Get to Know Our New Advisor, Dr. Ann John!

We sat down with Dr. John, MedSchoolCoach advisor, former adviser for the Honors College at Rutgers University, and former faculty interviewer at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, to learn a little bit more about her background and her experience throughout the application process.

Tell us a little bit more about your background.

I was a member of the 6-year accelerated BA/MD program at Rutgers University to which I was accepted during my senior year of high school. I subsequently went to medical school at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, where I served as President of the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society to which I was inducted during my third year. I served as an adviser for the Honors College at Rutgers University and on the interview committee at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, where I interviewed candidates for admission. I’m actively involved in mentoring and am interested in helping students pursuing accelerated programs as well as more traditional routes.

What was it that got you interested in advising students?

I was lucky because I had an older sister who went through the process of applying to medical school. She was an extremely helpful resource and was able to provide me with advice and tips that someone may not have without experiencing it first hand. Your school guidance counselor or pre medical counselor may be able to provide you with basic information on the application, but it’s a confusing process. As someone who went through the process myself, I felt I could serve as a platform for application do’s and don’ts.

What is one piece of advice that you wish you had going through the process?

The admissions committee isn’t looking for someone who can “save the world”. They are looking for someone who portrays maturity, dedication and sophistication. Touch upon these qualities, both in your personal statement and in your interview. Some applicants try to throw jokes into their personal statements, but this can derail your aim and may bring up the question of how serious and dedicated you are to this process. Also, it’s never too early to start preparing for medical school. Once I knew I wanted to be a physician, I started building up my CV. I got my EMT license in high school, which was brought up a lot during interviews and was a way for me to demonstrate my dedication to the field. 

Learn more about how our medical school advisors can support your journey to med school.

The Unforgiving Grade Point Average

The dreaded GPA. A mere few tenths of this number can make or break your chance at becoming a doctor. Although weaknesses in other areas may also prevent acceptance, a low GPA is less remediable. For example, you can retake a low MCAT score or volunteer a few hours a week to supplement low clinical exposure. Although a low GPA can be fixed, it often requires additional year(s) of classes (SMP/post-bac) and tens of thousands of dollars. If you still have coursework remaining and your GPA needs a boost, consider the following:

Major

Any major is fine, but some are harder than others. For instance, engineering and the “pre-med” majors (human biology, biochemistry, etc.) have more science courses than needed for medical school, and you will compete against other pre-meds. Ultimately, choose a major that you’re passionate about, even if it is harder. But when in doubt, pick something that’s both interesting and lighter.

Workload

Most college graduation requirements allow students to average 15 units per term and graduate in 4 years, with summers off. During some semesters, you will have less than 15, while some will require more. Those heavier quarters and semesters are brutal. To combat this, utilize the summer term to take courses. This allows you to average 13-14 units. Admissions committees may question the lower workload, but having a high GPA and finishing within 4 years will carry much more weight.

Course selection

A 13 unit term is still heavy if it consists of three intense science courses. Regardless of major, you can schedule so that most terms have no more than two hard courses. Although you should try your best for any course you take, science courses take priority as they count for both your overall and science GPA. When choosing courses, ask around. Look for professors who tend to give more A’s, or courses that have old study material available.

Extracurricular activities

College is about more than just hitting the books, and well-rounded applicants have more than just high grades. But it is too easy to join every club and volunteer at every opportunity. Balance is the key, and admissions committees look into the depth and quality of each experience more than the quantity. If you’re still trying to establish strong and consistent grades, it is okay to ease up on the extracurricular activities, you can always participate more as you become comfortable with schoolwork. Also, if you must work to support yourself, seek out jobs that have ample downtime (computer lab attendant, library assistant, etc.) for you to study.

Organization and study skills

These come naturally for some, but are developed gradually for others. If you need help in this area, most schools offer assistance in developing strong study skills. Another option is to find studious friends to study with and mimic their study habits.

Personal stressors

Life gets in the way during college, medical school, and out in practice. Doctors and medical students face obstacles from outside of work regularly, and the successful ones acknowledge these obstacles and know when to seek help. Before you learn to take care of others, make sure you take care of yourself. Seeking counseling or taking time off for personal reasons is common, and can help you refocus on your studies.

Unfortunately, many students come to the conclusion that they are not qualified for medical school without examining their situation and trying different approaches to improve their grades. There are many pressures, both internal and external, to maintain flawless grades while participating in time-consuming extracurricular activities in order to matriculate right after graduation. However, this ‘traditional’ path to medical school is not for everyone, and if you are passionate about becoming a doctor, it is better to get there through the path that is right for you than to not get there at all.

