Learning Faster and Better For the MCAT

woman with paperworks and a laptop on her desk

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?

Differences Between MD (AMCAS) and DO (AACOMAS) Applications

If you are applying to medical school, you maybe applying to both DO and MD schools. While the applications are relatively similar, there are a few differences in character counts/limits for the DO application to keep in mind while you are drafting your essays and activities sections! Here’s a real quick guide for your review that highlights the differences!

Application Personal Statement Character Limit Activities Character Limit Most Meaningful Activity Limits
MD (AMCAS) 5300 characters (including spaces) 700 characters (including spaces) 3 can be selected as a most meaningful activity. You’ll have an additional 1325 characters for these
DO (AACOMAS) 4500 characters (including spaces) 600 characters (including spaces)  Not applicable

As always, if you need help through your MD or DO application, MedSchoolCoach is here!

What Is the Best Pre-Med Major?

Choosing a major can be one of the most stressful things for a college student to do! I talked to hundreds of early students who wonder what the “best major” for a premed is. That’s a loaded questions with all kinds of different possible answers. There is no single best “premed major”. It really depends on each individual scenario, but I wanted to outline a few key concepts that everyone should consider when choosing a major as a premedical student.

  • Non-science majors can be attractive to medical school

    Biology major. Biology major. Biochemistry major. Biology major. That’s your typical stack of medical school applicants. Imagine if you could insert something really interesting in there like “Beatles, Popular Music and Society”. Okay, that maybe extreme, but the idea would be that you would be a great science student who get’s A’s in all your premed classes, does science research and volunteers at hospitals but also brings a completely unique major to the table.

  • The premed curriculum is stacked, so plan ahead

    There are a lot of great majors out there that have nothing to do with science or medicine. They may make you a really attractive candidate to medical schools because you bring a whole new perspective to the incoming class. I always encourage people to major in non-science fields, however you have to keep the premed curriculum in mind when you decide to do so. And with the new MCAT coming out in 2015, there are even more courses added to the mix. Remember, every premedical student has to take the classes below. That’s a lot of classes! In fact, it’s over 18 courses. With each semester in college allowing you to take 4-5 classes, the premed curriculum could take up as much as 50% of your coursework. That becomes difficult with certain majors that have no overlap with the premedical curriculum, so you should make sure to plan ahead if you are going to choose a non-science major.

    1. Biology 1 and 2 plus lab
    2. Inorganic chemistry 1 and 2 plus lab
    3. Organic Chemistry 1 and 2 plus lab
    4. Physics 1 and 2 plus lab
    5. Two semesters of Math
    6. Two semesters of English
    7. Physcology
    8. Sociology
    9. Biochemistry (some schools)
  • Remember that your GPA is incredibly important

    One factor that premeds overlook too often when choosing a major is how they will be able to maintain a great GPA. Remember, your GPA is incredibly important in your premed process! If you are a biomedical engineering major with a 3.2 GPA versus an english major with a 4.0 GPA, the 4.0 wins out every day of the week, despite the potentially more difficult curriculum of a biomedical engineer! You should keep in mind your ability to succeed and maintain a great GPA in the major you choose.

  • Major in something that interests you!

    You should major in something that you are interested in. You will spend 4 years dedicating yourself to classes in your major. You better enjoy it! If you don’t, your grades will suffer. And even if you are planning to go to medical school, college is a time where you can really learn about something different from medicine. It’s amazing how little what you learn in college will be a part of your everyday life as a physician, no matter what major you are, so it’s great if you can diversify yourself!  If you are passionate about film as well as medicine, be a non-traditional premed who majors in film. If you really are mainly interested in the sciences, don’t be afraid to go for the traditional life science majors.

Finding the perfect major also involves understanding your undergraduate institutions curriculum, requirements and pathways. So you need to take into account many of these factors when you decide what you want to major in!

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: 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!

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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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How to Rock Your GPA for for your BS/MD

It’s no secret that colleges place a lot of importance on your GPA and SAT/ACT scores, but with BS/MD programs, their value is significantly more. With regular undergraduate universities, you can sometimes (but not always!) make up for a slightly lower GPA or SAT score with stellar essays and impressive resumes. With BS/MD programs, however, this is unfortunately not the case. The average GPA for successful BS/MD students is usually anywhere from 3.95-4.0 and SAT scores are usually 2500+. If your statistics aren’t within this range, then there is typically no way to “save” yourself with other notable accomplishments. BS/MD programs are really looking overachievers, and that means students who have high GPAs, above average SAT scores, convincing essays, and remarkable resumes. It’s never enough to just one or two from that list.

Having gone through the entire BS/MD process myself, I can tell you from personal experience that there might be times when the workload is overwhelming and your efforts seem fruitless. But if you stay organized and maintain a steadfast mindset, then it will all payoff in the long run. It’s not going to be easy, but that’s exactly why it’ll be so much more worth it in the end. Below, I’ve listed some of strategies I used that really helped me with my GPA scores throughout high school. Stay tuned for the next blog post topic being related to SAT tips!

