I volunteered at a few of the Honors Convocations in the last few weeks, and a lot of the students had some really good questions about college life and living on campus. I decided to expand on my list of tips for college freshman from January based on those questions and concerns. I hope you find these beneficial!
1. Bring a doorstop. If you are living on campus, bringing a doorstop will help you meet people in your hallway. A large part of the college experience is meeting new people, and everyone is especially eager to make new friends during the first few weeks of school. Don’t be afraid to go around introducing yourself because others will be doing the same, and those who are not introducing themselves are probably just waiting for someone to introduce themselves first. Take initiative and make some new friends!
2. Believe in yourself. (Lame heading, I know). I have test taking anxiety and have difficulty overcoming it. What really has been helping me recently is posting a sticky note on my desk saying that I will earn an A on the upcoming exam. I prepare for the exam with the mindset that I am aiming for an A, and every time I look at it, I am reminded to study well and use my time wisely to help me earn that A. It sounds silly, but that sticky note has really decreased my stress level, and I find that I have more time to study because it reminds me to not waste time. Try this out, and let me know if it works for you! Do you guys have any stress-reducing study tips?
3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you’re having trouble with anything, know that there are people who can help. Your friends, advisors, counselors, and professors all want you to succeed and will try their best to help you out. The only stupid thing to do when you are feeling bogged down is to not talk about it and let it fester inside of you. There are people who care, and you are not alone!
4. Work on your college resolutions. Everyone says that they will mend their study habits when they get to college, but few succeed. College is a fresh start, and you only get to live your freshman year once. You have the power to make your own decisions (especially if you’re living in the dorms). You can stay up all night marathoning “The Office”, but should you? Make the most of your freshman year, and enjoy your freedom.
Perhaps the most valuable piece of information I learned from my biology teacher my senior year of high school was the fact that I had been mislabeling myself as a procrastinator my entire high school career. He always used to say “it’s not procrastinating if you plan on doing it”, and that’s when I realized that instead of procrastinating, I just plan on doing things at the very last minute.
There may not seem to be much of a difference between the two, but let me show you where I draw the distinctions…
A procrastinator is a person who delays doing something of importance in favor of doing something more enjoyable. A last-minute-doer is a person who delays doing doing something of importance in favor of doing other things that are less important/more enjoyable and plans time to do all the tasks. The difference lies in the utilization of time.
By having a plan, as in a list of things that need to get done, one is better able to rank everything in order of importance and is in a better position to tackle everything on the list. A planner is very helpful. Where I get into trouble is when I have my list and decide to do everything that doesn’t require as much time first and leave the most difficult assignments for last. As I check off more and more of the smaller assignments and responsibilities, the dread of having to do the larger project increases.
There are two possible outcomes to this solution:
A. I crumble under the pressure and spend the next hour playing Candy Crush to avoid my responsibilities. As the due date comes closer and closer, I spend more and more time not working on the assignment (until the night before/morning of).
B. My plan of action included a break since I knew I would be tired after doing all of my minor assignments. I take a nap, grab something to eat with some friends, and head back to my desk to finish the assignment.
As you may have noticed, A is the procrastinator choice while B is the last-minute-doer choice. Students who choose A and students who choose B are both probably good students, but students who choose B know themselves better and are generally less stressed.
Now the question is, how do procrastinators become last-minute-doers, and how to last-minute-doers become less last-minute and more at-a-reasonable-time-doers?
The answer to both of these questions is creating a realistic plan and sticking to it. It is really easy to say “I’m going to start my homework at 9″ and then not do your homework at that time by pretending to not see the clock. By incorporating breaks into your study schedule, you will be more likely to stick to it. Also, try to break your larger assignments into smaller pieces. You will feel more accomplished, and you won’t freak out as much about having to do the assignment. (You’ll probably also get a better grade since you will be looking over your work more often – your first draft won’t be your final draft anymore).
Some questions to ask yourself while you’re making your list of responsibilities include:
- Do I tend to study in the morning or later in the day?
- When am I the most focused?
- How long can I stay focused until my mind begins to wander?
- Where do I like to study/Where am I most likely to stay focused?
There is always room for improvement when it comes to perfecting your study schedule, and the more work you put into figuring out how you like to study, the more productive and stress-free you will be. The hardest part about studying is getting started, so learn how to transform your apprehension into motivation.
