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How to Have a Successful Freshman Year as a Premedical Student

Created August 8, 2017 by Cassie Kosarek

The transition from high school to college is stressful for many students, and perhaps more so for those who already have their hearts set on attending medical school. For newly-minted premedical students, the first two semesters of college can represent the first steps toward their professional goals, and the prospect of doing less than their anticipated best is daunting. If you are one such new premedical student, you may be asking what steps you can take to maximize your success in your freshman year of college. How will you manage a new kind of social life? Which clubs and outreach activities should you consider? And most of all, how will you navigate your first academic course load as a premedical student? If you’re pondering any of these questions, read on for some tips about how to have a successful first year in college.

1. Choose your classes wisely

Many premedical students are eager to begin chipping away at their premedical course requirements. In their understandable excitement, they may register for too many of these classes at once, making the academic transition to college even more difficult. They may also be unclear about which courses they need to take. One of the best moves you can make early in your career as a premedical student is to meet with your school’s premedical advisor. This way, you can gain a better sense of which classes you will need to take and when it will be best to take them. Some students opt to complete only one or two year-long course sequences during their first year of college. Limiting the number of premedical classes you take in your freshman year allows you to adjust to the demands of a collegiate course load. It also allows you to figure out what study methods work best for you before you take the bulk of the STEM-heavy classes that you need to apply to medical school.

2. Limit your extracurriculars to activities you are truly interested in

Many high-achieving high school students feel pressured to participate in nearly everything in order to get into their top-choice colleges, and they thus pad their resumes with multiple extracurricular activities to which they may or may not be truly dedicated. As a premedical student, padding your resume in this way is unlikely to do much for your medical school application. Medical schools are more interested in a resume that shows focused, dedicated interest in a few activities than one that shows scattered attempts to accomplish everything. During your freshman year of college, seek out a small number of clubs and activities to which you are willing to devote significant time, and keep in mind that these do not necessarily need to be medically- or service-oriented. A variety of demonstrated, long-standing interests is to your advantage when applying to medical school.

3. Consider volunteering in a medically-related field

Most medical schools wish to ensure that you have experience in medicine and have fully considered the personal and professional implications of a medical career at the time of your application to medical school. To explore if medicine is right for them, most premedical students volunteer in a medical setting during their undergraduate years, and the earlier you begin volunteering, the earlier you will be able to begin considering the difficult questions that are wise to answer before you apply to medical school. As you begin volunteering, ask yourself what your motivations to enter medicine are, if the lifestyle and the work truly suit you, and how your professional goal of becoming a doctor will fit with your goals for your personal life.

4. Make time to try new activities outside of science and medicine

For both premedical and non-premedical students, college is a time of immense personal change and discovery. It is easy for premedical students to develop a narrowed focus resting only on their goal of getting into medical school, however. Developing such a focus might hinder your growth as a well-rounded person, and it might prematurely close you off to alternate careers that might suit you better than medicine. To avoid this trap, be sure to reach outside of medicine and your premedical coursework to experience new academic fields and interests. Your involvement outside of medicine can help you to determine if medicine is indeed right for you, and if you do decide to pursue medicine as a career, your varied interests and coursework may serve as foundations upon which to relate to patients. They may also help you cope with the demands of a medical education. 

Cassie Kosarek is a professional tutor with Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement. She earned her Bachelor of Arts from Bryn Mawr College and is a member of the Class of 2020 at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College.

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