Find a reason to enjoy studying

I’ve found that among my friends, the people who are generally the most successful are the people who actually do not mind studying all that much. Of course, there are probably a million other things they could be doing instead of studying, but when it’s something they have to do, they choose to make the best of it. And the most effective way to do that is to find something about studying that excites you. It’ll be different for everyone, and so it might require a bit of trial-and-error, but that’s okay!

For me, personally, something about studying that really excites me is color-coding my notes. I love having a system of highlighting that indicates to me which color is representative of what. So, for example, everything I highlight in yellow is a vocabulary word that I need to know, everything I highlight in pink is a “very important” note, and anything I highlight in orange is either a topic I don’t completely understand or a question that I need to remember to ask my teacher. To some people, this entire process may seem time-consuming and unnecessary, but for me it works. At the end of a study session, I love flipping through all the notes I took and observing all the pretty colors on the page. And not just that, but I’ve also found that it’s a great way for me to organize my thoughts. So when I go to talk to a professor, I don’t have to waste time skimming through all my notes just to find that question I wanted to ask. Instead, I’ll just look for the orange highlight, and voila, there’s my question! Again, to some people this process is pointless, but it works well for me so I stick with it anyways. Even if it’s a quirky habit of yours that makes study fun, use it! Because at the end of the day, it’s not other people who are going to be studying for you, so who care what they think of your study habits.

Choose your friends carefully

Now before you think “Wow this sounds exactly like something my parents preach to me,” try to understand the relevance of this statement. Sure, it’s good advice for the whole “Don’t do drugs!” conversation, but it’s equally as important in regards to your GPA.

In high school, everybody wants to fit in; the only problem is it’s a lot harder to fit in when none of your friends have the same priorities as you. So why not make it easier on yourself and associate yourself with people who understand why you spend so much time doing what you do. My closest friends in high school were people who had the same goals and interests as me; they too wanted to lock in research positions, secure high GPAs, and spend time volunteering at local hospitals. It’s not that we didn’t find time to socialize and have fun, it’s just that we chose to balance our lifestyle in similar ways. So when I had to turn down an invitation to hang out because I had a midterm to study for, my friends understood where I was coming from (because at some point in time, they had done the same thing).

Now don’t get me wrong and completely shut off the possibility of being friends with someone just because they don’t have similar goals or interest as you – it’s never smart to be closed-minded. Just be conscious of the factor of influence that comes with friendships. For example, I remember when I was in my second-semester junior year, I had all of a sudden developed really close friendships with a lot of people who were second-semester seniors. And while I valued their friendship and enjoyed spending time with them, I found myself neglecting work just to hang out with these friends. No one was really at fault here; it’s just that we were both at different points in our life. I was going through one of the toughest semesters of high school while they were breezing through one of the easiest semesters of high school. As a result, we had different priorities, but because I was spending so much time with them, I caught myself slowly wandering away from my priorities. Things like this will happen all the times when it comes to friendship and, well, just life in general. What’s important is that you’re able to catch yourself at the right time and make the necessary decisions and changes to find a balance between work and play.

Find a study buddy or study group

Coming into college, I have found that one of the best ways to study for exams is with other people. Now this doesn’t mean you put off studying until the very last day then go to a study group and assume they’ll teach you everything you need to know for the test (you’d be surprised how many people do this!). Instead, what you should do is plan ahead and try to finish up your individual studying at least one day prior to the exam. That way, when you go to your study group or go to meet up with your friend, you’ll be prepared to both ask and answer questions. If you go unprepared, then neither you nor your friend(s) will really benefit from the study session; instead, both of you will spend your whole time learning the material (which is something you can do on your own) instead of applying the material to test-like questions.

The benefit of having a study buddy is the variation in perspective. Perhaps your friend caught a detail that you didn’t, or maybe they didn’t understand a topic that you can now explain to them. Teaching is one of the best forms of confirming that you really know what you’re talking about, so by studying with a study buddy, you’ll actually be testing your own knowledge.

Make it an expectation, not a goal

By making a high GPA an expectation as opposed to a goal, what you essentially do is transform your mindset from “I want it” to “I need it”. When you’re thinking more along the lines of the “I want it” mentality, it’s easier for obstacles to get in the way of achieving your goal. If, however, you maintain an “I need it” mindset, then you are more likely to dig deep and find the inner motivation to overcome any obstacles that may try to hinder your success. You might still fall short, but your motivation will then only increase to make sure you avoid slipping up again.

Of course, some people might disagree with this approach, but from speaking from personal experience, I can confirm that this “expectation, not a goal” mentality has really geared me to achieve maximum success. Sure, getting one B on your transcript does not mean you are going to fail in life, but there is a possibility that it ends up being the difference between getting accepted or rejected by your dream BS/MD program, so don’t take it lightly!

Above I’ve listed three most important tips that helped me get the GPA I wanted. Stay tuned for part 2 of this topic, in which I’ll discuss two more GPA tips!

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

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

What to do in 11th grade

Finish all standardized tests and narrow down your college list.

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

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

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

What to do in 12th grade

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

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

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

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

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

 

Planning Ahead for Med School: 10th Grade

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

What to do in 10th grade

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

A few important notes on the above template schedules:

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

Secondly, get research experience!

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

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

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

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

Dear Professor/Dr. ______,

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

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

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

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

A few important notes on the above template email:

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

Thirdly, start volunteering.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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