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Planning Your Junior Year of College As a Pre-Med

  • by Marketing Admin
  • Aug 15, 2022
  • Blueprint and Sketchy, MCAT Blog, Med School Admissions, Medical School

Well, it’s August now… That “back-to-school” feeling is in the air. You’re halfway through college, and just two more years (or more if you’re like me) stand between you and graduation. But you’re a pre-med student, which means you’re just getting started. College, medical school, residency, fellowship… The road ahead looks daunting, and you wonder if you’ll ever make it. 

You will. With patience, hard work, careful planning, a few tears, and lots of flashcards, you absolutely will. Let’s start with where you are right now though: you’re a pre-med student entering your junior year of college. What do you need to do this school year to move one step closer to becoming a physician?

For the “Since Day One” Pre-med Students 

Some of you came out of the womb knowing that you wanted to resect glioblastomas or perform TAVRs. You’ve been working in a research lab since you stepped on campus, and you’ve already completed most of (if not all) your prerequisite coursework. You’ve already taken the MCAT, or you are planning to take it sometime this year (more on this to come). Now you’re eyeing the application process, dreaming about which medical school you’ll call home in just a few years. 

If this does NOT sound like you, and you’re not ready to apply at the end of this year, don’t worry – I didn’t forget about you. Go ahead and jump to the next section (“For the Late Bloomers, Career Changers, and Gap Takers”). If this DOES sound like you and your situation, here are the things you should be thinking about going into your junior year: 

Start Saving! 

Applying to medical school (not to mention medical school itself) is an expensive endeavor. With the MCAT, primary and secondary applications, and interview costs (travel, lodging, food, etc.), many pre-med students will spend thousands of dollars to throw their hat in the AMCAS ring. As soon as you can, start putting money aside (if possible) for these expenses.

This is also an excellent time to look into whether you qualify for Fee Assistance from the AAMC. This program could help you save thousands of dollars on your application process, with significantly reduced rates for taking the MCAT, accessing MSAR, and submitting your primary and secondary applications. To learn more, visit the AAMC’s Fee Assistance Program website.

Tackle the MCAT 

If you plan to apply to medical school at the end of this year, now is the time to lock in your MCAT test date plans and solidify your MCAT study strategy. You’ll want a test date significantly in advance of June, so that you have time to review your score and plan for a retake if you’re unhappy with your performance. You may have already gotten a jump start on MCAT prep; if you haven’t, you’re going to need to make sure you have adequate time for practice and review before your test date. Remember that, per the AAMC, prepping for the MCAT is a 280+ hour effort – so if you weren’t already actively planning out how you’d keep up with MCAT prep while maintaining your GPA, now is the time to figure that out. Keep an eye out for next year’s MCAT testing calendar (coming this September), and note that registration for early-2023 MCAT exams will begin in October (according to the AAMC). 

View our “When to Take the MCAT” blog post for more detailed advice on choosing your exam date!

Identify and Reach Out to Your Letter of Recommendation Writers

Which professors, mentors, supervisors, coaches, or managers know you best? Who can speak to who you are, not just as a pre-med student, but as a person? Who has watched you work hard, struggle, fail, get back up, and then succeed, all while keeping a good attitude? These are the people you want writing your medical school letters of recommendation. 

As you start your junior year, begin thinking about who these people would be. Continue investing in those relationships, and plan to contact potential letter writers at least three months before you intend to submit your AMCAS primary application. After receiving letters of recommendation from your writers, be sure to thank them in person or via a handwritten note. 

Note that the letter of recommendation requirements vary widely between medical schools. Some programs require at least two letters from science professors with whom you have taken courses, while others leave it entirely up to you. Check the admissions websites of the medical schools you’re interested in applying to before reaching out to your potential writers!

Write Your Personal Statement (Start Early!)

Synthesizing your life experiences and motivation for pursuing a career in medicine into a 5,300-character essay that grabs the attention of admissions committees, while not sounding like every other pre-med who “loves science and wants to help people,” is more difficult than it sounds… And that sounds pretty hard to me. (View our “3 Steps to Writing a Strong Medical School Personal Statement” blog post for some tips!)

Needless to say, your medical school personal statement is not something you can crank out the night before it’s due. Start working on it early (we’re talking months early) and find one or two trusted reviewers you can work with throughout the process. Too many different people reviewing your personal statement can generate conflicting advice and unnecessary stress, so keep your reviewing team small! 

Be prepared for lots of red ink and lots of rewriting. The sooner you start, the better your personal statement will be, and the less stress you’ll have as you work on your primary application (more on this to come).

Research Potential Medical Schools

Even though medical school may seem far away, it’s never too early to begin scoping out where you’d like to spend the first four years of your medical training. If you start early (preferably sometime this Fall) and research one medical school per week, you’ll be better prepared to make school selections while filling out your primary application. 

Check out medical schools’ websites or MSAR profiles and consider the following:

What is this school’s mission statement?

What are the prerequisite requirements for this school? Do I meet them, or are there other courses I need to take before graduating?

What is the typical GPA and/or MCAT score for students accepted to this school?

Where is the school located? Could I see myself living there for four years?

What is the cost of tuition? Would I be an in-state or out-of-state applicant? Are scholarships or financial aid packages available?

What resources and opportunities are available to medical students at this school?

What are their letter of recommendation requirements?

Logging this information in an easily-accessible spreadsheet can also be helpful for when application season rolls around.

If possible, visit the medical schools you are interested in – seeing photos and actually walking around the campus are two very different experiences. Get a feel for the neighborhoods surrounding the school and the patient populations you would be working with as a student there. 

