After deciding that you want to go to medical school, ask to meet with a premed adviser at your college. Your premed adviser should act as your advocate and mentor in planning your coursework and associated extracurricular activities.
But to get the most out of the relationship, you will need to do your part. Meet with your adviser often and be prepared with questions. Preparation is important to get the most out of the first meeting. Here are six good questions to ask:
1. How many premed students are entering this year and how does that compare with other years?
2. How many premed students applied to medical school from the junior and senior classes last year, and how many applied after one gap year?
3. Can you share with me how many students were accepted into medical school?
4. Would you share with me the typical schedule of a premed student graduating in four years?
5. Are there specific additional courses you recommend in light of the MCAT?
6. How much flexibility does a student have to rearrange the course schedules?
These are the questions I would expect a well-informed premed student to ask during a first meeting. Based on the responses you receive, follow up with additional queries.
What you are trying to discern from the first two questions is the percentage of students who go into medicine, because a huge percentage get discouraged and search for other careers.
For example, if I learned that 500 premed students started studies in their freshman year but only 100 actually applied to medical school in their third or fourth year, I would ask the premed adviser what they thought might be common reasons for this. If the responses were vague, such as study habits, I might pose additional questions, perhaps asking how many students change majors after their first year.
Asking if a freshman can sign up for one science course with one lab the first year is critical. You might mention that you understand it’s common for freshmen to struggle when carrying two challenging lab science courses.
The bottom line is this: Do not let yourself be weeded out if you really want to go to medical school. If you know that students frequently are given C’s in a tough science course, inform the adviser that you are considering taking it during the summer.
You may choose to double up later in your undergraduate curriculum, but I highly suggest you not do that your first year. I can’t tell you how many applicants have said to me that they wished they understood this before they signed up for freshman classes.
Over the next year or two, keep in close contact with the premed adviser and be sure to inquire about the committee letter of recommendation. Some schools will still have you gather all of the letters of recommendation, but most of the larger ones will prepare a committee letter. Your adviser will expect you to provide names of professors and lists of activities and research experiences.
Sometimes advisers will know who gets the letters in promptly and who writes excellent letters. If you are deciding between rwo chemistry professors, for example, the adviser may help guide you in the decision.
Even if the committee writes the big letter, the individual ones are attached. Our committee reads all of the individual attached recommendation letters, believing that the closer to the source, the better the information.
Talk with your adviser about what the committee expects in terms of assessment. For some, it is rather global and not very helpful. Other schools may rank areas of community service, medical experience, academic skills and research. There may be 10 or so items such as written communication skills, oral presentation, timeliness, interpersonal skills, collegiality and so on. They may have each letter writer fill out a form or there may just be one from the committee.
You would like to be ranked at the top of the chart in each of the various categories. If you have no idea what the expectations are or which categories the committee assesses, you will be at a distinct disadvantage.
Some colleges have special connections to particular medical schools that may offer an advantage for you. If there is a medical school associated with your undergraduate college, you may have an edge if you’re selected for an interview.
Find out where prior graduates are attending med school and ask your adviser to share contact information. This way, you can connect with these students for tips and guidance. Students in upper classes who are currently applying to medical school may also have excellent suggestions.
Your adviser should be familiar with medical school requirements and help you navigate the Medical School Admissions Requirements online database. Be sure to plan early enough so that you’ll be taking the courses required by the med schools to which you’ll likely apply.
Give your adviser the best chance to get to know you as a person and they will do their best to help guide you toward your future career as a doctor.
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