Tick, tick, tick…Timing Your Application to Medical School

photo source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/fotologic/

Is time finite and structured?  Or, is it flexible, even fluid?  Scientific and philosophical considerations aside, from the point of view of a pre-health advisor, it depends on whether you are applying to medical school this year or not.  The application process begins more than a year before you enter medical school with lots of deadlines to meet.  Once you decide to apply, time is not on your side.  You may hope that if you are accepted you can defer admission, but it is the rare circumstance in which a medical school grants you an extra year before beginning your studies (p.s. come talk to a pre-health advisor about this if you are counting on a deferral).  You may expect the clinical experience and grades you get after you submit your application to make a difference.  This is not a great strategy, unless you truly believe that admissions folks have the time to continually review your application along with the thousands of others they receive.

Before you apply, on the other hand, you can take as much time as you need to build your application or do things that are not directly related to medical school.  Everyone is different.  Some people go to the medical school right after they graduate and that’s fine; however, there is nothing inherently “better” about going straight to medical school.  The best time to apply to medical school is when your application is strong and you are committed to beginning your training to become a physician.

Here are some points to consider:

1.  The application you submit, is the application that is reviewed. It is not a wise strategy to submit your application thinking that you will update the schools with all the great things you are going to do over the next year.  By all means, stay active while you are in the process of applying and talk about your experiences if you are fortunate enough to have an interview, but don’t assume someone will revisit your application when you email those great fall grades or that extra letter of recommendation.  A pre-health advisor can’t tell you whether you will get into medical school or not, but he or she can talk with you about the strengths and weakness of your application as well as the challenges of the admissions process.

2. Applying a second time to medical school can be challenging (not to mention expensive).  If you turn around and apply the next year the schools are less likely to ask, “Who is this?” than “What’s different this time?”

3.  Applying later in the application process puts you at a disadvantage.  Yes, the official application deadline may be in October; however, if you submit your application then your chances of receiving an interview are considerably smaller than if you have applied by mid-summer.

4.  Take the MCAT when you are prepared.  This is not a test you want to “take a shot at.”  Is it realistic to take the MCAT, start a new job, take two science classes, and find a new place to live in the same month?  From what I’ve seen, it is not.  It’s also worth noting that you don’t want to take the MCAT too early.  If you are planning to take a significant amount of time before applying to medical school, check schools’ policies regarding the oldest MCAT that is acceptable.

5. Time spent strengthening your application is not a “black hole” or a personal failure.  Taking some more time may not have been your plan.  It may be, as I’ve heard students say, that you “have no idea what you would do” with that time.  As pre-health advisors we present taking some time as an option, but it’s always your choice.  Thinking through the possibility allows you to make an informed decision about the possible benefits and risks.

6. Is there anything that you, personally, want to do before you begin medical school?  Once you enter medical school, and then the medical profession, the demands on your personal time will be significant.  If there is another career you want to explore, a different call to serve that you wish to answer, or a desire to pursue a personal, non-academic experience, you may want to give yourself time to do that before making your commitment to becoming a doctor.

Keep in mind, of course, that you can make time to meet with a pre-health advisor by appointment or during walk-in hours. We never take time off!  (Unless we are buried in snow, like today.)

Winter Weather Notice

Special Message regarding inclement weather on Wednesday, February 10th, 2010:

If the University closes tomorrow (Wednesday, Feb 10) for the snow storm, Career Services will be closed. If the University remains open, Career Services will be open, although some staff may not be able to make it in. Some counseling appointments may be held over the phone. You will be notified if that is the case. Some programs may also be canceled. Check our web site before venturing out.

On Campus Recruiting will remain open, whether or not the University closes, thanks to our intrepid recruiting staff. Several scheduled employers are already in Philadelphia and will be conducting interviews as planned. Others are unable to fly in, so will be doing telephone interviews. Still others are re-scheduling for next week or a later date. If your interview is going to be held over the phone, or has been postponed, you will be receiving an email with the details. If you are not notified you should come to the recruiting suite at your scheduled time.

We in Career Services and our recruiters are doing the best we can in the face of bad weather. We appreciate your patience. Thank you, and stay safe if you venture out in the storm.

Patricia Rose
Director, Career Services

Thank You Notes

by Sue Russoniello

Hard to believe, but January, 2010 is almost past.  The poinsettias are long gone.  You’re back at the gym working off those cookies you couldn’t resist in December.  And your mom is still bugging you to write those pesky holiday thank you notes, right?  Why don’t you put that etiquette training to good use in your job or internship search?  How’s that, you ask?

Well, for instance, a friend and I were chatting recently about our respective holidays.  She was telling me about a connection her daughter made over the break.  “Mary” accompanied a friend to a holiday party where she had the typical conversations — Where is she studying?  What degree is she getting? What are her career goals? Pretty humdrum, right?  Whoa! Wait a minute! What a coincidence!  The host of the party is on the board of directors of an organization in the very field she wants to enter when she graduates in May!  He told her to be sure to get in touch in the spring, and he’d be happy to help her in her job search in whatever way he could.

