Learning Faster and Better For the MCAT

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Optimizing Study Patterns for the Better

“Work Smarter, not harder.” In the 1930s, Allen F. Morgenstern coined this phrase as part of a work simplification program thinking that people could accomplish more with less effort. MCAT studying requires hard work. There is no getting around that fact. However, by working smarter and optimizing one’s study strategy, one can maximize their score.

The MCAT is essentially a test of memory insofar as it has you remember concepts which you are tested on—in that way, remembering concepts is a tool which one can use to apply it to different types of problems. This is where the trick comes in. Most people, when memorizing the formulas and concepts which the MCAT tests, don’t consider the related information when the question stems from a passage. Thinking beyond the passage is the key which many students miss.

For this, I’ve found that there are three tools which I have used to create and deploy a foolproof way to remember concepts and recall them throughout the process of studying and taking MCAT tests. The bread and butter of these is called Anki, which is essentially a flash card program – but much more. It leverages the forgetting curve to make sure that you review concepts when you are most likely to forget them, which makes it a lethal partner in your quest to do well on the MCAT. For example, say that you are studying a concept in physics and you need to remember a concept about Newton’s three laws. An Anki Card would normally test one concept, and come back up three days later if you remembered it well, or 10 minutes in the same review session if you forgot it. In your deck of Anki cards, there is a rotating set of cards that are due based on your rating of them. It is too hard to explain all of Anki in one article, so I’ll refer to a YouTube video and website made by medical students explaining this technology as it applies for medical school.

However, it can definitely be applied for pre-med as well. I have personally used pre-made decks made and verified by the Reddit community in order to study for the MCAT. However, I modified them to my needs to I was able to retain the maximum amount of information for the test to really succeed. For example, whenever I miss a concept, I always make a diagram using a program on my computer (usually powerpoint) and insert it into the flash card so I don’t forget it when it comes around again.

Furthermore, I mentioned reddit in another paragraph, but it has tons of free resources and questions which have been gone over in depth by anonymous pre-med students who are also taking the MCAT. It was a boon as I prepared for my own MCAT, and it showed me that there is a way to study for the MCAT without spending thousands of dollars on a prep course. It also showed me that there is no excuse to not study, because if everyone else was also studying in the world there was no excuse for me to not take up my prep book and join the conversation. Even further, Reddit contains a section on their MCAT “sub-reddit” (a page designed for niche topics, such as the MCAT) about study plans. If you are wondering how to make a study plan or design one that works, you can check the dozens that Reddit users have posted throughout the years.

These are the three tips that I would use to increase retention – use anki, use pre-made decks, and use Reddit to find and use a study plan that has worked for another Reddit user. Using these three tips and sticking to them can help you get a great MCAT score in no time at all (well, it would probably take the time that the study schedule says, but who’s counting?

Is It Worth Doing a BS/MD Program?

If you were to do a quick Google search of all the pros and cons to a BS/MD program, you’ll find a strong debate happening on sites such as Student Doctor Network (SDN) or College Confidential. Obviously, as a BS/MD student myself, I find that the pros outweigh the cons, but not everyone feels that way. In the points outlined below, I’ve discussed some of the most prominent cons that are associated with BS/MD programs and have either debunked or validated them.

Cons

Lack of preparation for the USMLE

Concern: Since not all BS/MD programs require students to take the MCAT, it is sometimes a concern that this will hurt students in the future when they have to take the USMLE. For those who are unaware of what the USMLE is, it’s the United States Medical Licensing Exam, which is a 3-step exam you take throughout different stages of medical school that tests the knowledge, skillset, and attitudes necessary for you to receive your medical degree (MD) and is used to determine your residency placement. When preparing for the MCAT, you go through rigorous study, and students fear that without having experienced that process before, they may not be ready to handle a similar type of process when it comes time to take the USMLE.

Reality: Having spoken to upperclassmen who’ve avoided the MCAT because of their program enrollment, I haven’t heard of anyone complain that they had a harder time studying for the USMLE because they hadn’t taken the MCAT. Even though BS/MD students may haven’t had to take a standardized test such as the MCAT, they have learned all the same material and gone through the same classroom testing as other pre-med students. Additionally, it seems that BS/MD students place successfully into their top residency choices just as often as their classmates, so even if they were at a slight disadvantage with USMLE preparation, it doesn’t seem to impact their career in any way.

Less prepared for the rigors of medical school

Concern: There’s a common misconception that BS/MD programs are an easy, guaranteed route to medical school. People think that if you’re part of a BS/MD program, it doesn’t matter which classes you take or what grades you get because, hey, you’re already in medical school! And from these misconceptions, the idea stems that due to the lack of rigor in undergrad, BS/MD students are not going to be able to deal with the heavy workload in medical school.