Medical School Interview Strategies

Congratulations on acquiring an interview! Although interviews can be intimidating, a few strategies can improve your confidence and how you are perceived. Your overall goal is to project positive traits and a calm demeanor so the interviewer can envision you efficiently adapting to their workplace. Interview preparation will enable you to showcase the best version of yourself.

Find out who the interviewer is–if you can

Weeks before the interview, consider contacting the coordinator to find out who will be interviewing you. Most schools won’t disclose this information, but it is worth asking because this can give you the opportunity to briefly identify the interviewer’s research interests and see them online. Your familiarity with your interviewer is advantageous for asking pertinent questions and generating interesting talking points. In addition, gaining background information on their program specific details will help you ask informed questions and project your sincere interest.

Know about thyself

During the interview, you will be asked a few standard questions, but the most common is “tell me about yourself.” This open-ended question allows the interviewer to hear what you think is important, and you can begin at any point in your life as long as you are concise and modest. Phrase your answers with the understanding that programs have your CV. Most interviewees briefly cover important undergraduate and/or graduate work, and explain what experiences motivated their career choice.

Don’t talk about hardship

One approach that is discouraged during the interview is hardship stories. Using a wide perspective is critical to evaluate if your story merits mention. Even though the road to medicine is rocky for many, conveying your personal struggle may lead to poorer outcomes. The interviewer may hear you were overwhelmed and wonder if you have developed adequate coping strategies. Your story may divulge personal information that confesses alignment with a victim mentality. Interviewers tend to be older and have often experienced major struggles of their own. Also, consider that competing applicants that emigrate from developing and war-torn nations may have endured life-threatening trauma. If you decide to share, explain the strengths you gained and/or why you valued the experience.

Search for possible questions (or check out this blog)

More than half the interview questions can be predicted by a quick Google search. For these common questions, write 3-sentence answers or less on a cloud document (such as Google Drive) so that you can review strong responses before each interview. Resist the urge to write more as it is better to be concise than deliver a monologue. When practicing, answer the questions out loud and setup mock interviews with peers and colleagues. Solicit and use feedback to improve future mock interview sessions, and practice projecting a calm and friendly demeanor throughout. Stumping question may require you to pause before formulating a response. A brief silence can feel awkward, but remember that conversation pauses are normal.

To generate specific questions, conduct some online research of each program and listen carefully during the interview. A few generic questions are also helpful, for example, you may inquire about first year scheduling or research opportunities. The interview often ends with the question: Is there anything else you would like to let us know? This is your chance to emphasize why you want to go to their school specifically. When possible, give a personal reason and show your investment in the program through geographic and community connections.

End with thanks

To close, thank the interviewer for their time. Afterwards, record the interviewer’s name to send a thank you email and add newly-encountered interview questions to your cloud document. Using these tips to manage your expectations and preparation will improve your performance and confidence in the interview.

Planning Ahead for Med School: 11th and 12th Grades

Following our recommended steps to the medical school of your choice? We hope so. So far, we’ve tackled how to best prepare in 8th and 9th grade, 10th grade, and now we’re going to get into the nitty gritty of how to prepare for medical school when you are in the 11th and 12th grades.

What to do in 11th grade

Finish all standardized tests and narrow down your college list.

Hopefully, by the end of 10th grade, you’ve taken care to ensure both volunteer positions and research opportunities (if not, then keep working at it!). If so, then your focus in junior year should now shift from activities to academics. Some of you may have finished your SAT/ACT in 10th grade, but if not, then that should be your biggest priority coming into junior year (along with stellar grades, of course!). Spend some extra time the summer before your junior year to really prepare for this test so that hopefully you’ll be ready to take it by October or November. It’s best to try and take it during first semester of your junior year for two main reasons: (1) either you’re happy with your score and you can focus second semester on SAT subject tests/AP exams, or (2) you’re not happy with your score but you still have some time left in junior year to retake the test and improve. Having to deal with the SAT/ACT in your first semester of senior year is a huge burden, since it’ll take time away from your college essays and applications, so do all you can to complete it by junior year.

Once you’ve finished the SAT/ACT, the next standardized tests that you should focus on are your subject tests and AP exams. Since the content covered on both subject tests and AP exams is quite similar, most students tend to take both around the same time (in May/June). I would generally recommend taking at least 2 subjects tests: the first being SAT Math Level 2 and the second being SAT Science (usually biology or chemistry for BS/MD programs). Some students choose to take a third subject test in a humanities or social science subject simply do so to showcase their academic well-roundedness, but only do this if you’ve got time for it. Otherwise, math and science are really what the BS/MD programs are looking for.