I urged Mary to write to him NOW.  And I encourage you to follow up on connections you made, as well.  Write that note; thank him for the lovely party; impress him with your good manners while gently jogging his memory about the conversation you had regarding your employment goals.  Be sure to include your contact information so he can reach out to you if he wants.   Let him know you’ll be in touch in the next few weeks to follow-up.  (Then, of course, don’t forget to do that.)

So even though it’s almost February, it’s not too late.  Sit down for a minute before the semester kicks into full gear.  Think about the people you spent time with over the break.  Perhaps you didn’t make as exciting a connection as my friend’s daughter, but maybe you had a nice conversation with your best friend’s parents or your Aunt Sadie who had some good leads for you.  Reach out to them with those thank you notes and let them know how much you appreciate their guidance and friendship.  Use the good manners your mom has taught you and at the same time kick your job search into gear.

While you’re at it, thank Mom for the etiquette lessons!

C is for Cookie…but is it Good Enough for Me?

Sesame Street meets Aida in this epic meditation on the “C.”  Cameo by the blue monster himself at 2:37.

A new year and semester are upon us!  Judging from the crowded waiting areas at Career Services, many of you are taking stock and planning for the future.  Part of this process may be making peace with the past.  If you’re a premedical student then you probably know what I’m getting at.  That “C” from freshman year.  Maybe those grades in physics.  Perhaps you’ve been moving along the premedical path for a while, feeling that your grades aren’t quite strong enough.  Rather than fretting about the less-than-stellar aspects of your GPA, or denying that they exist, we at Career Services invite you to take a square look at them.  Many premedical students find it very helpful to come in for an appointment and talk about their concerns.

In the meantime, here are a few thoughts about grades that you may find helpful.

A single “C” on your transcript is not likely to keep you out of medical school. Grades are very important in the admissions process, but they do not need to be perfect.  Although you may be extremely disappointed in a single grade, admissions committees are looking at the big picture.  If you made a C- or lower in a class required by medical schools then you should speak with a pre-health advisor.  To fulfill the requirements, you should earn a grade of “C” or higher.

You can visit our office and review statistical information to gain a sense of how your grades compare with those of other Penn students and students nationwide who have been admitted to medical school.  Doing so may not tell you your “chances” of being admitted (as it’s so often put), but it will make you more informed.

Instead of feeling bad about your grades, think about what’s behind them. Are you setting unrealistic standards for yourself?  Are you taking on too much coursework or too many extracurricular activities?  Do you have anxiety when you sit for an exam?  Are you ambivalent about your pre-medical path?  Did you just not “click” with your professor and TA?  If you can sort out what is behind the grades, then you are more likely to take positive and productive action.  Some students find it helpful to meet with a pre-health or academic advisor, visit Counseling and Psychological Services, make an appointment at the Weingarten Learning Resources Center, or utilize the services of The Tutoring Center on campus.

If you suspect your grades are going to hurt your chances of gaining admission to medical school, take time to evaluate. Proceeding along the premedical path thinking, “I’ll see how next semester goes,” without reflecting upon your academic work and whether it’s an issue may lead to more difficulty.  While it can seem that “everyone else” is moving lockstep along a single track to medical school — they are not.  A realistic discussion with a pre-health advisor about grades may be more helpful sooner than later, allowing you to plan your career more mindfully and productively.

At some point, move on. More than once I’ve asked an applicant about his or her grades in a mock medical school interview only to witness the applicant engage in extended self-flagellation or angrily vent about a difficult professor or tough grading scale.  Your professional career is bound to include disappointments and undesired results.  Working through your feelings about your grades can help you develop confidence and perspective about your work.  You must be able to handle, learn from, and rebound from hard times.  There is no reason to do this alone — in addition to family and friends, consider using the campus resources mentioned above for support.

Contest: Name Our Blog!

We want YOU to help us name our blog! As you can see, our staff has been working hard to create interesting content, but the blog needs a makeover.  We are envious of creative blog names here at Penn like Under the Button, Quakers and Shakers, and Tripping Franklins, so we turn to you for help!  Entering is so easy, even a Princeton student could do it (but actually they can’t…the contest is ONLY open to Penn students, alumni, faculty and staff).

How to enter:

Just post your suggestion as a reply to this post using your Penn-affiliated email address. There is a limit of one entry per person, so give it some thought before submitting.  We will create a new logo based on the new blog title, so bonus points to those of you who suggest how your title could be translated into a graphic.

We will be accepting entries until Friday, January 29th  (so you have two weeks…but if someone takes your creative idea before you submit, the prize will go to them).  And speaking of prizes, the winner will get a $25 iTunes gift card and their blog name in lights. Or, at least at the header of our blog.  We’ll announce the winner and new title here on the blog in mid-February.

Good Luck!

*Penn Career Services reserves the right to make the final decision on the new blog title, including selection of a title not proposed via this contest.