- Choosing a Roommate
- Classes and Study Habits
- Pre-Health Committee
- Networking with Professors
- Physical Upkeep
- Social Support
- Making a Great Resume
How you spend your time as an undergraduate pre-medical student is the most critical part of getting into medical school. Your resume is likely not going to have anything from high school on it. It will, however, have your grades, your jobs, your volunteer work, your memberships and extracurricular activities, and awards you may have received from when in college.
Oddly enough, it is important to find a good roommate(s) upon entering college. I roomed with the same girl for all four years of undergraduate college. We respected each other’s privacy, and that allowed me to study and sleep when I needed to do so. If you cannot study or get enough sleep because your roommate is unruly or distracting, find a new one. Your roommate does not have to be your friend, as paradoxical as that sounds. As long as you live well together, your roommate is helping to shape you for medical school.
Studying to obtain good grades is absolutely vital in getting into medical school. You will need to learn good study habits if you haven’t yet. Your core pre-medical classes matter the most to medical schools. If you research admission requirements for medical schools, it will say that they want about a B+ or above in Biology, Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Physiology, Genetics, Physics, and sometimes Biochemistry. Once you have completed your first couple years of core classes, take extra upper level classes if you can handle them. You probably won’t want to enroll in Advanced Organic Chemistry or Human Anatomy if you’ve done poorly in their pre-requisites. Medical schools admire when you have an interest in a class and you take more or similar classes, but they will not appreciate a bad grade in an advanced class. That would show them that you bit off more than you can chew, and they do not want to see you choking on medical school. Elite medical schools separate their piles of applications by applicants who have higher than 3.5 and those who have lower than 3.5 GPA. The pile of applications that have lower than 3.5 GPAs get thrown away. Try not to be in that pile. While you can get into medical school with a 3.3 GPA, it can be very difficult. Cut-offs exist outside of sports!
Keep in mind you will enter every grade from every college into your AMCAS/AACOMAS (the applications to med schools) when the time comes, so try to be a good student in every class. Medical schools strongly suggest taking courses in the humanities, the social and behavioral sciences, and courses that help you develop effective writing skills. This shows them you are well-rounded and “normal” rather than some nerd who can’t write letters or socialize with his patients. I took a ton of courses in German. It allowed me to learn the history of Germany, its culture and interaction with other countries, and its language. I practiced enough German to say that I am fluent, and the subject came rather easy to me; I got solid A’s in all 7 classes I took. That boosted my GPA. I suggest finding your humanities niche, too.
I have found that the following study method works best for both slow learners and innate geniuses, so use it how you please. I would start by adding notes to the lecture notes your professor gives you during lecture. Read the textbook (no joke) with your notes from class next to you after class, rewrite your notes with additional or accompanying concepts/facts from the textbook, and then memorize your notes. You could also rewrite them a day or two before the test if you have forgotten the stuff. This method of studying eats time like an elephant eats vegetation*, but it will glue anything into your head. If it’s math, then practice, practice, practice! If you find yourself running short on time, drink coffee and stay up very late with a focused group of classmates. Practice mechanisms in Organic Chemistry together on a chalkboard and, as iron sharpens iron, help each other to learn everything you need to for the exam in the morning. If you do this, make sure you recoup and get a ton of sleep shortly thereafter! Physical stress will affect your grades.
*Elephants eat between 149 and 169 kg (330 – 375 lb) of vegetation daily!
It is easiest to find medically related volunteer programs by hooking up with your pre-health committee leader right away and asking him/her how and where to get involved. Medical schools will want to see that you have been committed to helping people from the beginning of your freshman year. They will want to know that you have a passion to serve, especially in the medical field, but other volunteer programs such as Hunger and the Homelessness will show them your love for people.
Your pre-health committee is someday going to evaluate you and give that evaluation to the medical schools you apply to. It is wise to be mature and friendly with the committee. They may seem nice to you, but they can be swift sharks taking note and judging everything you do. Feel free to show them who you are, but make sure you are honest, loving, eager to help, and excited about someday being a physician. It is key that you get to know the leader of the committee personally. Meet him/her in his/her office at least once a semester to ask a few questions and chat. Your committee might have a ranking system that compares you with every other pre-medical student in your grade numerically. (For example, they could give you a “1” if you’re their utmost favorite, or they could give you a “39” if you don’t really visit or get involved with the committee. And that would mean there are 38 other students they recommend for medical school more than you.) It is not a good idea to ever let this committee see you question medical school as a future.
