How to Deal with Burnout

Winter semesters can feel long and especially stressful, but they don’t have to be! There are many ways to alleviate stress and prevent burnout.


Dealing with Stress and Using Coping Mechanisms

As pre-meds, we tend to have stressful schedules full of tough coursework and plentiful extracurriculars. There never seems to be enough hours in the day to complete everything we want, which causes us to experience more pressure. Stress has been assumed to be a “necessary” part of the pre-med lifestyle. However, this doesn’t mean that we have to sit back and live with the stress.


These are some healthy coping strategies + habits to help manage stress:

    • Get enough sleep: Prioritizing sleep isn’t always easy, but setting up a designated bedtime where you are getting enough sleep will ensure that you are well-rested/prepared for the day and may even push you to manage your time productively.
    • Journaling: Take some time each week to write down the highs and lows, whether it is related to your pre-med experience or not. It can be a relief to get everything out of your head and you may even see a pattern of what things may be causing you stress, allowing you to take action.
    • Talk to someone: Sometimes it helps to talk to someone, whether it’s a friend or family member. Everyone struggles sometimes, and it’s nice to have support from people who can talk through your stress and encourage you through rough times.
    • Participate in physical activity: Staying physically active is important to relieve stress and stay healthy. However, this doesn’t have to mean something strenuous like lifting weights. It can also be as simple as going for a walk with a friend or a bike ride.
    • Take a time out when stress appears to be taking over: Go for a walk, watch some TV, or even just take a nap. Stepping away from the stress can help clear your head and alleviate stress.


Learning to take care of yourself now is an important step to becoming a good physician. You will do a better job of taking care of others if you’re taking care of yourself. So, make sure that you are treating yourself kindly and dealing with your stress!


Time Management and Self Care

Self-care is a topic that is often overlooked when it comes to being a student in college. While learning how to care for yourself is not often taught in a standardized way, it is essential to all aspects of well-being for anyone, especially during times of stress and burnout.


One strategy to incorporate more self-care into your daily schedule is to budget time for it. Whether it helps to write it down in a planner or block off some time in your Google Calendar, planning self-care activities in advance can be a useful way to not only ensure that you are maintaining a balanced lifestyle but also to hold yourself accountable to doing so. Also when you feel burned out, it is sometimes helpful to list out what is on your to-do list or what is stressing you out and reflect on why they are causing you stress. Oftentimes, things seem a lot bigger in our heads, but once we write it out, we realize that things actually will end up being okay.


That being said, there are certain things that can affect a person’s ability to focus on self-care. For instance, comparison is a habit of many students that can deter you from a path towards wellness. Seeing other students working up until the early hours of the morning or pulling all-nighters to study can definitely cause you to question your own productivity and want to stretch yourself thin. Comparing scores and grades, to which we often attach so much of our self-worth, can make you want to work harder or beat yourself up for something that you didn’t or couldn’t do, which is the opposite of caring for yourself. Constantly feeling inadequate and unproductive as a result of comparison with peers is one factor that can lead to the feeling of burnout by school (as the proverb goes, “compare and despair”). When you feel the urge to compare yourself to others, I encourage you to reflect on whether comparison will truly make you feel happier in the long run. Also, most of the time, the version of your peers that you witness is only a highlight reel of their lives, which can lead to a negative self-image.


Caring for yourself can look different for everyone. For some, it’s taking a long shower or meditating, for others it’s watching TV or listening to music. Things like taking regular breaks to eat a snack or refresh during your study session can all qualify as forms of self-care. Whatever self-care means to you, I encourage you to take time to dedicate yourself to learning how to spend time away from your schoolwork because you deserve it!


Organizational Tips and Helpful Reflection

Staying organized is a key component to help reduce stress and burnout. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the number of things you’re trying to accomplish as a pre-med, especially when it seems like there’s not enough time to do them all. That stress can be mediated by keeping your coursework, extracurriculars, and other commitments separate and tackling each component one at a time. 


Here are a few organizational tips that can help get you started:

    • Make yearly calendars with goals and plans to help you stay on track for med school.
    • Create folders for documents related to each pre-med component to help you find and save things quickly.
    • Maintain a spreadsheet of the hours you spend on student orgs, volunteer work, research, and other activities to visualize your progress.
    • Keep a journal, notebook, or document to reflect on the activities you are doing. Ask yourself why you chose to do them. This can help you think critically about your activities.


It is important (and challenging) to reflect on your time commitments because it gives you insight into where your stress or burnout is stemming from. Good questions to ask yourself are:

    • Do you enjoy the activities you are participating in? Are they adding value to your day-to-day life?
    • Are you taking on more responsibilities than you can because you think you’re doing too little? (Hint: there is no right number of activities to be involved in. It’s about quality, not quantity.)
    • What daily tasks take the most energy to accomplish? Why are they taxing? Is there a way to help manage the stress associated with them?


