Tips on Approaching BS/MD Essays: Pre-Writing

From an application committee’s perspective, it makes sense why essays are such a crucial part of the selection process. Standardized tests and GPAs tell colleges about your work ethic, but essays tell them about ambition, perspectives, and personality.

Granted that you have a solid GPA and standardized test scores, essays are really going to be the “push” factor that help you get a BS/MD interview. The entire essay process (if done properly) is quite lengthy and can take up to several months. So again, the best way to set yourself up for success, especially for BS/MD programs that often have application deadlines earlier than most regular undergraduate universities, is by starting early. Below, I’ve divided up the essay-writing process into three different parts and included some tips of what to do during each part so that you’ve got a better idea on how to get started!

Pre-Writing

Research

Every school and every program has a unique focus and different philosophy. When selection committees decide which applications to accept, they try to envision how well that student will fit into their campus community. Thus, it is important for you to emphasize in your essays how well aligned your personal philosophy is with the school’s philosophy (because then you’ll seem like a natural fit). Before you can really get into that, though, you of course need to first figure out what the school’s philosophy is. And to do that, there’s really only one way – research!

Doing research can at times feel like a drag, but in fact it can also be an exciting process. Think about it; this is the school you could potentially be spending the next 4+ years of your life, so don’t you want to figure out what the people/location/classes are like? Sometimes, while you’re doing research, you’ll actually figure out that this school isn’t the best pick for you. In which case, great, you’ve saved yourself an unnecessary application! Other times, research might actually excite you because all of a sudden, you’ve realized how interesting the school is and how much you actually really want to go there. Either way, research is only going to ever help you, so it’s something that is mandatory for you to do.

With BS/MD schools, the research process get’s a little bit more complicated. Because on top of researching the undergraduate school and it’s focus, you also have to research the medical school and what their philosophy is. In your essays, you will likely have to mention both, so skimping out and only do research on one (whether that’s the undergraduate school and not the medical school or vice versa) is going to hurt your chances.

So what’s the best way to do research? The easiest answer is through the university website. You can figure out just from the home page what are the most successful aspects of that school (because of course every school wants to brag about their accomplishments, and naturally, the best way to do that is by displaying them is on their home page). You can also look into the different departments and classes that the school offers. This could be key if you’re looking for a specific subject that maybe not a lot of schools offer. For example, one field that I wanted to learn more about in my college years was health policy; unfortunately, that’s a pretty unique field that not a lot of schools offer an entire major or minor on. The University of Rochester, however, did! Likewise, another field that I wanted to pursue in both my undergraduate and medical school years was neuroscience. Through my research, I found out that the Rochester’s Medical School has invested a lot of money into their neurology department and it is in fact one of their most successful departments. Thus, for me, it was an ideal fit. All this information I gathered simply by going online and surfing through university websites. For factual and statistical information, I definitely recommend this method. To find out more about the school’s ambiance and philosophy, though, I’d recommend speaking to upperclassmen, which I’ll talk about further down below.

Read lots of other essays

When you initially start out with the essay writing process, you might find it difficult to figure out what ideas to put down on paper. Well the best way to fix that is to find inspiration from other, successful essays. There’s plenty of books you can get from the library or essays you can find online from students who successfully got into top undergraduate schools and medical schools. Read as many of them as possible and figure out what they did well, then try to do it yourself! It’s okay if your words don’t seem to flow as well as theirs; at this point, your focus should be getting all potential ideas on paper, not the fluidity of your writing. The more essays you read, the more ideas you get. Just make sure to avoid plagiarizing or molding your thoughts and experiences to better parallel those in the essay you just read; it can be tempting, but the point of this is to draw inspiration from others’ essays and to use that to help you find your own voice, not for you to simply take somebody else’s words/ideas and make them yours.