Your professors generally enjoy getting to know you, so visit them just to say “hello” or to ask any course-related question that you have. They enjoy watching you struggle in a subject and grow from it, and they usually work closely with the pre-health committee. There is no need to suck up to your professors, but if you know Dr. Smith’s favorite snack is Oreos, buy him a package and tell him how much you appreciate him as a professor. It’s a nice thing to do. You will need at least 1 letter of recommendation from a science professor when the time comes, so make sure they know you well and see your dedication. If you can develop a strong relationship with a professor in the humanities (e.g. Psychology), a letter of recommendation from him/her will flabbergast your medical schools as they appreciate your broad interests and socialization skills.
Work ethic is pivotal to medical schools. I do not recommend just working summer breaks. Medical schools need to know that you will be able to handle the rigor of coursework-overload in medical school, so they will be looking to see how you handle the onerousness of work in addition to being a full-time student. This does not mean you need to go out and waitress 30 hours a week on top of the 17 credits you are already taking. Few medical schools actually look at the hours you’ve worked per week. If you can get a simple job with just 5 – 11 hours a week, I’d hold on to that job, even if it’s not field-related. I worked laundering services and campus safety for almost 4 years straight, and medical schools appreciate that consistency. Sticking to one job or volunteer group is more important than switching around looking for the best position. Medical school is all about commitment.
Exercising is beneficial in every way. There is no need to go crazy, but a 20-minute run 3 times per week will greatly affect your mental health and grades. Just make sure you get enough sleep before stressing your joints with a jog. You need between 6 to 8 hours of sleep each night, or else your grades will show it. If you pull an all-nighter one night, it is best to catch up the following night or on the weekend.
If you can, get support from a significant other, friend, or family member. Dog might be man’s best friend, but no pet will give you words of comfort or support to help you persevere though this process. You need someone, or a network of friends, who understands and appreciates what you are going through. Ask someone to offer you genuine verbal support on a weekly basis if you don’t have someone already giving that to you. If you are reading this because you have been trying to support and understand someone who is going through this process, yet you are unsure how to support him or her, here’s an example how: “Rudy, I think it’s simply amazing how you keep going with your studies and everything else you’re doing on top of them. You’re really great. I appreciate your dedication. You’re going to be a physician, I can tell.”
(Keep in mind that you do not have to excel or be perfect in all the areas I have been describing. If you are better at networking with your pre-health committee and volunteering than you are at working a steady job or studying, that’s fine. Maybe you just had a bad start. That’s okay, too. Just work hard from now on. Try to do at least some of everything I am writing about.)
Your unique resume will contain a few standard sections, although it will describe you distinctively. This guide is to help you create a great resume to give to medical schools either when you apply or when you are interviewing. It is crucial that your resume is both aesthetically attractive yet impeccable; omit typos, redundant words, and inconsistencies! For example, if you use the full year in some places but not in others (2011 vs. ’11), it is embarrassing to the world of Resumania.
I encourage you to utilize your college career center for resume and cover letter examples, but follow these guidelines about content: Your resume will consist of sections, each with dates and locations and a line or two of descriptions of what you accomplished in each section. The first section will contain your college and degree. Medical schools and employers want to see your grades to the tenth decimal if your GPA is 3.5 or above. Do not list your GPA if it’s lower. Round a 3.45 up to a 3.5 or list a 3.50 and above out to two decimal places. Basically round up unless you have a 3.9_. If you already took the MCAT and scored a 30 or above, list it right next to your GPA with a comma in between your GPA and MCAT score. When to Take the MCAT.
List the jobs you have worked the longest in and/or that fit best to the medical field. Describe your responsibilities underneath each job succinctly and with strong action words. If you do a lot of global traveling, feel free to have a complete section dedicated to that. Find something unique about you and make a section out of it. Your individualized and stunning resume should stand out and help anyone remember you easily. Do not forget to list your volunteer work, your memberships and extracurricular activities, and awards you may have received from when in college. Here are some standard examples you may want to stem from: Link to: Resume Examples (Coming soon).