As I embark on the new year, I am swarmed with the task of applying to my post-bac pre-medical programs for the upcoming 2013 fall semester. I am graduating this May with my B.S. in Psychology, and then (hopefully) beginning the next chapter of my academic career. This year-long program is the stepping stone for me between undergrad and medical school, so it’s imperative that I get in. As such, the application process has been far more anxiety-inducing than applying for undergraduate schools.
When I applied for undergrad 4 years ago, I had no question that I would be accepted. I had stellar grades and athletic scholarships, so the only question was how much money in academic scholarships I would receive. In retrospect, the stress of waiting for those letters was minimal compared to my stress level now.
My GPA is fairly good. My freshman year of college, I didn’t study very much and maintained between a 3.0 and a 3.3 GPA. I never had to study in high school and still got great grades, so I hadn’t established really solid study habits. My sophomore year, that lack of established study methods killed me. I decided (against my parents’ recommendation) to take chemistry, physics, calculus, and neurobiology while playing two collegiate sports (soccer and lacrosse). That was easily the worst mistake I have ever made academically. I got C’s, for the first time in my life, and my GPA plummeted. I was stretched too thin and couldn’t devote enough time to properly study for each of the vigorous courses I was taking. When I transferred to California for my junior and senior years, I made big decisions that helped my grades immensely. I established very distinct study habits, learned to manage my time between athletics and academics, and decided to drop my biology/psychology double major and focus entirely on a B.S. in psych. In the past year and a half, I have not earned a grade below a B. My institutional GPA is high, and all of the courses I’ve taken at CLU have been upper division classes. And, by managing my time effectively, I was able to add in a research internship with USC Orthopedic Surgery.
College is a 4-year learning experience. I have looked at how much I’ve grown and changed in the past 3 1/2 years and I’m so surprised and proud that I’ve taken great strides in my academic performance. From never studying and getting great grades (even in the AP and advanced courses) in high school, to struggling through many difficult classes at the same time, to finally learning how to navigate a collegiate curriculum and athletic career, I have really learned a lot. Because of this, I have my application rulebook:
1) Highlight your successes. I feel that, in spite of some speed bumps, I’ve had a very successful and rewarding collegiate career. Admissions committees surely want to hear about where you have been successful and how you achieved those merits.
2) Admit your shortcomings. Though I have been successful, I have certainly made mistakes in the past four years. However, I have learned from them and become a better student. I have taken negative events and made them positive learning experiences.
3) Separate yourself from the masses. I have been told constantly that I need to emphasize my role as a collegiate athlete AND as a researcher with a very selective university research group. Both of those aspects are things that not many applicants have, so I can set myself apart by elaborating on my experiences.
4) Get great letters of recommendation (by reputable people). I have been blessed to have two fantastic letters of recommendation. The same was true for my undergraduate applications. A glowing recommendation shows that you are held in high esteem by someone from a professional setting, which is so important when you are trying to get into that field. In my case, both of my letters are from doctors that I’ve worked closely with over the last year.
5) Don’t be so stressed. I’m still working on this part. When it comes down to it, if you get in, you get in. If you don’t, you don’t. Once my application is submitted, all I can do is relax and wait for an interview and an acceptance letter.
6) Don’t be cocky. There is a very big difference between cockiness in confidence. At times, I tread that line (typically with athletic endeavors, as a certain amount of swagger is intimidating on the field) but when it comes to applications, I don’t think an admissions committee is going to want to hear about someone who is all talk and can’t back it up. Therefore, the previous points all feed into this one. Highlight successes, but certainly acknowledge mistakes. Allow another person to speak of your awesome attributes, it sounds better coming from them.
Hopefully, my rules are correct and I am admitted into the programs that I apply for. There is no career I would rather be in than a physician (specifically a surgeon, as of now). I am confident I can be a great doctor, I just need to get into these schools first. :)