Talk to upperclassmen

In my experience, I have always found that the best piece of advice comes from older students who have recently and successfully (or sometimes even unsuccessfully) gone through exactly what I’m going through. This is relevant with the college application process, the BS/MD interview process, the college decision process, and even all of college itself. In general, you will find that people who are successful in their endeavors, whether that be acing a class or getting into their dream school, have done certain things to ensure success. If that’s the case, then you want to find out exactly what they did and try to repeat it so that you too can experience the same successes as them. If, on the other hand, they were unsuccessful at something, they probably have an idea as to why and what they would do differently if they could go back in time. In that situation, you should take their advice so that you can learn from their experience and avoid making the same mistakes and facing the same problems. Either way, there is always something to learn from older, wiser students. Everyone always says that hindsight is 20/20, so why not take advantage of someone who’s got that perfect vision when you don’t?

In specific regards to the “Pre-Writing” process for BS/MD applicants, talking to upperclassmen is beneficial when you’re trying to figure out more about the culture of a given program. For example, what type of learning environment does the program foster? Do they encourage you to explore interests (both academic and otherwise) beyond medicine, or do they expect you to stick to science subjects? How hands-on is the program faculty and how committed do they seem to your success? What is the program’s philosophy or outlook on medicine as a progressing field? You may be able to find answers to some of these questions online, but by speaking to upperclassmen, you will get more authentic and realistic answers. These are students who know better than anyone what their program is looking for and what its focus is. So by talking to them, not only will you get a understanding of the program itself, but you might also get some tips and tricks as to what specifically to emphasize in your essays. In my experience, there really is no down side to talking to older, wiser, more experienced students, so if you have the opportunity to do so, always go for it!

The other advantage in talking to upperclassmen is the possibility that they might share some of their essays with you. When I first started out with the “Why do you want to be a doctor” essay, I had absolutely no idea where to begin. So I reached out to one of my friends (actually she’s a friend of a friend… but hey, any connection should be explored!) who was about to enter medical school that fall and asked her if she would mind sending me her medical school essays. She gladly did, and in fact essays were really helpful in showing me how to write medical school applications (since that is essentially what you are doing with BS/MD applications). Not every person is going to feel comfortable giving you their essays, so if they say no, don’t take it personally. But you really have nothing to lose, so I would just try it out and ask. If they say yes, then great! Otherwise, no worries, because in today’s generation of technology, you should have no problem finding plenty of essays online.

Most students often overlook the Pre-Writing process, but it is in fact one of the best ways to help set yourself up for BS/MD success. Follow the above tips, and you’ll likely have a leg up from other applicants. In the next post, I’ll go more in depth on what to do during the actual writing process itself, so be ready to see that!

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Which Medical Schools Have the Highest Average MCAT Score?

Medical school admissions is exceedingly difficult; virtually every medical school in the USA is difficult to get into. However, there are a few that are even harder than others. While taking into account averages always has it’s biases, the following medical schools have the highest overall average MCAT scores among matriculants according to MSAR data. Just how high? Take a look! These schools all have average MCAT scores greater than 518, which is equivalent to the 97th percentile. Pretty impressive schools on this list and even more impressive matriculants to each of these schools? If you need help breaking into these top tier schools, the advisors at MedSchoolCoach can help you put together a great application!

Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine521
New York University School of Medicine520
University of Chicago Division of the Biological Sciences The Pritzker School of Medicine520
Vanderbilt University School of Medicine520
Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons519
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai519
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine519
Northwestern University The Feinberg School of Medicine519
Weill Cornell Medical College519
Harvard Medical School518
Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania518
Stanford University School of Medicine518
Yale School of Medicine518

Essential Qualities of a BS/MD Applicant

The biggest obstacle students face when applying to colleges is figuring out what colleges really want. The entire selection process can seem ambiguous and, at times, even random. Nevertheless, there are usually common traits amongst students admitted into certain universities, and that holds especially true for BS/MD programs.

The purpose of this blog post is to tell you not only which traits are most desirable to BS/MD programs, but also to explain why exactly those traits are important in the field of medicine. Because, ultimately, these programs are seeking out future doctors, so they’re really looking for students who’ve got personalities fit for physicians.

