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A Perfectly Imperfect, Mediocre Indian Girl’s Guide to Pre-Med Culture

“Am I good enough?”

A question I asked myself every day, and for most of the time still do. 

Am I, Diva Agarwal, good enough?” 

From high school, the figurative race had started. Research, shadowing, volunteering, you know the works, all for the hope of getting into a good school. But what makes a school good? Is it the name or the academics, and at the end of the day aren’t all schools the same? Here, my mom would say, “No Beta, there are only the Ivies and, well, those ‘other schools.’” Much to my dismay, and that of my parents, my fate was sealed with a mere 31 on my ACT, making me a social pariah for the Indian community. 

Am I good enough?

Somehow despite all of that I somehow managed to get into a medical program, but my parents were still on the lookout for the next eligible bachelor to marry me off, as my only hope was “marrying rich.” In college, I was plagued with grades and GPA limitations, a sword of death hanging over my head forcing me to subdue myself and my desires. The first set of exams came around and I got an “Indian F-.” I’m serious, I had managed to get a C, a letter grade I had never known before. 

Am I good enough?”

 From there, a cycle of sorts had started. Countless hours spent dreading the next set of exams, jealousy towards roommates who seemed to understand material without much effort. 

Am I good enough?” 

Balancing volunteering, studying and the sword of doom dwindled my reality. I couldn’t see much besides my grades. I felt half of a person during times with friends and family as I spent that time dwelling and lost in thoughts over the next exam, lab report and Aleks assignment. I just felt less than. 

“Am I good enough?”

 I was struggling. Majorly so. The year ended with so many disappointments that I had lost count. There was no hope, I felt like an embarrassment and was thinking about potential career path changes. My parents, bless their hearts, just said, “Beta, don’t worry, it’s just that pesky General Chemistry, you will enjoy Organic Chemistry more.” If you know anything about me and my luck, this was not even remotely the case.

“For the first 25 years of your life, study hard, so for the next 25 you can party hard.” My mentality going into sophomore year was a little bit like this. Work hard, so I can play hard later in life. However, day one into sophomore year, we were told that our classes were meant to “weed out.” From this day, we would be separated into the students who would make it and the ones who wouldn’t. I’ll give you some time to guess where I fell on this spectrum. Ding, ding, ding! I was “weeded out.” Not only that, but I was also majorly struggling once again. I had switched my environment when it came to studying and prioritized changing my habits from freshman year. It worked for the most part, but it came with its own set of consequences as I put myself through so much, it started to become an issue. The pressure of this year was added on through not only my classes, but extraneous other forces making me fall into a pit of despair. Not only did I try my hardest, but I soon realized my hardest did not mean anything.

Am I good enough?”

Am I good enough?”

Am I good enough?”  

Forget memorizing amino acids, functional groups or bhajans, I was chanting and questioning my self-worth on repeat. To make matters worse, I had to drop out of my Organic Chemistry class and decided to take it later in life as I realized my GPA would only tank more. 

“Am I good enough?”

“Beta, the Caribbean seems like a good place to live,” had become my parents’ new motto after the end of that semester. My mom had thought a trip to India and going to mandirs would solve my issues with my grades and my anxiousness. Don’t get me wrong, I’m eternally grateful for both of my parents, just wish they could have “pushed” me in a different way.

Phone calls with my parents had become, “Wear this pendant so you can get an A, eat no meat on Fridays and wear only white to exams,” but bruh, sometimes you just want to dwell in your sorrows with a Chik-fil-A sandw—sorry, sorry chicken tortilla soup from Qdoba. You would think that without taking Organic Chemistry this semester, I would catch a breath. But if we have learned anything from my experiences this far in college, once again, that was not the case. My life had reached a stand still as I was told by authority figures that I need to take a gap year. Not that I should consider or think about it. It was a final statement—that I needed to take a gap year and should not apply or go through committee next year.

“AM I GOOD ENOUGH?”

“AM I GOOD ENOUGH?”

“Will I ever be good enough?”