Planning Out Your Semesters and Pre-Med Timeline

Planning out your semesters, including classes and the extracurriculars you want to be involved in, can help prevent stress later on. Knowing what to expect for your term can help you better prepare and do well in all your activities. Additionally, planning each semester plays a large role in organizing your pre-med timeline, which also prevents worry and anxiety during the application cycle. It can be helpful to plan out your activities early on and decide what you want to be involved in before the term starts. As your classes start picking up pace and you get adjusted to the workload, you can decide how much time to dedicate to your classes and how much time to dedicate to other activities. It’s good to have a plan and an outline to follow, however, it’s also okay to modify your plan as you learn more about different things and get involved in different extracurriculars. As you make your way through your time at UM, there’s no doubt you’ll learn about different things you want to get involved in, things that may not have been in your original plan, and it’s okay to adjust according to that.


These are just a few that can help alleviate the stress that comes with being pre-med. Taking control of your mental and physical state, finding a support system to lean on (family, friends, student orgs), and staying organized and proactive can significantly improve your well-being in college and beyond.


Planning for the Upcoming Semester (2021-2022)

With the winter semester right around the corner, now is a perfect time to make a smart and realistic plan for a successful semester of classes!


Reflecting on Past Semester Grades

In any aspect of life, it is always good to have resilience. For us as pre-meds, this notion of resilience can be a bit tough to handle, especially when dealing with the stress of grades and the constant pressure that, to get into med school, you must get an A in every single class or have a certain GPA. While this is true to some extent, grades (and the MCAT) are not the whole picture and do not define you as a person, contrary to popular belief.


As seasoned pre-meds, we are here to tell you to fret not in the case of getting a “bad” grade(s)—whatever that may be to you. First, med schools look at your GPA as well as the trajectory of your grades as a student, meaning if you performed overall poorly as a freshman or sophomore but improved in the following years, med schools will notice this because it highlights your adaptation and resilience. Secondly, if you happen to do poorly in just one science class, again fret not because this can also be a prime opportunity to showcase resilience.

In both instances above, never elect to take a course pass/fail because med schools will look at this with a skeptical eye, wondering why you chose to cover a grade. Own the grade you got and then find a way to grow from it. We know it can be disheartening to receive a grade that is not “to the standards of med school,” but it is worth emphasizing again that this is not the end all be all. Rather, choosing to take a class again and receiving a higher grade would be a perfect example of showcasing one’s resilience and perseverance—something med schools look for, knowing that med school curriculum is demanding. On a different note, perhaps you experienced extenuating circumstances (e.g., covid) during a semester in which you performed poorly in a class. Med schools are not heartless; they will be understanding of these circumstances (especially during COVID-19 semesters) so long as you have something to show for it. In other words, if you are able to articulate, either in your application and/or at an interview, why you received that grade and potentially how you overcame the circumstances, this would be a big sign of resilience.


Many schools now pride themselves on a holistic review, and there have been plenty of instances where below-average-GPA-and-MCAT students end up getting into med school, so, as already stated, grades do not define you. Ultimately, med schools look for students who can acknowledge a failure, accept it, and shift to learning how they can change in order to grow from it.


Planning Your Upcoming Class Schedule

With all that in mind, to give yourself the best chance of doing well, we recommend you take no more than 2-3 STEM classes per semester, depending on the combination (for example, taking a lecture + lab). Taking three STEM lectures in a semester is technically feasible but will undoubtedly give you tons of stress. As everyone knows, STEM courses are nothing short of challenging; even taking 2 in the same semester is bound to cause some stress. Thus, balancing these courses across your semesters with other non-STEM courses that are of interest to you is the ideal way to ensure that you can devote a meaningful amount of time to your STEM classes while still enjoying your academic and social experience, minimizing stress, and avoiding burnout.


Speaking of other experiences, making sure to allot time for extracurricular activities is a crucial step in planning your semester. For instance, being a part of a research lab and/or clubs, having a job, tutoring, etc. are weekly commitments you should consider when choosing your classes. Those responsibilities take up time from your studying, homework, and other class assignments, which means taking multiple harder classes in addition to having other commitments can be tough to manage. A good rule of thumb is that every class credit equates to 2-3 hours of weekly work. For example, if you are taking a 3-credit class, you can expect it to take 6-9 hours of your week, which can include time spent in lectures, working on assignments, and studying the material. One of the most helpful exercises to do when planning your semester is to make a template weekly schedule on a calendar. Fill in lecture times, discussion sections (if applicable), labs, research, work, volunteering, and any other commitments you may have. Visualizing your week can give you a better sense of how much free time you have to complete assignments, study, and take a breather. Balancing your week with classwork, extracurriculars, and some necessary relaxing activities and self-care is the key to a good semester schedule.


Utilizing Rate My Professor and Atlas

When choosing classes and professors, we highly recommend looking at Atlas and Rate My Professor.  Atlas is an academic tool that displays a variety of information on each course: the workload based on past student experiences, final grade distribution, the past course instructors (the number of terms they have taught and their ratings based on preparedness, clarity, and respect), student enrollment per semester, and what school/degree program people in the class are currently enrolled in. The most popular feature of Atlas is to identify the median grade of a course and the workload.  However, the student enrollment per semester can help to identify whether the course is offered year-round and if it would be better for you to take that class during the spring or summer semester.  Rate My Professor is especially useful in courses where there are multiple professors teaching the same class. For some large pre-med classes, such as the Orgo or Physics sequences, often multiple sections are offered – each with a different professor. Looking at professor reviews may help to identify which professor would be the best fit for you and some tips/advice from previous students in the course.


