Entering college, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go to medical school. Fast forward a few years, and I was getting acceptances to multiple top 10 medical schools with full-tuition scholarships. Want to know how I did it? These are the premed strategies and tactics that will take you from zero to hero.
Despite what you may have been told, success as a premed isn’t about being the smartest student in the room, or even necessarily the hardest working. While work ethic is an important foundation, strategic and intelligent use of your resources and energy will more reliably determine your level of success.
1 | Willingness to Experiment
The successful premed has a willingness to experiment and eagerness to improve.
Back in college, I remember being surprised how most of my classmates seemed to know exactly what worked for them in terms of studying. At the time, it made me feel self-conscious and doubt myself. How come all these other people have figured out exactly how to study and what works for them, and I’m still not sure what’s best for me?
In hindsight, I realize how backwards this was. I was a strong student, securing straight A’s, and actually setting the curve in the majority of my premed science classes. Students with the attitude that they had everything figured out were holding themselves back, whereas I was experimenting and tweaking, knowing I could improve my strategies. With this open-minded approach, I tried different strategies I either read about online or heard from classmates and professors. The self-assured students, doubling down on what had worked for them in high school, were stuck in their old ways, limited by strategies that were inadequate for the college environment.
Be careful. Don’t fall for the trap of treating the pursuit of improvement as a means to an end. The most successful premeds treat improvement as an autotelic activity, meaning it’s not a means to an end, but rather an end in and of iteself. In other words, the student who watches this video and thinks they need to tweak and experiment to improve their grades will not get as far as the student who is intrinsically motivated to improve for the sake of improving. By finding joy and reward in the process of becoming better, you’ll unlock a different paradigm.
This applies beyond just studying. In terms of extracurriculars, I wasn’t afraid to check out many different activities and drop the ones that didn’t vibe with me. I joined various clubs and attended dozens of meetings, but I often wasn’t captivated by the vision, didn’t love the people, or it just didn’t work well with my schedule. This doesn’t mean to simply jump from activity to activity. When you find the ones that resonate with you, commit to them and dive deep. But just like dating, don’t be afraid to explore before committing.
2 | Long Term Thinking
Top-performing premeds realize that this process is a marathon, not a sprint.
If you’re anything like I was at the beginning of college, you’re probably overly focused on short term fun at the expense of long term success. In my first quarter, I was wild, finally on my own for the first time. I was prioritizing having fun, partying, and trying new experiences. Studying was something I had to do, but it could wait until the night before the exam.
This procrastination ended up increasing my stress levels and yielded suboptimal results. For better or worse, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in my second quarter of college, and that’s when I finally got my act together. I went from thinking I was invincible and feeling like I’d be young forever to facing reality and being laser-focused on my goal — becoming a doctor.
Long term thinking is less sexy. It doesn’t make for glamorous Instagram photos or bragging rights to your friends. After all, it’s a near-universal phenomenon for college students to brag about how little they studied for a test or how little they slept. It’s like wearing a badge of incompetence, but for some reason, it’s idolized.
3 | Regular Reviewing & Reflecting
Premeds who perform at the peak understand the importance of regular review and reflection.
This applies most obviously to testing. Any time you receive your test results back from a professor, seize the opportunity to go over it. Don’t focus on the actual score – focus on the opportunity to learn from your results. Go back and look through the entire test. Even if I did well on a test, I know that I guessed or got lucky on at least a few questions. I’ll make sure to go back, find those questions, and examine what I did to score well on those questions. Did I use a specific technique that worked out well? Did I logic my way through it?
If you get a question wrong, it’s critical to examine why you got it wrong. This isn’t just so you can avoid making the same mistake on your next midterm or final, but more importantly to highlight detrimental patterns in thinking or test-taking strategies that can hold you back in your future classes as well.
The importance of this principle makes sense when you realize you can only improve if you know what changes you need to make. And you can only know what changes are necessary if you have an accurate understanding of where you currently stand, and in which direction you need to move.