Quick note: Be sure to do your research and double-check what each program you’re applying to requires in terms of SAT Subject tests. Some want a humanities subject test, while others may want both biology and chemistry subject tests. In general, one science and one math will suffice, but that piece of advice may not hold up for every program. Do your research early (preferably in 10th grade) so that you can accordingly plan when you want to take each separate test. 

What to do in 12th grade

Complete the college application process and prepare for BS/MD interviews

After finishing up all your standardized tests, its time to get really serious about application season (I know… it seems like the workload never ends, but hey, you’re almost there!). In the summer between your junior and senior year, you should try to secure some sort of research or health-related internship. On top of doing all that, though, it’s important to find some time to start working on your essays. As a BS/MD applicant, you are going to be writing nearly twice as many essays as any traditional college applicant, so the best piece of advice I can give to anyone is to start writing early. Hopefully you’ve already got at least a short-list of colleges you’re planning to apply to, but if not, then do that first. Once that is settled, you can really start to focus on the prompts that each individual school asks for.

When first attempting to write college application essays, they may seem daunting and impossible (which is why most students tend to procrastinate so much on them). But in reality, the most daunting part is that blank word document; once you start putting thoughts on paper, all your ideas will start to flow and slowly coalesce into a more structured essay. I’d recommend starting out with your largest prompts, since those are going to be the ones that take the most time. These include the common application, the “Why Medicine” essay, and the “Tell me about a non-health-related passion” essay. I encourage writing multiple prompts (whether that be one big one and a few small ones or multiple big ones) at the same time simply because it minimizes the chances of feeling stuck. There are inevitably going to be days when you can’t seem to coherently express your thoughts on paper; and if you choose to exclusively work on one prompt at a time, then those days are ultimately going to reduce your rate of progress.  If, however, you’re working on multiple prompts at the same time, then you might find yourself feeling particularly motivated to answer one question even though you’re at a loss of words for another. Essay writing has a lot to do with different moods and times, so multitasking and working on several different prompts at once allows you to be flexible with your ideas and emotions.

After finishing up all your essays and applications, you can finally take a huge sigh of relief. For the next weeks, you can take a bit of breather and relax before interview invitations for BS/MD programs start to come out. Successful applicants will usually be notified anytime from late January to early March about the interview process. If you’ve applied to several BS/MD programs and successfully get interview invitations from many of them, then get ready for a lot of traveling (and a lot of preparation for what you must do before, during, and after your interview, so keep a look out for future blog posts addressing all those topics!). If, on the other hand, you’re not successful in getting interview invitations from some or all of the BS/MD programs that you applied to, then don’t worry too much about it. Remember that these programs are some of the most competitive programs in the country, and by having gone through the entire BS/MD process in the first place, you’ve already got an advantage for four years down the road when you apply to medical school. Everybody hates rejection, but just know that that is part of the college application process. If you are truly passionate about pursuing medicine, then don’t worry because you’ve still got plenty of time to achieve that dream!

This blog posts conclude the three-part topic of “Planning Ahead” (see part 1 and part 2).  As you can tell, a lot of thought goes into figuring out how to maximize your success rate when it comes to BS/MD programs. In the midst of it all, you may find yourself questioning your own potential and ability, but always try to keep perspective. If you mess up here or there, it’s okay! You can make adjustments as you go. As long as you do your best to stick to the plan, chances are that you’ll pass the finish line with positive outcomes!

 

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!

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Planning Ahead for Med School: 8th and 9th Grade

One of the best ways to set yourself up for success with regards to BS/MD programs is by planning ahead. People who know from early on (sometimes even as early as middle school!) that medicine is a potential field of interest are the ones who end up sending the most convincing applications to BS/MD committees.

Below, I’ve outlined the best way to structure your high school career in order to maximize your chances at BS/MD success.

What to do in 8th grade

Explore both current and potentially long-term interests.

At this point in time, it’s far too early to decide whether or not medicine is your calling; it’s never, however, too early to start exploring the field of science. Most students who end up applying to BS/MD programs (myself included!) know from quite early on that science is a subject that sparks curiosity within them. Specifically, students who gravitate towards subjects such as biology and chemistry are likely to develop aspirations of becoming doctors. There are, however, plenty of exceptions; in fact, some of the most in-demand skills in today’s field of medicine have to do with computer science and engineering. So even if you’re a student who tends to lean more strongly towards math and computer science-related fields, don’t completely rule out medicine as a possible career option, especially if you have even the slightest interest in learning more about the human body.

