Monday, May 17, 2010

It's Been Awhile

No, not referring to the age-old song by Staind, but my general lack of posts on this blog (not that there are any followers...yet). So, what have I been doing that caused me to leave you all in the lurch?

Finishing school
Finishing honors thesis
Visiting med schools (UIC, and I got accepted to Pritzker (UChicago) since I last wrote)
Deciding to go to Pritzker
Getting an apartment
Searching for furniture at IKEA and for a dog or cat at

Also of note since I last wrote, I was fortunate enough to get a full-tuition scholarship to Pritzker!!!! I'm truly thankful and truly excited!!!

So, how did I get here today? What were my secrets?

Actually, this very day, I had two friends ask me these same questions and if I knew how to deal with a pre-med advisor if they didn't like you or if things weren't working out. So, in answer to those questions, I have the following:

1. Whether you are best friends with your pre-med adviser or have been there once and then ran away ASAP, there is one thing that you should know, and you might already: Medical Schools wonder, and therefore dubiously question, why in the world you WOULDN'T send your recommendations and other information through your pre-med adviser, if your school has one. So, even if you left your last appointment confused, frustrated, sobbing, or all the above, these people are great resources of information, and should be the people with whom you work to get all the necessary items in you application.

2. So, do all the things you have to do for them to get your application completed. With that said, any of the rest of the application that is adviser-free can totally be just that! Do it all yourself! Remember, your personal statement, the content of your other recommendations, and any secondaries that you fill out are going to be completely dependent on you, not your adviser. If you love your adviser, GREAT! If you don't, do what needs to be done, but let your true self shine in the rest of the application process!!! In a few months to years, depending on where you are in the process, this person will most likely have absolutely NO effect on your life!!! Listen to their advice, use them as resources, but in the end, having those things still in mind, apply to the schools you want, write an interesting, reflective statement, and BE YOU!!

3. Does your adviser tell you that you will not get into med school, and maybe you should pick a different career? Well first, you should take a step back to seriously evaluate yourself and where you are. Why do you want to be a doctor? Is it for the right reasons? Are your grades really that low? Do you actually not do many extracurriculars, or is it something that your adviser just doesn't fully appreciate that you think is significant? If you were going to be a doctor because that's what your parents did or you want a lot of money, if you have truly low MCATs and/or low grades, and if you truly have very weak extracurriculars, then maybe you should be re-thinking things. But, if your GPA is in transit, your extracurricular activities are actually important, or you are going to be participating in a very meaningful activity soon, if you are doing really, really well, but just not "crazy super," then take a chill pill. Your adviser was probably trying to weed out the slackers, and, in the process, scared you. Especially if you still have long periods of time until you apply, you have so much time to change things - to add activities, explore health and other careers, to boost your GPA, to study hard, etc.

Moral of story: You do NOT have to be buddy-buddy with your pre-med adviser to get into med school. Do what they ask, complete all that's necessary, and totally wow them with your application, and show them how truly awesome you can be. Some people just don't click - not your fault.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

DON'T play the comparison game!!!

You decided to apply to med school for your own reasons -- something in you says, "This is what I would like to do; I would be good at this." Maybe you really love the science of it, or you are good at and like interacting with others, or you had some experience relating to the medical field that you enjoyed and at which you succeeded. Depending on how far you are as a pre-med, you have taken most or all of the necessary classes, and received grades and had experiences that caused you to KEEP considering a medical profession. We've all taken the same core set of classes, all took the MCAT, all went through many of the same processes.

HOWEVER, we have all had different experiences, and these standard evaluations of how much we've learned mean different things when coming from different people. Each person has their own set of unique abilities, ideas, interactions with the world, and this diversity of opinions and knowledge are what is needed in the medical field, and looked for by admissions committees.

Then why, oh why, do people continually play the comparison game?!? "What was your MCAT score?" "Did you do research during undergrad?" "Where did you go to undergrad?" "What volunteering have you done?" Stop. Stop! STOP!

