10 Things to Get before Your First Semester of Medical School

Originally posted October 2014

I’m almost done with my first semester of medical school!

Thank all the stars.

In celebration that I have 2 weeks left, I’ve come up with a list of the things I should have had the moment I started to make my life easier. These are nothing more than suggestions to anyone who will be starting soon. Remember, it’s a personal experience, and everyone’s will be different, and it’s what you make of it. I just like sharing.

And if you’ve got something to add, please do!

1. Netter’s Anatomy Flash Cards

If you even have the thought that you might want them, just get the stupid cards. These suckers have saved me anytime I have been stuck somewhere and I need to study. You can grab them between breaks, read them on the couch, make games out of them. Anatomy really doesn’t vary in terms of material and everyone takes anatomy.

2. A bunch of those 70 cent notebooks

But Sass, you say, I want the nice notebooks! And you get those lovely book bound notebooks with the heavy paper (if it so pleases you). BUT you’re going to need scratch paper, And yes you  can use regular ruled paper or computer paper. BUT if you aren’t a fan of “holy crap I wrote something important on that paper” situations or if you’re a compulsive hoarder (we all become hoarders in med school) it’s just so much easier to have these cheap-os.

3. Some kind of calender 

I don’t care how you do it, but do something. Use Google Calender, get a planner, put sticky notes everywhere, get a whiteboard calender DO SOMETHING. You may not realize it yet, but medical school says “hey we need every inch of brain power and long term memory you have” so believe me when I say, you will forget so many things if you don’t put it somewhere.
4. A good pillow 

Despite how it might seem, sleep is a necessity, not a luxury. So why make yourself have a harder time getting to sleep? Quick answer, don’t. Do what you can to make it easy for you get whatever amount of sleep you’re getting (every second counts). A great pillow is the simplest solution, though comfy bed sheets or a fluffy comforter can help too.
5. Reliable internet 

First of all, the majority of medical education now functions via the computer, you need internet. Secondly, I know we are living off “future money”, but current you will be a much happier person if your internet doesn’t constantly cut out. Even if you study at school all the time and are never home are you gonna lie and say you don’t lose your mind watching netflix (or any variation) because the video won’t buffer? If nothing else, invest in this.

6. An arsenal of writing utensils 

You will need good pens that make you happy (you need happy). You will also need pens you know you will not miss you never see them again. You will need board markers because whiteboard learning is a gift. You will need highlighters because neon yellow is the calling card for need to know. You will need pencils because we live in a world of mistakes.

7. Vitamin D 

*Disclaimer I am not a doctor (just yet), this is just a suggestion, ask a medical professional to know if you should take any supplements* Do you wanna know a vitamin most people are deficient in? Vitamin D. Do you know where we get Vitamin D from? The sun. Do you want to know how often first year medical students go outside? If you guessed “only when they remember” then you are correct. Some of us are lucky enough to be outside. The rest of us need a bit of help.

8. Snacks

Not just any snack. A good, reliable, filling and hopefully healthy snack. Med students come in three varieties when it comes to eating. Eats like a normal human, eats out a lot, and forgets to eat. I fall into the last category because I just don’t have food with me. So find a snack that makes you fall into the first category .

9. A phone that works and can access wifi

At the minimum, you need this. You need a way to stay in contact with the people who matter to you, to be notified when you’re in the library and their about to be a quiz, when you’re still new to this hole med school thing and you get your first text from a new friend. You’ll want to pull up grades on the fly, or see that they changed a class in your email. Oh, and wait until interview season starts. You just can’t avoid it, you need a phone that gets you connected.

10. Confidence in yourself 

Let me tell you something about medical school. It’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done so far. It’s endless hours of learning words you didn’t even know existed, things you may never see again, and pictures you can’t even grasp. It’s a world full frustration and of feeling like you aren’t good enough, or as good as everyone else. But you are. You made it this far and you can do this. So if there is one thing you do get, let it be this. Let yourself believe you can do it, and that you have the ability to be successful.

