October 23, 2014

Finding the Right Medical School For You: Your Questions Answered

[caption id="attachment_1688" align="alignright" width="335"] The next episode of The Pulse is scheduled for Monday, November 17, 2014 @ 8pm ET, where we'll discuss post-bacc programs.[/caption]   We had a great Pulse event on Monday night where we talked about finding the right medical school for you. The Pulse featured admissions and MCAT experts and most importantly, lots of interaction from viewers like you! Here's a sample of the wonderful questions we received on Twitter via #kaplanpulse and our answers:  
Emily: Absolutely! If you're planning to apply to a D.O. school, most require you to shadow a D.O. and have a recommendation from a D.O. as well. You'll want to highlight your knowledgeability about osteopathic medicine via these requirements. If you're applying to an M.D. school, most don't require a specific M.D. recommendation, but it definitely can't hurt. Also, you'll need to have experience shadowing and volunteering in medical settings regardless of which school you apply to. This leads us to our next set of questions. [embed]https://twitter.com/the_quotinator/status/524354554801180672[/embed] [embed]https://twitter.com/Triple_Ess_/status/524356279259893761[/embed]
Emily: Finding opportunities to shadow and volunteer can definitely be a struggle as a pre-med student. Volunteering opportunities can be medically based, but don't have to be. For medical volunteering, contact your local hospitals and clinics since most of them will have established volunteer options. I actually just began calling clinics in my area that I thought could use my help and the first one I called said yes! You can also contact any non-profit in your area as they're likely to need volunteers. Schools, libraries, and religious institutions are other non-medical places that LOVE having smart, responsible, pre-med volunteers. Since most of medicine is focused on helping others, volunteering in any capacity gives you substance for your personal statement and interviews! Volunteering abroad is a great way to get exposure to another culture and help you stand out in the applicant pool.
I actually found my shadowing opportunity through volunteering at the Native American Community Clinic in Minneapolis. After volunteering there a while, I asked the providers if I could shadow them and they agreed. The key here is to not be shy and don't be discouraged when physicians say no. There are lots of physicians in the world, so find one who wants a med student and ask them!
Emily: This is a popular question because pre-med students are always thinking ahead about the best ways to use their time! Volunteering, working and shadowing are great ways to stand out. To use your time effectively, you may consider studying abroad during the summer. That way you can get all the benefits of studying abroad without losing important time during the school year that you may need for your pre-requisite classes
DM @KaplanMCATPrep MD school asks why I did not apply to DO or vice versa. Appropriate way to answer or place to find my answer?   — LoLo (@DocHopeful1)
Emily:  I'm glad you brought this up! I got asked a similar question in an interview I did for medical school, so this is an important question to have an answer prepped for. The best answer is a truthful answer. If you don't believe in the overarching philosophy of either the osteopathic or allopathic medical school, that's an easy place to start. You can speak specifically to a program or opportunities which you're excited about and is offered by the school at which you're interviewing. The most important piece to answering this question is to be knowledgeable. Know the differences between the two programs so you can speak intelligently about your answers and have a reason why you choose one over the other.
Emily: This is a common experience for lots of pre-med students. You go through an entire admissions cycle only to find out that you didn't get in to any schools. Most importantly, don't despair! Contact the admissions offices to see if they can give feedback on specific aspects of your application. Often they're willing to give you an idea of where your application could be strengthened. With that knowledge in hand, go ahead and fix those aspects! If your GPA is low, take more classes or consider a Masters degree or Post-Bacc program. If your MCAT score is low, plan to re-take the MCAT. If you need more shadowing or volunteer hours, see the response above and get out there and get those hours!
Emily: Earlier is always better since there are more spots available in the class. This is why we suggest turning in your primary and secondary applications as soon as you possibly can. If you have a later interview date, make sure that you're extra prepared to stand out. Your interviewers know that you've had more time to practice and they've seen a lot of interviewees already. Make sure you're prepared!
[embed]https://twitter.com/DurdenThomas/status/524355095740555266[/embed] Emily: Fortunately the tides are turning and certain programs are favoring the D.O. specific skill set. While historically, there may have been issues, healthcare is rapidly evolving on this front. If you're interested in becoming a D.O., check out AACOM.org and see all your options!
Emily: Yes! D.O.'s who go into primary care are eligible for NHSC loan repayment and tuition programs.
Emily: The AAMC has already begun crafting the percentiles using the scores from the optional practice sections that current MCAT students take at the end of their exams. To learn more about how the new MCAT is scored, check out the AAMC site.
Emily: Caribbean schools can be an option for most students. The difficulty comes with trying to get a residency spot in the match process. Some schools in the Caribbean don't have as high of a placement rate as most U.S. medical schools do.
[embed]https://twitter.com/JaniceTjeng/status/524362213226594304[/embed] [embed]https://twitter.com/yismael/status/524362305656459264[/embed]
Emily: You can start as early as today! You can read about different schools on their admissions websites or through AACOM's Osteopathic Medical College Information Book (CIB) or AAMC's Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR). The information there will give you specifics about applicants average scores, acceptance and other admissions data. They will also list important information like tuition, fees and how many of their students receive financial support. You definitely want to start thinking about schools a few months before the application cycle opens in June. That way you'll have enough time to find specific people to write your recommendation letters and ensure that you'll have completed all the prerequisite coursework. Of course, you'll want to consider all the factors that determine which medical school is a good fit for you.
[embed]https://twitter.com/ThatGuy_Scotty/status/524357918137671680[/embed] [embed]https://twitter.com/Triple_Ess_/status/524357928481218562[/embed]
Emily: There are lots of different options for Masters degrees and Post Bacc programs! Our Kaplan Pulse episode on November 17th at 8pm Eastern time will also focus on all of your different Masters and Post Bacc program options. It's a wonderful opportunity to learn all about the nuances when choosing between Masters programs and Post bacc programs. They are definitely a good way to bump up your GPA and show medical schools that you can handle working through tough classes. If you're going to get a Masters degree though, I suggest picking a field in which you actually have some interest since you're going to be studying it pretty intensely!
Emily: You can find out more about the MCAT Foundations program and upcoming schedules online or by calling 1-800-Kaptest. The next class starts on 10/28! We'd love to have you!
So, that's it for our reKap of questions from Monday night's Pulse event. We'd love to have you at the next Pulse event on 11/17 at 8pm Eastern time! Reserve your seat today.
Until then, Happy studying!
...read more
October 23, 2014