But how exactly do you decide which subjects interest you? The most foolproof way is to get out and try everything! By the time kids hit middle school, they’ve usually tried out a number of extra-curricular activities and have narrowed it down to two or three that they really enjoy (whether that be dance, music, sports, etc.). But what most students haven’t had the chance to do is test out their academic interests via a trial-and-error method. Of course, most students get a general idea of what subjects they enjoy by simply going to class, but that isn’t usually enough to determine whether you can maintain those same academic interest long-term. The best way to really put it to the test is by participating in extra-curricular activities that are related to those subject areas. For example, a student who likes biology could submit a biology-based project into their local science fair. Or a student who likes math could get involved with Math Olympiad competitions outside of school. The only obstacle you may face is accessibility; it’s slightly difficult to acknowledge your potential interest in a topic that you’ve never experienced (or maybe haven’t even heard of) before. For example, a student may not know whether or not they enjoy computer science if they’ve never taken a class on it (likely because most middle schools don’t offer CS courses). Because of such limitations, try to exhaust all possible options while in middle school, but don’t shut yourself off from subjects you haven’t yet experienced. Ninth grade will provide you with more opportunity to broaden your interests, so stay open-minded!

What to do in 9th grade

Narrow down your interests (both academic & non-academic) and develop a strong work ethic.

Academic Interests: If you’ve already entered high school and are still somewhat scatter-minded about your academic interests, don’t worry – you’ve still got time! In fact, in some ways, it’s actually advantageous to be uncertain of your interests in high school as opposed to middle school. As mentioned above, the biggest obstacle middle school students face when trying to increase their exposure to different subject areas is accessibility. In high school, though, that’s not the case. There’s a plethora of elective courses to choose from that will help you better narrow down your academic interests.

But what if there’s a subject you want to further explore and your high school doesn’t offer any classes on it? Try checking out your local community college! The benefit of being a high school student is that, given the proper permission, you can usually take classes at your local community college (oftentimes for free!). And just like high school has more course diversity than middle school, college so too has more course diversity than high school. So the likelihood of you not finding a course related to your interests is rather unlikely. If you do choose to go down this route, there may be some applications and forms needed to be filled out, so the best way to get started is simply by approaching your guidance counselor and asking about the process. (Also, keep in mind that 3 years down the road, your counselors will be filling out some of your recommendation letters, so the earlier you go talk to them and try to build a relationship, the better your chances are at avoiding the cliché, impersonal letters that colleges hate!)

Below, I’ve noted some courses I suggest you at least try out when looking to narrow down your academic interests (not all of them will be offered at your high school, so check your local community college as suggested above!). Some of these might seem completely unrelated to medicine, but remember that there is no problem with wanting to combine two academic interests into one interdisciplinary subject. In fact, that’s extremely appealing to some BS/MD programs because medicine itself is inherently an interdisciplinary field.

Suggested Additional Courses:

  • Computer Science
  • Economics
  • Government
  • App Design
  • Philosophy/Medical Ethics
  • Public Health
  • Business

Non-academic InterestsIn addition to identifying your academic interests, it is equally important to use freshman year to narrow down your extra-curricular interests. The first few months of the year might seem a bit overwhelming, with every club trying to shove a flyer in your face and trying oh-so-hard to get you to come to their new member meeting. But don’t let that pressure get to you; in fact, embrace it! The best way to deal with this situation is, in my opinion, to welcome it with open arms. When each club stops you and asks you to sign up for their email list, go ahead and do it. This is the time for you to exhaust all your potential extra-curricular options and to really figure out which activities you want to fully commit to. So go to all those introductory meetings and, better yet, stick with the club for at least one semester. Staying with the cub even when all the new-member excitement dies down will allow you to get a real feel for what the club is like.  You’ll see that some clubs aren’t as exciting, structured, or worth your time as you’d thought they’d be, while others that you had expected to be boring are surprisingly quite thought-provoking. But the only way to really weed out which clubs are well-suited for you and which ones aren’t is by maintaining a certain level of commitment to all of them throughout your first semester. After that, you’ll have the personal experience needed to make a knowledgeable decision.