Maturity

Perhaps the most important quality for BS/MD applicants to possess is maturity. And if you think about why, it actually makes perfect sense. Most high school students have a general idea of what field they’re interested in, but for a student to acknowledge their interests and subsequently work to build a resume that supports their claim requires a great deal of maturity (especially when building that resume means sometimes you’ll have to sacrifice fun things, such as hanging out with friends!). But maturity is a very broad and general term and it can be interpreted in several different ways. So below, I’ve broken down the word into its two main components: professional and personal maturity.

Professional Maturity

Professional maturity is generally relative to age, since the older you get the more experiences you gain. What you will find with BS/MD applicants, though, is that the activities and experiences they’re involved with are atypical for their age. In fact, many of the tasks they take on are usually reserved for college students. For example, when I was working in a lab at UCSF in 11th grade, I was working alongside a student who was then a junior in college. We were both doing the exact same work, yet I was four years younger than her and hadn’t had nearly the same amount of lab exposure as her. So how did I land that position? Well the key word here is enough. I had enough lab exposure from my prior science fair submissions that my lab PI (prospective investigator) was confident in my abilities to take on the project he was proposing for me. As a high school student, nobody expects you to be as knowledgeable as college students, but you’ve got to have at least some sort of prior experience to prove your credibility. Beyond that, it’s all about your attitude and willingness to learn. Because you can teach skills, but you cannot teach passion. So if you pair your prior experience with strong enthusiasm, you too will be able to land college-level jobs and build your professional maturity.

Personal Maturity

Personal maturity is absolutely necessary for anyone who is even thinking about becoming a doctor. This is a field that’ll require you to deal with life and death situations, expect you to always act in a selfless manner, and challenge you to take important decisions with limited information and in a time-sensitive manner. Some people may know right off the bat that they can’t deal with death and sacrifice, in which case they will likely not choose to become doctors. But for someone to say they are okay with death and sacrifice (especially at 18-years-old, before they’ve truly had to experience both those things) is a bold statement to make. But that’s where your experiences come into play; those experiences are what help you build the personal maturity necessary to become acquainted with sacrifice and death.

Now of course, nobody is going to put a dying patient in front of you in your freshmen year of college. But as part of a BS/MD program, they may expect you to be able to at least talk about topics related to death. Before joining a BS/MD program, it is necessary for you to have the maturity level to handles such conversations, because you are likely going to be having such conversations with your BS/MD advisors and peers.

Leadership

What qualities make up a good leader? A good leader is someone who has effective communication skills, mental toughness, and the ambition to inspire change. Coincidentally, these are also some of the most valuable skills for a doctor to possess, which must mean that a good doctor is also a strong leader.

BS/MD programs are always looking for students who have previously held some leadership positions, because prior leadership experience is a strong predictor of future leadership success. As a result, it may be smart to talk about your leadership experience in both your essays and interviews so the application committee can get a better understanding of the exact role in your positions. It also wouldn’t hurt to mention experiences that clearly show you’ve displayed the three qualities mentioned above, because, again, they are extremely important for doctors. In order to help you better understand the relevance of those three qualities (so you know what specific anecdotes to focus on in your essays/interviews), I’ve explained them down below:

Communications skills

Medicine is a field that requires constant communication. As a doctor, you will always be collaborating with other people, whether that’s your medical staff, your patients, or other doctors. Your communication skills will thus always be necessary because they’ll help you both express your ideas clearly as well as listen to the ideas and concerns of others (because remember, communication requires both give and take!).

In terms of what to write about in your essays/talk about in your interviews, think about a time when communication either helped or hindered your experience, and what exactly you learned from that. For example, in one of my essays, I explained the importance of nonverbal communication. I had been working with a patient who couldn’t speak, and in the beginning, it was quite difficult for me to understand how to connect with him or understand exactly what were his needs/wants. But the more time I spent with him, the more easily I began to understand his nonverbal cues (such as specific hand gestures), which ended up becoming our newfound way of communication. This experience helped me realize that communication may not always happen by means of words (as most of us are so used to), but still, nonverbal communication is just as valid and significant as verbal communication. Lessons like these, which discuss the importance of communication, are great topics for essays. So next time you’re going through your volunteer shift at the hospital or doing any other medical-related activity, keep your eyes and ears open for experiences you could talk about!

