Summer Before Senior Year

Wow. I cannot believe we are here. Senior year just a few days away. While at times I marvel how fast these 3 years of college flew by, other times I look back and reflect how much has happened.

While I am looking forward to start medical school next fall, I am at the same time sad to leave Rutgers University. This school has represented so many things to me. But the one thing it really has been for me is change. You may not know but I spent my entire primary and secondary education at the same school. I really became comfortable with the setting, the faculty, and routine I developed over the 12 years. Rutgers provided me with a new environment, new friends, and most importantly new experiences that have shaped my life and my desire to enter medicine.

While I did many things this past summer, there is one thing that really took my most time and effort these past few months: the medical school application process. From ordering transcripts, writing essays, filling my primary application, to spending weeks of effort towards the dozens of secondary applications I had to fill, this summer has allowed me to really take a closer look at myself and analyze why I want to become a doctor. Honestly writing essays on “Why Medicine” and other related topics really give you the opportunity to actually think about yourself, your goals, and whether or not you really want to go down this long road.

So now (as you may know if you read my previous post), we wait! I am in the process of receiving interview invites and application notifications from various schools. I really hope the best for myself as well as the thousands of others who are with me in this journey. The thing I have learned these past few months is that more important than GPA and MCAT are your reasons to become a doctor and your experiences that have validated this decision. Many of the applicants applying to medical school will have similar stats as you. But it is the experiences that have shaped you that are the most important as well as the personal reasons you want to pursue medicine. For all those not applying, my biggest piece of advice that will really separate you from your peers is to work on your activities and experiences. It doesn’t matter how extremely different they are. What matters most is how they have made you a better person and have enriched your perspective and goals you have made for yourself.

Well, in just a few days I will be entering my last year at Rutgers University. I am actually also really excited to maybe do things I have put aside these past few years (most notably attending a FOOTBALL game!). I will be making some more posts this semester about interview advice (which can be a lot), notifications, and any other stuff that may interest you all.

Until then… TO SENIOR YEAR!

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Waiting…

So you submitted your primary application. Already finished secondary applications, letters of recommendations have been received, and even have been marked complete. So what now??

Unfortunately all you can do now is wait. Wait for weeks or even couple of months! During this time, a lot of students develop anxiety, stress, and worry too much. People, just because you receive an interview invite late in the game does not mean you are a bad applicant. The reason you get an interview is because the school thinks you are a good fit for them.

So what do I recommend doing during this time? Well first of all relax a bit. You finished the majority of the hard work by writing all your applications, taking the MCAT, getting letters of recommendations, and so much more! Take some time to enjoy life a little bit before you start full-time at medical school. Medical schools curriculums are tough. You won’t have as much free time anymore. This is a good time to travel, catch up with friends and family, and whatever you like to do that you didn’t have time to do before!

But there’s one caveat. Just because you have finished your applications to medical schools and are waiting for any interview invite, doesn’t mean you are off the hook. I’m going to be frank with you. Over 60% of applicants in their first attempt DO NOT GET INTO ANY MEDICAL SCHOOL! That’s rough and discouraging to hear. But what it means is you need to be prepared with a back up option. What would YOU do if you did not get into any school?

So my main recommendation honestly is don’t start slacking and don’t think “I will get in somewhere”. Definitely keep working hard during your senior year. Get good grades, obtain more volunteering and clinical experience, do new things. If you are unlucky to obtain an acceptance, your future self will thank you so much for staying active during the application year. This will not only help you so much if you decide to reapply immediately after, but also improve your application to other graduate schools if you choose to apply.

Waiting is tough. Trust me. Relax. But don’t slack. Maybe after getting an acceptance you can take it more easy. Best of luck to everyone applying and now entering this waiting period. Don’t worry too much. Stress and anxiety are never good things.

Secondary (Supplementary) Applications

So after you submit your primary application (either through AACOMAS or AMCAS), within a few weeks or so you will begin receiving Supplementary or other known as Secondary applications from each school you have applied to. Two things you need to know are: these applications can come anytime and they can vary greatly from each other.

The Secondary Application is used by medical schools for a few reasons. One of the reasons is to gain more information about you. This includes any ties to the school, types of letters you have submitted, academic history, any specific programs you are interested in, and other information.

