If you want to apply to medical school…Posted: December 3, 2012
Some people know that I’ve put in 96 separate applications to medical schools over two application cycles. So far, I have received interview invitations from six schools. I was waitlisted at one and I am very, very fortunate to have finally been accepted at one about a month ago. Its been a long three years for me. So I don’t know if that makes any of my medical school application “advice” more or less valid. But I’ve had a lot of regrets and mistakes along the way and I feel like I’ve learned from a few. So here’s my thoughts, based on my experiences and mistakes, just in case you or a friend or a family member is thinking medical school:
1) Apply to law school. Study hard and get into T14 (top 14) law school. School’s only 3 years and there’s no residency. Get your six digits that way. No? I-Banking. You work just as long/hard but the money’s better. You’ll push a Rover in no time. And in law and banking, you get to wear custom fitted suits and put up some nice Allen Edmonds up on your desk. Or better yet, work on that jump shot.
2) If you are still in high school, and you are somewhere in the range of “kinda thinking about it”, apply to the direct entry programs. There are a handful of programs where you can apply to their undergraduate institution and their medical school simultaneously as a high school student. I think UCSD, Boston University, University of Miami, and several others have one. The number of spots per program is few, but its an easier road to take than the traditional one. Keep your GPA up (3.5 is a number I hear) and boom, you’re in. With these programs, there’ll be none of the “holy shit, I actually might not get in somewhere and end up standing outside of Home Depot every morning to pay rent” anxiety. Plus, a lot of programs squeeze your undergrad years to 2 or 3 years instead of the traditional 4. So in other words, you end up getting both your bachelors and your MD in 7 years, something that’s going to take me 11. Save yourself the time and the heartache, its worth it. Not sure of the commitment? You can always quit / transfer / change your major…cross that bridge when you get there. You can find out more about these programs by downloading the MSAR (Medical School Admissions Report) by the AAMC. I think it costs ~$20, buy it. I didn’t really know of these programs until I was a junior at Cal and it was too late and I really regret it.
3) Speaking of Cal, I would’ve never went there if I could do it again. Its a fantastic school, probably the second best university that’s not on the East Coast. Its up there in Nobel Prize winners with Harvard, MIT, and Stanford. A lot of professors opened my eyes to perspectives of the world I had never even thought about and I met a lot of brilliant, interesting people. But its not built as a great pre-med institution. its not even the competition, O Chem is tough anywhere you go. But for one, there’s no “in-house” medical school and professors have no interest/deep knowledge of the medical school application process. This trickles down to grades, advising, and recommendation letters. Two, the school’s too big for any kind of effective advising and there wasn’t any one but myself that I could rely on to figure out the application process. I remember when I walked into the career center with an appointment with a list of some detailed questions about the application and I realized after the 3rd or 4th question, these pre-med advisors had never seen the application! I was so pissed. “Knowing how to work the system”, not to cheat it or anything, but just to work it, is a big, often invisible, ace that’s helpful to have in the pocket. On the other hand, smaller private universities hold hands and find a way for you. I heard somewhere that 97% of Harvard pre-med students get into medical school the first time. I think a lot of that is because its Harvard but I also think that its also because they’re great at looking out for their students. Wouldn’t be surprised if it was similar with Stanford or even USC.
4) MCAT and GPA is 80% of the game. If not more. Look at the median GPA for most schools it’ll be around 3.7. An A- is 3.7. So if you’re taking a class, and your grade is less than an A-, you are in hot water. You better find a way to climb out, you are in the danger zone. Also, you can always take the MCAT again but a GPA is forever. God forgives, your GPA don’t. Unless you have a really good reason, but you don’t. They know what we know: men lie, women lie, numbers don’t. Go to office hours. Study hard.
5) Extracurricular activities. In order of importance:
1. Something clinical (e.g. hospital). Volunteer at the biggest hospital in your area. You’ll start with clerical work but find a way to get patient contact. Which I mean literally, you should be in a position where you can physically touch patients. Make connections and do as much physician shadowing as you can. Can’t play the people game?, haha grab a beer, welcome to the real world ya bish
2. Your hobbies. I would find a way to get these on paper. What I mean is that if you like painting, enter your painting into an art contest. Even if you end up in last place, at least you can write down “Art Contest 20xx — Young Artist Organization” on your application. If its chess, enter a tournament. If its baking, get a recipe published in a magazine or something. Why? Its not what you know, its what you can prove. Don’t do more than 2 of these.
3. Research. Get published, but that’s not really in your control. So work hard and may the gods be with you.
4. Charity work – soup kitchen etc
5. Sports, your acapella group, tutoring, odd jobs, etc etc etc. These are really limited return of investment. I think doing these start hurting you, because you have less time for other GPA and #1-3.
Its always better to be really good at 4 or 5 things for a long time and have something to show for it rather than have a laundry list of suspect activities.
6) A lot of schools (esp. in SoCal) are looking for Spanish speakers. In my personal experience, if someone in the US doesn’t speak English (esp. if they are poor/disadvantaged), 90% of the time they speak Spanish. Not a must, but I think it helps.
7) Apply early, hit the button by the end of June. it helps. Apply broadly. It also helps. Its also really expensive, I think I spent up to 6 or 7 thousand so far. One thing I wish I did was to apply to for one of those “frequent flyer” credit cards and use that to rack up points so I could save money flying out for interviews.
8) Not all advice is good advice. The first time I applied, I asked everyone I knew to look at my personal statement and I got a lot of responses and I couldn’t tell which advice was any good. So I tried my best and at the end, my personal statement was largely shaped by those closest it to me and I regret it. It wasn’t about them, it was about me. The second time I wrote one, I didn’t show it to anyone until I had a final draft that was 98.7% done. I then showed it to only 4 or 5 people (at most) who knew me or the application process best. Then I ignored what most of them told me, even my program director (who hated my reference to Arnold Schwarzenegger…anyway…). And I’m much more proud of my second statement, its really about me, for better or worse.
9) Interview. By the time that part comes around, like athletic ability, you got it or you don’t. You can get along with people and talk your way out of uncomfortable situations or you can’t. You’re a weirdo or you’re not. You sure can try to practice though, I don’t know if it really helps that much. Just don’t forget what’s on your application. Oh and if you’re wearing a coat over your suit, your coat length must be longer than your suit jacket. And goddamnit a blazer/sport coat is not an acceptable substitute for a suit. Sorry, dress code pet peeves I’ve seen.
I think that’s it. Just my opinions its just how I feel. Good luck and may God be with you, he damn sure wasn’t with me haha. And when you get in, remember what they say, you only do two days of med school no how, that’s the day you get in……..
and the day you get out. hahahahahhahahahahahahhahahaha
peace & love my friends,