Here are ten things to keep in mind this year, whether you’re applying to medical school, taking a gap year, or just starting to pursue a career in medicine.
1. Partner with your advisor
If you haven’t met with a pre-health advisor, be sure to get an appointment on their calendar. Work with them to develop a plan to get to where you want to go—it’s a good idea to ask detailed questions about the timeline for applying to medical school. Ask which courses are required for medical school, and the best order in which to take them at your school. Your advisor may also have ideas to help you gain health-related experiences, internships, and lab experiences.
Don’t have a pre-health advisor at your school? Visit the National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions (NAAHP) website to help locate an advisor who can help you.
2. Attend career/health professions fairs.
Career fairs give you the opportunity to learn about multiple schools, programs, and admissions requirements at one event. It can be expensive and time-consuming to visit every school that you are thinking about attending, so participating in career fairs can help you narrow down your medical school selections and be more cost effective.
3. Seek out on-campus resources and mentors.
Make connections with mentors in various academic departments who can guide you through the application process, help you reach out to colleagues for volunteer, lab, or shadowing opportunities, or just give you their perspective on applying to medical school. Your campus may also have a career center and/or a health professions advising office where you’re likely to have access to guidebooks and web resources in addition to an advisor. Plan on becoming a regular visitor to these offices.
4. Increase your activity and responsibility in clubs.
When admissions committees look at your experiences, the kinds of clubs you belong to are just one part of the equation. They also like to see growth in various areas—like activity level and responsibility. Of course you don’t need to be the president of every club (and probably shouldn’t be), but taking on a leadership role, planning large events, or helping to shape the direction of a club highlights your leadership abilities.
5. Get experience in the lab, volunteering and/or shadowing.
For an unparalleled summer learning opportunity, look into the Summer Health Professions Education Program (SHPEP). SHPEP is a free, 6-week enrichment program for first and second year college students interested in attending medical or dental school.
Check the science department bulletin boards or websites for opportunities to assist with faculty research projects. Also, check with your academic advisor or your pre-health advisor, as they may already have relationships with faculty or labs. The best time to look for positions is during the middle of the semester, or a week or two before midterms.
Shadowing a health care professional gives you a better understanding of what their typical day is like, and whether it would be something you enjoy. Ask your own doctors if they know of shadowing opportunities. You can also ask your teachers, professors, and pre-med or academic advisors as they might know doctors who have allowed other students shadow them.
6. Prepare for the MCAT.
Nearly all medical schools in the United States, and several in Canada, require MCAT scores for admission. Only you and your advisor know when it’s best for you to take the exam. Our best advice? Take it when you are ready. The AAMC has a number of no or low cost test prep materials to help you prepare. If you have already took exam and are unhappy with your scores, speak to your advisor and create a plan for working on your problem areas and then decide when it would be best to retest.
7. Ask for Letters of Evaluation.
Speak with your advisor or anyone else who you’ve asked to write a letter on your behalf (i.e. a professor you’ve had for several classes, or the person supervising your lab work ) early in order to give them time to write a letter of evaluation for you. This is especially important if the letter needs to address any extenuating circumstances that may have affected your grades, or provide perspective on challenges you may have encountered.
8. Loop in your parents.
You may need information from your parents for your financial aid application. To be considered for financial aid you must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Generally, students complete the FAFSA in January prior to the year in which they are applying for medical school. Even though you may be considered independent by federal regulations, some school’s may still require your parental information to award institutional scholarships, grants, or even loans. Be aware of the school’s financial aid deadlines and processes, as this information may have an effect on the aid you are awarded.
There is a lot of information available to help you understand the financial aid process. Check out the available resources and tools on AAMC’s FIRST website. Here you will find videos, fact sheets, and tools specifically created for medical students and applicants.
9. Familiarize yourself with AMCAS.
The American Medical College Application Service® (AMCAS®) is the AAMC’s centralized medical school application processing service. No matter the number of medical schools you want to apply to, using AMCAS, you just submit one online application and everything gets disseminated to the schools you’ve chosen. The application is extensive, and not the kind of thing you’ll complete in one sitting. You’ll need to enter personal statements and all the coursework you’ve taken, so it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with what’s involved so you can be ready and organized when it’s time to get started.
10. Relax. Have fun.
Visit with family and friends, travel, or participate in hobbies you may not have as much time for once you are attending medical school. Use this time as a chance to relax, reflect, and energize yourself for the years to come.