Non-STEM Classes are Important for Pre-Meds, Too! 

It is a common misconception that non-STEM classes are not an important component in medical school admission considerations. Unfortunately, this means that many pre-med students are not aware of the opportunity to tell a story through their chosen humanity and social science courses. We know that medical schools appreciate applicants who have studied and demonstrate a commitment to topic(s) outside of the natural sciences. After all, in your training to become a doctor, you will not only be studying hard science-related subjects but also how to be an empathetic and understanding physician who can connect and learn from their patients. One of the easiest ways to prepare for this aspect of your training is by taking a few (or many!) relevant social science and humanity courses. Some students even decide to major in a social science or humanities field, which medical schools have stressed is 100% okay! You do not have to major in natural science.


If you are lost on what non-STEM classes to take, fear not. We have some suggestions! First, sociology courses are always a great option. This field essentially studies human interaction, which is obviously important in the medical field. Some classes for next semester (Winter 2022) that may be of particular interest to pre-med students are: SOC 302: Health and Society, SOC 346: Sociology of the Body, or SOC 347: Drugs and Society

Ethnic studies courses are also extremely beneficial for pre-med students. As a doctor, you will treat patients from many different backgrounds. These classes help to expand your understanding of identity and social issues that disproportionately affect certain populations in the United States–many of which are very relevant in the medical field.


Finally, women’s studies courses are a great resource for learning more about the experience of gender, which is again highly relevant in the medical profession. Some classes of particular interest may be:

WGS 220: Perspectives in Women’s Health, WGS 324: Childbirth & Culture, and WGS 323: Black Feminist Thought Practice.


These courses can also play a large role in improving your writing skills, which is relevant in constructing your personal statement. Being able to tell a concise and interesting story in your primary application and later in your secondaries is absolutely imperative to successful admission. If you do not consider yourself a particularly strong writer, it may be worth it to enroll in a humanities or social science course that fulfills a writing requirement. The most obvious way to improve your writing skills is to actually practice writing, and if you are only taking science courses (which you will likely do some scientific writing, wh is a very different style) then your non-scientific writing will likely not be as strong. Receiving constructive feedback is one of the easiest ways to improve, which is abundant in humanities courses.


Planning Around the MCAT + Application Cycle

When thinking about planning classes, it’s important to take into consideration first when you plan on taking the MCAT, but also which cycle you are planning on applying to. The core classes that are recommended to take prior to your MCAT are:

General Chemistry, Physical Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Intro Bio Sequence, Biochemistry, Physiology, Physics I and II, and a Psychology/Sociology class

If you are planning to take your MCAT sometime during the Winter 2022 semester, it’s advised to take a much lower course load so you can dedicate more time studying for the exam. Some may even decide to be a part-time students during the semester their exam is scheduled, to allow for more studying flexibility. Planning for your MCAT also depends on when you plan on applying, and which test day aligns best with your schedule. It’s important to note that the AAMC doesn’t offer any test dates in February or October – December. If you plan on applying in the 2022 – 2023 application cycle, we recommend taking your exam in January or March, to allow for time after you get your exam score back and before you submit your primary applications, since scores are typically released a month after you take the exam. Another option is to take the MCAT the summer before your senior year (if you are taking a gap year). This allows you to dedicate about 3 months to study, which is the typically recommended time frame for an optimal score. It could also be helpful to spend some hours of your week volunteering, working a part-time job, or partaking in research while studying to give you a bit of a mental break. However, those “breaks” should not be a source of added stress; if you feel overwhelmed, take a step back and think about whether your volunteer work, job, or research is negatively affecting your studying or focus.


All of these components can be overwhelming to think about at once, which is why it is so important to break down these pre-med components into separate categories. Set realistic goals about what you can accomplish during your semester classes, plan your weekly schedule ahead of time, and think positively! Starting a new semester with an optimistic mindset is a great way to set yourself up for success.

Transitioning from Online Learning (Part 2)


Asking for Help is a GOOD thing!

There is no doubt that pre-med courses can be challenging. The typically fast-paced schedule, amount of studying required, and difficulty of material sometimes results in gaps in your learning. Luckily, there are many resources available through UM and elsewhere that can help you bridge those gaps and improve your performance in a class! The most beneficial resource to utilize is your professor or GSI’s office hours. Not only are they an opportunity to meet with your professor in a smaller setting, but office hours are especially helpful in answering specific questions and clarifying details in lectures that you may have missed the first time. In terms of transitioning from virtual to in-person office hours, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

    • Prepare your questions ahead of time! That way, you won’t be scrambling to remember what you wanted to ask.
    • Write down the professor or GSI’s responses to your questions to reference later.
    • Pay attention to the types of questions other students ask! Sometimes, students will ask questions that you didn’t even know you had! It’s also a good habit to see if you can answer other students’ questions in your head or write them down for practice at a later time.
    • Use your time during office hours wisely by asking as many questions as you need (while also being conscientious of the professor and students’ time). It should be comforting to know you are walking out with a better understanding of the material than when you walked in!