You cannot improve your test-taking skills unless you are aware of your results, what works, and what doesn’t. Similarly, you cannot improve your study strategies unless you are first cognizant of how you’re studying. And you cannot improve your understanding of yourself or the world around you without the same.
In test-taking, reviewing and reflecting is more straightforward, but this applies to other domains of life as well. If there’s one habit I wish I started sooner, it’s regular journaling, as it provides clarity of thought — a stupidly simple but incredibly elusive phenomenon, particularly in the modern age of hyper-distraction.
4 | Explore Their Interests
Premeds that rise above the rest aren’t afraid to explore their non-medicine interests.
You’ve heard me say it before and I’ll say it again. Avoid the checklist mentality. As a premed, I knew there were certain things I had to get done, but I didn’t let a checklist mentality dictate my actions. I understood the importance of enjoying the journey and the activities I was engaged in.
Some students explore non-medical extracurriculars through a checklist mentality, thinking they’ll become more interesting applicants as a result. I physically cannot facepalm any harder.
Explore your genuine interests because they bring you joy, and as a byproduct of following your interests, you’ll actually pursue them to a much greater depth. That depth will not only accelerate your learning and teach you important lifelong lessons, but you’ll also reach noteworthy achievements and strengthen your application as a secondary outcome.
In life, there are those who prioritize gaming the system and others who prioritize fundamentals. Think of YouTube. You see so many aspiring YouTubers obsessing over the exact tactics and strategies of how to grow a YouTube channel. To them I say, the YouTube algorithm elevates and rewards high-quality content. Rather than trying to game the system, focus on the fundamentals of what makes for good content that offers value.
The same concept applies to the mindset of a premed. You can try to game the system and pursue the checklist mentality to come out ahead. Or you can focus on the fundamentals, developing yourself as a well-rounded individual who happens to be a stellar applicant almost as a byproduct.
In exploring my interests beyond medicine, I was on a competitive dance team for all 4 years of college, and we traveled all across the US and Canada to attend various competitions. I also explored my interest in graphic design and took two leadership positions that allowed me to pursue this further. I didn’t do this to become a stronger applicant, but at nearly every medical school for which I interviewed, at least one interviewer was excited to talk about these experiences.
5 | Invest in Themself
The last principle of the successful premed is that they understand the importance of investing in themself.
I didn’t come from a privileged background. We pinched pennies, had three of us in a one-bedroom apartment, and I had to work in a library and save for 6 months to afford my first laptop. But even still, my family always highlighted the importance of investing in my own education. We could be frugal with clothes, travel, food, tech, and just about anything else. But anytime I needed a book or resource, I was reminded that my education is a priority not to be taken lightly.
I could have downloaded the textbook PDF from a friend and saved $100, but the experience of reading the paper book and taking notes and marking it up gave me a marginally better experience, and that marginally better experience could be the difference of me getting through 50 practice questions or just 15.
Just as people invest in the stock market to get a return on their investment, your education is an investment in yourself. The main difference is that your education can have a significantly higher ROI. By focusing on my education and investing in myself, I was able to get into multiple top medical schools, and little did I know, even make me competitive enough to earn merit-based scholarhips that saved me hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you want to get more meta, this investment paid off thousands of times more because without it, I wouldn’t have had this level of success with Med School Insiders. Think about it, if I was an average student that barely got into medical school, aspiring physicians like you would be less eager to learn from me, and the quality of my insights or advice would also be compromised.
One of the most important investments for a premed is how they decide to approach the MCAT. If you’re a premed interested in investing in your own future, check out Memm, a new MCAT study tool that leverages evidence-based learning principles to accelerate score improvement. Designed by two 99.9th percentile MCAT scorers, including yours truly, Memm was built from the ground up to address deficiencies with current MCAT study tools. This is the tool we wish we had when we were studying for the MCAT. Join over a thousand other users who have been blown away by their results with Memm. For a limited time, use the coupon code MSI2020 for 20% off your Memm subscription. After signing up, refer your friends – they’ll also get 20% off with your coupon code and you’ll get free extensions to your subscription based on the number of people you refer.