The Premed Life: Common Misconceptions (Part 1)

Application Strategy

The Premed Life: Common Misconceptions (Part 1)

Misconception 1: You have to major in one of the natural sciences.

As long as you complete the courses required by medical schools, it actually does not really matter whether you major in one of the traditional sciences or in something completely different like creative writing. In fact, to be a more competitive applicant, it’s a good idea to expand the range of classes that you take. One of my friends actually got accepted into an early decision medical school program because his computer science major set him apart. Furthermore, many of the physicians I’ve met here at Stanford completed their undergraduate degrees in the humanities. Medical schools have become more and more interested in encouraging applicants to diverge from the stereotypical premed course schedule. That’s why the MCAT (the standardized test for medical school admissions) is changing in 2015 to encompass a wider range of material. The test will actually be adding a social and behavioral sciences section that focuses on the psychological, social, and biological foundations of behavior. So, the takeaway point here is you shouldn't be afraid to take courses in the humanities or any other subject that you’re interested in just because you think a “typical” premed wouldn’t take those courses. Bottom line, there is no "typical" premed.

Misconception 2: There are certain activities that you have to participate in.

Contrary to what some students may think, not all successful medical school applicants cured cancer, spent 1,000 hours shadowing physicians, and volunteered four summers abroad in another country. Don't get me wrong, doing these things will definitely help you as an applicant (curing cancer is pretty impressive). However, taking part in these activities don’t necessarily correlate with being a good physician later on and medical schools know this. One of the physicians that I’ve met here at Stanford actually gave a talk on this very subject. She said that, in her experience, medical schools strive to accept a diverse population of students. In her class, for example, there were some students that excelled in biological research and medical volunteer work while others excelled in health policy or overcame great obstacles to achieve their goals. At the end of the day, what really matters is whether or not you have an interesting story to tell about your activities. If you take part in activities just because you think that’s what a “typical” premed would do, your essays are going to sound like a typical applicant and you’re going to have a harder time standing out to the admissions committee.

Misconception 3: A “B” in a class is the end of the world.

This is by far the most significant misconception that I personally dealt with. It may not sound very important to some people, but when I first entered college, I struggled with my perception of what success was. Throughout high school, getting A’s in all my classes was never a problem so I arrived at Stanford with a sort of personal expectation that I would continue to get A’s regardless of how hard my classes were. I was promptly given a reality check after my first midterm and I began to question whether or not I even belonged at a place like Stanford. Despite my continued efforts, I ended the first quarter with my first “B” ever. I was devastated. It was only after speaking to a couple of my upperclassmen friends that I finally realized this wasn't as big a deal as I perceived it to be. Don't get me wrong, grades are important. However, there is so much more to your application than just your grades. My chemistry professor actually told the whole class the story of two of her former students who failed chemistry their freshman year and still got accepted to the Stanford medical school. The lesson here is that you should not freak out if you get a bad grade in a couple of your classes. It’s part of the college experience. College courses are obviously much harder than high school classes are and chances are you’re now surrounded by a population of high achieving students, which makes getting a high grade even harder. Just give each class your full effort and know that perfect grades do not necessarily always correlate with being a perfect doctor.