This is not helpful-- to anyone. Most people do it to try and see where they stand, to make themselves feel like they are ahead of the other applicants and have that ever-elusive "edge," when these are often not true indicators of how strong an applicant you are, and is only detrimental to your confidence/self-esteem. As soon as you hear that the applicant across the room got one point higher than you on the MCAT, that the person next to year spent a year helping a medical team in Honduras, you feel deflated, and may begin to doubt whether or not you should even by applying.

I say, RIDICULOUS!!! I know of applicants who had an MCAT score of 40 or 42, but did not get accepted to their top choices because that's all they had, and they didn't have a personality or ability to work well with others. There are tons of stories of people with awesome stats getting rejected, and people with average stats, but an interesting background/experience/motivation skills/etc getting accepted. Of course, there are the normal situations you're used to, where an applicant got a 38, had a 3.9 GPA and had an article published, and gets accepted to all their schools. The point is, no matter where you are, sitting with fellow undergrads waiting to meet with your medical professions advisor, in the waiting area of the MCAT testing center, or nervously waiting amongst the other applicants for an interview - DO NOT compare!

Sure, if someone asks you a question, or if you need to make polite small talk, go ahead and answer or ask about any research they did, but don't start being ridiculous and actually taking what they have to say to heart. Everybody is good for their own reasons, and the person that has all these amazing stats is probably a humanized robot, will not make a good doctor, and hopefully the admissions committee will see through that. You are interesting because you are not a robot, so don't listen to other people's supposed stories of awesome, and just tell your interviewer about you, how cool you are, and why you belong at that school (but not why you belong at that school more than that other guy, that sounds king of arrogant, which is the whole point of this post).
Thank you. I hope I saved you much frustration, depression, and from pulling out of going to medical school because you aren't a medical robot. Be awesome.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Snacks for the MCAT

I have to admit, I stole this idea from someone else, but it's really awesome.

The BEST snack to eat during your breaks is...Apples and Peanut Butter! Fruit, Protein, Sweet, and Salty - it's just invigorating! Try it sometime, and see if you like it! Just so you know, there are ways to buy this snack so it's not as messy as it sounds - they sell bags of pre-cut apples (or you could obviously cut one up yourself that morning and stick it in a baggie) and they also sell little individual serving cups of peanut butter, that you can just throw away when you are done.

Of course, other snacks to keep in your locker are: granola bars or trail mix, water, vitaminwater/gatorade, some small form of chocolate...

Things to Bring (or not):
First, think about what you want to wear, because you cannot take off and leave an item of clothing (sweater, jacket) on the back of your chair mid-test. You will have to take the jacket back out to your locker in the secure area, meanwhile your time allowed for the test DOES NOT STOP!!! So, think ahead of time - do you generally get cold or warm when you are in a room, and would keeping a jacket/sweater on for 60 minutes until you can take a break bother you or not. Also, since you should make a test-drive of wear the testing center is before you go, if possible, maybe you can enter the waiting area, just to get an idea of the temperature.

I know this may sound ridiculous, but you do not want ANYTHING to bother you on test day. You want that day to be about YOU and the TEST - no temperature regulation problems, not hunger/thirst problems, no extra nerves about what you can or can't bring in - just you focusing all your energy and mental power on this test!

Also, if noise bothers you, there are some options:

Noise cancelling headphones can be provided for you if you need them. I think they ask you if you want a pair before you walk in, or they may even be on the slats between each desk, I forget. However, if you are thinking about using these, try using them in one of your full-length practice tests. You may find them ultra-annoying pushing on your skull, and that's something good to know BEFORE the test happens.

You may also bring your own pair of earplugs to the test, and these can be used by themselves, or in addition to the headphones. However, they must be in their ORIGINAL packaging, UNOPENED!!! I don't know if someone would ever bring earplugs with equations written on them, or fancy earplugs that can actually play answers or music wirelessly, but apparently there is some sort of security concern with you bringing in used, and potentially tampered, ear plugs...