This semester has been a busy one for me – as I have been trying to handle lots of different things all at once. From school, to MCAT preparation, to resume and personal statement drafting, two two research and student board positions, it’s a bit overwhelming. A college student, especially a pre-medicine one, is known to always have a hectic life; but this time around for me it’s a lot of different types of things all at once. I have had some hard times where I fell behind in one thing after the other such as: school work, research deadlines, MCAT preparation – and i’m not going to lie, it completely screwed me over. With that being said, I’ve learned a lot going through this experience.
Balance is truly key. Keep up with everything at all times. Do a little bit of each thing a day – a couple hours for one class, a couple for another, a couple for the MCAT. Designate certain time blocks to extra-curricular activities, such as research, and stick with it. Try your best to put in your best work and excel in everything that you do, because in turn, your performance is proportional to your effort. If you give your all you will most likely do well in all that you do. Stay consistent with it. This doesn’t only go with academics and important things, but also try to remember to balance everything out and have fun every now and then. Work hard for a few hours in a day and then enjoy some time in the evening or on weekends.
From what I’ve learned thus far in my academic career, it’s important to relax and have some fun and maintain even somewhat of a social life; it will keep you going and keep your mood positive. Also, balance in time for your health. Try to get in some physical activity almost every day. Exercise relieves stress, releases endorphins, and it can also help you be more focused when you are studying.
When it comes down to it, we want to be doctors. How can we improve the health of others if we neglect our own? This, in fact, is a huge point in my opinion and be on the lookout for my future blog post regarding health and how to take care of yourself while surrounded with a hectic college lifestyle. Until then, I would just like to conclude by summarizing my main point – make plans and goals and try to stay on task with them. Focus on what you are doing and give it your all; if you put in your best effort you will accomplish more than you expect!
With only three months until AMCAS applications can be submitted, it’s fairly safe to say I’m freaking out. In fact, I just stopped writing this post to email my research professor and make sure she had everything necessary for my letter of rec. Within the last twenty four hours, I suddenly came to the realization that I do not know where I’m going to apply and that is not okay. Sure, I’m aware that I will be applying to local schools, but where else? Where will I be a competitive applicant? In what cities would I enjoy attending med school? Will I feel comfortable with my peers? How much gold do I need to withdrawal from my Gringotts volt? Are you upset that I just made a Harry Potter reference? I’ve had to think about the answers to all of these questions, although I admit I’m not too concerned with you being upset about the HP reference.
To start tackling this multitude of questions, the best place to start, in my opinion at least, is MSAR (that’s Medical School Admission Requirements, if you were unaware). If you are applying this year, or ever for that matter, Google it, subscribe, and utilize immediately. If you’ve never looked at MSAR before, your first though is probably going to be something like, “I never knew there were more med schools than McDonald’s in America.” Alright, that’s clearly a hypothesis but that was my initial thought.
In case you forgot, or you haven’t read my earlier blog posts, my verbal reasoning score is the game-changer for my application, and not in a good way. Even though I’ve scheduled to retake my MCAT, I am currently basing my school selection on my current score. That being said, I started filtering out schools where my verbal score would severely hurt my app, leaving in a couple reach schools that I just think are really cool. MSAR has nifty tools that allows you to sort schools by tuition, GPA, or MCAT score, which you better believe I used. MSAR will display the range of matriculants’ scores for each subsection of the MCAT from the 10th to 90th percentile. Since my other two subscores are competitive, I looked at the bottom 10th percentile for verbal scores to see where I could get accepted, considering the rest of my app is pretty competitive. This can be done for any area of weakness. If your GPA is on the low side but you rocked the MCAT, screen for schools where you can play on your strengths.
Once you have an idea of where you might be competitive, consider the location of these schools. Do you want to go to school in a major city or would you prefer a more relaxed setting? Personally, I’m digging Washington D.C. and Chicago right now. Also consider how expensive it will be to live near the med school. I may be digging Chicago, but I really don’t want to pay for food there. Don’t forget that tuition also exists. Some schools have outrageous out-of-state tuition, which is definitely something to keep in mind. BUT, and this is a big but, you should not let tuition prices hinder you from attending the school that is best for you. There are ways to pay for med school. As soon as I get one acceptance letter, I’m applying for the National Health Service Corps. Sure, you have to work for the government for four years, but THEY PAY FOR YOUR SCHOOLING and I personally would pursue work in the under-served areas anyway.