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50 Things I learned that Happen Before, During and After the First Medical School Wxam

Posted October 2014

Medical school is the most wonderful, amazing, horrible, gut wrenching experience I’ve ever had. It will get infinitely better and worse all at the same time. Its a whirlwind.

The first big exam in medical school is a stepping stone. Its the start of the medical student actually becoming and actual doctor! It sounds great in theory, but its not such a fairy-tale in reality. So I’m sharing my experiences, advice and a bit of motivation about the first stop in the medical school experience.

My experiences might be different from yours, and that’s how it happens. These are just what I learned from me and my classmates. I just want to share!

Before those days

  • The first time anyone mentions your first exam will be during orientation, your last moment of beautiful freedom.
  • Exam taking in medical school is unlike how you’ve been done testing before. It’s different at every school, but it’s a whole new ride.
  • You will be told you will fail by upperclassmen, instructors, pretty much everyone.
  • It’s easy to think to yourself that it’s just a scare tactic and hey, you don’t need to worry about failing.
  • It’s not that these people are trying to scare you. They are trying to warn you.
  • Just remember that most upperclassmen only want to help you.
  • Okay and maybe scare you just a little.

Ready, Set, Go and never stop

  • The first day of classes will be overwhelming. There are no syllabus days, no get to know the class. It’s go time.
  • Even though it was a lot, the first day won’t seem so bad.
  • After the first week you will feel like you jumped into the deep end and you do not have your floaties on.
  • Try as you might, you will find yourself comparing what you know to what your classmates know and comparing study habits.
  • You realize you have no idea how to study anymore.
  • Don’t worry, neither does anyone else.
  • The next week consist of frantically trying to figure out how to study again.
  • If you find yourself at an impasse, seek out those with experience. Call a friend who’s already a doctor, find a current 2nd, 3rd or 4th year or seek an advisor.
  • Don’t forget about your professors! As the test makers, they really are a good resource. It might be intimidating, but you gotta do what you gotta do.
  • Take breaks! Take a day off! Take a nap. Trust me, you’ll need it.

Dig a little deeper

  • Even if you don’t quite have solid foot hold, you have to keep going. You can’t stop now!
  • Study with everyone you can. No one has allegiances or solid groups yet, and you will find out which people you can work well with, if at all.
  • Many others will assume class is useless. You have to figure that out for yourself though even if you have to suffer some.
  • You will feel tired. Not just tired, but drained. Not just drained, but beaten down.
  • Random bouts of test anxiety will start popping up even if you are still two weeks away from the exam.
  • These episodes will including feeling like you don’t know enough, don’t know anything, and that you might just be going a little crazy.
  • Remember that you can’t know it all, but you can know a lot.
  • After two weeks you will have exhausted every way you know of to keep yourself from being exhausted.
  • The days before the test, you will cycle through “I don’t know everything, I MUST learn everything NOW!” to “I’m so screwed” to “I should just accept it the way it is.”

The Day arrives

  • For all that jazz about accepting thing for the way they are, you might be up at 6 am studying just a little bit more.
  • Check the weather the day of your exam! Check the traffic!
  • Eat your safe food.
  • Pretty much the only conversation starter you’ll hear “So are you ready?”
  • Almost everyone in your class pretty much looks like they are in some form of facial pain from trying to act calm.
  • Stay far away from any known gunners.
  • But stay equally as far from the nervous wreck. Just being around them will make you feel even more nervous if possible.
  • If you are the nervous wreck don’t let it show or remove yourself from others as not to freak yourself out more and freak anyone else out.
  • Just tell yourself you’re okay. Because you are. You are smarter than you think.

Test Time

  • Put on your game face, leave your problems at the door and act like you’re going to rock this shit.
  • But you will completely blank at some point (don’t freak, its normal).
  • Gut instincts are a pretty good way to go, but if you really don’t know a question leave it for later. Chances your exams are pretty long and some questions can give away answers to other questions.
  • Don’t let the distractions get to you. If you can’t tune out excess noises, like someone throwing up for example, make sure you have ear plugs (and that they are allowed).
  • Use your time. Think out questions. Let oxygen get to your brain.
  • At the same time, if you feel done with your exam and you feel there is nothing more than you can do, turn in or end your exam. Don’t brood over what might be.

