Video 2: Med School Prep – Undergrad Studies (Part 1)

This video covers two overarching themes:

  • How your choice of major impacts medical school
  • How to choose your major and what makes a good or bad choice

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Click here to watch the next video: Video 3 – Med School Prep – Undergrad Studies Part 2

Video Transcription:

Hi everyone! It’s Radhika here again. Today, we’re going to change cues up a little bit and start getting into the medical school preparation of these series. We’ll be talking about undergraduate studies specifically here today. I first want to introduce to you a few questions about what kind of majors you should be aiming for. In the second part, I want to leave you off with some good advice regarding choosing your major and your courses. Let’s get started!

As an instructor, and even as a test preparation company, something that Prep101 gets a lot are questions along the lines of what is the relevance of the major I choose to medicine? What are the difficulty levels of the courses I’m selecting? Should I be taking really hard courses and will the medical schools I actually apply to like that? Forget about those courses, should I be choosing a really hard major? Will a physics or bioengineering major make me a better candidate than perhaps a biology major or something in humanities or social sciences? And what about the prestige of the university I select? Will going to UTM be a better idea than going to UTSG? These are all really great questions. The answer to all of these questions is the same. If you’re asking me how important these things are, I’m going to have to say, they’re not really important at all. None of these factors really matter when it comes to getting your acceptance into medical school.

Now what’s the one thing that really matters? Your GPA. Your GPA matters a lot. We’ll talk about that in a later video. I want to focus on why it is your major doesn’t matter so much because it is kind of counterintuitive and very surprising for most premeds. When it comes to choosing your major, and your acceptance to medical school, your major does not matter. There are a few reasons for this. Consider that in 2012 the AMC published that 51% of matriculates to medical school, the people who got in and accepted their offers to medical school, majored in the biological sciences. That means the remaining 49% did not major in a biological science at all. Some may have majored in the physical sciences and humanities, in Spanish, accounting, or music. What you can find then as a clue is that almost half of the people who get into medical school do not choose to major in the biological sciences. Yet many premeds seem to think they must take a biological or life science major in order to be a successful matriculate to medical school. That’s not the case based on that statistic, which almost repeats itself every year. If you want to look at some Canadian statistics, I urge you to go to McMaster University’s undergrad medical education page where they specifically tell you about the type of majors that each of their matriculates had for every entering year for the past five years.

Moving forward a little, I said 51% were biological science majors and the others were not. When they actually looked at these candidates further what they found was regardless of major, all of these people had pretty much the same GPA and same MCAT score. As in, yes, there were some minor differences but they were completely nonsignificant. Now that isn’t to say you shouldn’t be completing your prerequisite courses. Let me rephrase that statement. Your major does not matter as long as you have fulfilled all of the current criteria for the prerequisites you must take in order to be a successful applicant to medical school. The medical schools will have you study in the basic sciences whatever they deem necessary for you to become a successful physician. So having a credit in clinical biochemistry won’t necessarily help you get into medical school. It will help you do well because you have covered this material in an undergraduate course already, but you by no means actually need it in order to be a successful applicant.

A little bit further, your major may not matter in being accepted to medical school but it does matter a little bit on a personal level. You want to choose a major that fits three criteria. First, you want to take into consideration the difficulty level of your major. Don’t choose one that is ridiculously hard where it is hard for you to achieve a high GPA. Don’t choose something that is too easy where you’re not really challenging yourself either. Second, you must take your interests into consideration. If you do not have a genuine interest it doesn’t matter how great you think it will be more medical school, don’t choose it! It’s a good likelihood that because you don’t have a profound interest in that subject that your marks may suffer just because you’re not interested in studying the material over the three or four years of your undergraduate studies. The third factor that you must take into consideration is convince. What I mean here is that most medical schools do have a list of prerequisite courses that you must take. If choosing a major allows you to hit a certain number of those courses, then it’s probably a convenient major for you to take because when you’re applying you’ll have taken most of the courses as is. This shouldn’t be your only factor. Even if it’s outside of your major’s requirement, you can still take courses that will fulfil your prerequisites that the medical schools actually ask of you. Again, you’re choosing a major based on the difficulty level that suits you, your interest level in that major, and how convenient it is in gearing you up towards hitting all the prerequisites of the medical schools you’re applying to.