Creating Diversity in Your Medical School Application

Through Kaplan’s exclusive, national partnership with the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), we will be providing a series of personal stories from AMSA leaders about their pre-medical experience and journey to medical school. Daniel Gomez – Ohio State University   [caption id="attachment_1684" align="alignright" width="225"] Daniel studying abroad in Copenhagen.[/caption]

Studying Abroad

It can be expensive and sometimes even overwhelming to participate in a study abroad trip, but it can also be one of the most memorable decisions any college student can make, and one that immediately creates diversity in your medical school application. Searching for a study abroad program that tailors its courses to a pre-medical track can be difficult and requires a certain degree of patience. Your pre-med advisor, your school’s Office of International Affairs, and the American Medical Student Association’s International Health Opportunities tool will provide the proper guidance in order to find the appropriate program.  

How Will Studying Abroad Look to Medical Schools?

Not many students study abroad; in fact, only a little over 1% of college students attend a study abroad program. A question that may be going through your mind is “should I really attend a study abroad program and would it actually impress medical schools?” The answer to that question can have multiple responses. Today I’d like to share the reasons why I chose to study abroad, and why I strongly recommend that you do too. As a fourth year pre-medical student at The Ohio State University I was trying to find a way to spend my summer vacation by taking a break from all the rigorous academic work, but to also be involved in some form of extracurricular activity (medical or non-medical) or unique experience. The opportunity presented itself when I read a poster on my college campus promoting an information session on studying abroad. After attending the session, I spent every week in the Office of International Affairs attempting to seek out additional information. As a result, I studied abroad in the capital of Denmark for two months learning about European clinical psychology and cognitive neuroscience. This gave me the chance to immerse myself in a new culture and to learn about how foreign healthcare systems function.  

What I Took Away From My Study Abroad Experience

Experiencing Cultural Differences:

For the two months I was in Denmark, the Danish students were friendly and showed me their lifestyle. The differences were quite noticeable in both living and academic studies. Having the opportunity to interact with individuals from international countries allows you to sharpen skills such as becoming more culturally aware of different demographic populations and their traditions. This also helps in understanding key differences in medical practice. There can be views on medicine, which differ from the United States, and knowing these differences can be beneficial when aiding these patients as a physician. There’s also the chance to learn a basic level of the language, which can be challenging and very exciting. As a result, you will be able to engage with several groups of people with completely different backgrounds and ultimately become a better-prepared and culturally diverse physician.  

Shadowing Foreign Physicians:

Not only did I get the opportunity to experience a different educational system, but I also got to learn more about the European healthcare system, more specifically of Denmark’s. Physicians in Europe are flexible with permitting students to observe them in their practice, so this allowed me to shadow a neurologist and a podiatrist. By doing this, you can learn so much about key differences and similarities between how physicians practice medicine in the US and other countries. Shadowing a physician is essential to show medical schools that you are aware of how a physicians practice functions, but to also present that you have been involved with medical experiences. This also serves as a great topic to speak about during a medical school interview, if asked about your study abroad program.   Creating Diversity in Your Medical School Application: A student who studies abroad can return with a higher grade point average (which is something that most pre-medical students like to hear). The reason I say this is because I found it to be less stressful when having the chance to study in different areas around a foreign city. It still takes effort and time to achieve a high mark on the grading scale, but a good grade is not the only benefit from studying abroad. This topic can come up anywhere: applying for a job, the medical school application process (during interviews, in your personal statement, and within the application itself), and in conversations at school. This is truly a special experience that can separate an applicant from a large pool of competitive students. This is not to say that studying abroad will guarantee anyone acceptance into medical school, although it can definitely be a topic of interest during an interview session. There are many ways in which studying abroad will make you a better pre-med student, medical school applicant, and physician. These were the primary reasons as to why I decided to study abroad. If it’s possible for you, then I would strongly suggest that you start talking to your pre-med adviser and Office of International Affairs today.   Now that you’ve read about Daniel Gomez’s journey to unlocking the good life and getting into medical school, we’d like to hear from you!  Tell us what the good life means to you in the comments section, on Facebook, and on Twitter using #kaplangoodlife. Visit our Unlock the Good Life site and find out more about a career in medicine. Learn about salaries and read profiles of people just like you who followed their dreams. ...read more
October 21, 2014

Why do I have to take the MCAT?

Hello my hard-working readers! Today I want to address a question that I hear frequently from my students and even more frequently from my classmates: Why do I have to take this standardized test? My students are complaining about having to take the MCAT and my classmates are complaining about the USMLE, or Step 1, as it's commonly known. It's popular to bash on standardized tests, but today I'd like to talk about why they're actually awesome!  

1. They're standardized

Your GPA can vary greatly depending on your school, your schedule, and the difficulty of your classes. That makes it difficult to accurately assess the validity of your GPA and use that to compare students across hundreds of schools. The MCAT, on the other hand, is completely uniform. It's designed to be representative of your ability regardless of undergrad institution. Medical school admissions can use your MCAT score independently to compare you to other students. That's super! If you had a bad semester that pulled down your GPA, that deficit can be partly made up by an awesome score on the MCAT. The same is true of the USMLE; residency programs know what your boards score means. It is completely independent of your school performance and can be used to set you apart from the pack of applicants. Turns out that most medical school students are smart, overachievers. It's nice to have a number to help separate yourself and stand out.  

2. You can study for them

There are tons of ways to prepare to take the MCAT and the USMLE, including great options such as Kaplan classes, tutoring, and books. There are practice tests, review materials and hundreds of available passages and questions that cover all the material that you're likely to see on your exam. So unlike your undergrad or medical school classes, where it's up to the professor what questions and material is on the exam, on standardized tests, there are specific topics that have to be covered and in a certain predictable proportion. With the addition of three new subjects to the MCAT 2015 test, Kaplan has created the only course that provides prep specifically for this new material: MCAT Foundations. [embed]http://youtu.be/3TDIrCB49wM[/embed]  

3. Your initial score doesn't determine your final score

During your undergrad classes, if you bomb your first exam, it can pull down your grade for the semester. That's not true on the MCAT! While it can be incredibly defeating to take a MCAT practice test or your Kaplan MCAT diagnostic exam and score in the single digits, your initial score does not determine your success on Test Day. The reason that all of these resources exist in the first place is that is definitely possible to study for and increase your score on any standardized test! I have seen students go from a 4 to a 28. I have had students who struggle with Verbal Reasoning email me when they get their scores back to tell me about their 12 on the VR section. You just have to make sure to invest enough time and effort into studying. With the help of the right resources and guidance, you can absolutely increase your score. This is wonderful news for you the test-taker!  

4. You have a clearly defined goal

Sometimes over the course of a semester-long class, you lose sight of your overall learning goals for the class. Instead it becomes a death march to finishing the semester and escaping with best grade you can reasonably achieve. Turns out that this feeling doesn't end when you're in medical school. My class is currently limping towards the end of our Neuro block after a particularly vicious third exam. Every now and then, it's hard to remember why you're learning the material. Having a numbered score to strive for can be very motivating. Each question that you get right moves you towards your 37 (or your 268 on the USMLE). You always have a goal in mind and you can lay out practical steps to achieve that goal.  

5. Taking the MCAT prepares you to take the USMLE

The Verbal Reasoning section of the MCAT is the most strongly correlated with your USMLE scores. If you learn the skills needed to succeed on the MCAT, those same skills will be used again when you kick butt on the USMLE! Plus, there are many ways that studying for the MCAT benefits you as a med student. You might as well get started on your medical school success now! With those facts in mind, happy studying! If you took the MCAT right now, how would you score? Find out with a free Kaplan MCAT practice test! You will not only get an idea of how you’d score on the exam, but you’ll also receive a full breakdown of your strongest areas, and those in which you need more practice. ...read more
October 20, 2014

Fast Facts to Help You Target Your Ideal MCAT Score

[caption id="attachment_1673" align="alignright" width="171"] Want to aim for a good MCAT score? Check out these fast facts![/caption]