As for scratch paper, the center will either provide everyone with a white board and dry erase marker, or paper and pencil. So, again, you may want to do one practice with a small white board, just to see what it's like. However, my testing center gave us pencil and paper. They said if you need more paper/pencil to raise your hand, so no worries about that.

It says that you cannot bring any other personal items in besides unopened earplugs, however, if it's in the winter or you have a cold, I would go ahead and ask if you can bring a pack of tissues or a cough drop with you when you get there. I kind of think you can, but always be sure to ask. Again, you want to feel as comfortable as possible, with no added worries about stupid things like snot and whether or not you can bring in tissues to clean up said snot. Some people are also avid chap stick users, so bring some with you if you are one of these people, and be sure to ASK before you go in with it!

Also, if you are a person who likes to drink from a water bottle or chew gum while studying, start practicing your full-lengths without it, because you are not going to have it on the real day.

I think all the MCAT testing centers are now PROMETRIC testing centers. This means that, when you get there, after the allotted time of waiting, you will be called one by one where you will present some form of qualifying government-issued identification that has your name, picture, and expiration date. You will then have your fingerprint scanned, and sign in. Now, each time you sign in or out during your breaks, you place your finger on the scanner, sign in, and have your ID with you, but these sign ins/outs are much quicker than the first initial one. It's actually a fairly cool process. Look at the ID requirements, and I would say to bring at least two forms, just in case one ID doesn't fit the requirements for some reason. I brought my driver's license and passport.

I think almost all of these centers of the lockers for test-takers use. The setup at my testing center had lots (like 12-15) of little cubical lockers (maybe 10-12" square, and then maybe they weren't a cube, because they had a bigger depth) and a few select taller lockers (maybe 10-12" X 24-30") just to give you an idea. I actually fit a lot of stuff in there, so no worries. Each locker came with a key that you locked, and then put the key in your pocket/brought it with you into the testing area.

When should you take the MCAT?

This is up to you, but you probably want to get your AMCAS application in as soon as possible, and since it goes online and opens around early June of the year before you want to start medical school, and it takes about a month to get your scores back, then you want to probably take it either on or before the first of May. (I took mine May 2, 2009 and my scores were posted on June 9th(?), applying for the Med School class that will begin Fall of 2010, to give you an idea.) Of course, you could take the test in June/July, but just know that you can't really finish your AMCAS application then until July/August, which may be fine for you. Something else to consider is that, if you wish to retake the exam, you have to wait 3 months before taking it again. So, I think I would not have been able to retake the MCAT until August.

That said, there is NEVER a "perfect" time to take the MCAT. You will never feel perfectly ready, you will never know ALL the content. Lots of people start getting nervous as the test date gets closer, and like to change/postpone the date of their exam. While there are valid reasons for doing this (something REALLY important comes up for that day, you haven't covered any of some important subject in your organic chem class, or something else really important, like you forgot you would not be done with physics before the test date), you SHOULD NOT (!!!#$@%) change your exam to a later date because you don't "feel" ready, because your nervous, or because you don't do well at some obscure, non-high-yield portion of the gen chem section. If you push your exam back 1 or even 3 months, how much more studying will you actually get done? If you're feeling this nervous, stop spending time worrying about it, and kick your studying up a notch. I don't mean tack on an additional 4 hours of study time, but maybe start flipping through flashcards on the bus, or at lunch. Do some practice questions or practice section tests, and then review what you got wrong. Change up your study methods. Whatever, just do NOT freak yourself out, and just finish this exam.

Now if it's two weeks before the exam, and you've never heard of a capacitor and do not know whether the number of neutrons is the sub or superscript on a chemical, okay, yeah, you should probably postpone the test a couple of months (although, if you've never heard of a capacitor, maybe you should postpone the test for a year! :D)

Something else to consider: the exam itself costs $255 already. Changing the date of your test costs an additional $55. If the date you pick happens to be at a different testing site, at you make both changes at the same time, then it's only the $55 fee. However, if you already changed the site, and then changed the date, that's two $55 fees, for an additional total of $110. So, consider how much you think you need to change the date, and how much it may cost you, and whether it's worth it to you or not. If you've done a fair to large amount of studying, it is probably not worth it to change your testing date. Calm down, you are probably fine!

