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
December 21, 2012

Application Essentials IV: Medical Extracurriculars and Experience

The life of a pre-med student is busy, between the challenging pre-med courses you're taking, preparing for the MCAT, and keeping up with your extracurriculars. Today, we turn our focus to that last category: what medically-oriented extracurriculars should you be doing before medical school? Why are medical extracurriculars important? In addition to the obvious (that this is what you're going to be doing for the rest of your life), the significance of medical extracurriculars is the demonstration that you have explored medicine as a field -- and you still love it!  Many students come into undergrad with an idealized version of the medical field; they "want to help people."  But medical schools want to be assured that you really know what medicine is all about.  Sure, you've seen the glorious side of medicine:  the success of a cure, the intimate rapport with a patient, the translation of basic science knowledge into therapeutics.  But what about the rest?  Schools want to know that you've seen some of the frustrations of medicine:  research that doesn't quite pan out as expected, challenging or noncompliant patients, and dealing with insurance and paperwork.  This is not meant to sour you!  But medical schools want to be assured that you truly have seen "medicine," not just the latest episode of Grey's Anatomy or House. What are some of the common medical extracurriculars? While this is by no means an exhaustive list, these are some of the most common medically-oriented activities premedical students do:
  • Shadowing - To shadow a physician means to follow him or her around during their daily duties:  sitting in during patient appointments, speaking with families, processing and interpreting lab tests, and generally seeing what the life of a physician is like.  To find shadowing opportunities, consider approaching family friends (or friends' families!) who are physicians, asking science professors if they have colleagues who are practicing physicians, or checking if there are any lists at your school's pre-professional advising office.
  • Hospital Volunteerism - Many major hospitals (and some private clinics) have opportunities for premed students to help out on the floors by talking with patients, assisting in patient transfers, and medication distribution.  Historically, this was called "candy striping," since the uniforms kind of resembled a candy cane.  Check on hospital's websites and don't delay in applying -- often, this is such a popular activity that you'll have to wait a little while for the next available volunteer training cycle.
  • Research - Since medicine is always looking for the next big cure, the safest new medications, and the answers to understanding the impact of illness on individuals and communities, research is a major part of the medical field.  Research is required if you're planning on applying to MD/PhD programs.  Again, local hospitals, your school's pre-professional advising office, and science professors should be your go-to for checking out research opportunities.
  • Community and International Outreach - These outreach programs include local community initiatives (such as Covenant House, a nonprofit charity for homeless and marginalized youth; the Ronald McDonald House Charities; and volunteering at nursing homes) as well as other national or international opportunities (the Peace Corps, alternative spring break trips, or programs through the World Health Organization).
So should I do all of the above activities?  The short answer is -- not necessarily.  Your extracurriculars are all about quality, not just quantity.  I'll be discussing this quite a bit next week in Application Essentials V:  Non-Medical Extracurriculars and Experience, but an important takeaway is:  only do an extracurricular if you enjoy it!  Forcing yourself to do a research project you just don't like solely to pad your résumé will be obvious to admissions committees, and you won't be able to speak passionately about it during an interview.  Also, medical schools do not sit there with a checklist in hand, just noting if you've "completed" the above four bullet points.  Rather, it's all about how you frame the activities you've done.  So, to sum up, do a few activities that demonstrate (prove!) your interest in medicine and stick with them; don't try to be a "jack of all trades" and not really give dedication to any particular activity. Happy holidays from all of us at Kaplan! This article is Part IV in a seven-part series on Holistic Admissions.  For more information, check out: ...read more

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