We’re back with more tips and foresight for all of you incoming undergrads and interested pre-meds! If you haven’t already, check out our first installment of this series:
This time, Pre-Med Hub has teamed up with all of our newest advisors in the team to bring you some more things we’ve learned during our diverse pre-med paths.
It is never too early to start planning out what you want to do and the things you are interested in.
Start briefly planning your future courses and give yourself deadlines for things you want to complete in the future. By setting goals for yourself, it will encourage you to stay on top of things as time goes on. By planning out your time as an undergrad, it will make each step closer to med school less stressful and hectic when the time comes.
Take the time to look into the opportunities and resources on campus as early as possible. Being at a big public university, it can be daunting to know the number of opportunities on campus. Because of this, students could then be too overwhelmed where they might not know how to start. Therefore, start by talking with people such as pre-health advisors. After that, talk to other students and friends who are interested in the same field as well. Using the umich websites to look for organizations, resources, and opportunities will also be beneficial as well. If you really put in the effort and dedicate time to looking for these opportunities, it will pay off in the end when you need them.
Schedule meetings with your pre-health advisor earlier than you think you need to! They see a lot of students so their schedules fill up quickly – I personally recommend one meeting per semester to discuss course scheduling, summer plans, when to take the MCAT, etc.
The pre-med community is only cutthroat if you let it be cutthroat.
If you find an inclusive community and believe that people are on your side, you’ll feel much better. It’s an entire mindset change. Be wary of being taken advantage of by other students for knowledge/ resources without any reimbursement (e.g. sharing notes versus working on a “group study guide” but only you contribute), but in general, more people are on your side than you think. While you might sometimes want to dissociate completely from the pre-med community, it can be beneficial to have a few friends who are also thinking about becoming doctors. There are so many different opinions and suggestions out there, so having some peers who you appreciate and whose opinions you value can be very helpful in your pre-med journey.
If you know you’re susceptible to adopting or buying into group attitudes, consider fulfilling your pre-med requirements with classes less popular amongst pre-meds. When you’re in a class with 200+ other students, most of whom are pre-med, two or three times a week, it can be difficult not to compare yourself to everyone else and feel judged in return. Of course, make sure you’re interested in the material in the class and willing to commit the time required to do well, but the specific classes you end up taking are not that big of a deal. As long as you fulfill your requirements, any class works. People may say that some classes are harder than others, but really you will have your own experience and it could be vastly different.
Take the time to explore things that are interesting to you. Med schools want to see that you are passionate about something, whatever that may be. Don’t exclusively look for student orgs and classes that will look good on a resume, instead, do things that you enjoy. Undergrad is the time to explore and learn as much as possible. Every student is unique, and med schools aren’t looking for applicants to be carbon copies of each other. They are looking for a multidimensional applicant with a diverse array of experiences and interests.
Choose the classes you want to take, major in whatever you want, and join the clubs that genuinely interest you. While the pre-med track should still provide the overarching framework to your undergrad experience, make sure you’re still being you in the process. If you like to do research, take your time to find a research opportunity that you are truly passionate about. Don’t do research as a way to check the list of common pre-med activities, do it if you enjoy the process of research and the purpose behind it.
Being involved in what you are passionate about is enough to set you apart. Even if the things you like or want to do may not fall into the medical category, doing things your way can make you stand out and be seen as unique by the admissions department at medical schools. Therefore, try to find a balance of doing things that will help your path to med school as well as participating in things you personally enjoy. Also, having a hobby or a skill outside of your academic career can be a great source of stress relief!!
Staying organized is the key to reducing stress.
Make sure you have a calendar and to-do list (either electronic or paper) where you can schedule your meetings, assignments, exams, classes, and office hours. This will help you keep track of the countless things you are responsible for and help you prioritize what needs to be done at that hour.
Try to make a weekly schedule and have a plan for your week from the first week of classes. Many classes are demanding and you need to allocate enough time to perform well in them. Having a weekly schedule helps you to manage your time better. However, if you missed something, know that this could happen to anyone and there are things that are out of our control. Try to adjust your plans instead of panicking and quitting.
Re-evaluate your feelings towards medicine at every step of your pre-med journey.
It can be very easy to register and take pre-med classes without a second thought because your 4-year plan says so. You change a lot in college and medicine is a big, big commitment. Compile your class, shadowing, and volunteering experiences from the semester and think about if pre-med is right for you. Remember, there are tons of other health-related fields! Doing these quick checks at the end of semesters will both help you find what you’re truly passionate about, save you from unnecessary stress, and maximize your time in college.
Don’t get discouraged if you fail a class or don’t get an A. A big part of starting college is learning how to study and time manage. I know plenty of people who had to retake a class or two and still got into grad school.
Taking gap years is completely acceptable. In fact, many med schools prefer older applicants due to maturity (they’ve lived a life outside the pre-med track and have had time to find their “why” in medicine). It doesn’t mean you’re a “bad pre-med,” or backing down from the challenges medicine poses. If you’ve been dreaming of becoming a doctor since you can remember, that’s great! It doesn’t mean, however, that going directly into med school is the best thing for you. At a minimum, you’re looking at 8 years of your life with very little time to yourself. Take advantage of a year or two (or more) to take care of and prepare yourself for what’s ahead. That being said, do something you find meaningful, whether it’s medicine-related or not, during your gap year(s). There are organized gap year programs and positions to help you structure your time better if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Don’t be afraid to ask for guidance!!
There are plenty of others who have gone before you and can offer advice in your perspective career or major. People will be more than willing to help as long as you ask!
Invest time into getting to know the people around you. Odds are you might have other classes with these students. Building the foundation of your relationship now will allow you to build a friendship that could span across your entire undergraduate career. Also, don’t be afraid to ask people to study with you. It’s a good way to have someone hold you accountable and be able to bounce ideas off of each other.
Make time for yourself.
It is easy to get caught up in academics and other responsibilities, but remember that college is one of the best times of your life. Don’t forsake personal relationships and self-care for the never-ending grind of being a pre-med. Mental health is extremely important, and spreading yourself too thin will almost definitely lead to burnout. Take time for yourself whether that is working out or taking a nap. We all need time away from studying in order to rejuvenate ourselves and rest our brains.
Take your first semester at college to relax and enjoy the college experience. Branch out and make as many friends as you want, and explore college life. School and life will only get more hectic as you get further into your pre-med journey so make sure to enjoy as much as possible. Don’t put too much on your plate. Try to get used to the rigor of college classes and potentially get involved in one or two extracurriculars.
Spring Term after freshman year is a very good time to catch up on coursework if you feel behind, or it can be a good time to get ahead on coursework. Being able to focus on one tough class is very helpful and is a good way to really learn the material well for the MCAT. It’s also a great way to enjoy Ann Arbor in the summer!
Just breathe. Everything will be okay.