With autumn comes the white coat ceremony

When autumn arrives, so do lots of people’s favorite things—football season, pumpkin-flavored everything, crisp weather that makes you want to cozy up to a mug of hot chocolate. On medical school campuses across the country, autumn also brings with it the white coat ceremony—that time-honored tradition in which family and friends gather to watch you don the symbolic garment of the medical field and the singular identifier of you as a fledgling student doctor: the short white lab coat. After three months of constant wear in your third year, you'll likely grow tired of the thing, but wearing that white coat for the first time at the ceremony is a feeling you’ll never forget. If you are just deciding to apply to medical school, the white coat ceremony may seem a long way away, but—believe it or not—you, too, are well on your way to receiving your own white coat. The process of getting into medical school inevitably leads you to the MCAT and all of its mysteries: how long is the MCAT, when should you take the MCAT, what do you need to do to prepare for the MCAT, and, finally, what is a good MCAT score to shoot for? No need to get overwhelmed. It’s easy to start breaking down the process into digestible parts. Start with these fast facts about MCAT scores so you can secure a good one!  

1. The average MCAT score is rising for students getting into medical school

I can't tell you how many attending physicians I've worked with who all say the same thing (though hopefully not in front of patients): "I'm not sure I could even get into medical school if I were applying today." Generally, this is a hyperbolic statement, but it carries some truth: the average MCAT score of those getting into medical school is on the rise. According to the AAMC, the average MCAT score of those matriculating as an M1 is a 31, while the average MCAT score of those applying is 29. You do the math. Sure, some applicants with a score 29 are getting into medical school, but the majority of matriculants have a slightly higher MCAT score. On the one hand, this is good news. Now you have a realistic and tangible goal to work towards. On the other hand, the fact that the average score of those just taking the test is down around 26 means that there are a lot of MCAT test-takers out there who end up not even applying. Could insufficient prep be one possible reason for the attrition?  

2. Securing a good MCAT score requires serious prep—about 350 hours’ worth

Another interesting fast fact: the recommended number of study prep hours for the MCAT is 350. That's over 14 full days—or two weeks—straight through, not factoring in the necessary breaks for eating, sleeping, and otherwise being a normal person. Phew. That’s a daunting task to undertake—too daunting for many. Which is why many people end up taking the MCAT after insufficient—or unstructured—prep, scoring poorly, and consequently not applying. Luckily, Kaplan has a proven track record of providing students with excellent MCAT test prep. With 350 study hours to fill, it's easy to see how you could get overwhelmed, or even lost. The beauty of the classes Kaplan offers are in their structure: the schedules are designed to make every minute of your MCAT test prep count. From in-class sessions to full-length practice tests, the hours add up quickly, and in the end you'll be grateful for putting in the extra time to score well on the MCAT.  

3. Practice makes perfect

In no way does this statement become more evident than when preparing for a big test like the MCAT. The best way to simulate Test Day is to take practice tests. You can't know how far you've come without knowing where you started. Take the first step by registering for one of our free MCAT practice tests to see how you’d do right now if you were going into the exam today. After taking the test, you’ll get:
  1. A detailed score report: We’ll figure out what kind of test-taker you are and let you know your strengths and weaknesses.
  2. Complete explanations to every question: We’ll show you what mistakes you made and how to guard against them in the future.
  3. Strategies for improvement: We’ll give you ideas for raising that MCAT score!
Sign up today to get started on the path toward your own white coat ceremony some future autumn not so far down the line. ...read more
October 16, 2014

Tips For a Non-Traditional Pre-Med Student

Through Kaplan’s exclusive, national partnership with the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), we will be providing a series of personal stories from AMSA leaders about their pre-medical experience and journey to medical school. Stefanie Smith: University of Missouri   [caption id="attachment_1668" align="alignright" width="300"] The busy life of a non-traditional pre-med. Stefanie is pictured here working in the lab.[/caption]

The Busy Life of a Non-Traditional Pre-Med Student

Violin lessons, dance, parent teacher conferences, a test, two conference calls, multiple doctor appointments, and a full-time job; this is a pretty average week for me. Being a pre-med can be overwhelming at times; when you add the intricacies of a non-traditional pre-med (e.g. family and work), it can seem downright impossible. Whether you are going back to school to pursue medicine or you have taken anything other than a straight path into medicine, here are some things that I have learned along the way that have helped me balance all the stresses of life, while also actively pursuing all those pesky medical school admission requirements.  