Let me just tell you, a gap year, to most Indians and Indian parents, is nothing short of a death sentence. I don’t understand why if I’m quite honest, but sadly it seems this was the norm. I had once again disappointed my parents. My parents didn’t acknowledge what my advisor had said and kept explaining that there was something that I could do. I would become a running joke within my family and the Brown community. I was so embarrassed. I could not sleep and would eat my sorrows with tubs of Ben & Jerry’s: single-handedly finishing tubs of Half-Baked ice cream from Fusz by myself. 

My one silver lining in all of this was finding one person that changed my outlook on life. I honestly still do not even know how to begin thanking her. She taught me to think in the now and that life was all about “putting as much effort as I could and then leaving the rest to bhagwan.” By now, you must know that the Gods and I have a rocky relationship, but I figured I might as well…I mean what more do I possibly have to lose?

Well, COVID-19 hit, and much was lost in the world. We went from having spring break to never coming back that year. Classes went online and, in a sense, life became much easier. Or so I foolishly assumed. I decided to tackle the four-letter word challenge that all pre-med kids despise: the MCAT  *shudders*. I went on Reddit/MCAT and was drowned in information about what I should do and shouldn’t do. It seemed that everyone had something to say, and it honestly was a bloodbath. People were brutal about scores and how anything less than a 515 would be the end of the world. 

“Am I good enough?” 

I had another sword dangling over my head now. Not only my GPA, but my MCAT score would consume my existence. Trying to study for school and study and learn so much material for the MCAT was immensely taxing. I was cranky, tired, irritable and a ball of emotions. 

“Am I good enough?”

 It had become summer, but I had not realized, as I spent countless hours studying. Each hour was spent memorizing formulas and actively learning some system of the body. My goal was to take the MCAT in August before school started so I wouldn’t have to worry about it. Practice exam after practice exam, my score stayed the same. It was cemented in place. 

“Am I good enough?” 

 “You must not be studying enough, Beta.” 

Hence, I upped my studying and was pushing to at least 10 hours a day with a summer class, Organic Chemistry 2. Studying for the MCAT and doing Organic homework and exams was draining. I longed to be outside and longed for human connection. The pandemic made it extremely hard to meet with others and I had spent basically every second of my day studying. I was suffering. I was emotionally, physically and mentally exhausted. I wanted a break. At first, I didn’t realize anything was wrong. But I remember crying myself to sleep in exhaustion for a full week. “Am I good enough?” Weeks had turned into a month, and I couldn’t control my emotions.

It felt like I had fallen into a tunnel.

My CARs section is fine, but I’m failing at the sciences.

What is an exothermic reaction?

My science section scores are lower.

Who wants an Indian girl who gets a bad score on her MCAT?

No one wants someone who can read well.

Do better, find another way to study.

Maybe I need to do more hours a day.

12 hours is not enough.

Maybe I can cut down on eating out or exercise.

I need a break. I want a break.

Crying won’t help, grow up.

If you can’t do this, how will you do med school?

This will not get me into med school.

I want to make my parents proud.

I am scared.

What will I do?

I need help. I want help.

I can’t keep bringing others down.

“Am

I Good

Enough?”

No matter how much I studied or whatever I did, my MCAT score was the same. From there, my parents and I decided to push the exam to January of my junior year. I would sadly have to study for it during the school year. Surprisingly, for once, school and classes weren’t too difficult. I started to really understand what I was learning and was doing well on exams. Well on exams? Who would have thought? Certainly, not me. It was weird being on campus but not being able to go to classes in-person and or do anything as I was studying for the MCAT. While friends were sleeping, relaxing, eating or randomly going out, I was stuck inside taking practice exams. Sometimes I found a way to do other things such as go on hikes or spend a day in Forest Park, but usually I just stared at my computer screen.

 I took my MCAT that January, and then I lived a month and a half of bliss. Doomsday—or the day I got my MCAT score back—I remember crying. Once again, my luck had failed. Although I got a decent score, it was not what I was hoping for. 

“Am I not good enough?”

Once again during the committee process, I was straight up told that I need to take a gap year, not giving me an option. This was the third advisor during my time at SLU who had told me this. 

“Am I not good enough?”

 I somehow managed the courage to think it would all work out when, once again, I was told my writing and communication skills were sub par. I was embarrassed—I always prided myself on being able to write something decently well and being able to articulate and hold conversation. 