If you can’t make it to office hours, email your professor to see if they are available to meet another time or ask them your questions via email! Most professors are very accommodating and willing to answer your questions. Piazza is another tool some classes offer that can give you answers directly from the professor or GSI. On Piazza, you can ask questions anonymously as well as read other students’ questions and the professors’ answers. Checking on this website daily can help keep you up-to-date on your understanding of the material.


In addition to office hours, the Science Learning Center (SLC) offers study groups for many STEM classes. Study groups are led by students who have succeeded in the course and are able to explain concepts and material in a more casual setting. They help reinforce lecture material through application questions and problem-solving with other students in the class. Study groups take place for 2 hours/week and are great collaborative supplements to your studying. The SLC also offers one-to-one tutoring for select classes, usually on an appointment basis.


Time is of the essence.

Now that in-person classes and activities are returning, it may be a bit overwhelming at first to readjust to the stressors of managing time. With online classes, you could squeeze as much as you want into a matter of a few hours because, conveniently, your laptop was your transportation. That is no longer the case, as most of us will be walking through campus to get to the places we need to be, which is great in its own right. No more do we have to sit for 8 hours a day staring at a screen; we now have a reason to go outside and get some fresh air each day, which is a pretty subtle joy that we tend to take for granted.


Onto more technical terms, balancing classes and extracurricular activities as a pre-med student can be quite overwhelming and often mentally taxing. It’s stressful!–and that is 100% okay to admit. However, the way in which you manage your time can be the key to greatly reducing these stress levels. Namely, create a schedule that fits your daily routine, or namely, when you are most productive. If you’re a morning person, knock your work out in the morning; if you’re a night owl, do it at night; and so on. There is no perfect way to manage time, but if you can designate a few hours each day to be extremely productive, it can make things much easier. Moreover, space out your studying! It is cognitively proven to enhance long-term retention of knowledge. Although cramming has been shown to be sufficient in getting you a good grade, spacing is certainly less stressful in that it makes you feel more confident and saves you time in the long-run when you have to return to these concepts for the MCAT. In a more general sense, balance your studying between courses so that you don’t experience burnout. The fresher a topic is, the more receptive you will be to learning it as opposed to feeling that it is a drag, so do not study a certain subject for more than maybe an hour at a time. Lastly, to combine this with extracurriculars, make sure that you do not overload yourself. 


As pre-meds, we all understand the competitive nature of the application process, but this does not mean we need to drown ourselves. First, overloading yourself is absolutely no fun at all. Of course, we all have the goal of getting into med school, but we also only have one undergraduate experience. Med school should not be the doom and gloom that constantly forces us to miss out on what should be an enjoyable experience. Second, more does not always mean better. If you try to subscribe to too many extracurriculars and too much volunteering, this can surely be overwhelming during your application and especially the interview process. Choosing just a few extracurriculars that you are very passionate about and committing to them highlights your character traits rather than engaging in a bunch of activities but not being able to articulate why you participated in them or what you got out of them. Overall, time management for pre-med requirements and activities is necessary but, as will be further addressed in the following section, should be balanced with aspects of enjoyment and self-care.


Self-care is crucial to success!

As we transition back to in-person learning, you might be feeling more fatigued with your college schedule. You might not be able to find the time to just relax and take a breather. College can already be a stressful time but being a pre-med just adds more pressure. To get through these next couple of years, you need to find time for self-care. We can’t be our best selves if we aren’t giving ourselves time to relax.


First of all, we need sleep! With classes, volunteering, research, and extracurriculars, we need as much energy as possible to get through each day. By getting our 8 hours, we can feel recharged and ready to tackle the busy days. As we all learned in psychology class, sleep is the optimal time window for memory consolidation. Sufficient sleep (about 7-8 hours) enables better learning, thinking, and memory. Staying up all night to study for an exam may be counterintuitive as you might not even properly learn the information for the exam and the lack of sleep will impair your performance when actually taking the exam. Lack of sleep can also influence mood and emotional reactivity, which may negatively impact our mental health. In other words, always prioritize sleep!


One popular self-care activity is exercise! Whether that be lifting weights at the gym, going for a walk, or doing yoga, exercise is an awesome way to release stress and tension. Exercise has been known to improve mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood. So, spending some time each week on exercise might be a great way to take care of ourselves.


While binging Netflix shows and movies is a great way to relax and take our minds off of everything, we should take some time away from our screens. Extended hours of screen time have been associated with lower psychological well-being and less emotional stability. You can use this time to catch up on reading some novels of your favorite genre, hang out with some friends, or take a nice nap. Technology can be addicting, but you will see a noticeable difference in your day-to-day life by getting away from the screens. Maybe even do a no-tech day if you’re up for the challenge!


Another activity for self-care is reflection! We want to be the best versions of ourselves, but we can’t do so if we aren’t examining what is going well and what needs to change. What I find helpful is taking some time each week to reflect on the past week. You can write, type, or just think. Think about what you thought went well last week, like if you thought that the studying techniques you used this week worked, then keep using them. Then, look back and think about the negatives. If you felt overwhelmed with your class/extracurricular balance, think about what you could do to alleviate the stress. Taking some time to reflect will allow us to cultivate the pre-med lifestyle that is perfect for ourselves, which will help in reducing the pressure that we feel.