But more importantly, the majority of secondary applications require additional essays to be submitted. These essays vary from school to school but usually want to find out more information about yourself and your passions and experiences. Let’s look at three VERY common essay prompts you will surely see during your application process:

  1. Diversity Essay. One reason why getting into medical school is so tough is because you are competing with over thousands of other applicants who, on paper, look probably just like you. So how can medical schools create a class full of individuals who each will contribute to the entire class? They try to find each person’s unique or diverse characteristics using this essay prompt. What makes you “you” over thousands of others? How do you define yourself? And do not worry if you don’t have something extremely different such as Olympic swimmer or American Idol singer. Small things can also work as long as you show how this feature has defined you and your actions.
  2. Adversity Essay. Medical school is tough. And admission members need to make sure that the students they accept will be able to handle the extreme pressure and struggle and not drop out. Remember medical schools are spending a fortune in resources to provide you a high quality education in order to make you a successful doctor. So the adversity essay gives you the chance to talk about a struggle or problem you have faced in your life and how you have overcome it. Some people think that they need to have a large problem or struggle in order to write a good essay. That is not entirely true. Remember the point of this essay is HOW you overcame it. Medical schools are more interested in your coping methods and methods of handling adversity and stress.
  3. Why XXX Essay. According to AMCAS, the applicants apply on average to about 18-20 medical schools. Many applicants decide to apply to a certain school on the whim or without much thought even, thinking they will increase their chances of getting accepted at least somewhere. Furthermore, some schools receive over ten thousand applications! Because of this, schools are really interested in why you want to go their school. Out of all the medical schools in the world, why us? Many times the schools have unique missions or programs, such as focusing on global health, the underserved population, or advanced research, that students are very interested in because of their experiences and activities. It is important for students to even mention these programs by name and explain why they are interested in them due to their experiences. Other times location is a big factor. Places like NYC or Philly harbor diverse environments that will truly enrich any student’s learning experience.

While these three essays are most common across schools, keep in mind you will face different essay prompts as well. I highly recommend you to look through Student Doctor Network and its past school-specific threads. There you can find the prompts from previous years that usually do not change much. This way you can pre-write your essays and as soon as you get your secondary application, copy, paste, submit!

Don’t Forget about Specific School Requirements…

Through my current application process, I was actually caught unaware a few times about certain requirements in order to apply to a certain medical school. This can actually be very mind-boggling because, just by missing one small thing, you are unable to apply to maybe one of your dream schools. For example, Campbell University School of Osteopathic Medicine required a letter of recommendation by a MD or DO you have shadowed.

Because of this I highly highly recommend you (especially if you are soon going to apply to medical school) to create a list of potential schools you may be interested in. Even if you are very slightly interested and not sure (Check out my previous post on “How to Choose Where to Apply to?”). Then look through each school’s requirements for admissions. Luckily the majority of allopathic and osteopathic medical schools in the United States all have the same general admission requirements: 2-3 letters of recommendation, your general premed coursework, an MCAT score, and others.

The issues usually arise at places where you did not really expect to have any problem. In my opinion the hardest area is regarding letters of recommendation. The reason I feel this is so important to keep in mind is because it is very hard to get a new letter of recommendation if you need it within a few weeks. A lot of medical schools require a letter from a science course, a course from your major, and maybe sometimes a letter from a doctor you have shadowed. By looking through medical schools websites, you can figure out early on whether or not you need to try to get another letter.

Another issue that leads students into a knot is courses. So usually (honestly almost always) the general premed course work (aka bio 1/2, chem 1/2, 2 semesters of English etc etc) is enough. However there are certain schools which require other kinds of courses. From my knowledge, I have seen some require behavioral science course such as psychology or sociology. Other schools require biochemistry as well as organic chemistry 2. And even other require all required courses to be completed BEFORE you actually apply to the school. These new twists can really displace student’s potential plans. For example, one school I am applying to specifically requires 3 chemistry lab courses. I did not know this honestly. Because of this, I am planning on taking another chemistry lab course during my senior year.