Friday, February 19, 2010


4 Sections. 158 Questions. 4 hours and 25 minutes. Ridiculous amounts of time and social life gone to prepare for this beast. All so that, when you leave, you exhale and feel like you just successfully climbed Mt. Everest.

Basic Questions -

Q: What's on the test?

A: In sequential order:
Physical Sciences = Gen Chem + Physics
Verbal Reasoning = Reading and Interpreting Passages
Writing Sample
Biological Sciences = Biology + Organic Chem

Q: Do you NEED to have taken biochem before the test?

A: NO! Now, that's not saying that it might not make a question or two easier, but do not postpone your test just because you haven't taken the class yet. The only biochem question I remember was a biology question where it showed you a pathway (that happened to be biochemical, but you didn't need to know anything about the biochemistry of it), and asked you questions based solely on what was depicted.

Should you take a prep course like Kaplan or Princeton Review?

Here's my philosophy: everyone studies differently (that's not a philosophy, that's a truth...), so whether you should take one or not depends on you, your study habits, and what motivation you need to get through something as huge as MCAT studying.

Personally, I took Kaplan, and for my first diagnostic score, I got a 21. Granted, this was months before the test, and I hadn't studied, but 36 is a far cry from a 21! I personally would recommend taking a prep course, and here's why:
  1. As much as I'd like to say that I would study on my own, the truth is that, while taking other classes or continuing a full-time job, you probably won't actually get as much studying/prep done than if you took a guided course. I mean, you're not going to slack off on a course you paid an extra $1800 for, now are you? Also, as a subset of this point, a prep course will tell you exactly what may or may not be on a test, and they also tell you what is more high-yield, that way you're not studying something worthless.
  2. They study, evaluate, and analyze every MCAT that comes out, and how students do, and they're basically experts of the MCAT. My instructor had taken the test somewhere around 40 times, I think, so they seem like the people to learn from.
  3. They give you access to tons of material: books to learn/study content, flash cards, something like 8 of their own full-length practice tests plus the four or so that the AAMC gives out, mini-section tests to work on the ones that are giving you problems, and analysis of all your tests so you can go back and see what types of questions/content you keep missing. The variety of study types allows for people that use all sorts of study methods, and also allows you to switch to a new way of studying something if it becomes monotonous. They also make their practice full-lengths harder than the real ones, so that you keep working harder. The highest I ever scored on a Kaplan practice test was a 33, and that was once. The AAMC tests are sometimes harder/give you lower scores, but apparently that's because some of them are just chopped up versions of the old, longer format of the test (could you imagine it being longer???), and are therefore more confusing.
  4. They also just help to prepare you mentally/psychologically. I knew exactly what to expect for the day of my MCAT - where to put my stuff, what I could and could not bring, strategies to keep yourself alert/focused, and strategies to do well on the test. Although I started out as jittery as a banshee in the waiting area, people started asking things like, where do I put my stuff, can I bring in a watch, how long will this take, and I was the one actually answering their questions. Slowly, I realized I had no fear (well, some, because fear is good for adrenaline and focus) and I went into that test like "YEAH!" because Kaplan had prepared me so well, in lots of ways!

There are downsides to a prep course, such as time (you could be skipping the classes you think you already know about to study something you're more worried about) and money! And, depending your personal situation, if you have friends you could study with, maybe if you could get old prep course books from other people, you could be perfectly fine not taking a prep course.

Good tips I've learned from other people and my own experience --

Studying: No matter what you think, no situation is the easiest to make time for extracurricular studying. School, jobs, volunteering, no matter what your main focus is currently, making time for large amounts of studying is hard. The solution? Make a schedule with large blocks of time for studying -- but in that schedule, put in a certain amount of time for fun. Ex:

SATURDAY: 9-10 Breakfast, 10-12 Study Physics, 12-1 Lunch, 1-2 Physics Prac Test, 2-5 Movie and Dinner with Friend, 5-7 Studying/HW for school etc...

