Medical school may seem far away, but there are still many ways to prepare in advance. Setting yourself up for success in high school is a great way to increase your chances of getting into medical school. This was discussed in a recent collaboration webinar with BeyondDreams, Panther Creek Medical Careers Club, and Green Hope Future Medical Professionals of America. In this webinar, Meghana Ganapathiraju, an alumna of UNC-Chapel Hill and current medical school student at the University of South Florida, shares her personal experience and advice on the path to medical school. The full webinar is posted on the BeyondDreams YouTube channel, but here are a few summarized tips and tricks!
Path to Medical School
Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to have your complete career path decided before college. It helps to have an idea of what subjects you lean towards, but there is plenty of room for change. If you are unsure of what field you want to go into, expose yourself to as many subjects as you can. You will not know what you like if you have not tried it through internships, volunteering, and different classes!
For example, Ganapathiraju realized that she liked medicine since she handled dissection in AP Biology and liked science and math. Additionally, she was heavily passionate about the Brain Bee, which is a high school competition conducted by the Society of Neuroscience. Her interest led her to pursue a minor in neuroscience.
Prerequisites for Medical School
There are no classes that are required in high school, as they can be taken in college. If you are heavily interested, Meghana advises taking college-level classes in high school, specifically AP Biology, AP Physics, and AP Chemistry. She said, “These will get you out of the introduction levels of college classes, which are harder than in high school since they serve as classes to weed out a path. Since a lot of students apply to college as pre-med, many change their minds. The classes are designed to prepare you for the rigor of medical school.” That being said, do not take classes in high school just because they will get you out of classes in college if they are not what you are strong in.
In college, each medical school has its own list of prerequisites, but in general, it consists of 5-6 chemistry classes (Chemistry 101 all the way through Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry), two semesters of physics, and 4-5 biology classes. The sequence of courses and classes you have to take is dependent on your undergraduate institution and which medical school you want to attend.
Do High School Grades Matter for College and Medical School?
Having as many A’s as possible will greatly help your application. However, getting a few B’s will not ruin your chance of getting into college, especially if you are taking challenging classes. Also, your acceptance is dependent on the rest of your application as well. Colleges are looking for a balance of school, giving back to your community, and showing your passion for something. After you get into college, however, no one looks at your high school transcript. For medical school, they care more about your college GPA.
Taking College Courses in High School
You can take college courses in high school if you have the prerequisites and qualify for it! While you may have to pay for the class, it will not be the full amount of payment since you are not a degree-seeking student enrolled at the university. You can coordinate with your school to get an early release from school and use that time to take a college class. However, keep in mind that college classes do not necessarily follow the same time as your normal high school classes, which may cause scheduling conflicts. If this is the case and you know you really want to take a certain college class, it is best to discuss this with your high school counselor for guidance on the steps you should take. It is also possible to take a college course in addition to your high school classes, but be sure that you are not overworking yourself!
There is not an exact number of how many extracurriculars are necessary for college acceptance. Rather, the amount is individual to you. You should be somewhat involved in an activity, and it can be at your school or in your community. Meghana cautions you to not get involved in so many activities that you can only go to meetings and go home, since that is not adding any value. Ask yourself, “When I am investing my time in an activity or club, am I doing something of value?” College admissions counselors like to see leadership and community engagement. However, colleges do not care about a title like “president”, they care about how you connect with these people and why you care about this activity. This can be explained in your college applications.
Proving That You Did Extracurriculars
Usually colleges rely on the honor system, but it is easy to tell whether someone is randomly making up activities or if they actually did it. You most likely have a few stories to tell and a reason for why you care for the activity if you did it. If colleges doubt what you did, they will ask for proof, most likely by asking someone to verify your work. Additionally, if you spend half your life in an activity such as a sport or club, it is odd if you do not get a recommendation letter from that activity. Most importantly, do not lie! If you are caught, your life will be made miserable, and it will be difficult to go on from there.
In Meghana’s sophomore year in high school, she applied and got accepted into a research academy at the University of Pittsburgh. She used contacts from there to get an internship with Duke University a year later. She researched with a professor and presented the findings at a national conference. As for college, Meghana did countless research projects throughout college. She recommends using internships as an opportunity to expose yourself and do something you are passionate about and see where that takes you.
If you do not have connections with Principal Investigators (PIs), who are professors at colleges who are in charge of their own research labs, then Meghana recommends to look up university faculty online and cold email a ton of people. In the email, be sure to introduce yourself, your skills, interests, and ask if there are any opportunities that fit. It is common to see an average of 1 response out of 10 professors, so try to ask as many people as possible!
How to Balance Social Life, Academic Life, and Extracurriculars
A great place to balance all the aspects of school life is at lunch, where you can finish last-minute homework or easy assignments while hanging out with your friends. For Meghana, her social life was mainly through extracurriculars, since her friends would volunteer and dance together. Remember to find enjoyment in what you do so that it does not feel burdening. For example, pick classes you like where you have the choice. You will be more motivated to do work and will do better in the class if you actually enjoy it. Additionally, be sure to plan efficiently and make use of the weekends, as well as get enough sleep to be efficient in the day.
As you figure out what career field is right for you, medical school may be a prospective path you want to take. If you are truly interested in medical school, then there are countless ways to be prepared. Planning your future and taking the appropriate classes and clubs will ensure acceptance to college and medical school!