This important attention to specific requirements is not only limited to medical schools. During your journey to become a doctor (actually in life in general haha), you will need to be vigilant for requirements, necessities, and prerequisites that may not be as obvious as you wish they could be. It is extremely disappointing to one’s self by not being eligible or allowed to apply or do something just because of a small minute condition or clause that slipped past you. Research, talk to advisors, consult with friends, take advice from older students or people who have already gone through what you are now going through. With today’s technology and resources, you can easily find what you are looking for.

How to Choose Where to Apply to?

One question I get a lot is “How do I choose where to apply to for medical school?”. This is indeed a very important question. And there are many many factors that go into this decision. So let’s talk about a few:

  1. Location. This is probably the biggest factor that goes into your decision. You need to decide where in the world you want to go to medical school. Do you want to stay in your country, your region, or your state? Do you want to stay in warm California or cold New Jersey? Once you make that crucial decision, I recommend taking a look at a map of all medical schools located in the United States (or country you want to go to medical school in). Then, write down all the schools in the area of your desire. And there you go! You have your first list of schools you might be interested in!
  2. GPA and MCAT. While you may want to apply to all the schools you might be interested in, it is important to compare your GPA and MCAT to the school’s median stats as well. The main reason you should do this is because applying to 40+ schools is very expensive. So it is important to cut down on that list by limiting the number of “reach” schools you apply to. Basically the same concept from colleges works here. If you are a 3.0 GPA / 500 MCAT applicant, it may not be advisable to apply to all Top 20 schools.
  3. Mission. Each applicant has their own special interests and plans for the future. Some want to find new groundbreaking research and cures, while others want to provide medical aid to third world countries. And just like you have special interests, so do medical schools! Some schools are research oriented, some are focused on providing for the underserved communities, and others are geared towards global health. So if your interest match the school’s mission, you may be very interested in attending that specific school.

Besides how to choose which medical schools to apply to, it is also important to figure out the number of schools to apply to out of the entire list you have made. This decision mainly also depends on finances. Applying to each school costs a certain amount which can add up very quickly if you apply to 20-40 schools. Furthermore, each school also has a secondary application that will cost $50-$150 separately.  So you need to figure out how much you want to spend on your application process. I recommend checking out SDN’s Medical School Application Cost Calculator for an estimate.

Furthermore, you should rank each school on your list for how interested you are in them and also how competitive the schools is compared to your stats and ECs. I advise applying to a majority of schools where you have similar stats, several schools where your stats are higher, and a few reach schools.

Lastly, I recommend checking out AAMC’s Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR). They have extensive information on each school and their tuition, average GPA MCAT, mission, and so so much more!

AACOMAS vs AMCAS

From my previous posts, you probably now know all about osteopathic and allopathic medical schools, also known as DO vs MD. Today I am going to talk a little bit about the differences and similarities between both application processes.

So first thing you need to know is that DO schools and MD schools have two different application systems. In order to apply to DO medical schools, you utilize AACOMAS (American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine). In order to apply to MD medical schools, you utilize AMCAS (American Medical College Application Service).

Major (obvious) similarity between both apps is personal and academic information regarding yourself and your coursework, such birthday, name, schools you have attended, MCAT scores, and much more.

Another similar aspect of the applications is the activity section. In both applications, you need to provide a title, activity contact information, and a brief description of what you did and what you gained and learned. There are two differences however. In AACOMAS, the brief description is limited to 600 characters (including spaces) while AMCAS limits your brief descriptions to 700 characters. Another big difference is that AMCAS has a feature where you can designate 3 experiences as “Most Meaningful Experience”. If you do so, you get 1325 additional characters to explain more about why this experience means so much to you.

Additionally, both applications require a personal statement on why you want to become a doctor and enter a career of medicine. In AACOMAS, the essay is limited to 4500 characters (including spaces) while AMCAS limits your essay to 5300 characters.

Besides that, everything else is more or less very similar. Oh  AMCAS and AACOMAS use different transcript and letter of recommendation processes. While this is different, you as the applicant have to basically do the same thing for both in order to send your official transcript and letters of recommendation.

