Everything You Need to Know to Become Pre-Med

The most common aspiration of high-achieving students who have their sights set on elite colleges is becoming a doctor. I have nothing against this lofty goal. I once had it too (albeit back in first grade). However, it is crucial that these students understand the expectations and standards of making this their singular focus in high school, and thus their college applications. Simply stated, being a "pre-med applicant" means your application needs to be perfect (and then some) to get admitted. Why?

Because pre-med applicants or potential science majors comprise the largest, most competitive segment of any elite college's applicant pool. 

This translates into a group of applicants taking the most advanced math and science classes in high school, getting extraordinarily high scores on all standardized tests (including Subject Tests in math and science), and usually doing some type of research or volunteer work in the medical field. This is all very impressive, but almost every competitive pre-med applicant will have this in their application. If you want to distinguish yourself in this hyper competitive segment of an already highly competitive applicant pool, here's what to do:

  1.  Consider majoring in another academic discipline. As long as there is clear evidence, interest, and ability, indicating a different major while having an interest in going to medical school allows an admissions committee to see the student as more than just another pre-med applicant. In fact, making a connection between two seemingly different fields (anthropology and biology; fine arts and medicine; history and science) shows depth. The best physicians see how science connects to the world around them. Believe it or not, students don't have to major in science to apply to medical school.
  2. Take the most challenging courses in all five subjects (not just science). The most competitive applicants, and thus the most competitive pre-med applicants, are taking the most challenging curriculum offered at their high school for all four years in all five subjects. Taking the highest form of Calculus offered, four (high school) years of foreign language, the most advanced history and English courses through senior year, and four years of science at the highest level (including an advanced level science course senior year like Advanced Placement Biology) will put the student in the best position.
  3.  Getting the highest grades in the academic classes is key. It doesn't matter if your high school ranks or doesn't rank its students, elite colleges will recalculate your GPA based purely on academic courses. If multiple students apply to a college from the same high school, the elite college will compare you, your curriculum, and your recalculated GPA to the other students applying.

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  4. Do something different than medical research, volunteering in a medical setting, or attending a medical program for high school students. In fact, these experiences are now commonplace among high-achieving pre-med applicants. Colleges aren't expecting students to have hands-on medical experience as a pre-med applicant. They want to see the student doing something impactful, and that "something" can be in anything they want: sports, a part-time job, advocacy work, writing, and the list goes on and on. Do not let the type of activity dictate your decisions. Instead, think about what activity you can have the biggest impact on and then pursue it like nothing else matters.

  5. Avoid writing your main college essay on wanting to be a doctor. There are so many other facets to who the student is that could come through in the main college essay. If the application is dominated by the medical theme, it will have only one dimension to it. Write about something that is a lot less obvious for the main college essay. Reserve any discussion about wanting to be a doctor or an academic interest in the sciences for college-specific essays as many colleges have additional essay prompts like this one: "What do you want to study?"

    Many high school students who want to be a doctor end up pursuing this at the expense of developing other facets of their identity. Instead of focusing on an aspirational statement like "I want to be a doctor," students should concentrate on who they are right now. When they focus on the things that truly make them stand out, they have much greater impact on the world around them and the admissions officers reading their applications. This will get them admitted to an elite college and medical school when the time comes.