I’m going to change gears a little and offer you some advice about your courses. The courses that you take throughout your undergraduate studies are extremely important. Major, not so much. We at Prep101 brainstormed what advice we want to leave you off with and we came up with the following. First, when taking a course make sure it’s actually going to challenge you. Challenge yourself because when you feel a bit of difficulty you have a sense of motivation to do well. That doesn’t mean challenge yourself to the extent where you’re preforming poorly. You have to find the right balance. Challenge yourself but be strategic. Do not compromise your success. Don’t take a fourth year fluid mechanics class just because you feel the need to prove to yourself that you can get a 4.0 from that class. It won’t really be enjoyable for you. You just might it so difficult that you don’t do well on it. Make sure, and I can’t stress this enough, that you take a full course load. When you take a full course load what medical schools really see is that this candidate can take 100% course load, take five courses a semester, and still show academic integrity. They can show they can do well academically, on top of that, they have great extracurriculars. Take a full course load. It speaks to your abilities of handling the stress level. Furthermore, many Canadian schools also have a GPA adjustment formula. In order to be eligible to have these adjustments apply to your application, you must have taken a full course load. If you want an example of what a GPA adjustment formula looks like, go to the University of Toronto undergraduate medical education page and you’ll see the criteria that is applied if you’re an applicant who is applying after three years of complete undergraduate studies and have taken 100% course load. They actually drop some of your full year course load marks. The lowest full year course marks. You see an actual GPA boost. You’re only eligible to have this adjustment criterion apply to you if you take 100% course load. The moment you take a 90 or 80% course load during the academic year you’re no longer eligible for this adjustment.

Moving on, make sure you take some basis science courses. Make sure you’ve taken all the current prerequisites to be a good candidate. Medical schools don’t want to see that you’ve got an excellent GPA and MCAT score but haven’t taken the actual requirements for you to matriculate into their program. This one is really important too. Take “killer” courses in the summer. There are a few reasons for this. The first one being that when we think about “killer” courses we know they are killer for us either because the subject is a weakness or we have no interest in it but know we have to take these courses anyways. When you take “killer” courses in the summer, guess what? You don’t have another five courses you’re trying to manage simultaneously. You can give 100% of your focus to this one course that you already find difficult. A lot of focus usually leads to the meaning that you’re going to do better in that class. On top of that, many medical schools do not take summer courses into consideration when they’re calculating your GPA. Yes, that’s not a joke. What they’ll see, if that course was a prerequisite, that you completed the prerequisite requirement. What you got on that course, your alphabetical value, is irrelevant to them. One more time, make sure you take “killer” courses in the summer. In taking your courses and choosing your courses throughout your three or four years, one thing medical schools look for is academic progression. They want to see that every year you had a bit of a higher GPA then the previous year. This shows that you’ve picked up and honed in on certain strategies that make you a good studier or student. Now, offset low marks in the science courses. If you take a science course, especially one that is a prerequisite requirement to medical school applications and you don’t do too well on it, not all is lost yet. There is one way you can make it up to them. You can say you took biology as a first year student and didn’t really know how to study for university because studying for university is really different then studying for high school courses. As a result, I got a C in biology. It’s a prerequisite to the medical school I’m applying for and they’re going to see that I did quite poorly in it. What you can do in this situation is offset this mark by taking an upper-level biology course in third or fourth year and do excellent in it this time. There is good chance you’ll actually do better because now you know how to study properly and efficiently for undergraduate exams. You can offset low marks and indicate to the schools that you in fact do have the right skills to excel in biology, or any other course.

I can’t stress this piece of advice enough. Don’t be a premed drone! Every premed wants to follow the well-beaten path. They want to have a 4.0 GPA. They want to score in the 95th percentile on their MCAT. They want to shadow a physician. They want to volunteer in the hospital. They want to volunteer in labs. Get to know professors, sit in the first row, and you know what? These things are great. But you don’t have to follow the well-beaten path. Medical schools are looking for uniqueness. They want to see how you as a candidate are different from the other thousands of applicants that they’re going to have to get through anyways. Do what you really like during these three or four years of undergraduate education. Take part in the extracurricular activities that truly interest you. Take courses that traditional premeds would not take. Maybe they’re languages. Maybe they’re music courses. Do well in them! Don’t be a premed drone. Show them that you are a unique applicant with very high academic abilities who can do very well on the MCAT. You then have a different standing. You have a uniqueness about your application that most other applicants don’t have. Last, but not least, make sure you maintain a high GPA. This is the most key piece of advice that I wish you would repeat to yourself every night, “My goal is to maintain a high GPA regardless of what I take.” I’m not saying that people with low or average GPA’s don’t get into medical school. Sometimes they do, but your chances of getting in are so much greater should you maintain a high GPA. The average medical school looks for a GPA around 3.7. The people who actually get in score around a 3.83 to a 3.9. It’s one of the first things medical schools look at. If you have a low GPA or an average GPA you are automatically flagged as a weaker candidate. Don’t do this to yourself. In choosing your courses, choose courses that allow you to keep all the other pieces of advice I’ve given you in mind but make sure your priority is to attain the highest GPA possible.

I’ve talked quite a bit about your major and choosing your courses. I hope you were able to learn some stuff. I’m going to say goodbye. I’ll see you next time!

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