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Neurophiliac

My Story & Tips to Improve NAQ - A Message for All

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Dear all current applicants and prospective applicants to UBC Medicine,

My name is Neurophiliac :) as I’m obsessed with brains (in a good way, trust me :lol:).  I wanted to take this time to explain my story especially for those who haven’t received good news from UBC this year.  In doing so, I am hoping that my story can become your inspiration to hold your head high, your motivation to push through with 100% of your energy, and your encouragement to consider not giving up.  I want to put an emphasis on the consider part.  As I’ve mentioned before, I absolutely have no right to tell you “hey, don’t give up”.  After all, everyone has their own challenges that are unique to them, in which no one can fully comprehend or empathize with.  But, I wish to ask of you for one thing: to please try.  Please try to consider not giving up.  Even when life seems impossible, if there is a will, there is a way.

Later, I will get into some details of how to improve your NAQ via better application planning and writing.  I hope what I share also helps prospective applicants to UBC Medicine to some degree.  

Story time.  This is going to be a SUPER LONG one, so find a nice and comfortable seat, relax and maybe grab a nice cup of tea if you're wanting to read it all :lol:.

I am a long-term applicant to UBC Medicine.  This application is my 6th try, and it all started back in 2013/2014.  That year, I submitted my first application to UBC Medicine while I was finishing up my final year of undergrad.  I had a bunch of volunteering experiences, but wasn’t having high hopes for my application being successful.  Sure enough, I received regrets pre-interview.  I was quite disappointed, but thought of the bright side:  At least, this was a great experience to familiarize myself with the application.  In 2014, I met a variety of health care professionals and was given opportunities to pursue research, awesome volunteering positions, and much more, all of which I am most grateful to this day.  I started brainstorming how I can make a positive impact on my community.  One thing led to another and with the help of a small group of friends, I founded my own non-profit organization dedicated to helping communities via coordinating annual fundraising musical concerts and donating 100% of the proceeds to great causes.  For the first year, my team members and I dedicated our event to my local hospital’s ER, as I was familiar with the ER since I had been volunteering there since 2011.

The 2014/2015 application cycle came along, and I was excited to see how this application would turn out.  I spent a lot of time carefully writing my application, rewording each entry, making sure the description is concise yet filled with details.  When the interview status D-Day arrived, I was in tears of joy when I realized I received my first invite for UBC.  Simply put, I could NOT stop dancing, so you can easily imagine the scene :lol:.  I spent the next 2 months practicing for my interview, attended the large practice sessions and so on and so forth.  In May, I was way more nervous than I had been for my interview notification.  I decided to shut off my phone from the night before, check on Premed101 in the morning to see when everyone had received their results, and then to turn on my phone again.  I did, but realized it was a rejection.  I was devastated.  I had a flashback of everything I had been through, knowing that I would need to repeat it all again.  A week or two passed, and my head was cleared.  My optimism resurfaced, and I realized what an accomplishment I’ve made:  My NAQ had increased by ~10 points, from 24 (previous year) to ~34 (that year).  Giving up now?  No way, Jose!

During that year, I did a whole bunch of new things ultimately enjoying what I did (as I still do), and as a byproduct it also helped my application.  So, for the 2015/2016 application cycle, I spent more than 1 month to complete my application.  I planned how to write every new entry, reworded my previous entries, and looked at all the details involved; once my application was complete, I also remodified it several times.  When the interview notifications were released, I was ecstatic to know that I received another interview!  Very much prepared, I decided to host the MMI Facebook group as I learned a lot from the individual leading the previous Facebook group from the previous year.  I was so happy to meet some new people and also some of those who were reapplicants, in the same shoes as I was.  Amidst the joy, there was one thing that had always been bothering me:  My MCAT score.  My old score was a mere 30, very mediocre.  I sought guidance from my parents and they convinced me to sign up for an MCAT prep course – this was primarily because the new MCAT was rolled out, and I realized perhaps taking a prep course will prepare me for the new, tougher, longer exam.  It was a very strange feeling to prepare for the interview and study for the MCAT again… something I did way back when I was preparing myself to begin my first application.  I decided to study for the MCAT and write it in case things go south post-interview.  Interview day came along, and I was ready.  I did the best I could do and realized how different my interview experience was compared to the previous year; in other words, I felt a lot more confident.  When offer notifications were about to be released in May, I was a mess – emotional rollercoaster since the second I woke up in the morning at 7 AM.  I anxiously awaited my results.  When the rejections wave passed and I got no notification, I suddenly felt an infinite spike of optimism and hope.  But it was short-lived.  At the time of the waitlist wave, I got a “ding!” on my phone and I knew what it was.  I open my email and I see the subject line “UBC Undergrad Admissions: Application Status – Waitlist” and my heart sinks.  Had I just survived that couple minutes of the wave, I would have been 180˚ different.  Time passed and my head was cleared.  I said, “Hey, this isn’t so bad!  There is still hope, why am I so down?” I was grateful to have improved from last cycle at least.  But the hope gradually dissipated when I wasn’t able to receive an offer from the waitlist.  I improved from a Below Average to an Above Average, and my NAQ stayed at roughly ~34.  Now, it was MCAT time.  The next application cycle (2016/2017) for UBC, Admissions was allowing a final cycle where old MCAT exams were still being accepted.  One of my very close friends who got accepted off the waitlist strongly advised me not to write the new MCAT, and just reapply and see what happens.  God forbid, if I would get an ineligible score for UBC, none of my old MCAT exams would qualify as only the new attempt(s) count.  But I was sure that my MCAT had to be the one thing holding me back.  So, I registered for a late-June exam and started prepping my application for the early deadline.

