Two years ago in June, I had just received my MCAT score of 505 (a score that was higher than I expected), and I decided I would only apply to medical schools that had the lowest average MCAT scores and hope one of them took me. I received two interviews: one to my state school and one to my “last choice” school. I got rejected to both. If you told me then that in a few years I would be accepted into a top ten medical school with a full ride scholarship, I would have laughed pretty hard. But that’s exactly what happened. My name is Troy, I am going to UCLA with a David Geffen Scholarship next year, and this is my story.
I look back frequently at the circumstances that led me to where I am today, and it includes a lot of what I would call luck or fate. When I first thought about being a doctor, it was simply because my sister decided to be a dentist, and I knew I needed to think of a career path to follow. My roommate in college wanted to be a doctor, so hey, why not? I started studying for the MCAT in my Junior year of college, but I voided my score because my practice tests showed I would have scored below average. Sorry for wasting your money, Troy from the past. I was never truly dedicated to the medical path, and the way I studied showed it. I would stare at a book for hours saying that I was “studying”, but really I was just skimming the books without really focusing on understanding the information. I needed to learn how to study, and undergrad did not teach me how to study.
Fast forward to my “last choice” medical school interview. I met this girl from the other side of the country whom I kept in contact with after the interview. We ended up both getting denied to that school and everywhere else we interviewed at, so I cut my losses and was trying to figure out what I could do outside of being a doctor. The girl I kept in contact with was luckily very dedicated to medicine. She told me about a program she was applying to that mimics the first year of medical school and would hopefully increase her chances of getting accepted. This program is called the Boston University Master of Science in Medical Sciences (MAMS) program. I had no concrete plans for myself, so I thought, “why not apply?” If it weren’t for this girl, I never would have thought to do this program, and it drastically and incredibly changed my life (and I’m not just saying that because she’s my girlfriend now).
Disclaimer: this is not me trying to convince everyone to do a Special Master’s Program. They are not for everyone. This program probably wasn’t even meant for me since my undergrad GPA (3.78) and science GPA (3.79) were both good. But it was exactly what I needed. It was ridiculously hard and emotionally draining, but it taught me how to study even when I didn’t want to, and it taught me how to enjoy the things that I was learning. Another benefit of the program for my med school application was that it gave me research experience. I went to a small undergraduate school with limited research opportunities, so I had around three weeks of research experience before MAMS. Now I have months of experience and something I was able to talk passionately about at my medical school interviews (I’ve received eight interview invites so far and two acceptances. I’m waiting to hear back from the other six).
The way MAMS drastically changed my study habits cannot be overstated. Most of my time in MAMS was spent figuring out the best way to study. I bounced around from method to method trying to find the right fit, and, finally, I figured out the method that worked best for me in my second semester of the first year of the program. I learned how to read into information and articles to grasp onto the important bits and how to tie that information to other things that I had learned. I became an expert at using Anki. I realized that the methods I was told were the best and ones which worked for other people (master notes, going to lecture, group studying, etc.) just did not work for me. And that is key. That is what led me to success. I doubted myself for a long time because the methods that were working for my friends were not working for me. I am ridiculously grateful that I was able to find my study method because I am confident that it will lead me to success in medical school. I know my method works for me for two reasons:
- My GPA in MAMS my first semester was a 3.56. My second semester GPA was a 4.0.
- My MCAT score before MAMS was a 505. My MCAT score after MAMS was a 521.
Sounds like it worked to me.
I decided to write this post for a few reasons. One reason I decided to do this was as a thought experiment. I don’t really know why I deserved this scholarship in the eyes of the David Geffen scholarship committee, so hopefully this will elucidate that for me. In a way, I feel like I tricked them. Last year, UCLA had 11,417 applicants of which 175 matriculate and ~20% of those receive the David Geffen Scholarship. Doing well on the MCAT and getting a good master’s GPA, I’m sure, are not the only things that got me this scholarship. In this pool of applicants are people that have started their own non-profits, had their research published in top journals and worked in a hospital for years. It is hard to imagine that my application stood out to them since I’ve done none of these things, but it apparently did. One main way I think I managed to stand out was reflecting on what is unique about me and highlighting that in my app. I have a unique upbringing on an alpaca farm that I touched on in every way possible in my application: in the extracurricular section of AMCAS, in my personal statement and on my interview. I stupidly didn’t really mention my alpaca farm at all in my first application and probably looked like this the first time I applied…
It makes me a unique applicant, and whether applicants like it or not, diversity in every sense of the word is what medical schools are looking for to fill their class. Right now you might be saying, “Great, Troy. Let me just go out and buy some alpacas before I apply to medical school.”
And I get it. Not everyone has something that unique which makes me believe that luck was on my side again (thanks for making that impulsive purchase, Dad). However, with some self-reflection, everyone can find something unique about themselves that they can and should highlight in their application. If I didn’t have the alpaca farm, I would have talked more about my service work that I fell in love with during undergrad. I did AmeriCorps twice and was the leader of our service organization at my university. I tied both of these things into my application throughout, and voila! It worked! I guess I’ll truly never know what made me stand out that much but growing up on an alpaca farm and a good MCAT score probably didn’t hurt.
The main reason I decided to do this post was to reach out to students that are like undergrad Troy: not sure what he was doing in his life, doubting that he was made for anything special, and just coasting through life with no purpose. I luckily found my purpose when I decided to have a purpose. I get the question frequently from family members and friends, “How the hell did you do it?” My answer is always something like, “I’m not totally sure. I don’t think I’m smarter than the average person, but I work hard and I am passionate about what I work hard for.” So this is for you, undergrad-Troys of the world; find what makes you special, work hard at everything you do, and you will find passion in your life. I never thought I would get to where I am today, but I kept going and hit goals I never even dreamed of reaching. With my newfound purpose, I have an entirely different outlook on life, and my journey awaits, so alpaca my bags now.