Your first chapter, completed

  • Whatever you need to do to be over the exam do it. If you need to cry, bitch about every question, speak to no one, or party it out do it.
  • BUT if you have another exam afterwards, you need to find a way to but this exam behind you beyond your norm.
  • You may pass. That is fantastic, you’ve already got at least some of it figured out. Don’t get cocky though.
  • You may fail. The world will keep turning, and you now have learned what doesn’t work for you. This is your tool to succeed for the next exam.
  • You will be so burned out. You might be burned out for days. Allow yourself some time to come back.
  • You now have the experience to be successful in medical school. Make sure you use it wisely.
  • If you love medicine, make it work. If you hate the book part of medicine, make it work anyways.
  • No matter what, remember that you can do this.
  • This is only the beginning.

I want everyone in medical to do well! I want everyone to succeed! I hope that you’ve learned something or felt the pain of medical school exams along with me.

The Art in Notes

Originally posted July 2014

I am an avid note taker, whether it be in class, during my own study time or just things I need to remember. One of my favorite things to do as I take notes is draw! As a visual learner, drawing makes learning easier and more fun, at least for me.

Plenty of people (and by people I mean my friends who have used my notes) have asked me how I do it. So now I make will make a post that explains my methods and maybe these can help you guys incorporate some more art into your studying. I am using my anatomy notes for this post as examples, in case you are wondering.

You don’t have to do it my way, and your way is awesome too! Hopefully you see something you like and it helps!

But I have no artistic skill! I can’t draw!

Not with that attitude. Listen here, you are going to be working on notes, not trying to get your work into the Met. You don’t need the talent of a genius and you don’t need years of study. You just need the basics and some practice.

What are the basics?

If you look online, you will find some really amazing tutorials on what seem to be very complicated topics, like hands, body motions or scenery. Most of these guides have at least this in common; all the artists start out with sketches using basic shapes. This makes drawing much easier because it becomes more like tracing. Here’s a very basic example so you can see what I mean:

image

Use those shapes to help you!

Use a reference

Everyone has an innate creativity, but the best part of note taking is that you are trying to learn something rather that “come up with something”. So when you are making notes, use references to help you guide your drawings. I can’t draw a heart from memory, I’ll only confuse myself when I look back on my notes later.

Use drawing as a tool for memorization

You want to be as accurate as possible for you learning, and then you can do practice of those drawings to help you remember facts about it later on.

image

This picture is a drawing of the Abdominal Aorta. In our anatomy class, we could get bonus points if we would draw this image (and others) with all the labeling and 90% of our class always got points. That means 90% of my 300 person class could draw this. So you can too! Use the original first and then use drawings to set in the info! For this practice, I suggest using paper that in not in your normal note arsenal.

Simplify when you can

Have you ever seen those diagrams of cells going through mitosis? Bio books love to make those images pretty and detailed. If you chose to draw this, which I’ve seen a lot of people do, there isn’t really a need for you to draw each cell as shown. Our brains are wired to remember simpler things, so why give yourself a heavier load? If you can draw a wiggly, detailed cell as a circle do it! Here’s an example for the skin. You just need to draw enough to understand.

image

Time it

I am fast at drawing. This is something I picked up over time. But I always follow a rule when I draw in my notes. In an hour, no matter how many images you draw it should take 15 minutes or less.  After 15 minutes you are wasting your time trying to perfect a picture rather than learning the material. This picture I drew in class, so it probably took me less than 3 minutes.

image

This one I did in my own study time and maybe took me 10 minutes. After I was done with it, I don’t see another drawing for maybe 3 pages, and not another large drawing for 6+ pages.

image

Drawing fast will only come with practice, but keep that 15 minute rule in mind.