Reality: While BS/MD programs do provide you with a slightly easier (note this is relative!) route to medical school, by no means are they easy. Some programs do not require the MCAT, while others only require you to achieve a certain score (usually lower than that medical school’s average MCAT score). Nearly all programs have a specific GPA requirement, and many also either strongly encourage or require involvement in medical activities (such as hospital volunteering, research, etc.). So as a BS/MD student, you are essentially doing everything exactly as you would if you were a traditional pre-med. The only difference really is that there is less pressure on you concerning whether or not you’ll get into medical school (which is the greatest fear of most pre-meds). BS/MD students still take on the same pre-med course load, still have to secure high grades, and still need to show some involvement in medical activities, meaning that they face almost the same rigor as traditional pre-meds just without the added stress. If you decide to slip up on one of these, then you will likely be dropped out of the program. So really, there should be no reason that any other student is better equipped than a BS/MD student while in medical school.

Too much acceleration

Concern: Many students are concerned that by accelerating your undergraduate experience, you have less time to understand the same amount of material and are thus unable to properly absorb all the information you need for medical school. And if this is the case, then people believe you’ll be at a disadvantage in medical school.

Reality: From what I’ve gathered in talking to upperclassmen who’ve gone through accelerated programs, there is actually no reason to worry about lacking a solid foundation in coursework simply because the speed of your classes is slightly quicker. If anything, I’ve actually heard the opposite. Students often say that accelerated programs are better in helping you understand material because you have no time to forget the material you just learned. And if you think about this logically, it makes sense. Information that you learn in one science class is generally going to be applied in some other science course that you eventually take. Now if you take the first class one year and the second class the following year, then you are more likely to have forgotten material you learned in the first class than if you had taken the two classes within a time span of a few months. Similarly, students often claim that summer classes are better for learning material than regular semester classes simply because you have class every single day in the summer and thus it’s easier to remember exactly what you learned in the last lecture and build upon it.
In an accelerated program, this is exactly what you do; you take more classes during the summer and you take related science classes within a shorter span of time. Thus, there is really no reason for you to be at a disadvantage when you enter medical school; if anything, you probably know the information better!

Also, keep in mind that most accelerated programs offer you the chance to delay your entry into medical school by a year or so if you feel the pace of the program is too fast. Accelerated programs are meant for students who want to finish their medical training as quickly as possible, but if somewhere along the line you decide to change your mind on that, then most programs are flexible with it.

Cannot do a MD/PhD or pursue other graduate degrees

Concern: It is often thought that once you commit to a BS/MD program, you are required to go directly from undergrad to medical school. If you choose to pursue a different graduate degree (such as masters or PhD), then your spot will no longer be reserved in the medical school.

Reality: This concern is generally something that differs on a school-to-school basis. Some schools might reserve your spot in medical school while you take a few years off to pursue other graduate degrees, while others don’t allow you to do so. This generally depends on the school’s philosophy. For example, REMS at the University of Rochester is extremely encouraging of students who want to take gap years to pursue fellowships or other graduate degrees because they believe those graduate degrees will eventually help you become a better doctor. This same mentality may not apply across other schools though. Different schools will have different policies; the best way to find out is to ask such questions during your interview weekend. In my general experience though, most schools are quite flexible and open to allowing students to pursue other graduate degrees in between the undergraduate and medical school years.

Locked into one medical school

Concern: Applicants often worry that if they commit to this program, then they are bound to attended that particular medical school and have no option to apply out to other, perhaps more prestigious, medical schools.

Reality: This concern is also one that needs to be addressed on a school-to-school basis. Some schools, like the University of Rochester, has no problems with you applying out to other schools. If you choose to take the MCAT, fill out the AMCAS application for other schools, and get into another medical school that is perhaps better suited for you, then by all means you have the right to leave. During that process, though, the University of Rochester School of Medicine will continue to reserve a spot for you in case you choose to stick with U of R’s medical school. Other programs, however, might take away your reserved spot if you choose to apply out and will then require you to apply directly to the medical school to gain admission (of which there is no guarantee of being accepted). Still, other schools will offer contingencies on this unique situation; for example, if they don’t require their program students to take the MCAT and you choose to do so in order to apply out, the program will require you to achieve a minimum score in order to keep your spot reserved (otherwise you will be dropped from the program). So based on the information, this can be a valid concern for students who don’t want to commit to one medical school too early on. The best way to find your answer is, again, to ask questions during the interview process and decide in the end what is of greater importance to you: flexibility of choice or certainty of admission.

Locked into one career path

Concern: A main concern among BS/MD applicants is that if they choose to commit to a program, they won’t have the flexibility to explore other career options during their undergraduate years since they’ll be so skin deep into their science courses. As a result, it’s thought to not be realistic to change your career path into something completely different from medicine as a BS/MD student.