Tips for Balancing Your Personal and Pre-Med Life

 1. Find a way to volunteer that involves your family and/or friends.

A good way to gain volunteer and leadership experience without sacrificing your personal life is to find things that your friends and family are interested in and become more involved in those kinds of activities. For example, my daughter loves to run, and has recently started participating in Girls on the Run, an afternoon program that teaches young girls about self-esteem, healthy relationships, and positive body image while also training to run a 5K. The coaches are all on a volunteer basis, and it has been a great experience for me to take on a leadership role in my community. I really enjoy volunteering at community events that involve children; it lets me interact with the community while also letting my kids explore interests that they may not have otherwise been exposed. There are a ton of medical and non-medical extracurricular opportunities in your community, so start exploring and get involved!  

2. Incorporate your work.

I am lucky enough to be employed at a hospital histology laboratory, so I get to see how the health system works from a different vantage point. Everyday I see the amount of teamwork and the many health professionals that help to make it easier for doctors to focus on their job. Medicine is a team sport and learning to work well with coworkers is an essential skill that can be acquired in any profession. If you are employed (or volunteer) at a hospital, talk to the physicians that you interact with. I have found that they are more than willing to provide excellent advice and opportunities to shadow and learn from them. If you haven’t yet gained clinical experience, talk with your pre-med advisor or pre-med club officers today.  

3. Take advantage of the resources available to you.

While it may seem daunting to continue doing pre-med prerequisites while working, it’s important to realize that it’s okay to take it slow. If your schedule only allows you to take to one or two classes at a time, make sure you have enough time to focus on the classes and do well in them. While in school, talk to your pre-med advisor. They are familiar with the schedule of classes and can help make sure that you stay on track for graduation and the medical school admission timeline. If you’ve already graduated, it is still a great idea to go back and talk to the premed advisors on campus because they can help you fill in any gaps and provide some great advice. Many employers also offer educational funds for employees who want to continue their education. Take full advantage of these! In order to find out if your company offers these benefits, talk to human resources. In hospitals, you can also talk to nursing education departments: they may have some classes, such as Basic Life Support (BLS) and Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS), that you can take for free. My hospital provides $1500 a year for classes that contribute to your growth in medicine; this is allowing me to take an emergency medical technician course and gain more hands on patient experience.  

4. Give yourself plenty of time to study for the MCAT.

The MCAT is one of the most important parts of the medical school application, so you want to make sure that you are as prepared as you can be. Making sure that you plan extra time for studying means that you won’t need to stress out when you don’t study because of a family emergency or a looming work deadline. You need to maintain your flexibility and recognize that things will rarely ever go according to plan. As a non-traditional pre-med student, your experiences and insights are different than a traditional student, but they are just as valuable. Remember that we all have great qualities that made us desire a career in medicine. When we chose this career path, we knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I believe that it is definitely worth all the hard work!   Now that you’ve read about Stefanie Smith’s journey to unlocking the good life and getting into medical school, we’d like to hear from you!  Tell us what the good life means to you in the comments section, on Facebook, and on Twitter using #kaplangoodlife. Visit our Unlock the Good Life site and find out more about a career in medicine. Learn about salaries and read profiles of people just like you who followed their dreams. ...read more
October 9, 2014

Pre-Med Priorities: Tips for Building a Strong Academic Foundation

Through Kaplan’s exclusive, national partnership with the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), we will be providing a series of personal stories from AMSA leaders about their pre-medical experience and journey to medical school. Priscila Cevallos: University of Texas at Austin  

The Pre-Med Journey Begins: Freshman Year

The night before my first day as a college freshman, I remember tossing and turning for hours unable to sleep. My mind wandered to thoughts of the future and what the next four years would hold in store for me. More than anything, my dream was to get into medical school, and I wanted to prepare myself as best as possible in order to make that dream a reality. There are many pre-med priorities to consider, and I had procured a checklist of medical school requirements, along with suggestions from my pre-med advisor on how to become a successful medical school applicant. As I thought about how the next four years would launch me on this path, I was excited to get a head start on my journey and determined to make myself stand out among the sea of pre-meds as quickly as possible. As a freshman, it’s difficult to know what to expect as a pre-med and it can be hard to figure out which experiences to focus on and cultivate. I myself was an overeager freshman when I first started undergrad. I ran around campus most days of the week from meeting to meeting. I was trying to do it all: classes, pre-med student organization(s), community service groups, research, etc. I thought that I needed to start working through my pre-med checklist from day one of college in order to ensure my acceptance into medical school. However, it was during this time that I received two pieces of advice that helped me tremendously in thinking about and planning for my future.  

