Planning Ahead for Med School: 10th Grade

We’ve talked about how to plan for medical school in 8th and 9th grades, assuming you’ve got an early start. If you’re just getting started now, though, not to worry. Here’s what you need to do now.

What to do in 10th grade

Plan out the rest of your high school schedule, find research and volunteer positions, start preparing for SAT/ACT

By the end of freshman year, you should most definitely know whether or not you’re serious about pursuing medicine as a future field of study. If you’re still hesitant about it, then perhaps BS/MD programs are not ideal for you. If, however, you can confidently say that you have health-related interests and want to become a physician in the future, then now’s really going to be the time to buckle down and get serious. Tenth grade is going to be the most telling year in terms of setting yourself up for future BS/MD success. Time management is going to be your greatest asset; with everything that you’re trying to juggle all at once, staying on task is going to require a strong level of discipline and commitment.

Below, I’ve listed the three main things you should start doing in 10th grade:

First, figure out your plans for the rest of high school.

Planning ahead is going to be critical for success. By now, you should know your academic and non-academic interests, so the next step is to really figure out how you’re going to incorporate those interests into the rest of your high school career. The easiest way to start doing so is by planning out your course schedule for the next three years. Below, I’ve listed three potential schedules. Keep in mind, though, that the number and types of courses listed are specific to the high school I went to. Every school has different expectations and options, so make sure to only use these example schedules as templates from which you can build and personalize your own schedule.

9th Grade 10th Grade 11th Grade 12th Grade
Biology Chemistry Honors AP Biology Physics Honors
Geometry Algebra 2/Trigonometry Pre-Calculus AP Calculus AB/BC
World History AP US History Economics AP Government
American Literature World Literature AP Language and Composition AP Literature
French I French II French III French IV
Elective(s) Elective(s) Elective(s) Elective(s)

 

9th Grade 10th Grade 11th Grade 12th Grade
Biology Chemistry Honors AP Biology AP Chemistry
Algebra 2/Trigonometry Pre-Calculus AP Calculus AB/BC AP Statistics
World History AP US History Economics AP Government
American Literature World Literature AP Language and Composition Literature
French II French III French IV Physics Honors
Elective(s) Elective(s) Elective(s) Elective(s)

 

9th Grade 10th Grade 11th Grade 12th Grade
Biology Chemistry Honors AP Chmistry Physics Honors
Pre-Calculus AP Calculus AB/BC AP Statistics Multivariable Calculus
(no social science) World History AP US History AP Government/Economics
American Literature World Literature Language and Composition AP Literature
French II French III French IV Honors AP French
Elective(s) Elective(s) Elective(s) Elective(s)

A few important notes on the above template schedules:

  • Try to take 6-8 AP classes to be a competitive applicant. Taking 3 AP courses in both your junior and senior year is what most students do, but if you’re really willing to take on the challenge (and by this I mean you are sure you can handle the workload without letting your grades slip) then go ahead and take 4 in one year. Sometimes schools even allow students to take AP courses in their freshmen and sophomore year, so figure out what works best for you. Be cautious though, because again, quality matters over quantity! Don’t try overloading AP courses if that means your grades are going to slip.
  • Make sure you take all three sciences: Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. It doesn’t necessarily matter which of the three sciences you choose to take as an AP course, but you must take all three. Medicine requires knowledge of all three science subjects (even though you may think it’s only about biology and chemistry) so it’s necessary that you gain at least some exposure to them all in high school.
  • Try to be strategic with which AP classes you take together. For example, avoid taking AP Biology, AP US History, and AP Language and Composition together since all require a great deal of reading and theory. It’s better to replace one of those with a more applied field, such as AP Calculus.

Secondly, get research experience!

In order to be a competitive applicant for some of the best BS/MD programs in the country, it is absolutely essential for you to have some sort of research experience. The most impressive type of research is that which students conduct at university labs, but of course, it’s not all that easy to get access to them as a high school student. If you’re unable to find research at a lab, then even conducting independent research at your high school is impressive. But with that said, it definitely is not impossible to find research at universities. It will require a great deal of effort and persistence, but that’s exactly why BS/MD programs place so much value on it (again, it’s an indicator of work ethic!).

So how exactly do you find research at a university lab? First off, if you know anyone who works at a university lab, then the best thing you can possibly do is showcase your interest to him or her. Having connections is probably the only shortcut to getting research at a lab. If you don’t have any personal connections, though, then unfortunately you’re stuck having to go about it the old-fashioned way: emailing professors.

The first thing to do when deciding which professors to email is to isolate your own interests. Just generically claiming that you’re interested in, say, biology will ultimately get you nowhere. Instead, you must focus in on a smaller, subtopic of biology (such as neuroscience) and do some research on professors who study that field. Once you’ve found a list of professors interested in the same subject matter as you, it’s time to learn about the specific details of each professor’s projects. What exactly are they studying? Why is it critical to understand that? How do your experiences and interests match up with theirs? These are the questions you should be asking yourself when reading through the professor’s publications and deciding whether or not you want to email them to inquire about a possible position in their lab.