“Am I good enough?” 

A good friend told me that I had nothing to lose by attempting to apply for this cycle; if I ended up having to take a gap year then that was that.

“But what if you get in somewhere? Isn’t it better to say you at least tried your hardest and have no regrets?”

So, I embarked on a long and tiresome journey yet again. This time around, the stakes were much higher as it was my entire future in the hands of one common application. One of the biggest hurdles of this process was the personal statement where I had to share my personal reason for becoming a physician, since each website online had opinions about what worked and what didn’t. Each website presented a different theme about how to format your statement, and basically said how this really would make or break your essay. I spent countless drafts editing my reason, wondering if it measured up or if it would even be believable. Would it interest a school enough so they could learn more about me? 

“Am I good enough?”

I realized after draft 15 that at the end of the day, I needed to be happy with my work and it didn’t matter what websites or advisors said. Once I finished that, I had to work on creating “story-like” descriptions of each of the activities/clubs I did throughout college. Much like the personal statement, I was overwhelmed by websites such as Reddit, and Savvy Med left me spiraling. 

“Am I good enough?” “Have I done anything meaningful?”

I realized that according to all these websites I wouldn’t make it to medical school as my activities are “generic.” However, while working on this, I came to understand that all of the activities that I pursued I did with a purpose, and they all contributed to my experiences and shaped me to be the person I am today.

As I sent this primary application in, there was just one thought running through my head: “beggars can’t be choosers.” At this rate, I would take any medical school that would seemingly want me. I waited a bit and secondaries started piling up—a metaphorical storm had come. I had to write around 100 essays, all in a very short amount of time. Each essay had different stipulations and understandings of what they did and did not want. Some only wanted 1000 characters, while some wanted 1000 words; some just had one essay while others had 13. Once again, I had fallen down a deep rabbit hole when it came to researching how to write these essays and what to write about and what would make me stand out compared to others. 

“Am I good enough?”

I wanted to put my best foot forward, but didn’t understand what to do to portray that. As a person who enjoys writing (as I’m sure you can tell through this long and figurative article), I started to loathe writing. I had writer’s block—no, writer’s cement. I could not get myself to write about anything, much less about my future. I somehow made it through this time, as well, and turned in all my essays, but now I just had to wait. Days passed and I spent every 10 minutes refreshing my email. Rejection, after rejection, after rejection came through

“Am I good enough?” 

If I wasn’t rejected, I was put on a waitlist, and time had reached a standstill. Other people I knew were getting interviews and I was just told that my application was still under review. 

“Am I good enough?”

 Every step of the way I hit some barrier. I was fed up.

“Am I good enough?”

Amongst all the self-doubt, I have finally reached a stage of confidence. I, Diva Agarwal, at age 22 (and basically three years later) feel that there is a way that I can make it. I had become the student I always dreamed of becoming: one that studied but also had so much fun. My GPA, no doubt, is still a stipulation, but I am in a much more comfortable place than I was my freshman year—seeing grades (good ones) that I would not have seen my freshman year. I am a full person now when hanging out with friends, no longer half a person. I am not saying that I magically became this version of myself at all. Trust me, it took many tears and a whole lot of pushing myself to get here.

But I am proud. I can only hope I can make my parents and those who have helped me along the way proud. I’m eternally grateful for individuals that have always made me feel worthy and have believed in me from day one (you know who you are).

As a perfectly imperfect mediocre Indian girl, I want you to know there will be ups and downs. There will be times that you question your entire existence and worth. Times you wish you could just run away and never have to come back and face your life. Times you thought that anything would be better than being this. I just want you to know that I believe in you and am immensely proud of you. Your story doesn’t have to fit the countless Reddit blogs or be linear: you can make it too in the most roundabout way possible.

So, I’ll end it here. One day I got that email I had been waiting for. Three separate 30 minute blocks and a five-day wait later, I realized that I did have that choice. I was no longer a “beggar.” I had received what I had forever been waiting for with options.

“I am good enough.”

“I, Diva Agarwal, am good enough!”

She's obsessed with black coffee, photography, Grey's Anatomy, and trying new food when not working on her Neuroscience/PUBH coursework.
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