Hi everyone! Since the application season has begun for medical school, I have a guest post featuring my friend Steven of @premedmotivation, who will be a MSI this fall. If you’re interested in applying to medical schools, keep reading for some great advice! I’ve got another post coming up with an incoming OMSI as well, so keep an eye out for that!
Name & Age: Steven, 20 years old
College: Boston University
Major & minor: Major in Neurobiology and minor in Human Physiology
Medical School (potentially): Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson medical school (as of now). It makes the most sense since I get in-state tuition and it is very close to my hometown of Hoboken, NJ (Yay New Jersey!!).
When did you decide on the pre-med path?
I decided on the pre-med path when I was just a little boy. My parents and brother used to always take me to the local Barnes & Noble as a kid. Instead of doing my homework, I’d scavenge the medicine section and look at all the pretty pictures in the anatomy books. I have always had that fascination with what our human bodies were capable of doing, and the complexity and beauty of it. That’s when I knew I definitely needed to do something related to science and the human body.
What finalized my decision to pursue medicine was my grandfather’s passing due to lung cancer. I was able to see the compassion in medicine. I witnessed how doctors and healthcare professionals interacted with him and my family in the last days of his treatment. They showed characteristics that I wanted to embody as a person in the future.
Brief breakdown of the MCAT:
4 Sections, with scores ranging from 118-132 for each section.
The lowest grade you can get is a 472, and the highest is a 528.
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems– 59 multiple choice, 95 minutes
- Tests biology, organic chemistry, physiology, inorganic chemistry, and biochemistry
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems– 59 multiple choice, 95 minutes
- Tests biochemistry, biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior– 59 multiple choice, 95 minutes
- Tests psychology, sociology, and biology
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills- 53 multiple choice, 90 minutes
Total amount of time is around 7 hours and a half, so not only is it a test of knowledge, but it also tests your stamina and endurance. I would suggest taking a lot of practice exams to get used to the timing.
When did you take the MCAT?
I was originally supposed to take it around April 20th during my Junior year, but school was just going 100% and I barely had time to study. Club volleyball Nationals had been 1-2 weeks before that and the timing just wouldn’t have worked out. I postponed my MCAT to May 21st, after finals and my brigade trip to Honduras. This gave me some time to study in Honduras and a week after I go back to go into full studying mode.
How did you prepare for the MCAT?
- My schedule studying for the MCAT during the school year was very on and off. I tried my best to block off at least 2 hours a day and a few hours on the weekends to do content review and practice questions. This forced me to manage my time well since I had to account for classes, MCAT, and all my extracurriculars. I started intensely studying for it around winter break (6-8 hours/day). I used The Princeton Review review set mostly for content, and moved onto ExamKracker 1001 Questions for Physics, Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, and Biology to get some practice questions in. I also purchased the AAMC practice bundle with questions online, a scored exam, and an unscored exam. The AAMC set was definitely the most helpful in terms of the content, difficulty, and style of the questions.
- What I did for content review was read through the review books, highlight/annotate the book, and do the practice questions at the end of each chapter. Then, I’d make my own notes on a separate sheet of paper of each chapter. I wrote out all the important concepts, theories, formulas, and drew all the mechanisms and diagrams that I needed to know. By the end of all my content review, I had gathered around 200 pages of handwritten notes. This was my bread and butter and I saved, laminated, and placed them into a binder for referencing and review. The week in Honduras and the week after is when I flipped back and forth through this binder to memorize/understand everything I had written down. I really attribute my success in both science sections to these notes I had saved up.
- I hated the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section (CARS) with a burning passion. I was never good at reading or writing in high school, and that definitely persisted in college. Every time I had to sit down and do practice questions, I felt like I wanted to cry. I tried to do 2-3 passages a day in my ExamKrackers 101 passages book and the AAMC set I had bought. I also didn’t really have time to do as many full-length practice tests as I would have liked. I did the scored exam from AAMC, and one full length from The Princeton Review and that was it. I definitely could have used more preparation, time management, and training of my stamina. I would recommend taking a practice exam every weekend so you don’t get to the actual exam and burnout right after lunch.
What extracurriculars did you do in college?
– 1-year of basic biochemical research at a Diabetes and Obesity lab on the medical campus
~50 hours shadowing neurosurgeons, cardiac surgeon, and a primary care physician
~15 hours shadowing primary care physicians in Honduras
~100 hours shadowing in New Zealand
– One summer of volunteering at the cardiac wing at my hometown hospital
– One summer of volunteering at Brigham and Women’s Hospital
– One summer of volunteering/teaching for underserved high school population in the Boston area
– Volunteered at the ABLE conference for science teachers and professors across the U.S.
– 4 semesters of Learning Assistant experience for Systems Physiology Lab
– Organize and run the review
– 1 semester of Learning Assistant experience for Principles of Neuroscience
– 4 years of Club Volleyball
– 2 Regional championships
– 2 time regional all-tournament team
– 1 club volleyball National Championships in our division
– 1st team All-American for Nationals
– 4 years of volleyball in two different organizations back at home in the summer
– Member of the Alpha Epsilon Delta (AED) pre-med honor society
– Global Medical Brigades
Study advice for undergraduates:
- Find what works for you. Do you like to type your notes or handwrite them? Analyze which style you like the best and which helps you understand and memorize the material better. For me, I really like to handwrite all my notes unless I’m running out of time before the exam. Even with typing notes, I include pictures and diagrams into the text and annotate them more when they’re printed.