Once you’ve identified which professors you want to contact, you must construct a carefully worded email to show them your interest. What you put in this email is of utmost importance, since it’s the only basis on which professors will either reject or accept you. I’ve shared below the template email I used when contacting professors. Use this email to give yourself a better idea of what to include in your email and how to structure it, but also make the necessary adjustments so that it’s more personal to you.

Dear Professor/Dr. ______,

My name is_____, and I am emailing to inquire about an internship for the summer of (year). I am currently a (grade level) at (high school), and for a few years now, it has been my passion to further pursue (subject) once I leave high school. Just to be clear, I am completely willing to work without pay. I’m looking to further my insights about (subject) and I believe your mentorship will be critical in helping me do so.

After reading through some of your publications, it seems your lab is focused on studying (lab objective). Your article (article name) particularly captured my attention. I would like to learn more about (topic of interest). I am currently working on an independent research project involving (subject of research), and I would like to continue to understand (ask any topic-related questions). Being that you are an expert in this field of research, it would be an honor to have you as a mentor to help me understand and answer these, and many other, questions.

I have attached my resume and my current independent research proposal for your perusal. I genuinely believe that your assistance will be of great help to me, so I truly hope you consider me for an internship.

Thank you very much in advance for your time. Hope to hear from you soon,
(name)

A few important notes on the above template email:

  • Always emphasize your interest in an unpaid internship. The professors who run these labs are usually on low-budgets and would most definitely not choose to spend their money on a high school student with no experience. The best way to present yourself is as an intellectually curious student who is looking to gain some lab exposure and is willing to work purely for experience rather than for pay.
  • Make sure you at least attempt to read the professor’s publications. A lot of the content these professors publish is going to be far too complex for you to understand, but you should at least attempt to read and make some sense of it (focus on sections such as the abstract). This is crucial part of the email because it shows your willingness to work hard for the position and that you have at least some idea of what you could potentially be getting involved with.
  • Keep the email short and sweet. Professors are busy people; in between all the grants they’re writing and the projects they’re supervising, they don’t have any time to read lengthy or detailed emails. Keep the content of your email concise (but still informative) by limiting the word count to around 250 words.
  • Don’t be discouraged by the response. When I was going through this exact process, I sent out a near total of 200 emails and got a positive response from only 2. A majority of the professors I contacted simply didn’t respond at all. There were, however, a few that responded saying that they’d love to have me, but either (1) I was too young, or (2) their lab was full. As a 10th grader, there is a high probability that you will get the first response, simply because university policies usually requires a person to be at least 16 years old to work in their lab. If you are under 16 and get a response saying you’re too young, then don’t lose complete hope! You can email back saying you appreciate their response and then follow-up that email one year later when you’re a bit older to see if they’ll take you then. If you encounter the second response, then you should also reply by thanking them for a response and follow-up a few months later to inquire whether or not any spots have opened up. The best months to send out emails are early September-October, after summer students are gone and spots are newly available, or December-February, when summer students are beginning to apply for positions.

Thirdly, start volunteering.

BS/MD programs are really looking for students who have been committed to the field of medicine for a number of years. One of the easiest and most common ways to show this interest is by volunteering at a local hospital, hospice, private practice, or just about any other place where you can get some health-related exposure. These activities are going to be meaningful not only because they’ll give you a glimpse into your future, but also because they’ll help confirm within you whether or not medicine is really the field for you.

Speaking from a personal perspective, I can tell you that volunteering at a children’s hospice was one of the most difficult yet also one of the most valuable experiences of my high school career. It taught me to face arguably the worst part of becoming a doctor: the reality of death. But in learning to deal with that, I also gained a newfound appreciation for life, which only further affirmed within me the thought that waking up and working to better someone’s health every day is something I can envision myself doing for my entire life.

On a day-to-day basis, you may not notice the grand scheme of what it means to be a doctor. But the longer time you spend volunteering, the easier it’ll become to put those daily nuances into a larger picture that will ultimately help you realize what it is about the field of medicine that you find so attractive. And figuring out that “bigger picture” is exactly why it’s best to start such volunteering as early as possible.

Fourth (and finally): Prepare for (and maybe even complete) the SAT/ACT.

One of the best things you can do to open up some free time for yourself in the future is to kick the SAT/ACT out of the way as soon as possible. Most students take these standardized tests in their junior year, but there’s really no logic behind that. Between your sophomore year and junior year, there isn’t going to be any one class that will all of a sudden prepare you to master the SAT/ACT. In fact, there is no such class at all. The secret to mastering these standardized tests is just learning the strategies and practicing them over and over and over again. Some students take more time to internalize the techniques while others take less time. If you’re in the first category, then it’s best to start early so you’ve got more time for practice. If, on the other hand, you’re in the second category, then by all means you should go ahead and take the test in 10th grade itself. That will only open up more time later for you to focus on your grades, activities, and subject SAT tests.

As previously mentioned (and as you can see from the length of this blog post), 10th grade is going to be a tough year. But if you really take the time to plan everything out, you’re going to be right on track for BS/MD success. Stay tuned for the next blog posts that covers tips on what to do during 11th and 12th grade!

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