Reality: Depending on the school and program, it may be easier or harder to change out of a career in medicine, but by no means are you bound to the career path for life. In fact, many students choose to pursue different majors (while simultaneously completing their pre-med coursework). In fact, I personally know someone who kept up all his pre-med requirements while pursuing an economics degree and decided at the end of his senior year to drop the idea of going to medical school and instead to go to Wall Street. He still had everything he needed to go to medical school if he wanted, but ultimately he decided against it. With accelerated programs it can be slightly more difficult to pursue non-science majors since you’re expected to complete a set number of science classes in a limited amount of time, but it’s not impossible to do. So by no means does any BS/MD program limit your career options; the purpose of them is to offer you a less-pressured, more flexible route to medical school. But if you end up deciding that this isn’t the right path for you, then there is no contract type agreement binding you to it.
Hopefully addressing some of these BS/MD concerns gave you a bit more perspective in terms of what to expect and what not to expect if you choose to commit to a program. The next post might alter your opinion a bit more (in this case towards to positive side!) since it’ll discuss the pros to being a BS/MD student, so make sure to look into that as well. After hearing both sides, you can make a decision in a more confident and informed manner.

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The Lowdown on the BS/MD Undergraduate Interview

The interview process for BS/MD programs consists of two main interviews: the undergraduate interview and the medical school interview. Both have different formats and unique aims, so it’s smart to prepare for both on an individual basis. Today, I’ve explained the best way to approach the undergraduate interview and what to expect from one.

Though this interview is likely going to be more laid-back than your medical school interview, don’t take it lightly though. Schools that require two interview rounds will probably make a large cut after this interview (such as the Baylor^2 program, which first interviews ~100 students at the undergraduate school and only ~15 students for the second interview at the medical school), so it’s critical for you to make a strong impression. To prepare for this interview, there are a couple of things you need to keep in mind:

Be ready to start with the question “Tell me about yourself”

In this interview, the interviewer is genuinely trying to get to know more about you and why you would be a good match for the undergraduate school. The conversation is going to head in the direction that you gear it towards, so be strategic in how you answer this question. For example, one of the qualities that I wanted to emphasize about myself was my dual interest in both science and art and how my experience in both has influenced my decision to go into medicine. Thus, in my response to “Tell me about yourself”, I prepared a short intro about me that mentioned my involvement in both scientific and artistic endeavors and how I was looking to grow those throughout my undergraduate years. If you, like me, have a specific quality about you that you want to believe is of great importance to your application, then it is probably important to mention it from the very start with this question. Don’t feel obligated to mention the specific details of your interest in medicine. It will probably come up anyways (since that is what you’re looking to demonstrate to the application committee), but a brief mention of why or how your interest was sparked is plenty. There will be ample time with follow up questions to go more in depth on your medical experience and aspirations, so there is no need to cover all that simply with the first question. Keep your response to this question slightly casual, yet still informative.

Talk about why you’re interested in the undergraduate school

Unfortunately, the reality with these programs is that a lot of students apply to certain undergraduate schools simply to gain acceptance to medical school, not because they are genuinely interested in attending the undergraduate school and see the medical school as an added bonus. And while there is some logic behind this reasoning, faculty of the undergraduate school don’t see it that way. They want students who are just as committed and excited about joining the undergraduate school as they are about gaining conditional acceptance to the medical school. So in your interview, it is important to emphasize aspects of the undergraduate school that you find most appealing and are most interested in getting involved with. You can offer to share your medical interests, but it’s quite possible that this topic isn’t even touched upon during the entirety of the interview. I’ve both heard of and have myself attended undergraduate interviews in which the interviewer has no relationship at all whatsoever to any science or medicine-related field. Undergraduate interviewers can be history teachers, counselors, or pretty much anyone from the school’s faculty. The reason for having such types of interviewers is because these programs are trying to seek out your interests outside of medicine. You can’t really talk about the technicalities of your lab research with, say, a literature teacher, and thus you’re forced to talk about what draws you to the undergraduate school as opposed to your interest in medicine. The undergraduate interview, in many ways, it a test of your authenticity, so if you’re asked to talk about something completely unrelated to medicine or about specifics of the undergraduate school as opposed to the medical school, don’t be caught off guard!

Be flexible in your conversation and ask lots of questions

The best way to approach an undergraduate interview is with an open mind and a flexible attitude. Don’t feel obligated to always hit on certain points if it doesn’t seem as if they fit the flow of the conversation. With this interview, the selection committee is trying to get to know more about your personality, so approach it as a conversation. There will always be the possibility that you get a strict interviewer and have a more formal interview, but don’t be too surprised if that’s not the case (since most people expect all their interviews to be extremely formal and medicine-oriented). In one of my undergraduate interviews, I started up talking to my interviewer about my interest in food and baking and we ended up going on a slight tangent about all the local restaurants in the area. If this happens, don’t push away from it! It’ll show the interviewer a more human side.

So much of what people say in these interviews can come off as seeming staged and fake, so showing off your human side is great because it makes you seem more personable and authentic. The best way to do so is by finding common ground between you and your interviewer and continuing a conversation based on that. And to do that, you must make sure to ask them a lot of questions! Like I said earlier, approach this interview as a conversation. And what makes up a good conversation? A strong balance of back and forth. Sure, they’re probably going to be doing more of the asking and you more of the telling, but don’t be afraid every now and then to interject and ask your own questions about whatever topic you may be discussing. That is actually how my interviewer and I ended up talking about food at such great length. His tone and interest in my baking experience indicated to me that he too was probably interested in food, so I decided to further explore that haunch by asking him questions about any connection he had to cooking and baking. Not surprisingly, he admitted to be a self-proclaimed foodie! The interview then naturally turned into a conversation about some great local eateries and ended up lasting a lot longer than the allotted time.

