So you entered freshman year calling yourself a pre-med. Now you’re hearing horror stories of orgo and MCAT prep, and wondering what to expect on the road to an MD. I talked to a pre-med student, an advisor, and a first year med student to get the low-down on being pre-med, the med school application process, and what medical school is actually like.
Between taking upper level science courses, prepping for the MCAT, participating in extracurriculars, and oh yeah, finishing major requirements, the life of a pre-med student is hectic. Carnegie Mellon junior Pallavi Nair is studying chemical engineering but is also pre-med and hopes to become a cardiothoracic surgeon. Pallavi has kept busy filling her course load with tough engineering courses and the required pre-med courses, upper level biology and chemistry for example. Pallavi tells me, “to prep for the MCAT, I'm taking a Princeton Review class this summer. It’s 3 hours a day Monday through Friday for 2 months during the summer.” Life is certainly stressful as a pre-med but Pallavi notes, “this is the one thing I can see myself doing,” so it’s certainly worth it. To help cope with the craziness of the pre-med track, Pallavi joined a sorority! HC wishes her the best of luck when she starts the application process!
The Application Process
Dr. Amy Burkert is the pre-health advisor at Carnegie Mellon. She works closely with pre-med students and has several pieces of advice on the application process. If you’re studying for the MCAT, Dr. Burkert says, “Preparing for the MCAT requires good review materials, focused study, and lots of practice. The benefit of the course is that it actually gives you the structure to do that. But in the end the student must put in the hard work.” Ultimately, if you need a class structure to help motivate you to study you might want to consider a course. If you have good review materials and feel confident studying without the structure she has seen a number of students do very well without it! More than anything else, Dr. Burkert stresses the need for students to calm down before taking the test and go into it with confidence. She recommends having the test completed by April the year you will be applying to medical school. If you’re hoping to go straight into medical school after college this means have your MCAT done spring of junior year and you’ll begin the application process that summer.
Besides the MCAT, there are several different elements to a successful application. Dr. Burkert suggests, “many schools are looking for individuals who are broadly trained. A strong skill set in science and technology is necessary, but so is understanding how people think, behave, and interact.” Exposure to many situations and disciplines is valuable preparation. Always wanted to take a psychology or medical ethics course? Go for it!
One last piece of advice on the application process from Dr. Burkert? In preparation for medical school applications, “tap into the resources that are available and start early!” The American Association of Medical Colleges offers a great deal of online information for prospective applicants and most schools offer pre-health advisors to assist students as they prepare for and navigate the admissions process. Take the time to give the best first impression you can but work to get your materials out early in the cycle.