Quick Post About Transcripts …

So one thing you need to know if you are soon going to be starting the medical school application process is regarding AMCAS Transcript processing time. Basically in order to verify all the courses and grades you enter on your AMCAS application to be sent to medical schools, you need to send an official transcript to AMCAS. So why am I making a post about this? You see…

AMCAS can only start processing your application when they have received your official transcript. So it is very IMPORTANT you send out your transcripts as soon as possible. Take a look at the graph below to see how LONG processing times can be:

Screen Shot 2018-07-05 at 8.47.31 AM(Source: AMCAS)

So let’s say AMCAS gets your transcript on July 7th, it will take around 15-20 business days just to get your application processed. That time is crucially important for you. That means your application needs to wait 15-20 business days before medical schools finally obtain them. In the mean time, thousands of applications will have already been verified and sent to schools and those applications will have begun to be looked at and reviewed.

The lesson is SEND TRANSCRIPTS EARLY! Request those transcripts to be sent ASAP once you have your spring grades. [Side comment: Some people decide to send their transcripts without their spring grades. While their applications will become verified earlier because they don’t need to wait for spring grades, you need to take into consideration whether or not this is a good idea for you. If your spring grades fulfill requirements or overall boosts your GPA, I recommend waiting until you have spring grades.]

One more thing, this information also pertains to the osteopathic medical school application AACOMAS process as well. Only thing different is that since less people apply to DO schools compared to MD schools, the processing times are much shorter.

The Personal Statement

One of the most important parts of your application is your personal statement. This is your first chance to explain to medical schools why you want to enter medicine and become a doctor. Here you can explain what motivates you to enter medicine and what life experiences have validated your decision to become a doctor.

Ok first things first: Don’t write a cliché personal statement. You need to understand one thing. Adcoms (admission committees) will be reading over a thousand essays (sometimes 5-10 times more). That means they have read all kinds of essays. They want to read something unique and personal about yourself. Some of the most cliche topics include: I want to help people, I love science, I always wanted to become a doctor. While these are good qualities to have, thousands of other applicants are saying the same thing as well.

What I recommend to do before starting your personal statement is sit down and really think about why you are becoming a doctor. What life experiences pushed you into this direction? If you want to help people, why? Majority of people don’t exactly just wake up thinking they want to become a doctor and help people. Life experiences guide them. After doing so, just note down all those different reasons. Let your train of thought run freely. This will be a great place for you to realize if you truly do want to pursue medicine.

I also advise not to worry about word/character limit at this point. The character limit for the essay is 5300 characters (including spaces). Worry about this when you start revising your drafts. No point in keeping that in mind if you do not have any drafts ready to work with yet.

Lastly, I want to touch base on a common phrase you probably have heard of before: “Show, Don’t Tell”. The difference between showing and telling is how you present any kind of information. The best way to “show” is to try to put the reader in your shoes. For example, don’t tell me you are feeling cold, show me by describing the freezing temperature and the shiver running down your spine. This method will allow your essay to not only be very effective and well written, but also better connect with the medical school admission officer.

The hardest part of writing anything is thinking about what to write. It is very important that you ruminate on this crucial question that defines your interest in medicine and your pursuit to become a doctor. Oh and make sure you run your essay across different readers so that they may give their opinions on it. Sometimes a fresh pair of eyes finds or realizes something that you may have overlooked or missed.

Spring Semester of Junior Year

Junior year finally over! Wow can’t believe I have finished 3 years at Rutgers and only have one year left. It feels like a long time ago when I just graduated high school.

Anyways, before I talk about what has been going on in my life, here’s a little snapshot of the classes I had taken this past semester:

  1. Developmental Genetics: Finally began taking some classes related to my major this semester! Developmental genetics is an amazing and interesting topic in genetics because it looks at how we go from a single-celled organism to a complex human being. We look at how genes interact with each other, how cells signal each other, and how the whole system works. There is a saying I learned in Bio 1 that goes “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. In Dev Genetics, you can clearly see how our complexity is attributed to all the different types of interactions each part of ourselves have with each other.
  2. Genetic Analysis 2: As I said last time, as a genetics major I take a 2-semester course on Genetics. This semester was filled with Hardy-Weinberg, trans-genes, molecular pathways, and cancer! A much more advanced and detailed look into modern genetics. I found this class very interesting because I was able to learn how genetics is being used today and the types of technology that this field is creating.
  3. Adolescent Psych: Last psych class needed for my minor! This was such a fun class honestly. I was able to learn all the types of changes teenagers face physically and mentally as they age. I also learned all about the types of social settings teenagers from the past and today have faced. So many things made sense based off my experience as a teenager many many years ago. And also, we got to raise a virtual teen from birth to adult! Really fun project!
  4. Intro to Music Theory: You might not know this but I love the piano. After unsuccessful attempts to play the flute and trumpet, I found the piano and till this day it is my favorite instrument. This course gave me the chance to utilize my knowledge of the piano and not only learn new music theory information, but also allowed me to compose and make a few pieces of my own!
  5. Intro to Environmental Science: If you remember from last semester, I expressed my love for Nat Geo and Discovery Channels and took a course on environmental geology. This semester I found another related course but focused more on the science of the environment and how it important it is especially today with all the climate change going on.
  6. History of Labor and Work: Alongside my love for learning, I have a special interest in history. I find history unique because we are able to look back at our past and learn from it. We can solve problems and prevent them from even happening just by looking back and seeing what happened last time this problem came up. Trust me history repeats itself more often than you think. In this course, we looked at the labor unions and working class specifically after the Civil War. One of the most interesting things I learned was that time zones was a railroad corporation idea! If it wasn’t for big railroad business in the 19th-20th century, we might have not had time zones!

Well that’s that on how my classes went. Some new things began in as the semester started. My family opened a learning center and I am one of the managers and teachers. I started volunteering at a food pantry to serve the homeless community. I continued being president of my pediatric cancer philanthropic organization. We had some great events and looking forward to another year as being president. Oh and also obtained a 4.0 again! Really glad when hard work pays off.

In other news, I got my MCAT score back late in February. I did decently well, above the national average. Main thing is I am happy with my score. I know it isn’t a 528 but, after all my hard work, I feel proud of what I got.

And finally with this summer beginning, I have begun my applications for medical school! I honestly am so happy I’m finally here. I’ve been waiting for this moment since freshman year. Keep an eye out for a couple of new posts on specific parts of the application and my tips and advice on filling it!

THE MCAT!!!!!!

Disclaimer: AAMC (the company that administers the MCAT) forbids anyone from discussing about specifics on the exam. Thus, this post is simply about my general experience and general recommendations regarding preparing for this exam.

So that MCAT….

Let me just say that please do NOT take this exam lightly. It is not like your SATs or ACTS. Ask anyone, the MCAT is one of the most important factors in your application. PERIOD!

My general experience of this exam was that it was tough not going to lie. It is an eight-hour exam covering so many different topics and concepts testing a variety of skills.

First of all, if you are planning to take this exam, there are a number of courses you should take at your school: chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, physics, biology, psychology, and sociology. If you don’t plan on taking one of these courses (even though I highly don’t recommend it), PLEASE make sure you study extra hard for those topics. I initially was going take the MCAT without biochemistry, and I am so glad I didn’t. Taking the class not only gave me a structured semester-long lesson plan, but also made sure I learned the information for tests and exams.

One thing people always ask me is how did I study for this exam? Did I take a course? Well I personally didn’t take any MCAT course. Main reason is because of my needs. I didn’t need someone to teach me the information or make sure I am studying for this exam. I was able to create a study schedule and religiously follow it. I also did not want to spend my money for a course and instead use it to buy more practice exams (which is very very important). If you are someone who needs to be taught by a teacher and needs someone to make sure you are following a study schedule, I recommend you enroll in any of those courses. There are some very well-known test prep companies. You just need to look online to find what suits you best.

So when is the best time to take this exam? Honestly whenever you feel ready. If you remember I was going to take it before junior year started. But things came up which took away a lot of time from studying so I decided to push it back. I personally think January of junior year is best. You get the whole summer to study for this exam. Take a light semester so you can study for MCATs. And then utilize your winter break by taking lots of practice exams. By this time usually most students finish all their classes as well needed for the exam.

Last thing I want to say is please utilize practice exams!! This exam isn’t just a test on your knowledge, but also your testing skills. Taking an eight-hour exam is tiring not going to lie. By taking many practice exams, you get experienced on how long the test is and how you need to manage your time.