1. Focus on Your GPA

The first piece of advice was to focus on nothing but school and academics during my first semester of undergrad. The change from high school to college is extensive, and while the transition may be easier for some more than for others, it is there nevertheless. Many students are so eager to join as many organizations as possible to try to create those meaningful college experiences right off the bat. However, it is important to remember that developing a solid foundation during your first semester is imperative to successfully easing into a new routine, campus, and friends. Taking the time to familiarize yourself with the rigor of pre-medical courses will be much more beneficial to you in the future than overstretching yourself right away. After this foundation is established, it’s much easier to explore your passions while also maintaining focus on your GPA. After my first semester, I slowly began to seek out extracurricular activities that were of interest to me. What I began to realize was that, there is no “one shoe fits all” list of extracurriculars pre-meds should complete. Every student’s passions are unique, and hence every pre-med’s experience is unique. After attending an American Medical Student Association (AMSA) Convention, I fell in love with the organization, staying involved for three years first as a member, then as Secretary, and most recently as President. My scientific curiosity also led me to seek out research experience. I joined a neuropharmacology lab at the end of freshman year, and worked there for three years. My research experience culminated in receiving two Undergraduate Research Fellowships to pursue my own research projects, and I was able to present my work at various conferences. My extensive involvement in both AMSA and in research would not have been possible or as enjoyable, if my academic foundation had not been established first. Doing this allowed me to fully explore and really get involved with the experiences I cared about, without also having to juggle adjusting to the rigor of class every semester.  

2. Incorporate MCAT Prep Into Your Everyday Life

The second piece of advice I received was to begin studying for the MCAT while taking the necessary pre-medical pre-requisites. The MCAT is a cumulative test covering topics learned during introductory biology, intro chemistry, intro organic chemistry, and intro physics. By the time most students come around to studying for the MCAT their junior or senior year, it’s been a while since they have even thought about what they learned during their first two years of college. While studying for my intro classes during the week, I would also have my MCAT book open to the same topic. I would read over the MCAT chapter and answer the follow-up questions. I found this extremely helpful then, and now that I am actually studying for the MCAT, the topics seem much more approachable since I took the time to really understand what I was learning in my introductory classes. It might not be a bad idea to begin browsing through those MCAT books and take the time to really understand what you’re going over in class. You will have to know this information anyway when you take the MCAT! The novelty of college is incredibly exciting and there are so many opportunities out there for students to engage in. As you think about how you want to shape your next years in college, remember to prioritize your academics first. Seeking out those unique experiences will be more seamless after having laid out a firm academic groundwork. And keep in mind that it’s never a bad idea to begin studying for the MCAT! Now that you’ve read about Priscila Cevallos’ journey to unlocking the good life and getting into medical school, we’d like to hear from you!  Tell us what the good life means to you in the comments section, on Facebook, and on Twitter using #kaplangoodlife. Visit our Unlock the Good Life site and find out more about a career in medicine. Learn about salaries and read profiles of people just like you who followed their dreams.   ...read more
October 6, 2014

Fantasy Med School Draft: Finding Your Perfect Medical School

Hello my friendly fall readers! The leaves are changing and we can now expect a weekly dose of fantasy football related Facebook updates. For medical school applicants, however, fall means that you're drafting your perfect list of medical school qualities instead of a great wide receiver. So, today let's talk about which characteristics you should consider when drafting and finding your perfect medical school!  


Size is an important factor to examine when you're picking a medical school. You want to examine not only the size of each class, but also the size of the entire school. Class size is important for access to professors and the camaraderie of your class group. However, there's a big difference between having a medical school in the middle of a bustling, 30,000 strong undergraduate crowd and having a medical school that stands unattached or distantly attached from an undergrad base. Overall university size is a factor that I didn't really consider when I was looking at medical schools, but I've really grown to love the fact the University of Colorado medical school is separated from the undergraduate campus. The advantage to the separation is that I'm not constantly fighting for research spots, shadowing spots or opportunities with any undergraduate students. That means that every lab and physician is more than happy to have a medical student. That said, it also means that overall there are fewer researchers with slightly more limited areas of study because there are fewer students overall. You want to make sure your ideal medical school has the right size-balance for you!  


I cannot stress this piece enough. Every medical school will give you, more or less, the same amount of information in your first two years of medical school. Yes, there are variations on format and other opportunities which we'll cover, but the content is that same. What that means is, one of the major variable factors to your experience is the location of the school. Do you want to live in a major city? Do you want a smaller location in a more rural situation? There are medical schools in a variety of city sizes. What kinds of activities will help you feel satisfied and happy with your med school choice? How close are these activities? For example if you're into skiing, Iowa might not be the right state for you to move to.  Is it important for you to get away from home or be a short flight or car-ride away from your support system? I'm always a little bummed out that I'm out-of-state and away from my family and friends. Fortunately, the flight from Denver to Minneapolis is usually relatively cheap and is less than two hours long. Location is vitally important to your happiness and overall medical school experience, so take time to examine the locations of your potential medical schools.  