The purpose of undergraduate interviews is to show that you are capable of building human connections and that there’s more to you than a list of resume activities, so do whatever it takes to show that!

Talk in “lay terms” about research and other technical experiences

If the topic of your research is brought up during your undergraduate interview, then start off describing it in lay terms. Your interviewer may or may not have any prior experience in the field of your research, so it could be difficult for them to keep up with any technical details that you mention. If they show further interest after you’ve given your brief synopsis, then you can consider that the “go ahead” signal and expand your simple explanation to include technical details. If they don’t show any interest, though, then don’t risk confusing them by adding in any technical details. In general, it’s always smart to start simple and adjust your answer based on your interviewer’s reaction. If they ask follow up questions, then feel free to go more in depth on your experiences. But if not, then a simple explanation should suffice.

Sometimes, your lab research may not be discussed at all simply because the interviewer didn’t find time to talk about it or because they didn’t find the need to address it. If that’s the situation, don’t panic! Again, feel out the conversation and follow it’s natural flow. Before you leave at the end, you can offer them your research report and just quickly say “We didn’t get to talk in depth about my research but here’s a report I wrote on it in case you’d like to further read about what I did.” Saying something along those lines allows you to mention your research without having to force it into the conversation, which is exactly what you want.

In our next article in this installment, we’ll cover what you need to know for medical school interviews.

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Your General BS/MD Interview Cheatsheet

There’s a lot to do to prepare for BS/MD interviews. Depending on the school, you may have either one or two rounds of interviews (except for Brown University’s PLME, which has no interview at all). If you have two separate rounds of interviews, then the first round is usually with the undergraduate school and the second round is with the medical school. If, on the other hand, you only have 1 interview, then you will likely interview with both the undergraduate school and the medical school on the same day. There’s some general advice that can apply to both interviews, but there is also specific advice on what to do during each individual interview. For now, I’ve focused just on the general advice so make sure to follow along and hopefully you will find it eye-opening!

General Advice

Always act professional

One of the biggest misconceptions about interviews is that you are only being “assessed” during your specific interview slot. In reality, though, you are constantly be judged and evaluated. This includes during the breaks you have in between interviews and during any social situations (such as dinners or after-interview parties). Basically, the moment you step foot on the university campus, you must always be prepared to put your best self forward for the entire duration of your stay. Thus, try to always maintain a relatively professional demeanor because someone is always going to be watching and taking note of how you act in different situations, and the selection committee will make use of those notes when discussing applicant qualifications.

Talk and be cordial to current students in the program as well as with other applicants

One of the most important aspects of being a doctor is the ability to communicate and relate to other people, even if they are complete strangers (and in this case, your competition!). But for the means of the interview, you have to forget that you’re competing against all these students around you. Instead, try to find common ground with them and talk about other interests and hobbies. As stated above, you are constantly being judged throughout the interview day, and your ability to be social is of great importance. Try to avoid going off into one corner and doing your own thing or shutting yourself off to other people, because that will all negatively affect your chances of being selected into the program.

Do all the “optional” things

Sometimes during your BS/MD interview day/weekend, there are going to be optional activities offered to you. But if they’re there and listed in your itinerary, you should never assume them to be “optional”. In reality, these optional activities are there to test your enthusiasm and interest in the school. For example, one of the universities that I interviewed at had an optional school tour because it was freezing outside and didn’t want to force anyone to walk out in unbearable cold. But think about it; if someone decides to opt out of a school tour simply because the weather is a bit harsh, what does that say about that student? You could potentially be spending the next 4-8 years there with those exact same weather conditions, so should the weather really deter you? Of course not! The weather may not be ideal, but it’s a hurdle you should choose to face if you want to really prove your interest in the university and their program. Similarly, if you are offered any other optional activities (such as Q&A sessions, educational seminars, lecture visits, or overnight stays), always partake in them. It’ll show your genuine interest in the school.

Ask the right questions

When you get to campus and meet with the current students of the program, it’ll be tempting to unload a number of questions about them in regards to the specifics of the interview. But speaking from my experience as a current BS/MD student, I can tell you that that is extremely unappealing. There is no problem in asking a few interview related questions that you are genuinely interested in knowing the answer to, but in general, avoid asking about topics such as acceptance rates. Instead, ask about our majors or our interests and involvements on campus. These questions help show us that you’re a real student who’s actually interested in getting to know more about the school and the people there as opposed to simply getting into the program. It’s natural to worry about acceptance rates and curve ball questions, but those are worries that you should address before you get to the interview day rather than addressing them on the interview day itself.