Late-June 2016 came and I was sitting at the exam centre at 7:30 AM, waiting to be registered.  Wrote the exam, felt like crap, but somehow, I decided to score it – after all, I had put a lot of effort into it and spent a lot of money for my prep course, and I was sure that at least I got the minimums for UBC, so everything was going to be fine, right…?  No…. Things didn’t turn out to be fine.  My science sections were average but passing, just got the passing score on psych/soc with 124, but… but… but… I realized my CARS was 121 (the damn verbal reasoning, the bane of my existence, the archnemesis of my soul).  It was freaking panic time now.  I quickly registered for a late-August exam to at least get a passing score so that I am at least eligible.  Late-August, 7:30 AM, same exam centre.  The guy looks at me and says, “Oh hey, you were here before, right?”  And I say with an uncomfortable laugh, “Oh yes, I’m trying to get a better score hopefully!”  Wrote the exam, and felt actually a bit better about the CARS section.  I still knew it was going to be horrible, but hopefully at least I get that 124.  I go home and work on my application for the next week, finalize it and submit it for the early deadline.

Late-September arrives.  I am at my computer on the AAMC MCAT score release log-in screen.  I enter my username, password, and click log in.  I place a sheet of paper on my screen hiding all scores.  The plan is to check chem/phys first, then bio, then psych/soc, and finally CARS.  Chem/phys, bio, and psych/soc are all great actually – much better than before.  I take the sheet of paper and unhide my CARS score.  What…? Huh…?  Surprise turns to disbelief, disbelief turns to anger, anger turns to panic and utter… utter fear.  I see 119 besides CARS.  How is this even possible…?  You mean, I seriously got 1 point above the absolute minimum??  How… HOW… HOW?!  Frustration, anger, panic.  My head was exploding, blood pressure was low, and I was cold-sweating all over my body.  The worse part was that many other bad things had happened to me that year, especially in the summer time.  With this news added on, my world felt shattered…

With the support of my friends and family, gradually optimism resurfaced again.  With the volunteering connections I had built previously, one thing led to another and I transitioned into a full-time research position so smoothly, it felt like the sky opened and this job fell into my hands.  In 2016, I started working at UBC Department of Psychiatry on a project focused on exploring the metabolic, genetic and immunological factors affecting those diagnosed with treatment-refractory schizophrenia, one of the most severe forms of mental illness.  Also, in 2016, I reconnected with a dear, close friend via my cousin’s wedding who I had lost touch with since we were young.  She became a very, very special person in my life.  She lives in my previous home country (where I had immigrated from with my family as a child), so we had a long-distance relationship going.  With the bad news of the MCAT and other things that were affecting me, suddenly 2016 didn’t seem so bad now.