And actually stick to it! If you actually studied for those two hours, or finished whatever, reward yourself and do the fun thing you planned! Do not, I repeat, DO NOT, tell yourself you for some reason do not deserve this break and keep studying, or you will, without a doubt, go crazy. You need social interaction! Sometimes, you come back from a run, or a TV show, or dinner with friends completely re-energized to pick up that MCAT study book again.

Studying Continued...: You are NEVER going to know all the content. At some point, you have to make that leap where you stop staring mindlessly at those insignificant equations you can never remember and actually take a practice test. You learn more when you put things to USE! So take the test, and then see which important parts you missed. It's more important to learn what kinds of questions they ask, how they ask them, where their focus is, than to completely understand every word in that stupid prep book. It's not Study, Study, Study, Study - TEST! It's Study. Test. Review/Study from said Test. Test. Review/Study. Test. Real Test! (notice how this "test" is not in all caps as the previous one, because you are waaay less stressed out, and totally prepared.

Studying 3: At least once, but probably twice or more, take a full-length practice test while trying to simulate the actual day. Start the practice at around the time you are signed up to take the real thing. Take all the breaks. Take the test in a quiet place. If you think you are going to use ear plugs/noise-cancelling headphones, try wearing them the entire time. Have snacks prepared.

More later!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

So You Want To Be a Doctor...

Hello World of Pre-Med Students, be ye accepted, interviewing, still beefing up that GPA, in the exciting moments of your first college bio requirements, or just toying with the idea of becoming a doctor,

I am a fourth-year undergraduate pre-med student, and given the experiences I have already had going through the entire application process, I have lately found myself answering many questions -- is there a certain GPA I need; do I need to take biochemistry for the MCAT; you have to Interview?!? -- from a variety of people -- fellow applicants, future applicants, friends, parents, peers, "non-traditional" students, even current doctors checking on how the whole process has changed! For the amount of sheer content that an undergraduate has to know to get accepted into medical school, there is a surprising number of people who have no idea what you actually have to DO to get there. Therefore, I thought I might try and rectify the situation. Certainly, I do NOT have all the answers* (note: this is my disclaimer) and will never be able to go through every situation, and my small blog will not spread large amounts of information to everyone. But, I thought that, for those who are searching, maybe hearing at least one person's experience might help to give a better idea about the entire "ordeal" of getting into medical school. Who knows? If both this blog and I are successful, perhaps I can one day be writing about tips to do well IN medical school, or how to apply for residencies, or how in the world to interact with patients!

But I am not there yet, so we will stick to the present situation: getting into med school.

First, let's get this bit over with, so everyone knows where I stand, and you can take my experiences and thoughts with a grain of salt:

I have an overall GPA of 3.7, with a science GPA of 3.8. MCAT=36Q.

I applied to (in no particular order): Duke, Columbia, Northwestern, Baylor, Stanford, University of Chicago, Washington University-St. Louis, UCSF, Harvard, University of Illinois - Chicago, Univeristy of Michigan - Ann Arbor, Columbia, Loyola, Johns Hopkins.

I received interviews at (in no particular order): Duke, University of Chicago, Washington University-St. Louis, Northwestern, and University of Illinois - Chicago (I could "potentially" have more all the way through April, but something in me doubts that)

I have been accepted at University of Illinois - Chicago, and the others told me I would hear back from them in mid-March (which is in 4 weeks or less, but it's not like I am counting...)

For right now, that's it. I just wanted to get down my first official post, but hopefully I will have more soon! I'll probably make each blog about different parts of the process or different experiences/observations. So, if you are at all interested or have a question, leave a comment, and, if I have any sort of answer, I'll make it the topic of my next post!

So, good night future doctors!