Have a “cheat sheet”

Before you leave home to travel to campus for your interviews, it’s important for you to write down a little cheat sheet that you can easily carry with you and access during your stay. On this cheat sheet, you can include your main talking points, questions you want to ask, or even little words of encouragement for yourself. During the interview process, you’ll probably be overwhelmed with feelings of both excitement and nervousness, so it’ll be easy to forget to mention certain points you had in mind. If, however, you’ve got a piece of paper with all those points written down, then all you have to do is take a quick glance at it and you’ll instantly remember what thoughts and questions you had. This is especially helpful to do right before your interview slot. I recommend getting to the interview room about 10 minutes early and using that time to refresh your mind and go over your cheat sheet once more. That way, you’ll minimize the chances of forgetting important notes you wanted to mention, and with that, you’ll likely feel more comfortable and confident during the interview itself.

Smile and relax!

The interview process is extremely nerve wracking and stressful, but the best thing you can do is to put yourself at ease and forget the stakes. Remember that as a doctor, you’ll be dealing with pressure situations on a daily basis. What’s important is that you can keep your composure and react appropriately to the situation. Similarly, with these interviews, it’s important for you to keep your calm and maintain a relaxed demeanor. The outcome of the interview is out of your control, so the only thing you can do is present your best self and hope that it’s enough to get selected. Even if something goes wrong or you think an interview didn’t go as well as you had hoped for, don’t let it ruin the rest of the day/weekend. You can’t always interpret what others think of you, so instead of stressing over that, focus on the positives and enjoy the process. A relaxed composure is a sign of confidence and, if anything, it’ll help improve your chances of getting selected!

Some of these tips may have given you a new perspective while others told you nothing you didn’t already know; regardless, they’re all good reminders to keep in mind during your interview. In the next blog post, I’ll go more in depth on what specific tactics to apply during the individual undergraduate interview and medical school interview, so stay tuned!

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Preparing for a BS/MD Interview: What to Do Beforehand

If you make it through to the interview process of BS/MD programs, then congratulations! You’ve successfully made it past the most competitive portion of the process, so it’s definitely something to be proud of. For all programs, the number of students competing for BS/MD slots in the interview stage is considerably less than that during the general application stage, so unfortunately, the competition is likely going to get more fierce. I can speak from personal experience that students who I met during the interview process of BS/MD programs are some of the most accomplished and impressive students I have ever met! It can be inspiring and motivating to be around them, but their presence can also just as easily feel threatening and discouraging. It’s all about how you choose to interpret the situation, so try your best to keep a positive mindset and avoid negative feelings. After all, you too got an interview invite, so you are just as competitive of an applicant as them. In fact, that is perhaps single-handedly the most important point of advice to keep in mind during the interview process.

At the interview stage, everyone is on an even playing field. Your accomplishments and achievements on paper have no impact on your acceptance; your selection into this program is entirely dependent on how you interview.

So even if that kid next to you seems like he’s got a resume that’s twice as long as yours don’t let that psyche you out. Everything boils down to how you prepare for the interview and how you present yourself on to the faculty and students of the program.
Since this stage of the BS/MD application process is of such great importance, I’ve separated this blog post series into three different parts: Before, During, & After the Interview. Each section consists of vital advice that I believe was instrumental in my success, so I hope sharing it with you all will help bring similar successes!

Before the interview

Prepare a list of questions and practice your answers

The best and most effect strategy for success with BS/MD interviews requires planning out a list of question, preparing your answers, and then reciting those answers over and over and over again. Some of the questions you get are going to be very routine, like “Why do you want to be a doctor” or “What are your strengths and weaknesses.” And because these questions are so predictable, how you answer them is going to be telling of how prepared you are for the interview and how seriously you take this process. For other questions that perhaps catch you off guard, practicing is going to help you better construct and articulate your thoughts under pressure situations. Either way, the more you practice answers to potential interview questions, the better prepared you’ll be overall for your interviews.

Below, I’ve written a list of questions that I had answers to for all my interviews. I had put them on a Google doc and referenced them the night before each interview, so make sure to write down your answers in an easily accessible place.

  • Tell me about yourself:
  • Why Medicine?
  • When were you a leader?
  • Why BS/MD?
  • Characteristics you look for in a person?
  • What 3 words describe you best and why?
  • What is your greatest achievement?
  • What are your weakness?
  • Talk about a time that you failed and what you learned from it?
  • What’s the last book that you read?
  • What makes a good doctor?
  • What is the most pressing problem in medicine today?
  • What do you like least about medicine?
  • Who/what has influenced your life the most and why?
  • What makes you special? Why should we choose you?

Take undergraduate alumni interviews beforehand

A lot of the general, non-medicine related questions that are asked during your BS/MD interview are likely going to be similar to those that are taken during the alumni interviews. The alumni interviews will be relatively more casual than your medical school interviews, but they will help you become more comfortable discussing topics outside of medicine. Thus, schedule your alumni interviews earlier (preferably in first semester) so that you can get as much practice beforehand as possible.

Presentation is key

As stated above, once you get to the interview stage of the BS/MD process, everything is dependent on how you present yourselves to the application committee. You could have all the experience in the world, but if you can’t talk about it and express its value to your interviewer, it’ll mean nothing.

