Am I on the right track?

When I worked for a university, I often had students coming into my office with that very question. When answering, I’d start by hearing what they had done thus far: we’d discuss academics, clinical experiences, community service, research, internships, and leadership opportunities. But when I had those conversations, I would remind students to think beyond a checklist. Although it’s inevitable to start out with a checklist mentality, there comes a point where you need to consider the meaning behind your actions.  So, here are 3 steps for evolving beyond a pre-med “to-do” checklist to determine if you are indeed on the right track.

Step 1: Explore what it means to be pre-med. Complete your pre-med course requirements, but also volunteer in a clinical setting, serve your community, discover the world of research, and join student groups. Exploring is about determining what you like—and don’t like—pertaining to patient care, serving others, and scientific inquiry, as well as current events, policies, and organizations. This is an ideal time to start an activities journal. Keep track of where you work/volunteer, your responsibilities (all of them—including those that felt trivial or you didn’t enjoy). Include your supervisor’s name and contact information, and the dates and hours you volunteer or work.

Step 2: Reflect on your activities. Ask yourself: why am I doing this activity, what is it teaching me, how am I growing and learning, what am I giving back to the organization or others, and does it pertain to my pre-med path? Sidenote: not everything you do will, or should, pertain to being a future physician—medical schools like to see what you do for fun outside of the classroom, lab, or library. In your journals (see Step 1), you should reflect on the skills, knowledge, and responsibilities of your experiences. Also consider what you like, or dislike, about each experience. Medical schools value commitment and longevity in your experiences, so do you want to continue? Do any of your experiences build upon one another, overlap, or demonstrate similar themes? (Not everything you do will or should overlap.) Don’t force yourself to stay in an experience that is unfulfilling, unsupportive, or otherwise leading nowhere.

Step 3: Apply when your application is at its strongest. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Have I engaged in meaningful activities, and do those activities help demonstrate my commitment to a medical career?
  • Do I have a diverse academic profile that demonstrates I can handle the rigors of a science curriculum and that I have a love for learning?
  • Have I taken the MCAT, and am I comfortable with my score?
  • Will I be able to obtain strong letters of recommendation? 
  • Do I have time to complete the primary application(s) and secondary applications?
  • In being honest with myself, am I truly ready to apply?

In summary, there is no rush to the application timeline—be true to yourself, and apply when you are on the right track, ready, and at your strongest.