Last but not least, you need to make sure you’re applying to schools where you will thrive. I’m more concerned with having supportive peers than attending a prestigious school – but some people need competition to motivate them. I really don’t think you should base your list of schools solely on ranking. Just because you’re capable of getting accepted, doesn’t mean attending will help you grow or prepare you for the type of work you want to do. Dig deep, and make sure you really want to go where you THINK you want to go. I’m still working on that, so excuse me for now future docs!
The one question every applicant is bound to face whether in professional school or job interviews is, “describe a time you faced a challenge and how you overcame it.” At first, such a question may seem frightening as you instinctively search for the most elaborate circumstance in which you succeeded. However, the truth is most interviewers do not care so much about the specific circumstance but more on how you handled the situation.
Instead of succeeding in an argument or ‘coming out on top’ you may have gained insight; humbleness or cooperation in team learning are all strong qualities interviewers are looking for. Essentially, interviewers are interested solely on what you learned and have applied instead of how good you looked to your superiors. The situation need not be a face-to-face situation and can as simple as a phone conversation. The key is to absolve the difficulties of the situation and transform them into positive learning experiences.
Take the following scenario for instance:
You receive a call one afternoon from a disgruntled patron in your family business because they cannot find details on a specific product. Unsure of the specifics yourself, you begin searching your database for possible answers. Mid-way the patron becomes belligerent, swearing at you directly before hanging up. Frustrated, you step back and calm down before phoning your manager. You explain the situation and express the need for help. Together, you write a list of the previous questions asked, the answers, and a list of possible questions which could be asked next. You then phone the patron back and add your manager as a third caller to assist the patron further. As the patron picks up, you introduce yourself and mention your manager is on the line to assist further. Appreciative of your loyalty and dedication to your customers, the patron apologizes and has their questions answered fully. Your manager is also appreciative of your ability to recognize when you need assistance and your professionalism.
Such a scenario is typical in retail and is a suitable example. The question now becomes, “what did I learn and how can I apply it to position x?”. Answering this question will be easier and less nerve-wrecking if you spend a few minutes writing the situation down and answering these questions (answers are provided as example from the above scenario):
- How did the situation happen?
- I received a call from a patron regarding specifics on an item we sold. Upon mentioning I did not have the specifics they were looking for, the patron became aggressive over the phone before hanging up on me.
- What happened specifically to each party?
- Myself: I was sworn at and hung up on.
- Patron: I could not provide the information necessary to the patron’s satisfaction.
- How was the situation resolved?
- I called my manager and asked for assistance. Together, we called the patron back and answered all questions to the best of our knowledge.
- What were the outcomes for each person involved?
- Myself: I was successful in answering all questions for the patron with assistance of my manager.
- Patron: Received the information they required and apologized for their belligerence.
- What did you learn from the situation?
- I learned I could approach a difficult situation by stepping back and calming myself down before attempting to resolve the situation. I became aware of my own capabilities and realized when it was appropriate to ask for assistance. I learned to remain calm in intense situations and feel capable to do the same in any environment or situation.
- How can you apply this knowledge in the workplace/learning environment?
- As a result of this learning experience, I am more confident in my abilities to cooperate with my peers in tackling a difficult situation. Sharing responsibility and combining ideas is much easier and efficient than one person operating alone.
Once you have answered these questions, practice answering the question, “describe a time you faced a challenge and how you overcame it” out-loud and with proper body language. Verbally repeat the question then pause a few seconds before responding. It is important to keep your answer sufficient, stating key words such as “this situation taught me x” and “I have grown as a leader/person because of this situation”.
Preparing for your interview is as simple as this. Go through each popular question during an interview and prepare succinct answers for each question. Practicing with someone who can provide positive criticism is always important as well.
Keep in mind this process can be applied for any life event or situation. Are you preparing for your medical, pharmacy, or nursing school interview? Did you happen to run into a scenario with your GPA being low for a semester or two? Do not dwell on the negatives of these situations. Focus on what you learned instead. Perhaps after the two semesters of scoring below a 3.5, you realized you needed to develop a strategy which works best for you. Prove you are capable of learning at the rate professional schools present the material, by showing your enthusiasm and having a plan of action to perform well and efficiently.