Love your colors

I love taking notes in general in an array of colors, and those colors can help you memorize and solidify as long as you use them consistently. In my notes, I usually chose 3 pens, one for a header, one for general ideas and one for details. You can change those colors up from day to day, but the pattern should be similar. In the same way, you should pick colors in your images that help you remember things, like using separate colors for different areas, like this!

image

Vary sizes

One of the biggest mistake I see when people draw in their notes is they draw things to small! Some pictures do not need to take up the whole page, but make sure you give yourself enough room so you can actually see the picture and study from it.

Have fun!

Use your new art to make taking notes fun! Use doodles to remember things! And don’t you dare worry if your drawings aren’t perfect. These are your notes juts for you! This is all for the sake of for your education.

image

Haha.

 

So I might be a little all over the place, but remember all these picture happened over a whole semester and I didn’t draw everything that I learned(now that’s crazy!). I did what I need to do to learn the best way for me. I hope this sparks some new art in all of you students!

Keeping Care of Those Medically Bound

Originally posted June 2014

Whether it be non-med to pre-med, pre-health to pre-health, med student to parent, or any variation of those, we all have to keep in the mind the care for everyone involved in our crazy health related journeys. We should keep each other level headed and be there. So here are some helpful ways we can help each other out, instead of bring each other down.

These are just some things I’ve learned as a student, as well as from others all over the spectrum. These might be different from yours, and that’s just fine, but maybe it can help us all see eye to eye a little bit better.

Talk nerdy to me

It’s doesn’t always have to happen, but every once in a while, let us go nuts. Let us talk about the things we learned. Let us spew science mumbo jumbo you aren’t interested in. Let us explain how your lungs work. Let us talk about nursing to you, even if you are optometry. Let us gripe about a class you haven’t taken yet. Let us be excited when we have a health epiphany. A lot of times we forget that not everyone can share in our enthusiasm or we can’t remember how normal people communicate. And remember, we should certainly return the favor (aka call us out on it).

Priorities, Priorities

At some point all medical whatever-you-are studying becomes numero uno on your list of what’s important. To many, that’s just a wee bit crazy. To us, it’s totally normal. But it’s okay to give a little nudge and say “You need to sleep.” Or “you haven’t seen the light of day in a week.”

 

Don’t you forget about me

As medical anythings, we play the busy card a lot. It’s justified, most of us do have a lot on our plate. And we do want to hang out, participate and have fun but the earth doesn’t turn that way. We only have a measly 24 hours in our days. So one thing that wears us down is when our busy schedules cause us to be left out. Saying “no” means that we take responsibility for not going. Not being invited gives us pangs of hurt, even if it wasn’t on purpose.

Just because you show yours doesn’t mean they have to show theirs

Grades, obviously. You have every right to show people your grades good or bad. You even have the right to ask (though it isn’t really appreciated). But everyone has the right to say no and you can’t do anything about it. In the early stages of our education, most of us are neither here nor there about it and don’t have a problem sharing. But as classes get more competitive and more challenging, students can choose to not share anymore. It’s something personal after all. And on that note…

We are allowed to change our minds

And no one should get flak for it. So we might have started off with a goal of medical school and changed to pharmacy, drastically changed our target specialty, or starting over from a totally different major or job. That’s the great thing about schooling here. You can try things until something suits your fancy. A lot of times these choices are hard. As students in the health industry the last thing we need is for people saying things like “can’t hack it, couldn’t make it, and wasting talent”.

A little heart will help

Listen, we all do things and say things without thinking. Especially if we think we’re being funny. We don’t always realize when we do it, especially when we have 50 other things happening at once. Point it out when things like this happen, but please don’t run us into the ground, telling us how horrible we are. Trust me; we are sorry when we do things like that and we already feel bad. If you have a repeat offender, it might be different, but most of us are just trying to sort out if we are good enough already. We don’t need to be beat into the ground for it.