As pre-meds, we all feel the stress and the pressure that comes from this path. So, we need to make sure that we are taking care of ourselves. Becoming a physician is a long road and if we don’t focus on ourselves now, then we will burn out before we even get there. It may seem like you have to get 4 hours of sleep, study all day, join every single club, and take no breaks to be a competitive applicant, but you don’t. So, take that nap when you are feeling exhausted from looking at cyclohexanes all day. In a couple of years, you’ll look back and be grateful that you did.


No matter what stage you are in your college career, we hope these tips can be useful for you! Being pre-med is a long haul, so building good habits now will continue to help you in the future!

Transitioning from Online Learning (Part 1)


After several long semesters of logging onto Zoom and watching recorded lectures, transitioning from online learning has not been easy for anyone. But don’t worry, we’re here to help! Here are some tips and tricks that we’ve dusted off from our past in-person college experiences that we’re glad to share! 


Maximizing your learning during class:

You may have heard this one before but sitting close to the front of your lectures is one way that many students have found helpful in eliminating distractions and maintaining focus on what is in front of you. By sitting close to the front, students often pay attention to their professors more and find it hard to doze off. Another way to encourage learning is to participate during discussion (and/or lectures, if you’re up for it!). Oftentimes, discussions are one of the only ways to get a more individualized rundown of the course material, so definitely take advantage of it by asking your GSI questions and engaging with others, if you feel comfortable in doing so! If you don’t yet feel too comfortable, test the limits of your boundaries. Ask a question here and there, respond to someone else– be as involved with your learning as you can be.


Taking notes:

Now, attending lectures is only half of the story; although going to class is important, it is also important to be able to recall, and even more importantly apply, what you just sat through at some point later in time. When you go home after a long day of classes, having a good summary of each of your lectures is important to effectively understand and keep up with all of the content you learn throughout the day. This is why taking efficient notes is the first step you can take in studying your course material. There are two different strategies that students will generally use in college: 1) taking notes by hand (either on a tablet or on paper) or 2) taking notes digitally (by typing on a computer). 


One of the ways many students have found in promoting learning during class and/or when reading assignments is to take notes by hand. This is supported by research, which has suggested that physically writing down the words requires more mental processing than typing, which promotes retention of the material. This is not to say that taking notes by typing on a computer is not effective for some people, but rather that if you find yourself struggling to retain information from your classes, switching to handwritten notes may be in your best interest. Some classes may be better suited for handwritten notes than others, so it is truly up to you to decide which strategy you would prefer for each of your classes. For instance, in classes where memorization is not required such as some writing classes, typing notes might be easier and quicker. On the other hand, if a course is memorization-heavy, physically writing out the words may be a way to help you to memorize what you’ve learned in class more efficiently.


Another important thing to remember is that you will often not be able to take note of everything that your professor says, which is totally normal! So, it is important to use abbreviations, write short-hand, and focus on main ideas rather than writing/typing what the professor says verbatim. Having concise notes will also be beneficial to you when you look back at them so you can efficiently remember the most relevant information.


Now once you have your notes, it is also equally important to make sure that you organize them in a way that is easily accessible to you. Most students that handwrite their notes have a notebook (or a section in their notebook) for each class, or they use loose-leaf paper and organize these notes into separate folders/binders for each class. On the other hand, students who use tablets to take notes often use apps such as Noteworthy or OneNote and create folders within these apps for each class, and students who prefer to type their notes often find it useful to use Google Docs or Microsoft Word and create digital folders for their classes.


Everyone is unique!

As much of a cliche as it is, everyone’s preferences are different. In other words, the note-taking process your peer uses may not be the one that is best for you, which is totally okay! Some students love to use stationary, colorful highlighters and pens, and aesthetically pleasing notes. Others would rather write out the content as quickly as they can or type it out. Exploring different methods of note-taking is personal, so I would encourage you to not feel intimidated by others’ studying habits. This also applies to learning strategies; some people feel best when they participate more in class and are sitting at the front of the room, while others like to process the information on their own. Your learning preferences are independent of those of your friends and peers, so I would encourage you to remain open to possibly making adjustments and most importantly to be patient with yourself as you try out different study strategies!


In-Person Exams

Don’t worry, you are not alone if you have found in-person and closed note exams to be a bit more nerve-racking than normal. It can be challenging to transition back to in-person and timed exams when you have spent more than a year taking tests remotely. Science classes that are required and recommended for pre-med students tend to weigh exams heavily in their grading scale, which means it is important that we remind ourselves how to prepare for exams effectively so we feel prepared and confident on test day! 


You have heard this one before: avoid cramming at all costs. 

Yes, we all know the people who claim to “work well under pressure”. However, research has found time and time again that cramming the night before, or even a couple of days before an exam is not the most effective way to study. In-person exams mean you are going to have to be able to recall more information on your own, instead of having to just vaguely remember where an answer may be found in your notes. Try to begin studying at least a week before the exam, even if it is just reviewing a little material each day. This not only helps you more effectively retain the information long-term (because chances are, you will need it for the MCAT eventually!), but you will also have time to go to office hours to ask questions about topics you are unsure about, talk through concepts with classmates, do plenty of practice problems/exams, and generally avoid unnecessary panic. Remember, you can no longer rely on your notes, only your brain. 