Student Body

Again, I'd like to emphasize that the classwork is pretty standard, but the people with whom you share your experience can vary greatly and overall impact your success. Do you want a more collaborative student body? Make sure you ask about whether students study together when you go for your interview day. Are you driven by competition to study hard? Great! Then make sure that competition is highly valued among your potential future classmates. You should also check out the average statistical values for incoming classes. If you’re applying to US allopathic (MD) medical schools, visit the AMCAS website and check out the latest Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) guide. If you’re applying to osteopathic (DO) medical programs, you should visit the AACOM website and check out the Osteopathic Medical College Information Book. Things to look out for would be average class age, different measurements of diversity, whether people commonly took time off, do most students have graduate degrees and whether the majority of students are married. You want to get a feel for the student body and whether it meshes well with your medical school needs.  


Yes, you'll spend a lot of time during medical school in class, but don't forget about other opportunities! If working abroad is important to you, make sure that you ask about established study abroad programs at your school. Can you do any rotations or projects abroad? If you're into volunteering or extracurriculars, make sure to ask how easy it is to get involved and talk to current students about their lives outside of school. Opportunities also include topics like scholarships, foci or areas of emphasis for students, potential for getting a dual degree like an MD/MPH or MD/MBA, and where students from the school are commonly matched for residency. It may seem right now that getting into any medical school that will take you is your priority and trust me, I get that. You do want to spend some time thinking about how a particular medical school will suit you. Choosing the right medical school goes far beyond the rankings. You're going to spend a fair amount of money investing into your education and working in pursuit of your “good life,” so make sure to think about how you're drafting your fantasy medical school (at least for as long as you think about your fantasy football team each week)! Happy studying!   Want to browse through different careers in your area of interest, see what test scores will get you into the top schools, and read interviews from people like you who have succeeded in pursuing their dreams? All this and more is available at kaptest.com/unlock. Just by visiting and filling out your info, you’ll be entered to win $10,000. The good life is closer than you think. ...read more
September 25, 2014

Creating A Meaningful Pre-Medical Experience Beyond the Classroom

Through Kaplan's exclusive, national partnership with the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), we will be providing a series of personal stories from AMSA leaders about their pre-medical experience and journey to medical school. Isaiah Cochran: Waynesburg University [caption id="attachment_1608" align="alignleft" width="300"] Isaiah plays tennis as a way to maintain balance in his hectic pre-med life.[/caption] Sometimes it feels as if trying to get into medical school is synonymous with searching for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Pre-medical students hear many stories about how to find their pot of gold. The truth is, there is no magic formula, and at times it may seem as though we are taking a shot in the dark. While I have experienced setbacks, I have also found outlets that help me turn on the light again, so I am no longer taking a stab in the proverbial dark. I am currently a senior undergraduate at Waynesburg University at the helm you might say of my pre-medical experience: interview season. My goal is to give you ideas on how you can become a more competitive med school applicant by creating meaningful experiences through your extracurricular activities. Obtaining an acceptance letter to medical school goes far beyond a high GPA and a high MCAT score. Now more than ever, medical schools are taking a more holistic approach to admitting applicants into their schools.

How Can you Create a Meaningful Premedical Experience?

Joining clubs and organizations that mean something to you is a great way to set yourself apart from other applicants. It isn’t a requirement for you to be a part of the local pre-medical club; the point is to engage in something that you are passionate about. I encourage you to create a meaningful experience out of these memberships by stepping up in the organization(s) that you care about and going after a leadership position. Medical schools are looking for commitment and passion, as well as intellect. My passion has been the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) where I helped to initiate a chapter at my undergraduate institution. I am currently serving on the Board of Trustees for AMSA, because I am fervent about the organization’s mission. Perhaps your passion lies in research. I would suggest you ask your professors about the prospect of conducting research at your home institution. When it comes to research, seek out something that is interesting and important to you. If you cannot find research at your local university there are hundreds of summer research opportunities through the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Check out these applications online-best of all most are FREE! I personally conducted research during the summer of my sophomore and junior years. The first summer (2013) I conducted research at Yale University in DNA repair pathways; the second summer (2014) I conducted research at Harvard Medical School in cognitive neuroscience. I encourage you to seek out the opportunity if research is what matters to you. No matter what you’re passionate about, the point is to pursue it wholeheartedly. Both medical and non-medical extracurriculars add to your overall pre-med experience. I decided to attend Waynesburg University primarily because of academics, but also because I would be able to continue to play varsity level tennis. Throughout my undergraduate career playing tennis was a balance that I needed in my life and something I always looked forward to. I have played every year of undergrad, and as a senior I am now team captain. I wanted to present my experience, as someone who has felt the same anxiety as you, and give you examples of what has worked for me. Remember, go out and engage in activities that you are passionate about, not just something to add as a line item on your medical school application, and create a meaningful pre-medical experience that goes beyond the classroom. I trust you will be happier along the ride and will find that you are a more competitive medical school applicant. Good luck!   Now that you’ve read about Isaiah Cochran’s journey to unlocking the good life and getting into medical school, we’d like to hear from you!  Tell us what the good life means to you in the comments section, on Facebook, and on Twitter using #kaplangoodlife. Visit our Unlock the Good Life site and find out more about a career in medicine. Learn about salaries and read profiles of people just like you who followed their dreams.     ...read more
September 24, 2014

Top 5 Tips for Veterans Getting into Medical School

Veterans returning from military duty, whose numbers have exceeded one million since the 2001 terrorist attacks, often return to unfavorable circumstances, including a much steeper unemployment rate than the general population. For some, the pursuit of higher education—even getting into medical school—presents a good way to improve job outlook and unlock the good life.  