Patience is a virtue

We need to be kind to each other. We all have struggles inside and outside of the classroom. All of us fight battles no one else can see. It can be hard, especially when they are being short with everyone else. Maybe they back out of events or forget something important. Try not to let it get too far under your skin. But for most, these tidal changes eventually return to calm water. They will appreciate that you can see beyond their stints of insanity.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

Being there for your health hopeful is one of the best things you can do. But remember your own sanity. It’s true, this process does change people. Sometimes, it’s best for everyone to keep some distance for a while. If you try to push, even if you have the best intentions, it could end up worse than how it started. Don’t drop anyone like a hot tamale (unless they do something really awful) because of a few incidences. When things have cooled down, take a step back in.

We don’t say it enough

We’re thankful that you’re here! We’re sorry when we miss important things! We love you! Being a student in the medical world isn’t easy, and sometimes we just get so wrapped up in everything. We aren’t trying to be detached or demanding or snippy. It happens to the best of us. Hell it happens to everyone at some point. We really do care though.

It’s a tough ride, but somehow we can all get through. Remember, if you want to be taken care of, take care of those around you.

10 Mistakes of the PreMed

Originally posted May 2014

And 10 ways to make sure you don’t make them

1. Doing a ton of stuff

Want to know a secret? Medical school don’t really care how much you’ve done, how many clubs you are in or how many times you have volunteered. They like those things, but if it’s a ton of short little sprinkles rather the actual nice, fulfilling, well baked cake, its still just decoration. They are looking for commitment and longevity. They want to see that you can stick with something and see it through, as well as grow and succeed. Jumping from one thing to another doesn’t show your passion.

2. Thinking an A will get you a recommendation letter

It might be a requirement from the instructor to have an A in the class before asking for a letter, but how can they write you a letter if they know nothing about you? The whole point of a letter of rec is so that an admissions committee can get to know you as a student and that you can not only perform but show initiative. If you don’t know your professors at all, then it’s just another paper with a grade. And to be honest, having a bland letter without a personal perspective is quite telling. If you have one like that, okay, but if that’s all of them…you better have some other outstanding assets, I’ll just leave it at that.

3. Overloading on classes to look good right from the start
If you have an intense major that requires things that just happen to be medically related, that’s sort of convenient on your path. But you don’t need to take every human/biology/medically type class offered at your university. I’ve seen people who have done this from the get-go and it looks painfully obvious that they are trying to get brownies points. Most of the time, people don’t do as well when they do that, and then try to make the excuse of “my schedule was just so rough”. Spacing yourself out and learning to take on more and more difficult classes as you progress looks way better and more responsible. Plus your grades will most likely be better.

4. Not knowing the difference between constructive criticism, tough love and negativity  
No one is really that good at taking any form of criticism at 18 (when most of us start college). Especially when it comes from sarcastic or uninterested figures of authority. But so many people never learn the difference between help and hurt because no one wants to be wrong. There will be people who try to bring you down, but there will also be people who try to point out the things that would hurt you or that you might not be doing effectively. Those people aren’t trying to say you are wrong or stupid; they want you to do your best.
Remember, not everyone comes in with a gentile approach. Pay attention to the context and the message rather than the tone or, well, abruptness of what is being said.

5. Not understanding that the due date and submission date shouldn’t be the same thing
Someone needed to give me this memo way earlier than I got it. Most of the time we get the “earlier is best” spiel, but sometimes it’s hard to think that way because we are so used to things being “due”. Just because you submit something on-time doesn’t guarantee you anything and in the world of medicine everything kind of becomes first come first serve. You need to make deadlines for yourself and stick to them (and also do things early).

6. Thinking advisors don’t know what they are doing
Okay, advisors tend to have a bad rap when it comes to premeds. Most advisors have delt with premeds before and will continue dealing with them long after you’re gone. They may not have gone through the process but they (generally) have their facts straight.
Here is the thing though. Universities and colleges have tons of advisors. If you don’t like an advisor, or they are not helpful find a new one. If you have one assigned that sucks but that doesn’t mean this person is your only resource. Not only do those, “advisors” technically don’t need to have that title. It could also be other faculty members you believe can help you in a positive way. Putting in a little leg work can go a long way.