From an interview perspective, presentation entails everything from the way you dress to the way you talk to the way you show off your accomplishments. Dress code is discussed below, but in this particular section, I wanted to focus on the other two aspects of presentation.

First off, the way you talk and carry yourself during an interview is important because it is indicative of confidence and personality. Naturally, we are all drawn to people who seem enthusiastic, friendly, and competent. Thus, if you greet your interviewer with a smile on your face and hold good posture during the entirety of your interview, you will likely leave a strong, positive impression on your interviewer. If, on the other hand, you maintain a slouchy posture and your responses are very dull in tone, your interviewer will come out feeling underwhelmed. The best way to practice your presentation is by both practicing in front of other people as well as by practicing to yourself in front of the mirror. It is important to see how other people view your interview skills and to get their feedback, but it is equally as important to critique yourself and analyze your own presentation skills. The advantage of practicing in front of a mirror is having the ability to see yourself as you speak and really notice the quirks of your presentation. Another effective way to notice such quirks is by video recording yourself and watching it back to analyze your faults. This is, in fact, exactly what professional athletes do when training for national and international competitions. Because you are, after all, your own biggest critic, and watching yourself (as opposed to having someone else tell you) helps give you better perspective of what needs improvement.

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The second important aspect of presentation is how you show off your accomplishments. In your essays and your resume, you had a chance to briefly note down your different experiences, but interviews give you a chance to explain them in further depth and detail. If you have additional resources that will help you better relate your experience, then bring those with you and make sure to display them in a professional manner. For example, if you’ve done research in a lab and want to talk further in detail about the project that you worked on, then perhaps bringing a copy of your research report will be of use. Your resume may provide a generic understanding of your research, but with a copy of your full research report discusses the more technical aspects of your work. Your report should be complete with all diagrams, graphs, and written details necessary. And not only that, but you should make sure to print it out on high quality paper with colored ink and display it in a report cover. Taking extra measures like this are really going to elevate the level of your presentation. The difference is always in the details, and these details are exactly what differentiate a prepared and professional applicant from an average applicant.

Keep your dress code conservative and neutral

The best piece of advice I got in regards to my interview attire was to dress to be “as undetectable as possible.” This means don’t wear any flashy colors or outfits that could draw unnecessary attention. They could potentially be distracting, and that is of course the last thing you want. So for girls, I recommend a blazer, neutral colored dress shirt, either slacks or a below-the-knee skirt, and closed-toed flats (you could wear heels, but you’re probably going to be doing a lot of walking, so plan accordingly!). For boys, I recommend a complete suit with a blazer, dress shirt, slacks, and dress shoes. Avoid wearing tennis shoes or crazy colored socks to minimize attention drawn to them. I also would recommend ironing your clothes before an interview because wrinkly clothes can also be distracting and signs of unprofessionalism.

Some people may mistake these interviews for business casual, but it’s important to dress for business professional because it’s indicative of your seriousness. Keep in mind, though, this applies only for the interview day itself. Some programs have 2-3 day long interview weekends where only 1 day is meant for interviews and the other 1-2 days are meant to be spent with your student host. For those other days, its perfectly fine to wear normal clothes (like jeans and a t-shirt), so make sure to pack some of those too if your program has a longer interview session!

Talk to upperclassmen who’ve interviewed for the program

As mentioned several times before in other blog posts, I have always found that talking to upperclassmen about the application process to be one of the best ways to get an upper hand in the selection process. Thus, if you know any upperclassmen who’ve interviewed for BS/MD programs, talk to them! If they’ve interviewed for the same program that you’re interviewing for, then that’s even better. But even if they interviewed for a different program than you, their advice is likely still relevant and can be helpful to you. Ask them exactly what they did to prepare for the interview and what the entire process was like. Also, ask for any connections they have to other students in other programs. Often times they will, and if they do, then ask for that person’s contact information and send them an email asking for advice. In my experience, students (even those who are strangers to you) are generally quite open and willing to share their experience, so always make an effort to reach out to them!

If you follow all the steps listed above, then there’s not much else you can really do to prepare for BS/MD interviews. Try not to obsess over the results and instead focus on keeping a relaxed and focused mind for the interview. Beyond that, there’s not much to it! In the next couple of blog posts, I’ll go over exactly what you can do on the interview day itself to strengthen your chances at being accepted into the program, so keep a look out for them!

Interested in Interview Preparation Services with Former Admission Committee Members? Find out more here

Tips on Approaching BS/MD Essays: Editing

In the last blog post about writing essays for BS/MD programs, I discussed some strategies to help you get started with writing your essays. But that’s only half the work! Once you’ve got the main content down, it’s time to figure out how to refine it to make it stand out from the rest. Presentation is just as important as content, so make sure you take your time to edit and draft multiple copies of your essays. For one of my universities, I ended up with 9 drafts! So don’t be afraid to go above and beyond with this step, because it really makes a world of a difference.

Editing

Make unique analogies and references

At the end of the last blog post, I briefly introduced the idea of finding creative ways describe details in your essays. In this post, I want to go further in depth on that topic, because I strongly believe that is something that really sets apart a good essay from a great essay. Below, I’ve given some examples of what I mean by this. Keep in mind, the content is really the same amongst all contrasting examples, but you’ll notice a significant difference in how the same message is related to the reader.