How to get into medical school after returning from military service

It’s common for future doctors to worry about how to get into medical school, no matter what their qualifications—and it helps to remember that all the current doctors out there once worried about it too—so it should be comforting for veterans to know that they are already sitting on numerous advantages when it comes to their “soft”—or transferrable—skills. While most medical school applicants have only their grades, classes, GPA, and MCAT scores to work on (and you’re not off the hook when it comes to these either!), you also have other ideal attributes that will both set you apart and help carry you through your medical school education and beyond, into your career as a doctor. In addition, there is a high demand for physicians these days, partly created by increased access to medical service and an aging generation of baby boomers—not to mention long-term care for other returning military personnel. Here are some features you can highlight about yourself through the lens of your military service for the purpose of getting into medical school.

1. Leadership … and service 

Whatever your rank in the military, you’ve played the role of both a leader and a follower. Doctors are used to being regarded as leaders and independent thinkers, but they sometimes resist being led.

Especially in residency, you will have to exhibit both of these soft skills, knowing when to speak and when to listen.

2. Commitment

If you’ve served in the armed forces, chances are you understand what it means to commit, and—believe it or not—med school admissions committees are going to consider this right along with your GPA, classes, and MCAT scores.

Commitment is especially key when it comes to getting into medical school, which can take—with residency and other post-graduate training—anywhere from seven to 12 years to complete, depending on your chosen area of specialization.

Unlike more traditional applicants, whose experiences may be limited to undergraduate education and all its associated requirements, you have already made a major life commitment, and this shows medical schools that you will have the stamina to make it through those grueling years of residency and training.

3. Diversity

The military is far from homogenous. While serving your country, you’ve learned to work together with and in service of people from different cultures and backgrounds.

Medical schools are always looking to build a diverse cohort that will engage and challenge the class as a whole; plus, as a physician, you will also work with a diverse patient population. Not only are you used to working with different people; your military services also enhance the cohort.

4. Practical experience

As a former member of the military, your experience isn’t theoretical or academic; it’s practical. The average medical school applicants are 24 years old and not so far from their undergraduate lives. As such, their experience in the so-called “real world” is limited.

Military service, even without combat duty, is about as “real world” as you get. Stakes and consequences are high—often, in fact, life and death—not unlike decisions you will also be making as a physician.

5. Maturity and focus

Military veterans applying to medical school tend to be older and may even have spouses and dependents. Veterans have seen and experienced things a newly-minted college grad hasn’t. Medical school is long, arduous, and mentally and physically demanding—something you’ve certainly dealt with in the line of duty.


Beyond the MCAT score: highlighting your military strengths

There are always things you can do—other than studying for the MCAT, focusing on your grades/GPA by acing your classes, and fulfilling all the additional requirements—to get noticed by the medical school admissions committees. Here are some things you can focus on for getting into medical school:
  • Emphasize collaboration: In the military, it’s all about the collective effort, and you know how to work well on a team. Being a doctor also involves a collaboration between professionals in service of their patients, not to mention collaborative efforts between physicians and patients.
  • Close the gap: Getting into medical school can be competitive and academically demanding. If there is a significant time gap between your undergraduate education and your application to med school, you may need to take or retake the basic core science classes, not to mention the MCAT. Consider a postbaccalaureate premed program to strengthen or enhance your academic credentials.
  • Respect the MCAT: Your military experience can enhance your application, personal statement, and interview, but it won’t guarantee you a top MCAT score. The mean MCAT score for matriculants in 2013 was 31.3; that’s the 83rd percentile.
  • Get clinical: Gaining clinical experience in preparation for your medical school application will not only give you a better understanding of what physicians do, but it can also confirm your desire to pursue medical education. Furthermore, most medical school admissions officers say that clinical experience is a significant factor in deciding whether to admit a candidate.
  • Research and network: Research military-friendly medical schools and reach out to veterans who are attending. Your military network is huge, so take advantage of it by asking a fellow vet for advice. Many schools also make an effort to adopt a military-friendly admission process: contributing to the Yellow Ribbon program, having Veteran Services on campus, or waiving application fees for veterans.
  • Get personal: Your personal statement is your chance to highlight what you’ve learned in the military and connect the dots to why you want to go to medical school and become a doctor. Don’t shy away from your military experience, and tell a good story!
We want to hear from you. Tell us how you’ve unlocked the good life after your military service.   ...read more

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