- Social media and technology. This is a big one I struggle with, especially Instagram. When I really need to buckle down and study intensely, I use the Self-Control app on my computer to block addicting websites. If you don’t need your computer to do work/study, then close it. I typically listen to music as well, so I have my phone close to me but on silent mode. I try my best not to touch it!
- Find your study spot (s). If it’s at home, make sure your settings are quiet and you have a nice workspace with good lighting. Minimize distractions on the desk that could take away from your study time. If you study with friends, make sure these are friends you can ACTUALLY study with. These are the friends that push you to continue studying and are not having a full on conversation in front of you. It’s nice to have other people to study with so you don’t feel as lonely, but try not to talk to them unless absolutely necessary or as a study break! This way, you can maximize your time and efficiency studying.
- Time yourself. “I study for 8 hours, why don’t I get anything done.”
Studying for 8 hours and studying efficiently for 8 hours can mean very different things. You’ll be surprised how much of that time is wasted talking to people, playing with your computer/phone, eating, or anything else. I really like putting on a stopwatch to see how effective my studying is. Anytime I get distracted and stop studying, I stop the timer. At the end of my study session, I look to see how much time I had actually studied and the total amount of time that had elapsed. Play a game with yourself and see if you can get your study efficiency % higher with each study session.
How many schools did you apply to? How many interviews did you attend?
I applied to 21 schools, received 8 interviews, and attended 6 interviews. Boy was it tough to balance interviews and school at the same time. So many days of missed class and a lot of time spent playing catch up. It really taught me to manage my time well so I could succeed at both the interviews and school. The interview process was nerve-wracking for sure, but I learned to enjoy it and make connections with my future colleagues and classmates.
How did you frame your personal statement?
Who did you get letters of recommendation from? Any tips for asking?
– I got my letters of recommendations from my Principles of Neuroscience professor, who I also worked under as a learning assistant for one semester.
– I got one from the professor I was working with to teach the physiology labs.
– One from my intensive organic chemistry professor, my medical terminology professor, my STEM education professor, and one from my research professor.
I made sure that these professors knew me on a personal level, whether that be me talking to them after class, asking questions in class, or attending their office hours. That way, they’re more inclined to write you a great letter of recommendation. When asking, try your best to be in person so you can give them more details about why you need the letter of recommendation. Be very courteous with them and give them ample time to write one. Don’t be afraid to ask them if they need supplemental materials and to send them reminders of the deadlines.
Example of a request:
“Hi Professor X, I really enjoyed your class/working with you and was wondering if you could write me a good letter of recommendation? I am applying to medical school next cycle and would love to have you as one of my recommenders.”
– Practice speaking to a wall, a mirror, or a friend. You do not want interview day to be the first time you actually speak the words you had planned.
– Practice good eye contact and a handshake. First impressions are very important!
– I made a nice little binder for interviews. I printed out my primary application, secondary to the school I was interviewing at, and some common questions the school asked (via SDN). I did more research on the school and found what I liked about the school and what set it apart. I made sure to think long and hard about how I fitted the school and how the school would be a good fit for me.
– Don’t memorize answers to interview questions, but have an idea of what you would say for certain questions types. Maybe make a list of common questions and just jot down some ideas
What is your biggest piece of advice for students who will be applying this cycle?
- Start early. Have a solid copy of your personal statement before June so you can have friends and professors edit it. You don’t necessarily have to incorporate all of their advice/corrections, but it’s nice to see what they think. Typically, a lot of the medical school secondary questions for each school can be found online. Take a look at those and start drafting up ideas that you’d like to emphasize. Take your time researching the schools that are your top choices and what they have to offer. Look at the MSARs purchased through AAMC for each school’s mission statement and how they/you match you/them. Many schools are rolling, and the faster you can turn in your primary and secondary, the quicker you can be reviewed by the admissions committee. Of course, don’t turn it ASAP if you sacrifice quality of your materials.
- Have a good range of schools on your list. Look at the MSARs at the average MCAT and GPAs for each school as a start to drafting your school list. Then take your time to research each school’s mission, resources, and the opportunities they have. When I was drafting my list, I looked at schools that were good for matching into neurosurgery and surgery because that’s what I foresee myself doing for now. Things like location, cost of attendance, and research opportunities are also important things too. If you’re interested in global health, check out each school’s global health pages to see which locations are offered. Think about what you’re looking for in a medical school before you start your list.
Any plans for the summer before MS1 🙂
I’ve got a bit of a wanderlust itch. Ever since traveling to so many places for interviews, Bahamas, and my spring break in Europe, I’ve been wanting to travel more. I will be going to Barcelona, Switzerland, Iceland, S. Korea, China, Australia, and New Zealand (South Island). Definitely need to relax my brain before it goes into intense mode again!
I also plan on exploring my new hobbies: photography and photo-editing.
Do you plan on blogging during medical school?
Yes!! Planning on starting a blog about med school/traveling/studying over the summer. I’ll have a completely free summer so this is definitely something I’m interested in starting. I’ll also be making a lot more Youtube videos and keeping my Instagram account lively.