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Positioning Yourself for Med School: Academics and Extracurricular
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If you want to enroll in med school after college, you should start preparing now.
In addition to solid MCAT scores, you'll need good grades and exemplary extracurriculars.
The path to med school is no longer completely dominated by lab rats, their faces tattooed with the imprint of protective goggles. In the past, nearly every undergraduate who wanted to go to med school majored in a science like biology, chemistry or physics. This has changed, however, as med schools realize the value of a broad-based liberal arts education. As long as you fulfill your pre-med requirements, how you do is more important than what you study.
While admissions committees don't favor one major over another, they still need to know that you can handle the rigors of the med school curriculum. Most require one year each of biology (with lab), general chemistry (with lab), organic chemistry (with lab), physics (with lab) and English. A number of schools also require coursework in calculus or college-level math, behavioral science, computer science and the humanities. More competitive schools typically mandate advanced–level science courses, especially for students who met basic requirements through high school advanced placement credits.
However you fulfill the required coursework, don't wait until the last minute. By knocking off most prerequisites in the first two years, pre–meds can use the last two years of college to take electives, study abroad or pursue a non-science major or minor.
College is also a great time to begin exploring various medical specialties. Considering pediatrics? You may want to take courses in development, child psychology or family dynamics. If you're interested in becoming an obstetrician/gynecologist, enroll in human sexuality or women's studies courses. Demonstrating a long–term interest in a medical specialty can enhance your chance of winning a competitive residency.
Even more than specific class selection, academic success is crucial. GPA is one of the most important criteria for admission. Med schools will consider both your science GPA and your overall GPA. Though your science GPA is more significant, both hold weight and both are heavily considered
Of course, GPA alone is not the golden ticket to med school acceptance. Don't become so zealous about your studies that you fail to make time for extracurricular activities.
Most med schools expect applicants to have some medical experience, whether as a volunteer or paid worker. Primary care experience is particularly valuable. Many hospitals and clinics have volunteer positions that will give you the ability to interact with patients. Also consider finding a position in hospice care or a chronic–care facility, or assisting disabled children or nursing home residents
If you want to learn in depth about any primary care or other medical setting, you can set up a preceptorship. In a preceptorship, a sage physician allows a clueless undergrad to tag along as an observer over an extended period of time. The best preceptors are doctors with great people skills, patience, and a passion for education.
Medical research is another worthwhile extracurricular to pursue. A number of well–known universities, labs, and private companies run summer internship programs for undergraduates.
There are other types of volunteer experiences that are relevant to a med school application (even if they're not directly related to health care), such as teaching, tutoring or peer counseling. Any activity that demonstrates your compassion, communication or leadership skills will be impressive to admissions committees.