Students who have already been dedicated to certain activities (such as sports or music) for their entire life may ask what is the point of joining clubs at all. If you love what you do and are ready to commit another four years to it, then by all means, go ahead! There will likely be some way for you to continue your passions in high school (ex: join band or playing for your high school sports teams). If, however, you are somewhat hesitant about whether or not you can see yourself continuing that same activity for another number of years, then perhaps consider joining some clubs. Just because you’ve been involved with something for so long doesn’t mean you have to continue it, especially if you’re only going to be a passive participant. In fact, that holds true for just about anything you decide to pursue in high school. One of the most common misconceptions student have about being a competitive college applicant is having a to join every single possible club on campus. But in reality, colleges are looking for quality over quantity. If you’ve got 2 or 3 main activities that you’re heavily involved with and have the experiences, awards, and leadership positions to back that up, then you’re in a much better position than another student who simply has a laundry list of activities written down on their resume. Students who take note of this early on and decide to fully commit their passion and energy into a few, selective activities are really the ones who find the most success with colleges.

In addition to identifying your academic interests, it is equally important to use freshman year to narrow down your extra-curricular interests. The first few months of the year might seem a bit overwhelming, with every club trying to shove a flyer in your face and trying oh-so-hard to get you to come to their new member meeting. But don’t let that pressure get to you; in fact, embrace it! The best way to deal with this situation is, in my opinion, to welcome it with open arms. When each club stops you and asks you to sign up for their email list, go ahead and do it. This is the time for you to exhaust all your potential extra-curricular options and to really figure out which activities you want to fully commit to. So go to all those introductory meetings and, better yet, stick with the club for at least one semester. Staying with the cub even when all the new-member excitement dies down will allow you to get a real feel for what the club is like.  You’ll see that some clubs aren’t as exciting, structured, or worth your time as you’d thought they’d be, while others that you had expected to be boring are surprisingly quite thought-provoking. But the only way to really weed out which clubs are well-suited for you and which ones aren’t is by maintaining a certain level of commitment to all of them throughout your first semester. After that, you’ll have the personal experience needed to make a knowledgeable decision.

diverse-students

Students who have already been dedicated to certain activities (such as sports or music) for their entire life may ask what is the point of joining clubs at all. If you love what you do and are ready to commit another four years to it, then by all means, go ahead! There will likely be some way for you to continue your passions in high school (ex: join band or playing for your high school sports teams). If, however, you are somewhat hesitant about whether or not you can see yourself continuing that same activity for another number of years, then perhaps consider joining some clubs. Just because you’ve been involved with something for so long doesn’t mean you have to continue it, especially if you’re only going to be a passive participant. In fact, that holds true for just about anything you decide to pursue in high school. One of the most common misconceptions student have about being a competitive college applicant is having a to join every single possible club on campus. But in reality, colleges are looking for quality over quantity. If you’ve got 2 or 3 main activities that you’re heavily involved with and have the experiences, awards, and leadership positions to back that up, then you’re in a much better position than another student who simply has a laundry list of activities written down on their resume. Students who take note of this early on and decide to fully commit their passion and energy into a few, selective activities are really the ones who find the most success with colleges.

Grades: The final but perhaps the most important note to make about freshmen year is about your GPA: do not let your grades slip! Your grades are going to be one of most important factors of consideration by BS/MD selection committees, so do everything in your power to maintain a high GPA. Classes are only going to get tougher and your schedule is only going to get more hectic, so the best way to set yourself up for academic success in the future is by laying down a strong foundation in freshmen year with a high GPA.

But why does your GPA even matter that much? Most students know that colleges place a lot of importance on grade point averages, but not all of them really know why. It’s not because your GPA displays your intelligence, but rather because it displays your work ethic. No student will ever tell you that a 4.0 comes easily. Sure, some classes might be an easy A, but on the flip side, some classes will require you to put in endless hours of work to just barely scrape that A. No matter what, every student will at some point face a subject that they really struggle with. But what differentiates a high GPA student from a low GPA student is their willingness to work hard and improve on their weaknesses. Colleges are looking for students who’ve got the intrinsic motivation to overcome challenges, and your GPA is a perfect representation of that.

Lastly, make sure to enjoy 9th grade! It may seem like a whole new, scary world, but you’ll look back and reminisce about those easier times. Ninth grade is a time for exploration and discovery, so don’t let the stresses of a heavy workload make you miss out on all the social experiences. Sure, there will be some sacrifices you have to make, but in the end, it’s all about balance. If you take the necessary actions at the right time, then by all means it is possible to be a competitive applicant and still have fun. Tenth grade is going to get tougher (about which there will be a blog post next!) so enjoy the freedoms of 9th grade while they last!

For more on this series, click onto Planning Ahead for Medical School: 10th Grade and Planning Ahead for Medical School: 11th and 12th Grades.

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