Example #1:

Good: As I stand at the podium, palms sweating and heart racing, I feel the adrenalin rushing through my veins as I begin my rebuttal speech.

Great: The moment I step up to the podium, I feel it. My blood is alive and electric, infusing me with so much energy that I do not think I can contain it. I feel as if, at any moment, I will explode like an unstable plutonium isotope.

*The “Good” example above is something a typical student may write when describing how nervous they felt in a specific situation. And while there’s technically nothing wrong with it, there’s also nothing too special about it. The “Great” example, on the other hand, stands out more because it makes use of simile that is more original and creative. It’s unlikely for other students to compare themselves to something like a plutonium isotope, and thus this type of contrast is more likely to catch the reader’s attention.

Example #2:

Good: When the young boy first saw me, his eyes lit up with joy as he immediately reached for my shiny necklace.

Great: When he saw me, his face broke into a huge smile, revealing a set of crooked baby teeth, accompanied by the forward thrust of his torso and jerky hand movements. I bent forward and stroked his puffy cheeks as he grabbed onto my heart-shaped necklace that seemingly hypnotized him with its diamond-like shine.

*The main difference between these two examples is the depth of the details. Sure, the first example is descriptive, but the second one goes above and beyond to describe the same situation in much more comprehensive manner. What you want to always try avoiding is having the reader fill in the blanks with details. You should paint a picture so clear for them, that nothing can be left up to the reader’s imagination. The more specific, the better.

In addition, as previously mentioned, try finding creative ways to say the same thing. For example, the second example uses words such as “hypnotized” and “diamond-like” to further elaborate on the simple idea that the necklace was shiny.

Example #3:

Good: And right then and there, I was presented with a daunting task that by no means was I ready to take on.

Great: In that moment, I was asked to take on a task seemingly as difficult as resisting the temptation to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden.

*Here, the second example makes uses of literary references. In fact, referencing scientists, mythological characters, literary characters, or even biblical ideas shows a greater depth of knowledge. Be judicious with where and when you place these references. If you throw them around too often, then their significance drops. If, however, they are strategically placed, then they can add a great deal of value to your essay.

For example, let’s say that you’re writing an essay about what role religion has played in your life. If you then decide to use the second example as opposed to the first, it makes an “aha!” connection in your reader’s mind. By no means is the biblical reference necessary for you to get across the same message, but it adds an element of surprise that helps elevate your writing skills.

Show variation in sentence structure and don’t be afraid to break some “grammar rules”

If you think about it, it’s kind of unfair that for nearly 17 years of your life, you’ve been taught to write essays in a certain format, and now, all of a sudden, you’re being expected to completely disregard that style and write in a different fashion. But that’s just how it is. So what do you do about it? Let your imagination run wild! Use all those italics and exclamation points and parentheses. Start sentences with “and” and “but” and “because”. Use short sentences. And use really, really, really long sentences (as long as they’re not run-ons, of course!). Finally, this is a chance for you to get away with breaking some of those MLA rules that you’re always forced to adhere to. Don’t get too casual, but still loosen up a bit and show some personality. Vary it up and try to find your voice. Use the English language to your advantage, and write based on what you’re trying to emphasize. You could be trying to show a deeper side or quirkier side. Either way, variation in writing helps avoid monotony and is thus more like to keep the reader hooked.

Determine your core set of people whose advice you will take

I would recommend showing your essays to maximum of 5-7 people. Have one main person (usually a counselor) whose advice you deeply value and show them every draft of your essay to ask for input. On top of that, have two or three other people (often times this includes upperclassmen, teachers, and/or parents) whose advice you also value, but who may not have the time or experience to give you as frequent input as your main person. Show these people your most updated draft every few weeks to confirm that any new ideas you’ve added or changes you’ve made are for the better and that your thought process makes sense on paper. And lastly, have at least one person who you only show your final draft to so that they can catch any spelling or grammatical mistakes (a fresh set of eyes is best for this). These should be your core people. Beyond that, you can of course ask others to read your essays, but don’t always feel obligated to make the changes they recommend. If you attempt to please too many people, you will risk losing your own voice.

So there you have it, the three stages of writing your essays (see Pre-Writing and Writing for the previous articles)! It can definitely be a stressful and overwhelming process, but just like with everything else, try to plan it out so you’ve got enough time to do everything well. And on top of that, try to have some fun with it! For me, actually, writing essays was perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the entire college application process. I would get so absorbed in a thought and end up working until sometimes 2 or 3 am in the morning just writing everything down. Something about being awake at those late hours when everyone else it sleeping and it’s just me with my thoughts helped get my creative juices flowing. So figure out what works for you and then just let your ideas flow naturally!