7. Not taking the advice of those who have gone through it
My favorite phrase I hear about that is “well that won’t happen to me”. The intern at my lab just learned that indeed everyone fucks up sometimes (like I told him) as he failed his first immuno test this week (s’okay, he gets a drop test). It’s really easy to say you know what’s up or that you won’t make the same mistake but invariably someone always does. Experience is the best way to learn, but that doesn’t mean that failure needs to be that teacher. Take it from those who have already been there and who have already made it. You don’t need to follow word for word, but you can learn some interesting and invaluable things.

8. Avoiding the statistics
No one likes looking at things that make them sad. And medical school statistics are not exactly joy-filled. You can’t avoid them though. You need to know where you fall comparatively to know how competitive you are so that you can adjust accordingly for your goals. You should know MCAT averages for schools, GPA averages, and how many students have participated in research and volunteering to that gained acceptances to schools. You should know that the average age that students start medical school (25 for those of you freaking out about a gap year or 2) among other things.
Do you need to freak out about this stuff? No. Why? Because statistics is a math that is inherently skewed and made to look better than they really are. A mean is just a compilation of a whole bunch of numbers, so if a school averages a 30 MCAT someone might have a 31 while someone has a 28. So you shouldn’t try to match stats. But you should still know what you’re up against.

9. Thinking you have to choose a science major
This is probably the biggest mistake premeds make. If you are interested in doing a science major, go for it! If you aren’t sure what to major in but want to be a doctor a science major is probably a good choice. But don’t pick biology or chemistry if you don’t think you will enjoy it. Here’s the thing, everyone who gets into med school takes the same basic classes and everyone basically starts on the same level. And just because you’re major says biology, that doesn’t make you a master of all and every human biology. Plus, a lot of other major can help fill is secondary gaps you might not have considered like writing skills, research and statistics knowledge or mastery of a second language.
And just as a personal point, I don’t really like the idea of “premed majors”. My university just opened a new major called “biomedical science” which directly translates to I want to go to medical school, at least at that specific institution. The issue here is that this degree offers zero flexibility if for some reason you choose not to go to medical school. It also really limits your access/timing to advance upper level classes where research is much easier to find. So just tread carefully and always look prospectively at your own school’s major requirements.

10. Trying to “make it through”
Would you want a doctor who is just moving through the motions to get to the end of the day? Probably not right? Don’t get me wrong, it happens to the best of us, but you wouldn’t want someone who’s totally miserable managing your health. You don’t need to be an ace or beat out the curve on every test. But pre-medical students who allow themselves to fall into a pace of easy satisfaction, or doing what they have to so they can get by won’t make doctors who enjoy patient centered care. Settling should not be an option. Even in the future, when you feel like you are dragging your feet, half-assing things should not be an option. Whole-ass it.

Secrets of the Medical School Application Cycle

Originally posted May 2014

Okay, so they aren’t really secrets but they are things many applicants don’t know or don’t think about when they apply to medical schools unless you have good guidance. Applying to medical school, as many of you know, is a big process that happens over the course of months and months and causes plenty of stress. So in the wake of my loan meeting, I shall share for those of entering the process something you might find useful!

BE EARLY

Get everything in early, I cannot stress this enough. Take the MCAT early, turn in your primary right away, try finish your secondary by the week after you get it, you get the point. Because most med schools are rolling admissions, the earlier you apply, the better chance of the school having a spot that you can fill. It also makes you seem interested and enthusiastic about being in medical school.

Your science GPA might be different from application to application

The science GPA is one of the most important parts of your application, but you already knew that. AMCAS science GPA consists of any classes that fall under biology, chemistry, physics, any health science classes and math (it will say in the FAQs how to calculate it). AACOMAS doesn’t count math in your sciGPA. Furthermore, one of the reasons the schools make you list out every single freaking class is because they have their own formulas for our GPAs. This is why need to make sure there are as little discrepancies as possible on any application and of course get good grades.