Focus on topics that you are struggling most with.  

Sometimes we feel better about our understanding of a subject if we focus our study-time on a topic area we already understand well. However, your time is more efficiently spent if you identify the areas that you are unsure about and work to further your understanding. During online/open note exams, if there was a topic you didn’t understand too well you could refer back to similar practice problems/notes fairly easily. During in-person exams, this option is not available. Instead, take a practice exam and/or look back on notes to identify problems/areas that you got wrong or spent quite a bit of time on. Then, rewatch a part of a lecture, read from the book, ask a GSI/classmate/professor, or do some more practice problems that relate to this topic. This is a good strategy if you are in a bit of a time crunch and only have time to study a little bit of the material. 


Use practice exams wisely. 

Usually, in biology and chemistry courses, professors will provide one or more practice exams from previous years of the material. When taking these exams, do so in a simulated test environment. No matter how big the temptation is to look at your notes or google a question–don’t! Becoming reacquainted with the traditional testing environment is essential. You will not be able to use outside materials during the actual exam and training your brain to realize this is important. By looking at your notes during an exam, you put yourself at risk of creating a false sense of understanding. 


Collaborate with classmates, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. 

“Teaching” someone material is a great way to practice active recall and strengthen your conceptual understanding of a topic. Find a friend and talk through the main concepts on the exam. Don’t be afraid to elaborate on each other’s reasoning, make corrections, and ask questions. If there are multiple practice exams available, it may be helpful to take one of those with one or a group of classmates (but remember to save one exam for yourself to sit down and take in a timed, quiet, test-like environment!). This way you can talk through the answers and have topics explained in ways that work for your classmates. Sometimes all it takes for a topic to “click” is hearing it explained in a slightly different way. 


Most of all, remember that test grades do not define you. You are smart and more than capable! This year has been a challenge for everyone, and chances are it may take a while to get back into the groove of in-person learning. The Pre-Med Hub is here to support you! 


Part 2 (discussing office hours and self-care) is linked here!

 Karan Joseph

Neuroscience (major)

Electrical Engineering (minor)


Favorite class you took at Michigan:


BIOLCHEM 415 was one of the more difficult classes I took at Michigan, but I thoroughly enjoyed the course content. It was very intriguing to me to begin to understand how our body functions on a microscopic level. I thought it was so fascinating to think about how all of these different processes that we learned about were occurring on a daily basis. Even though the sheer volume of content seemed overwhelming at first, I think that this class helped me develop the study skills and discipline needed for the remainder of my college career.


EECS 320 was probably the most difficult class I took at Michigan (a close second being CHEM 230). This class’s content was very far removed from the typical biology and chemistry that I was used to. We mainly focused on the physical laws that dictated typical semiconductor behavior and then moved up in complexity to how actual semiconductor devices worked such as BJTs, MOSFETS, and MOS-Cs. The challenge that this class presented was much different than classes like BIOLCHEM 415 as there was a great deal of mathematics and logic involved which proved to be quite the challenge. However, I believe that I learned a lot from this course and enjoyed the long hours studying something so fascinating to me.


When/How did you study for the MCAT: I self-studied for the MCAT. I began studying in May and took the exam in August. I began with reading the Kaplan Books and taking detailed notes and making flashcards. From there, I moved onto the Uworld question bank and NextStep Full Length exams. The final segment of my studying involved completing all of the AAMC material as well as other resources I found online.


When did you take the MCAT: August 2019 (right after my sophomore year)


What was your pre-med experience:

My pre-med experience was a lot of fun. It started out pretty rough and I had a tough time adjusting to Michigan and the rigor of college. However, I quickly found a great group of friends and that friend group continued to grow and strengthen throughout the four years. If it wasn’t for the support and encouragement I received from them, I don’t think my pre-med experience, or my college experience in general, would have been as rewarding. In general, pre-med at Umich is supposed to be tough, but that doesn’t mean it has to be miserable. With good planning, support, and discipline it can also be a lot of fun.


Recommendations/advice for current students:

The biggest piece of advice I’ll give is never be afraid to challenge yourself. If it wasn’t for my willingness to push myself out of my comfort zone, I wouldn’t have met all of the good friends I have now nor would I have had all of the great experiences to look back on. In terms of practical advice: get organized. Make sure your calendar is organized, you have a to-do list, your email inbox is clean, you have a set daily schedule. Every morning, you should wake up knowing exactly what events you have, what tasks you need to complete and by what time they should be completed. Take one day of the week (for me it was Sunday) to plan the next week and reflect on the previous week. Using this will help make life feel less hectic, and give you more free time than you previously had.


 Sydney Edwards

Neuroscience (major)

environment (minor)


Favorite class you took at Michigan:

 PubHlth 305: Environment & Human Health.

As a pre-health student with an environment minor, this course really synthesized my two areas of focus to provide an interdisciplinary academic experience. The class covered a wide range of topics from toxicology to environmental epidemiology and global health. The professor, Dr. Laura Rozek, is so sweet and an amazing instructor. After this course and the public health intro course (PubHlth 200), I officially decided to pursue an M.P.H. degree along with my M.D. 


