365rulesforpremeds

My Journey To Medical School

As 2012-2013 application cycle draws to a close, I thought it would be a good idea to share my experiences with you. -S

MCAT (June 2011-September 2011) - I took my MCAT the summer before my senior year of college. After careful consideration of each company’s material and teaching style, I chose Berkeley Review. I needed an extremely thorough, detailed review on all my pre-requisite courses and Berkeley Review delivered. The biggest struggle for me during this time period was keeping up with my study schedule and the pace of the course.

Meanwhile, my practice test scores looked really bad. I barely broke 30 in mid-August. By the end of August, my highest practice test score was a 34, which I thought was a fluke. I contemplated on postponing my MCAT, but my family encouraged me to go ahead and take it in September, as I had already spent an entire summer studying for it.

MCAT (September 7th, 2011) - Took my MCAT. I felt shitty after taking it. The computers also froze during our verbal section…not fun.

MCAT Score (October 2011) - I enjoyed a month of carefree fun after my MCAT. When the scores were released, I bought a bottle of wine and finished half of it before I had the courage to check my score. I was pleasantly surprised! I ended up in the 97 percentile overall and did very well on the biological science portion.

Personal Statement (March 2012-June 2012) - English is my second language and writing is my biggest nemesis. I struggled to express my desire to go to medical school coherently. I also didn’t know how to make myself standout. All my experiences felt very cookie-cutter, yet, there really were what made me want to pursue medicine. After my friend read and tore apart my personal statement (multiple times), my confidence was shot. At one point, my friend even asked if I had considered taking two years off, instead of one.

I went through at least three complete revisions before I felt confident about my personal statement. Never be afraid to tear down what you have! It may be tough to hear that you are just “average,” but be as open minded as you can be and take criticisms constructively. Put your heart and soul into it as you write.

AMCAS Primary Submission (June 19th, 2012) - I submitted my AMCAS primary pretty late, as I was busy with finals, graduation, and moving back to Northern California. This definitely delayed the verification process and consequently the secondaries. I also realized after submitting my AMCAS that I had forgotten to list my departmental honors and another summer activity…so definitely double, triple, quadruple check your application! 

I applied to 30 schools based on AAMC’s MSAR (also my location preferences). 

Secondaries (mid-July 2012-November 2012) - They weren’t lying when they said that secondaries come all at once. After my primary was verified, I was receiving multiple secondaries on the daily. I wanted to cry with all the essays I had to write (again, writing is not my forte)! During July and August, I was also abroad doing a full-time internship and therefore struggled to find time for essay writing.

Due to traveling, I also did not have time to pre-write. I turned in most of my secondaries very late in the game, which I think my was biggest downfall in this entire application process. I received 29 secondaries and only completed ~22 by the end of October. The lesson here is to PRE-WRITE!

My First Interview (October 3, 2012) - I was scared shitless. My performance was not stellar. I googled every possible interview questions and rehearsed them with my friend. Here’s a good website by Harvard Med Girl that I used to prepare.

I wouldn’t recommend writing out exactly of what to say for each question (too scripted), but rather, prepare a few stories that you can spin to fit some overarching interview question themes (team work, ethics, leadership, etc.). You want to be sincere and you also want to actually SOUND sincere. Be yourself and tell the stories to your interviewers in the same way as you would to your uncle or grandparents.

First Waitlist (October 15th, 2012) - Wait-listed after my first interview. Not a good feeling nor a good indicator of my interview skills.

Interviews (October 2012-January 2012) - I received six interview invites and attended five. I went everywhere from blazing hot 80 degree beach weather to freezing 30 degree snow. Meeting all the well-qualified applicants and inspiring student interviewers along the way was definitely humbling. 

All my interviews were very conversational. Rather than interrogating me, most of my interviewers put in their best effort to get to know me as a person. I did have one stress interview, during which the interviewer asked “What do you have to offer to this school?” After hearing my answer, she responded  “So, really, what do you have to offer?” I, of course, panicked a little after being asked the same question twice. It took me a few secondes to recompose myself, before elaborating. I was accepted. I suppose the lesson here is “don’t lose your cool.”