Tips on Approaching BS/MD Essays: Writing

The Pre-Writing stage is meant to equip you with the necessary tools and information, but the writing stage is the stage where the actual work is done. There are a lot of generic tips that you can get about essay writing by doing a quick Google search. So instead of just listing out some of those, I wanted to discuss three points of advice I found to be most helpful when I was first struggling with putting thoughts on paper. Hopefully you too will find them just as helpful as I did, so keep reading below!

Writing

Use one of your essays to talk about an activity not on your resume

Given the number of essays you are going to have to write for BS/MD programs, there is of course no way for you to avoid writing about activities that you’ve listed on your resume. In fact, that should never be the goal. Essays should be used to help the reader better understand your learning experiences from involvement in activities listed on your resume. I do, however, recommend that you find one activity that you thoroughly enjoy, which isn’t on your resume, and write about it. This will help BS/MD programs see you as more of a human rather than as just an applicant who exclusively does things for resume purposes. The following quote from one of Duke University’s prompts I believe exemplifies this best: “Real people are reading your application, and we want to do our best to understand and appreciate the real people applying to Duke.”

Some programs (such as Case Western’s PPSP), will actually explicitly ask you to write about a non-resume activity, while others may not. For those programs that don’t specify whether or not that activity needs to be a non-resume activity, you should take that opportunity to talk about something you haven’t previously mentioned on your resume. By doing so, you’ll set yourself apart from all other applicants, who are likely to talk about an extracurricular activity for which they have earned several awards and accolades. It’s fine to do either, but with BS/MD programs, which garner sometimes 1,000+ applicants for a mere 10-15 spots, you’re looking to differentiate yourself in whatever way possible.

So what types of non-resume activities should you talk about? Think about something you do to relax yourself. This is one of best answers to give, especially for BS/MD programs. Of all the doctors I have ever spoken to (including members of my own program faculty), one piece of advice that each one always gives is to prioritize your “me-time” and spend that time doing whatever helps restore and revitalize your energy. The journey to becoming a doctor is long and arduous, so the only way to help maintain your sanity whilst going through it is by making sure you take care of yourself throughout the process. Thus, by talking about an activity that isn’t listed on your resume but is something that helps relax you, you show the admissions committee that this activity is important enough to you that you’re willing to devote an entire essay on it. This will also show that you have the capacity to make it through the medical field without burning yourself out. The activity itself doesn’t matter much. For me, personally, it’s baking. I find myself happiest and calmest when I make myself a home-cooked meal with raw, fresh ingredients. For some people, that activity might be running; for others, it might be yoga. Regardless of what it is, talk about why that activity is important to you and what about it makes you feel so relaxed and at peace with yourself.

Always relate it back to YOU

One of the most common mistakes people make when they first start writing their essays is that they get so involved in the story they’re telling, that they almost forget to relate its personal importance to them. To a certain extent, it actually makes sense why. We don’t typically go about our day experiencing different moments and then making a conscious decision to reflect on how that experience changed or affected us. Instead, we usually just take note of the moment at face value and move on. But that’s the exact opposite of what colleges are expecting you to do. They want you to be introspective and to recognize how different encounters and experiences have impacted you. And when you’re writing your essays, that’s exactly what you have to keep in mind.

Remember: YOU should always be the main character in your essays. There might be one particular person that you write about because they’ve had a strong influence on you, but in the end, it’s not about them, it’s about you. A lot of people say they want to be doctors, but the stories that are the most convincing aren’t about other people. They’re about you. So with every detail you include in your essay, ask yourself how it relates back to you and how mentioning it will help the reader better understand your perspective. Of course, there are going to be some details you must include to help set the scene or to help the reader understand some background information, but the core content of your essays should be about you and how this experience or encounter made a difference in the way you value or perceive things. Try not to get too bogged down by tiny, irrelevant details about other people; prioritize yourself first!

Use all five senses

Ask anybody who has ever been on an application committee or who has ever worked with college applicants before: the difference is always in the details. When describing an experience in your essays, you want the reader to have such a complete and thorough understanding of where you are and what you’re doing that they could envision it in their minds. And the best way to accomplish that? Use every sense to describe the details of your environment and atmosphere (and yes, that includes touch and smell!). Some senses will be easier to describe than others, but it’s those harder ones that are really going to help paint a complete picture in your readers mind.

As mentioned in the last blog post, reading multiple other essays is a great way to get a better understanding of what makes up a successful essay (in contrast to an unsuccessful essay). You will quickly find that the essays that stand out to you most have a unique way of explaining details that shows a strong command of the English language. What does that mean? Well that means don’t just go on thesaurus.com and use a bunch of adjectives to describe your five senses. Instead, use words, analogies, and metaphors that still help you relate your senses, but in an unconventional way. There will be more on this idea in the next blog posts, which focuses on editing your essay, but for now, make sure that you at least have incorporated details about all five senses so you have something to work with when you get to the later stages.

Again, these are not the only writing tips that you should apply when starting out on your essays. In fact, these are some of the less commonly known ones. You can find more fundamental tips anywhere online, but these were what I believed to be most beneficial in helping elevating my writing to the next level. Beyond this, it’s all just editing; be sure to check out the next blog post which talks about what to do during the editing process to take your essay from good to great!

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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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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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