At this point in time, it’s far too early to decide whether or not medicine is your calling. It’s never, however, too early to start exploring the field of science.
Most students who end up applying to BS/MD programs (myself included!) know from quite early on that science is a subject that sparks curiosity within them. Specifically, students who gravitate towards subjects such as biology and chemistry are likely to develop aspirations of becoming doctors. There are, however, plenty of exceptions; in fact, some of the most in-demand skills in today’s field of medicine have to do with computer science and engineering. So even if you’re a student who tends to lean more strongly towards math and computer science-related fields, don’t completely rule out medicine as a possible career option, especially if you have even the slightest interest in learning more about the human body.
But how exactly do you decide which subjects interest you?
The most foolproof way is to get out and try everything! By the time kids hit middle school, they’ve usually tried out a number of extra-curricular activities and have narrowed it down to two or three that they really enjoy (whether that be dance, music, sports, etc.).
But what most students haven’t had the chance to do is test out their academic interests via a trial-and-error method. Of course, most students get a general idea of what subjects they enjoy by simply going to class, but that isn’t usually enough to determine whether you can maintain those same academic interest long-term. The best way to really put it to the test is by participating in extra-curricular activities that are related to those subject areas.
For example, a student who likes biology could submit a biology-based project into their local science fair. Or a student who likes math could get involved with Math Olympiad competitions outside of school. The only obstacle you may face is accessibility; it’s slightly difficult to acknowledge your potential interest in a topic that you’ve never experienced (or maybe haven’t even heard of) before.
For example, a student may not know whether or not they enjoy computer science if they’ve never taken a class on it (likely because most middle schools don’t offer CS courses). Because of such limitations, try to exhaust all possible options while in middle school, but don’t shut yourself off from subjects you haven’t yet experienced. Ninth grade will provide you with more opportunity to broaden your interests, so stay open-minded
If you’ve already entered high school and are still somewhat scatter-minded about your academic interests, don’t worry – you’ve still got time!
In fact, in some ways, it’s actually advantageous to be uncertain of your interests in high school as opposed to middle school. As mentioned above, the biggest obstacle middle school students face when trying to increase their exposure to different subject areas is accessibility. In high school, though, that’s not the case. There’s a plethora of elective courses to choose from that will help you better narrow down your academic interests.
But what if there’s a subject you want to further explore and your high school doesn’t offer any classes on it? Try checking out your local community college! The benefit of being a high school student is that, given the proper permission, you can usually take classes at your local community college (oftentimes for free!). And just like high school has more course diversity than middle school, college so too has more course diversity than high school. So the likelihood of you not finding a course related to your interests is rather unlikely.
If you do choose to go down this route, there may be some applications and forms needed to be filled out, so the best way to get started is simply by approaching your guidance counselor and asking about the process. (Also, keep in mind that 3 years down the road, your counselors will be filling out some of your recommendation letters, so the earlier you go talk to them and try to build a relationship, the better your chances are at avoiding the cliché, impersonal letters that colleges hate!)
Below, I’ve noted some courses I suggest you at least try out when looking to narrow down your academic interests (not all of them will be offered at your high school, so check your local community college as suggested above!). Some of these might seem completely unrelated to medicine, but remember that there is no problem with wanting to combine two academic interests into one interdisciplinary subject. In fact, that’s extremely appealing to some BS/MD programs because medicine itself is inherently an interdisciplinary field.
In addition to identifying your academic interests, it is equally important to use freshman year to narrow down your extra-curricular interests. The first few months of the year might seem a bit overwhelming, with every club trying to shove a flyer in your face and trying oh-so-hard to get you to come to their new member meeting. But don’t let that pressure get to you; in fact, embrace it!
The best way to deal with this situation is, in my opinion, to welcome it with open arms. When each club stops you and asks you to sign up for their email list, go ahead and do it. This is the time for you to exhaust all your potential extra-curricular options and to really figure out which activities you want to fully commit to. So go to all those introductory meetings and, better yet, stick with the club for at least one semester. Staying with the cub even when all the new-member excitement dies down will allow you to get a real feel for what the club is like.
You’ll see that some clubs aren’t as exciting, structured, or worth your time as you’d thought they’d be, while others that you had expected to be boring are surprisingly quite thought-provoking. But the only way to really weed out which clubs are well-suited for you and which ones aren’t is by maintaining a certain level of commitment to all of them throughout your first semester. After that, you’ll have the personal experience needed to make a knowledgeable decision.
Students who have already been dedicated to certain activities (such as sports or music) for their entire life may ask what is the point of joining clubs at all. If you love what you do and are ready to commit another four years to it, then by all means, go ahead! There will likely be some way for you to continue your passions in high school (ex: join band or playing for your high school sports teams).
If, however, you are somewhat hesitant about whether or not you can see yourself continuing that same activity for another number of years, then perhaps consider joining some clubs. Just because you’ve been involved with something for so long doesn’t mean you have to continue it, especially if you’re only going to be a passive participant. In fact, that holds true for just about anything you decide to pursue in high school.
One of the most common misconceptions student have about being a competitive college applicant is having a to join every single possible club on campus. But in reality, colleges are looking for quality over quantity. If you’ve got 2 or 3 main activities that you’re heavily involved with and have the experiences, awards, and leadership positions to back that up, then you’re in a much better position than another student who simply has a laundry list of activities written down on their resume.
Students who take note of this early on and decide to fully commit their passion and energy into a few, selective activities are really the ones who find the most success with colleges.
The final but perhaps the most important note to make about freshmen year is about your GPA: do not let your grades slip! Your grades are going to be one of most important factors of consideration by BS/MD selection committees, so do everything in your power to maintain a high GPA. Classes are only going to get tougher and your schedule is only going to get more hectic, so the best way to set yourself up for academic success in the future is by laying down a strong foundation in freshmen year with a high GPA.
But why does your GPA even matter that much?
Most students know that colleges place a lot of importance on grade point averages, but not all of them really know why. It’s not because your GPA displays your intelligence, but rather because it displays your work ethic.
No student will ever tell you that a 4.0 comes easily. Sure, some classes might be an easy A, but on the flip side, some classes will require you to put in endless hours of work to just barely scrape that A. No matter what, every student will at some point face a subject that they really struggle with. But what differentiates a high GPA student from a low GPA student is their willingness to work hard and improve on their weaknesses. Colleges are looking for students who’ve got the intrinsic motivation to overcome challenges, and your GPA is a perfect representation of that.
Lastly, make sure to enjoy 9th grade! It may seem like a whole new, scary world, but you’ll look back and reminisce about those easier times. Ninth grade is a time for exploration and discovery, so don’t let the stresses of a heavy workload make you miss out on all the social experiences. Sure, there will be some sacrifices you have to make, but in the end, it’s all about balance. If you take the necessary actions at the right time, then by all means it is possible to be a competitive applicant and still have fun. Tenth grade is going to get tougher (about which there will be a blog post next!) so enjoy the freedoms of 9th grade while they last!
For more on this series, click onto Planning Ahead for Medical School: 10th Grade and Planning Ahead for Medical School: 11th and 12th Grades.
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