After every interview, I also ranked the schools in terms of location, facilities, faculty, curriculum, and overall impression on the scale of 1-5. This helped me remember what I liked and did not like about each school (because all schools start to look the same after a while) when it came to decision time.

First Acceptance (December 7th, 2012) - I got the call! My very first acceptance! I was actually at another interview when I missed the call. Earlier that day, I walked in the pouring rain and showed up wet as a dog to the interview (not to mention that I found a giant rip down my pantyhose when I took off my rain boots). I felt crummy all day because of the bad morning. When I listened to the acceptance voicemail while walking out of the medical building, I felt oddly calm. It wasn’t until after I called my friends and family that it all sank in. The feeling of relief and exhilaration was unreal!

Last Interview (January 8th, 2013) - My last and only interview in California. At this point, I was set on moving to the East Coast.

Update Letters (January 2013) - I sent two update letters, one I had already interviewed at and one I hadn’t heard anything from. With the school I had already interviewed at, I talked about the positive impressions I had of the school and activities I did not listed on my application. As the admissions committee review applicants based only on interviewer write-ups, the letter helped to give the committee a more complete picture of me as an applicant. I was ultimately accepted by the school. My second update letter, on the other hand, did not result in an interview invite.

Always double check each school’s policy on update letters. Some schools are very receptive, while some do not want to hear from you until after May 15th. 

Second Acceptance (January 30th, 2013) - My second acceptance to Keck School of Medicine of USC! I couldn’t believe it! I’m staying in California!

Third Acceptance (March 20th, 2013) - Out of the 30 schools I initially applied to, I was accepted by three and wait-listed at two. After revisiting Keck in April, I was set on staying in California and returning to Los Angeles.

The entire process was incredibly trying and humbling, and I cannot be more grateful for how it turned out for me. I hope this entry will offer you some guidance in this upcoming application cycle. Best of luck to all the applicants!

Feel free to shoot 365rulesforpremeds questions if you have any! If you would like to know more about my research, “pre-med” extracurriculars, shadowing experiences, or my stats, I’ll answer them privately.

The Medical School Timeline

As requested, the rebloggable version.

If you aren’t taking a gap year, this is how your timeline would look (roughly):

Freshman Year: Take classes, decide on college major & life goals.

Sophomore  Year:  Continue to engage in pre-med activities (volunteering, shadowing, pre-med orgs etc…).  Start thinking about when you want to study for the MCAT.  Depending on your preference, you could either study during your Junior year or during the summer before your Junior year.

  • Summer Break (pre-Junior year): Study for your MCAT, plan to take it during August or September.  Start researching med schools and different programs.  Continue to engage in pre-med activities.

Junior Year: Solidify your list of medical schools where you want to apply.  Draft your personal statement.  Approach professors for letters of recommendation.  Save $$$$ for the application process.

*JUNE* of Junior Year: AMCAS opens.  Submit your application ASAP.  Start pre-writing your secondary applications.

  • Summer Break (pre-Senior Year): Write your secondary applications.  Continue to engage in pre-med activities.  Buy an interview suit, shoes, etc…  Start interview prep.  Continue saving $$$ for the upcoming interview season.

Fall/Winter of Senior Year: Do your best to balance school and any secondary applications/interviews.  Continue to practice interview prep.  Continue engaging in pre-med activities.

Spring of Senior Year: Start making decisions about where you want to attend medical school.  Remember that May 15th is the deadline for holding multiple acceptances without losing your deposits at each school.

  • Summer Break (post-Senior Year): Celebrate, travel, etc… :)

NOTE: The process does take over a year, depending when you submit your application and when the schools invite you for interviews.  You could realistically receive interview invites UP UNTIL May of your Senior Year!  

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. 

Want to get into medical school or a competitive residency? There is a way to get there. You just have to explore your options. It might take longer than anticipated, but it will get you there.