When/how did you study for the MCAT: I self-studied for the MCAT the fall semester prior to taking it. I took a part time semester (8 credits) in order to have time to study. Around 80% of my studying was during the month prior to my MCAT during winter break. I used Princeton Review books for content review.


When did you take the MCAT: January of my senior year


What was your pre-med experience: My pre-med experience was initially a bit rocky, but I found my footing around towards the middle of my sophomore year. As a first generation student, I had no idea how to navigate the university or the resources available to me. I got much more involved in student organizations and the pre-med scene at Michigan the winter of my sophomore year. I got involved in a pre-med professional fraternity as well as research. During my junior and senior years I became even more involved in the campus community and secured executive board positions within several different organizations. My extracurriculars included a mix of pre-med and non pre-med organizations, and I was able to be involved in all of the things that I am passionate about rather than strictly pre-med organizations.


Recommendations/advice for current students: Select a major and choose research, volunteering, and extracurricular experiences that are interesting to you and that you feel will be fulfilling. Doing things just to check off a medical school box will burn you out quickly and you may lose motivation. I tried several student organizations before finding a set that worked for me, and although I did not get involved in most of these organizations until the latter half of my undergrad career, I feel fulfilled by them and do not feel that they are a chore, allowing me to do my best work. It may take some digging to find experiences that cater to your interests, but it is worth it. Also, take risks. I took a chance in joining a pre-medical fraternity and was initially very anxious about it, but as a part of the founding class of that fraternity I found a community of people with similar goals and interests, and a majority of my current friends and all of my wonderful housemates came from that decision.


Beyond academics and extracurricular activities, make time for yourself and your friends. The pre-med track is rigorous, and it can be easy to neglect things like a social life and sleep. College is an amazing opportunity to meet people, create lasting friendships, and experience new things, and it goes by incredibly fast. Don’t wait until it’s too late to do these things because you never know what could happen – I effectively lost my senior year to the pandemic, and I have friends who planned on using their final year to have fun and do all the things they didn’t get a chance to do the first three years. 



 Tina Tripathi

 Biomolecular Science (major)

Applied Statistics (minor)


Favorite class you took at Michigan:

Honestly, there are a couple but if I had to choose the most ~sciencey~ one, it would be MCDB 422: Brain Development. Both Dr. Collins and Dr. Clowney are so passionate about the topic and the papers we read throughout the course were excellent. It was fascinating learning about the brain in as much detail as we went into and I genuinely enjoyed going to the lectures and working with my group members-turned-friends once a week. Despite COVID-19 coming into play this semester, the class was enjoyable and I can only imagine how amazing it is during a normal school year.


Runner-ups to this course (and less bio/chem based) are: STATS 401, HONORS 241 (Westworld), and ENGLISH 325.


When/How did you study for the MCAT: I actually ended up taking the MCAT twice, but I’ll detail what I did during my successful attempt. Starting January of my junior year, I started doing content review. I went through the Kaplan books and whenever I was confused or wanted more detail, I would look at other resources (Youtube, Khan Academy, etc). A this time I also started going through an Anki deck of cards that I found through reddit (MileDown’s deck). Starting in April I started taking full-length exams and doing question banks. I bought the resources from the AAMC and used the free tests from BluePrint and Kaplan (which came with my books). 


When did you take the MCAT:

First attempt: September 13, 2019;

Second: July 18, 2020


What was your pre-med experience: Overall, I had a pretty good pre-med experience. I definitely struggled through a couple of classes but perseverance and friendships helped me make it through. Additionally, tapping into the resources that the university provides was definitely a game changer. I wouldn’t be where I am without office hours, SLC groups, or studying with friends which is definitely a different experience than what I had in high school. 


Recommendations/advice for current students: Do what you like to do and take opportunities that don’t necessarily scream “premed” to you. I think coming into college and honestly until my junior year, being premed was such a huge part of my identity that I didn’t give myself the option to explore what was offered by the university or really what I actually enjoyed doing. Choose activities that you are genuinely interested/ passionate about. It’ll make life more fun and your story all the more interesting when applying to medical school!




Judy Huynh

 Biology, Health, and Society (Major)

Food and Environment (Minor)


Favorite class you took at Michigan:

ANTHRCUL 344: Medical Anthropology

I really liked medical anthropology because it was a break from the rigorous science courses, but I was still learning about medicine. It is a mix of a sociology and medical ethics course, and I thought it was very eye-opening. There are a lot of things we take for granted or were conditioned to believe and this class makes you realize things are not what they always seem. The course taught me to be more empathic and I learned how illness works in different cultures. We also got to watch many films, and the class was not difficult. Overall, this is a really cool class and everyone should take it at one point.

When/How did you study for the MCAT: 

I didn’t start studying until summer before my senior year. I decided to self-study so I used Kaplan books and UWORLD/AAMC methods to practice. I made a schedule at the beginning of my studies. It is okay if you don’t stick to your schedule; you’ll learn as you study what works best for you. If you decide to make flashcards/ Anki cards, I recommend making them as you go through the Kaplan books. It is better to get through content faster and give yourself more time to do practice questions. 


