If you're like me, you will likely already know all this stuff before reading the rest of this post. But, if you're also like me, for some reason you like to hear about it from as many sources as possible and put together you're own way to tackle on the huge issue. So today, in the midst of medical school application time, I decided I'd list some of the basics on applying to medical school (in no particular order) and a few of my thoughts about it all. All of these are completely my opinions (and not Harvard's) so take it with a grain of salt, just as you would any other sole source!
It's no secret that medical schools care about grades and your GPA. The transition to college classes is tough, so try to figure out a system of organization and studying that works for you quickly, then make sure you continue on an upward trend. Easier said than done, especially when you start getting into higher level courses, but remember this key point: medical schools have no idea how difficult a class is at your school. BIO 273 could be a million different things and probably is, we all know the grades depend on the workload, the professor, even the TA. So do your research before choosing classes and pick the ones that satisfy requirements and interest you the most (or are just easy if the subject matter doesn't interest you). Not the ones you think will impress med school admissions committees. I had no problem taking my year of physics at my local state school instead of my own undergrad. I hate physics, and at my school it involved hours and hours of work outside of class plus ridiculous labs, etc. Easy A at my state school with minimal time investment (and still learned what I needed for the MCAT).
This is really just the beginning of a long series of huge standardized exams if you decide to pursue the med school/physician pathway. Lots of people like the review courses, but if you don't have the time or money, and do have the self-motivation and organization skills I'd study solo. I used the ExamKrackers series of review books primarily, supplementing with textbooks for concepts that I really didn't understand. I took my exam March of junior year - I started studying in January when we have a month off, using that month to intensely review all of the material, then during spring semester I took an official practice exam every week up until my exam, going over all of the answers I had gotten wrong and making sure I understood why. No cheating yourself when it comes to studying for these exams. I took the last week to re-memorize the little things, solidify my most challenging topics, and the day before treated myself to the spa and an early movie night :)
These are big. Anyone can get straight A's and ace an exam with nothing else on their plate. Find what you're passionate about and start pursuing it early and deeply. It doesn't have to be medicine related (but if it's not make sure you do have some medical related extracurriculars as well). My thing was research. I loved it, loved going into the lab, sitting at the microscope, planning experiments. I stayed in the same lab all four years of undergrad and was able to present multiple times at national conferences all over the country and have a first-author publication. I was also very much into women's health, especially minority women's health, so I worked at a women's health clinic as a medical assistant and counselor primarily dealing with a Spanish-speaking only population. One other thing I did junior year was serve as president for our minority pre-health organization on campus (shout out to any MAPS members out there)! Whatever you do, make sure it's something you can speak about passionately on interviews - and you can't fake that.
Letters of Recommendation
I've spoken to many admission officers and their opinions really vary on how much letters matter. To be on the safe side, get to know a few of your favorite professors early and don't be afraid to ask them if they feel like they could write you a strong letter of recommendation. Thankfully at my small undergrad I knew many of my professors so well that we had been out for drinks/I babysat their children/etc. I loved my letter writers!
So this you can't change much, but it's likely that something in your life made you want to pursue medicine. And maybe the road was easy and your physician parents helped you out along the way with their connections (and people - there is absolutely nothing wrong with that). But maybe you're like me and it was a little tougher. Don't be afraid to discuss the adversities you've overcome, or the long and indirect path that led you to where you are now.
This is where a lot of you're life experiences can be highlighted. Make it an easily readable story, that says why medicine without sounding like everyone else. We know you want to help people (and you can mention that in a sentence, just don't make it your whole essay), and we know your extracurriculars - so don't just list those. Talk about an experience, or have a theme. The personal statement was my favorite part of the application process and on interviews I got great feedback about my piece.
I hope this was somewhat helpful, I wanted to do this quick post as it's time sensitive, stay tuned for the long-awaited study skills post and tips for interviews!! Happy Monday!!