Report every MCAT score

This is not a suggestion. This is a rule and a warning. Say you turn in your applications and have started getting secondaries, but you took the MCAT a second time just recently. A few days after submitting you get a second MCAT score and you aren’t happy with it so you just…leave it out. You cannot do that because I believe it is mandated at this point that you must report all scores. You need to report the new score no matter what because if you are accepted and they find out you have an unreported score, more likely than not, your acceptance will be revoked. And that would be absolutely terrible.

You will be doing a lot of introspective writing

I am not talking about your personal statement here, though you should feel that internal connection to it. When you get secondaries some might not have any questions, you might have a one to ten short essays or you might have to write a few 1,000 word stories. Technically, these are maximums, but if you get 500 word limit, you should at least get to 2/3rd of the word count. They want you to explain in that case. Similarly, if they only want 100 words, they want it short and sweet. Some of these questions will be pretty simple, while some ore going to make you dig deep. Either way, you will always have to be creative and play up those positive points. And you be be completely sick of writing about half way though, so don’t burn out!

You will have to be an adaptive writer

Every secondary is different, and even though many of those essay type questions are similar you will almost never have the same word limit. You need to learn how to say the same thing in 100, 500 or 1,000 words. You must also learn how to tone your essays. If something negative happened, like a bad grade you need to make it sound like you learned and improved from it, not that you had a shitty semester for whatever reason. Adapt. Evolve.

Pretty much everyone gets a secondary

I feel like I’m bursting a few bubbles here, but getting a secondary means you fulfilled the bare-bone requirements set by the administration of whatever school. Basically a computer goes; GPA, check. MCAT score, check. Classes, check. No one really looks at any of your stuff until you turn in your secondary. Think about it though. With secondaries ranging from $30 to $120 and some schools having well over 5,000 applications, why not let everyone send them in? It’s pretty great way to make money if you ask me. So keep a level head.
Know how FAFSA works

Even if you don’t know if, when and where you will be going to medical school, you must fill out FAFSA, which you have to do for college anyways. If you want to screw yourself over, then ignoring finaid is the best way to do that. Having trouble or don’t know how to do it correctly? Get help. Ask an adviser, a finaid counselor or call FAFSA. Also, when you first fill out your FAFSA don’t freak when it says you might only get 20k. That is the max for any grad student for a fiscal year. Medical schools go in manually and change it, if needed to the med school max of like 40k (I’m not 100% on that). This is because medical schools are listed under graduate education, not doctorate. Don’t ask me why. I don’t know why.

Medical schools have their own magic formulas

Magic formulas for who they invite for interviews of course. Medical schools generally want to keep their stats in the same place, varying slightly from the students who actually go to the school or if they want to up their averages. Basically it looks like this; a school averages MCAT at 508 and GPA and 3.7. Well if you get a 514 MCAT, you are okay to have a 3.5 GPA since it will round out, while another student can have a 502 MCAT and a 3.9 GPA and get into the same program. Of course all the other factors are mixed in there, but that is the basic concept. Remember, an average just means everyone complied together. Every school has their own formula, and their own exceptions.

There is no real timeline after submitting your secondary

It all kind of goes up in the air. Some people get interviews a few days after submitting their secondary, while other wait until the very end of the cycle to just be rejected. You might be given a hold, or the school may provide a loose outline of an expected timeline, but that really means squat. There have even been cases of silent rejects, which is when you don’t hear anything at all. So if you are at this point, don’t freak out, you aren’t the only person suffering.

It’s okay to contact the admission committee

Listen, medical school administration is far from perfect. If it’s been a while and you haven’t heard a thing, it’s okay to call the school and ask if they got all of your application material okay and to find out when they begin and end their interview process. I had a friend who applied to a school which actually had misplaced his application and because he called to ask, they found it and invited him for an interview. Be careful though, because if you call more than once they could just see you as pushy and annoying. And that’s bad.

