Junior year is notoriously very difficult, regardless of major or pre-professional program, there is a lot at stake. Students are tasked with gearing up for their last two years of college by planning classes, making sure to meet all requirements, and thinking about what their next step will be. Whether you plan on attending graduate school, entering the workforce, or taking time off, there is a lot to consider and it can be extremely overwhelming. I am an Allied Health Sciences major, beginning my junior year, and I plan on attending medical school following graduation. I do not plan on taking a gap year before going to medical school, so a lot is happening this year, and it’s happening very fast. I have spent a lot of time preparing for this year, and now I am working on how to manage classes, study for the MCAT, and find ways to improve my application to be the most competitive.
First, the MCAT. I plan on taking it in early 2018, and to do this, and do well, I have a lot of studying. It is important to think about your own study habits and how comfortable you are with the material when preparing for an exam of this magnitude. You must find what will work for you to be successful, because everyone learns and takes tests differently. Personally, I have found it helpful to enroll in an MCAT prep course through Kaplan. This course includes guided online sessions for three hours each week, study books, and personalized assignments that are geared to help you in areas you need improvement. This is just one of the many ways people go about preparing for the MCAT. Find what will work for you and make you successful. Additionally, make studying a priority along with all of your other classes!
A second thing that can be stressful about applying to medical school is the application itself. While this is many months away, it does not hurt to think about what you can do now to improve your application, makings yourself a more competitive applicant. What types of things are you involved in? Do you have any volunteer or clinical work in a hospital? These are a couple of questions you can ask yourself, and if you find that you are missing something, try to search for opportunities to fill the gap. For example, this past summer I traveled to Spain where I was able to shadow doctors in a hospital for a month. This was great exposure to the medical field, and I learned a lot about international healthcare as well. Additionally, next summer I plan on shadowing one of my doctors to gain more clinical experience. Throughout the school year, I plan to get more involved in volunteering or different clubs. My one piece of advice is to make sure you do things that you are passionate about, and not just do it so that you can put it on your résumé.
One final thing to do during your junior year is to find people to ask for letters of recommendation. These can be from professors, a job or clinical supervisor, an advisor, or anyone you feel knows you well. Make sure to refer to medical school admissions sites to determine what kinds of people they want letters of recommendation from. Some schools are specific in the number of letters they want, and who they want them from. Ask early, because these things take time. Some professors may want to meet with you, or will ask you to provide a résumé or other explanation of your career goals and a little bit about yourself. Additionally, set up your account through UConn so that you can submit requests to professors or advisors, send them reminders, and they can upload their letters directly when they are finished. Be sure the recommendation author knows you well, and you believe they will write a letter that will strengthen your application. Communicate and work with them often, as they are more likely to write a recommendation letter for you if you make it easier for them.
In short, junior year as a premed student is stressful, school is stressful, and life itself is stressful. My favorite way to deal with stress is to be organized. When gearing up to apply to medical school, organization is pivotal. Always reach out to advisors, professors, other students, and your friends and family for help. Don’t forget to take time for yourself to relax, and spend time doing things you enjoy. While school and the endless list of things to do to apply to medical school are extremely overwhelming, remain optimistic and be positive, because in the end everything will work out…at least that’s what I keep telling myself!!