Mental Toughness

A strong leader is someone who has the mental toughness to withstand high-stress situations, make tough calls, and lead his team to action all while maintaining composure. This is a quality that is necessary for pretty much any field, but especially medicine. Why? Because high-pressure situations in medicine means life and death situations; mental toughness is something that is needed to make instantaneous medical decisions about someone who might literally be dying in front of you.

So how do BS/MD committees test your mental toughness? The most common way to do so is to throw a curveball question at you during an interview. You’re put on the spot and expected to answer a seemingly impossible question. But that’s because they’re trying to see how you react to high-pressure situations. In reality, the answer to the question doesn’t even matter all that much; they want to see you maintain your composure while trying to use prior experience and knowledge to answer the question in a logical and reasonable way. The other type of question they might throw to test your mental toughness is an ethical question. Again, there is really no right or wrong answer to this, so don’t try to make up and answer simply because you think that’s the answer your interviewer is looking for. As long as you are genuine in your answer and explain why you hold that stance, you should run into no trouble.

Ambition

A leader is someone who is constantly working to make the status quo better, to create lasting change that’ll improve people’s lives. In medicine, that means developing new technology, improving treatment efficiency, and bettering diagnosis accuracy (amongst a multitude of other things!). BS/MD programs are thus looking for students who have the ambition to make such changes, because ultimately, that is the whole purpose of providing you with this “easier route” to medical school. It’s so that you have free time available (something most traditional pre-meds don’t have) to follow your passions and hopefully work to improve the medical community in some way. By taking a chance on you and providing you with this BS/MD honor, schools are looking to get something out of it too – name recognition. As a result, it is critical for you to mention in both your essays and interviews what exactly are your aspirations and if given the chance to be involved in a BS/MD programs, what you would do to make those aspirations come true. Try to emphasize potential weak spots of the medical community that you’re looking to change and why that change is important. Having such a reflective and understanding outlook will show application committees that you have a plan of action for the future and will not take this opportunity for granted. And if that’s the case, then you are more likely to be a student that can help inspire change in the future.

Of all universities you apply to, the ones with BS/MD programs are going to be the most mind-boggling in terms of results. Even if you were to display all the aforementioned qualities, have a perfect resume, and stellar statistic, you might still not get the interview. Sometimes, certain programs are just looking for very specific things, and there’s no way of really figuring out what that is. But if you try your best to emphasize the qualities listed above, then the likelihood of you getting an acceptance letter will increase, and what more could you really hope for, right?

Tips for Improving Your GPA

In part 1, we discussed how you could successfully improve your grades while pursuing a BS/MD. Here are two more tips for getting a good GPA during school.

Don’t take shortcuts

This is one of those tips that, even though I heard it in high school, I never really took seriously until I got to college. But now that I have used and applied this piece of advice, I could never go back to my old high school ways.
In high school, depending on your teacher, it’s possible to sometimes get away with not doing your homework or barely studying for an exam and still doing well. And while at the time this may sound ideal, it’ll actually hurt you in the long run. When it comes time to finals week at the end of the semester and you have to take four or five huge tests all at the same time, there is no way you can cram in an entire semester’s worth of material into one night. No matter how easy the teacher is or how lenient the curve is, if you put off the work until the very last minute, it’ll come back to bite you.

In college, if you were to implement that same strategy of putting off all your work until the very last week of the semester, you would most likely fail the class (as opposed to high school in which you would probably just get a slightly lower grade). In college, the difficulty of content is much greater and the pace of learning is much quicker. So as a result, students are expected to take initiative and keep up with the material in a consistent and timely manner. Sure, there are students who slack off and keep up with their high school study habits in college (aka procrastinating on all work until the last minute), but you will find that those students often end up dropping out of the class before finals week even approaches because their grades are so low that there is no chance of recovery.