When did you take the MCAT: January 2021


What was your pre-med experience:

My pre-med experience was tough but rewarding. There are so many pre-meds at Michigan which can be a good and bad thing. Good because there are tons of resources and opportunities. It is easy to find people who have multiple classes with you and to study with. The downside is the large classes and competitiveness. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to form any relationships with my professors but they know classes are big so they are understanding. It is also easier when you start taking upper-level classes since classes are smaller. I also felt a lot of pressure to do everything every pre-med did, but eventually, I learned that it is more important to do what you enjoy. You’ll have to write about your experiences and even talk about them during interviews so make sure you’re doing things you’re passionate about. 


Recommendations/advice for current students:

Make time for friends and have fun. You don’t want to look back on college and feel like you spent the entire time staring at a textbook. Make the time to explore Ann Arbor, meet new people, try new restaurants, and have late-night study sessions with friends. When you look back on college, these are the memories you’ll remember. 




Our latest blog post breaks down the components of the pre-med journey and where you can find information about them on our website. Please click here to see a list of all our blogs!


Many med schools require students to have direct experience in medicine, also known as clinical hours. Examples of jobs you could obtain to fulfill this requirement are EMT (emergency medical technician), CNA (certified nurse assistant), MA (medical assistant), Scribe, and Phlebotomy. Certifications for these jobs are often needed, so training can be started freshman year summer, and onwards. By sophomore or junior year, you could start working at the job.



Volunteer experiences can be started as soon as freshman year. Many volunteer opportunities are virtual because of the pandemic, making it easier to participate. As a pre-med, you can never have too many volunteer hours, but most aim to have ~100 hours before applying. According to AMCAS in 2018, the average applicant had 400+ volunteer hours.
 Aim for meaningful volunteer experiences with underserved populations. Quality outweighs quantity. Some places you could volunteer are the hospital, nursing homes, homeless shelters etc. Also, try to gain both clinical and nonclinical volunteer experiences.



Med schools typically look for applicants who have spent 50-100 hours shadowing physicians. These can be done at any point during undergrad, but it’s best to start early (freshman/sophomore year) so you can gauge your interest in the specific fields of medicine.
It also might be easier to dedicate a set time during one of your breaks (eg. winter, spring, summer) rather than fitting shadowing in during one of your busy college semesters. While shadowing is great, it is a more passive task, so medical schools recommend you spend more time doing active patient-interacting activities.



Depending on your school/college, there are a variety of major options available! We encourage students to choose what they’re interested and passionate about, because medical schools ultimately don’t have a preference of what you major in.

If you are looking for a more Biology related major, you have time to decide your major and ultimately declare it, but we recommend you look at the LSA major options and create a tentative list of what you might be interested in!

If you are in LSA, but are considering a degree outside of LSA and transferring to a different school (eg. Kinesiology, Public Health, Engineering, etc), it’s important to review deadlines for these schools and adjust your course schedule accordingly to account for your major and pre-med courses.

Alternatively, if you are interested in double majors, it’s also helpful to create a list and a temporary schedule ahead of time (at the end of freshman year/early sophomore year) of your course schedule.



We recognize that everyone has different situations/interests, so ultimately choose something that interests you to do during your summer break. Whether this means taking classes, performing research, working a full-time job, or anything else, everyone is unique and you should tailor this time to exploring more of your interests.

Some students decide to take classes during their break, and we recommend that you only take one pre-med class during a half semester (Spring or Summer). Spring and Summer courses are far more accelerated than a normal semester, so these classes require more time and class meetings than during a Fall or Winter semester.

Many students also decide to devote their summers to performing research if they didn’t have a chance to previously partake in research, or want to explore this interest further. There are many research programs both at UMich and nationwide, and a list can be found here.
Summer break can also be a great time to gain more clinical or volunteer experience. As mentioned previously, many clinical experiences can consist of being an EMT, Medical Assistant, Scribe, and more.



Many students are drawn to participate in a research project in some form during their undergraduate career, whether it be bench work, clinical research, laboratory tests, etc. It is an invaluable way  to learn more about a field of study that you’re interested in while directly participating in active data collection. While you do not need research experience for medical school, the average matriculant has 1000 + hours of research experience.



Every Medical School has slightly different requirements, so it is highly recommended you look at the required coursework for the medical schools you want to apply to a year or longer in advance. Some med schools give credit for AP Classes, or classes you were able to test out of. In general, most schools require :

One year of biology with lab.

One year of general chemistry with lab.

One year of organic chemistry with lab.

One year of physics with lab.

At least one semester of biochemistry.

A math requirement (some schools require calculus, some require statistics, some require both)

One year of English.



Some Additional Reminders

  • Don’t force yourself to continue down a path that you’re no longer interested in. It is never too late to switch out. Medicine is a long-term commitment and it is best to be completely sure of your decision beforehand!
  • Class reputation doesn’t mean you will like it or not– you are the only person to judge that. Also, try not to compare yourself to other pre-meds. Every path is different!
  • Additionally, this is just a guide to help give you an overview of the pre-med track. As mentioned before, everyone’s path looks different! If every pre-med student followed this path, medical school admissions committees would be pretty bored. Find your passion, pursue it outside the classroom, make time for fun, and don’t be afraid to modify the table to include gap years/time off, etc.