I know this is way too long, but I hope those of you just entering the application cycle find this helpful! Good luck to everyone out there!

Surviving Finals

Originally posted April 2014

A guide to getting through the last week and worst week of the semester

I’ve seen a lot of final exam weeks in my day. And for the first time this year I saw finals from an outsider’s perspective, since I’m not currently in school. So I’ve compiled some tips to help undergrads get over that last hurdle without falling flat on their face. Everyone is different and if you have a different way to handling finals that’s all right. I’m just sharing the things I know.

Know when your damn finals are

You would be shocked to know how many people can’t answer “what days are your finals on?” I’m not sure if people are trying to act nonchalant about it, or they really just don’t care but either way it’s dumb. I mean these are tests that can make or break your grades and you can’t commit the words Monday = English Lit into your head? Or just writing it down somewhere you can see it? Not knowing when finals are or what tests you have what days just says you are trying to avoid the thought of taking these exams. But that’s how you get blindsided and then have a panic attack because your exam is 4 days away and you haven’t even looked at any of the class material.

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Schedule study time based on course/content difficulty

Once you know when your exams are, you should set a schedule for when and what to study. Obviously, you should study for the classes which exams will happen first and then go from there. But as most college students know, classes are not created equal and therefore do not require the same amount of study time. By the end of the semester you should have a pretty good idea of what you need to do to succeed on an exam in whatever classes you have. Figure out how much time you will need for each class and then plan accordingly, then add a little more time because finals.

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Let others know its finals week

I don’t know what’s up with parents/family members, employers or anyone who isn’t in college currently but finals week is like an enigma to them. No matter how many finals you have, no matter how long you’ve been in college (therefor amassing plenty of finals weeks) they don’t get it. You are busy the whole week. Yes the whole week. You have to let all parties know that you will essentially be inaccessible, and you need to be patient regardless of how many times you have to repeat it. Also, do not allow yourself to be swayed by guilt trippers who try to get you to go out/come home early/do favors. Finals are super important and for all the importance every places on school you’d think they’d get it by now.

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Take breathers and stress-relievers

Having 5 exams all at once that cover everything you’ve learned in a 4 months is a terrible thing. A terrible, stress inducing thing. It’s important to have a way to blow off some of that built up pressure. After an exam you should take at least 2 to 3 hours to distress and come down the test takers high, especially if you had back-to-back exams. You can take a nap, watch your shows, and go exercise, whatever helps you feel at ease. If you have another test coming up the next day (or even that same night) you should still take time out to breath because you don’t want to overwhelm yourself. If you have a test a final a few days after the one you just took, I am a firm believer in taking the rest of the day as a study free day. If you are burnt out you won’t be able to retain anything productive anyways.

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Please sleep

I know sleeping is really the last thing you want to do during finals week. I mean why waste 8 hours asleep when you could be learning everything in the universe instead? I’m personally not a fan of cramming the night before, or the morning of if you’re one of those people but there are time when it needs to be done, like if you are taking a particularly tough course load that semester and there just isn’t enough daytime to get shit done. Here is the thing though; if you try to give up the majority of your sleeping time during finals (like getting 10 hours in 3 days) you’re hurting yourself a lot more than you are helping. You retain much less information, lose the ability to fully concentrate, plus you become a zombified shell of a student who is dead on the inside. So if you can, get your sleep on.

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Take the test and forget

I am in no way saying forget everything you learned from your class after you’re done with finals. Don’t do that. I’m saying to take your final, and then forget about that final. It’s done and over with. Don’t go digging through a textbook looking for an answer you weren’t sure of. Don’t talk about how good/bad the exam was and how you knew nothing and the world conspires against you. Save all of that until finals are completely over.

Finals are like war. If you dwell over a win or loss, you won’t be able to focus on the next battle and you can’t win the war. You can celebrate once you’ve conquered all.

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So good luck to all you finals weekers out there!