Ultimately, the main difference between high school and college is time of realization. In high school, you can get through the entire semester by taking shortcuts and only in the end will you realize how horrible of a mistake this was. In college, however, you will quickly notice your grades plummet if you consistently choose to put off your work. The temptation of procrastination is thus greater for high school students, because they don’t realize the negative effects of it until much later. If you give into this temptation, though, you will likely end up hurting your GPA.

So even though you may not realize it now or have the pressure to really so, try to be thorough and consistent in keeping up with lecture material. It will pay off in the long run not only with your GPA, but so too with your success in college.

Figure out what works best for you

There isn’t much to say on this topic other than the fact that different people thrive in different environments, so figure how/where you work best and stick to it!

I’ve listed below some questions you can ask yourself that’ll help guide you when you’re trying to “figure out yourself.” Remember, there’s really no right or wrong answer to any of these questions, they’re simply meant to help you maximize your efforts:

How do I respond to pressure situations

This is an extreme quality to know about yourself when determining what study habits are best suited for you. Some people tend to work better under pressure while others crack under pressure. If you’re of the former type, then perhaps procrastination isn’t the worst thing ever for you. In fact, it might be one way for you to produce some of your best work (read: don’t “pretend” to be someone who works well under pressure just so procrastination is a valid excuse for you… it’ll hurt you later on!) If, however, you’re of the latter type (like me!) then you should make sure to keep close track of your assignment due dates and allot enough time for you to be able to finish them in a timely manner.

How much time do I usually take to work on assignments?

This question is a good follow up to the last question because it’ll probably reinforce your answer. If you’re typically someone who likes to take their time with assignments and spread out the workload over a number of days, then you probably aren’t the type of person who does well under pressure. On the other hand, if you tend to get distracted easily and need an imminent deadline to make you focus on your work, you likely do better under pressure. Whatever the answer may be, make sure you plan ahead of time to make sure you have enough time to produce your best possible work.

What kind of ambiance do I work best in?

To answer this question, there are a lot of sub-questions you could ask to figure out where you work best. For example, how easily do you get distracted? If easily, then would you mind working in a loud environment? Or would you be able to pop in your headphones and tune out the noise? If you don’t get distracted easily, then can you study with friends? If so, how many friends? Do you work better early morning or late night? These are just some of the questions that’ll really help you narrow down your list of ideal workplaces.

Personally, I can tell you that I my workplace varies based on the type of work I’m doing. For example, when I’m studying science or math related subjects, I prefer to work in a quiet study area and only listen to classical music (because any lyrical music distracts me). If I’m working on an essay or doing some writing work, though, I like to be in a coffee shop ambiance (with a little more activity happening around me) and have lyrical music playing because it gets my creative juices flowing. Regardless of the type of work I’m doing, though, the one distraction I must always avoid when studying is friends. I find that when I study with friends, I just end up socializing with them instead of being productive.

One of the benefits of college is that you meet people of all different types, which makes your individuality more acceptable. In high school, everyone is trying their hardest to fit in, so they’ll just do what everyone else is doing even if it isn’t in your best interest. Of course, this is a natural part of high school, but if you’re serious about getting a good GPA, I strongly recommend you find what works best for you and stick to that even if it isn’t what everyone else is doing.

Where do I fall in the VARK model?

The VARK model is used to distinguish between different types of learners: Visual, Aural, Read/write, and Kinesthetic. Knowing which of these categories you fall into can help you figure out which study strategies might be most effective for you. For example, I’m an auditory and visual learner, so if there’s a concept I don’t understand, I like to have someone talk me through it and then I’ll later go and draw a visual representation of the concept to reinforce it in my head and also to help me remember it better. There’s plenty of surveys and tests online you could take to figure out your exact learning type, or you could just think back to how you’ve approached concepts that have given you trouble in the past and what you did to better understand them. Either way, once you figure out how you learn best, try putting it to the test every time you have an upcoming exam. Sometimes teachers tend to focus on one learning strategy more heavily than others (such as taking reading notes, which falls under the read/write category) so it might require a bit of effort on your part if you prefer a category that you teacher doesn’t usually emphasize. But hard work and effort never goes to waste, so just put in the work then and you’ll appreciate it when you later ace that test!

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