Keep Up With Your School Work and Extracurricular Activities

While the thought of finally submitting your medical school application is exciting, do not lose sight of where you are and the responsibilities you have in front of you! Make sure you’re still working hard in your classes and allocating time to extracurricular activities. The better you handle your responsibilities now, the better-looking your medical school application will be!

Request Official Transcripts 

As part of your AMCAS primary application, you will need to submit your official transcripts from all the schools you’ve attended as an undergraduate – that includes any community college coursework (even if it was just a few summer classes!) and all coursework you’ve completed at four-year institutions.

AFTER your spring semester or quarter grades are posted (at the end of your junior year), reach out to each school you’ve attended and request that they send your official transcript directly to AMCAS.

Start Filling Out the Primary Application as Soon as It Opens (It’s Gonna Be May) 

The AMCAS primary application typically opens in early May, giving you about a month to start working on it before you can submit it in late May or early June. Take advantage of this time to complete as much of your application as possible! Fill out your basic personal information, add your coursework, paste in your personal statement, and THOROUGHLY check for any errors or typos – your future self will thank you. 

For the Late Bloomers

Perhaps you started down a different career path and never thought about becoming a doctor until recently. Or you started college as a pre-med, but after a few challenging quarters or semesters, you found yourself having to retake classes. Maybe you just want a year off after college to volunteer abroad or get more clinical experience. Regardless of what led you to where you are now, you find yourself entering your junior year knowing that you do NOT plan to apply during the next cycle.

Compared to some of your pre-med peers, you may feel “behind.” Remember, though, that becoming a physician is a journey, not a race. There is no “winning,” and you do not get bonus points for starting medical school sooner. Instead of trying to rush things, commit to the process and remain focused on where you are right now. Here are some things to keep in mind as you enter your junior year of college as a “non-traditional” pre-med student.

Continue (or Start) Taking the Prerequisite Coursework

This one is pretty self-explanatory. If you’ve already started taking the prerequisite coursework for medical school, great – keep doing what you’re doing, and be sure to meet with your pre-health or academic advisor to make sure you’re on track. If you haven’t started taking the prerequisite coursework for medical school, I would encourage you to meet with a pre-health or academic advisor to find out what your first steps (or classes) should be. You may also want to consider your timeline for attending medical school; if you’re a junior, you may need an extra year to knock out the various requirements for medical school admission.  

While taking your prerequisite courses, don’t just take them for the grade you will get at the end of the term. Be intentional and remember that much of this material will be fair game on the MCAT. The more thoroughly you learn the content now, the less catch-up and review you will have to do during your MCAT prep. 

Note that medical school prerequisite requirements vary widely – check out medical schools’ admissions websites to get an idea of what coursework is typically required. (Spoiler: one year of Bio with lab, one year of Gen Chem with lab, one year of Organic Chemistry with lab, one year of Physics with lab, and one Biochemistry course is a solid start.)

Continue (or Start) Participating in Extracurricular Activities

Whether you play a collegiate sport, volunteer in a local primary care clinic, or conduct malaria research, extracurricular activities are a great way to balance out your time in the classroom and demonstrate your interests and abilities to medical school admissions committees. 

Be sure to choose extracurricular activities that YOU are genuinely interested in – not the ones you think will “look good” on your medical school application, or the ones that all your pre-med friends are doing. If you would prefer to do marine biology over cancer research, there is nothing wrong with that. Medical school admissions committees want to see who you uniquely are as an applicant to their program.

Pick a few activities that you love and stay committed to them over an extended period of time. Medical schools are more interested in the depth of experience and the impact you make than they are in the breadth of experiences and how many activities you can try.

Invest in Your Academic and Professional Relationships 

As a future physician, your ability to interact and communicate with others will be critical to your success. Start building those skills now and invest in your academic and professional relationships. Go to your professors’ office hours and ask for help with challenging topics. Go out of your way to get to know your manager at work. Doing this will not only boost your GPA and make work more enjoyable but will also make asking for letters of recommendation easier down the road.

I am NOT saying that you should kiss up to your professors and try to manipulate your way to a solid letter of recommendation. What I am saying is that your letter writers need to be able to say more about you than “this student got an A in my biology course.” Genuinely investing time with professors, mentors, physicians, or supervisors that you enjoy being around ensures that future medical schools will get a third-person perspective on just how amazing you are outside the classroom. 

Last, But Not Least: Be Patient

There is no “right” or “correct” way to become a physician. We are all on different timelines and paths, and that is completely okay. Be patient, and do not compare your journey to anyone else’s. 

Want more tips? See Hunter answer your questions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qG0p7mRX0z8.

Get the Experts on Your Side

As a pre-med student who personally used Blueprint Test Prep for my MCAT preparation (and saw a 19-point score increase), I cannot recommend Blueprint’s MCAT courses and services highly enough. With a customized study planning tool, detailed analytics, concise learning modules, high-yield flashcards, and helpful office hours, you will not find another MCAT prep company that offers so much value at a comparable price. 

But don’t take it from me – check out reviews from hundreds of other students, take the free half-length diagnostic, or sign up for a free trial of Blueprint’s online, self-paced MCAT course (proven to increase student scores by 13 points on average). 

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This article is part of a series of collaborative posts with Sketchy, who utilizes visual memory techniques throughout their medical and MCAT courses to help students effortlessly recall key information. They recently published an article for the best steps and timing for your MCAT study plan while being a full time student. If these MCAT study plans are right up your alley, then check out the Sketchy x Blueprint Bundle so you can have the best resources!