. But at least when the quarter is over, you can say “Sayonara!” and move on with your life. At work, you’re stuck with who you work with, whether you like them or not. And maybe not just for one project, but the next project as well, or every other project from now on. I’ve seen personalities clash and people getting frustrated with each other (raised voices, eyes widened, red-faced). It’s just a part of people trying to get their voices heard and getting their point across. I’ve learned to accept it as part of the “work culture”. It’s not personal. You can’t take it personal. There’s no point in holding a grudge with someone you have to work closely with- it will just make it an unpleasant experience for both of you. I feel the best way to handle it is to be nice to everyone, even those who aren’t so nice to you.

Lucky for me, people at the work, for the most part, have been pleasant. Even when I have forgotten something or made an error, I’ve never been crucified for it. I think work is challenging me to be a more confident and assertive person, and I am constantly seeking self-progression so that I can be better at my job. Whereas in college, all the information I needed to know was laid out in front of me and I knew exactly when the tests were coming, starting this job in corporate was like being thrown into the abyss. It’s a new environment, a new culture, a new set of people, a new lifestyle and a new mindset that I had to adapt to. But it is a refreshing experience nonetheless. It helped me see what else is out there BESIDES school and medicine, and that is an experience that I think many medical students don’t get.

“I have to do whaaa…?” – Must-Have Activities for Pre-Meds

I don’t mean to perpetuate the cookie-cutter pre-med profile, but I think there are certain types of extracurricular activities or experiences that are crucial for pre-meds who want to apply to medical school. Based on my experience applying, I conjecture that these are activities medical schools like or look for, because they ask about them in the secondary application. So without these types of experiences, I could not have answered the secondary essay questions meaningfully. Note that I’m not saying that if you have all these types of experiences under your belt, you’ll get into medical school (as there are no certainties with med schools). I’m just saying that if you have these, it’ll be easier to answer secondary and even interview questions, AND it’ll make you a more interesting, well-rounded person (which can be another plus for med schools).

This is my list of must-have activities/experiences for pre-meds:

  • Some kind of DIVERSITY experience: Have you dealt with people of different cultural, social, and/or economic backgrounds from yourself? What did you learn from it and how did it affect you? These are the types of questions I had to answer for a good amount of secondary applications (i.e. East Virginia Medical School). And it makes sense. A physician deals with patients, patients = people, and different types of people too! Medical schools are looking for culturally sensitive and mature students that are socially inept in this way.
  • Some kind of SERVICE experience: How have you impacted your community? What have you done to make your community better? How has it changed you? Some medical schools are big on serving the community, and like to boast about how involved their med students are in various local or international volunteer organizations (looking at you, George Washington University and Loyola Stritch). What’s the point of learning all this important medical stuff if you can’t use it to help others? Serving the community shows that you have a genuine interest in helping others, and it makes you aware of the needs of other communities.
  • Some kind of TEAM-WORK experience: This is not as important as the other two categories above, but I do remember writing something about how I collaborated with others to lead a volunteer organization. However, this team-work experience is kind of a given with most extracurricular activities- I can’t imagine a volunteer gig or doing research without some kind of cooperation with others in some way. But I thought it was worth noting anyways because medical schools want people who can collaborate with others.
  • Insightful CLINICAL experience: I used the word “insightful” because your clinical experience should, at a minimal, give you an idea of what it’s like to work as a health care professional. Medical schools want to know if you have an idea of what you’re getting yourself into, including if you’re aware of the cons of being a physician. I remember a secondary essay question for one school specifically asked “What is a potential problem that you think you’ll run into as a physician?”

You can certainly talk about an experience or activity in different ways. For example, I talked about my volunteer experience as my Service experience (obviously), and my Diversity experience. However, I felt that I did enough things in college to have no problem answering the secondary essay questions. The issue then became if I can write about my involvement and it’s impact on me in an effective manner…