I worked for the whole year, did my volunteering, extracurricular activities and so forth, while restudying for my MCAT.  Even though I was prepared, the last couple of exams took a huge toll on my confidence, and I was still very nervous for my exam.  I registered for an early summer 2017 exam just in case I don’t make it.  I write the exam, don’t know how to feel.  My results come out, sciences have all improved even more, but my CARS… 122.  Another big hit to my confidence.  But hey, it’s okay because I have another opportunity to write an exam, right?  I register for another in August 2017, and write the exam, feeling maybe I did it this time.  Results come out.  Sciences are spectacular, but CARS… 123… why is this happening…?  Why is life s***ing on me like this…?  You think previous times I had a major hit to my confidence?  No way, Jose.  This was the biggest hit to my confidence… A score of 123 is basically 1 or 2 correct answers from a 124.  I was embarrassed.  I felt so disappointed to let down my coworkers, close friends, and family who were all rooting for me.  Another year of being ineligible…

By the way, these 2 years of being ineligible, I was still applying to UBC because I didn’t want to break my consistency.  I wanted UBC to see that I still care and I am still trying, even though they don’t do a file review when you’re ineligible.

The fall of 2017 at least became one of the best times of my life.  I took vacation from work and my family and I planned a trip to go visit my girlfriend and her family.  While there, I proposed to her and I heard the sweetest “Yes” of my life.  We had an engagement party and got legally married (on paper), since the two go together in my culture (and the wedding ceremony is usually within a year or two after).  I then returned back to Canada soon after because I could only get a short vacation, and started working on her immigration application.

I used the year to again work, actually working multiple jobs, doing a whole bunch of volunteering, doing way more than I have ever done to not have it appear that I’ve “plateaued”.  Finally, 2018 comes and I start the whole routine of studying for the MCAT… all… over… again.  At this point, I’m drenched in volunteering and work, while maintaining my MCAT studying schedule.  Again, I register for an early summer exam just in case so that I have another opportunity late August.  I write the exam, no idea how CARS went.  I get my results back, and yet again… CARS is 123.  At this point, my confidence has been kicked around, chipped, and 99% eaten away.  But I put these thoughts away and force myself to think positively; after all, it’s only maximum 2 questions away to 124.  I have one more chance for this next application cycle for August.  Luckily, I’m able to register for another exam for August 25, 2018.  Another 7:30 AM at the exam centre.  I write it, and something inside ever so slightly tells me… maybe.  As soon as the exam is over, I prepare myself to take a vacation to spend a month to visit my wife on the other side of the planet.

I really enjoyed the trip; we spent quality time and made memories which will last forever.  However, on the inside, mentally my mind is asking the “what if” regarding my CARS.  This was my 6th attempt for the new MCAT exam… if this didn’t work, I had to think of something.  Perhaps the Caribbean schools, or the European or Australian schools.  But what would that mean for my wife?  If she immigrated to Canada, where would she stay?  Would she come with me?  Would she stay in Canada and we have to live a few years of our lives apart other than the short visits?  She wants to continue her education in Canada, so her studies matter a lot too.  These lingering thoughts bothered me everywhere I went and I was neck-deep in internally-hidden anxiety.

When I returned to Canada in late October after my vacation, my exam result had already been released in mid-September yet I hadn’t checked it (only released the scores to UBC).  Even the thought of logging into AAMC makes my heart pump hard and sends my thoughts racing.  But eventually, I control myself:  “I can do it,” I say.  I bring up the AAMC MCAT score release website screen, take 5 full, deep breaths before I log in even though I'm nauseous as hell.  Again, I hide the scores on the screen with a piece of paper and check each with CARS last.  My chem/phys is 130 (wonderful), bio is 130 (excellent), and psych/soc is 129 (wow, best I’ve had!).  As I’m about to reveal CARS, internally and externally I start praying for just a 124 or more.  I reveal… and… it’s a… 125.  125?!  OMG!!!

Surprise turns to disbelief, disbelief turns to joy, joy turns to tears and utter… utter happiness.  I’ve made it… I’ve made it!!!  I instantly feel so much weight, tons and tons of load get released off my shoulders.  I can’t believe it finally happened.  After 6 whole tries, I can finally be eligible again.

And here I am.  I have been through every part of the spectrum other than being accepted; rejected pre-interview, to rejected post-interview, to being waitlisted-rejected, to being ineligible.  For me, it’s one of the best feelings in the world to be eligible to apply.  And now with receiving an interview invitation… I do not even have the words to truly express how thankful and grateful I am.  Through this whole process, I have learned one of the hardest ways to never take anything for granted, and always appreciate the things you have in this moment.  Even though life seemed impossible, I never stopped fighting for what I really care about; I never gave up.  Even if I don’t become accepted this cycle, I will continue to battle the challenges of my life and will not stop pursuing my dream.

If medicine is your dream too, don’t let it remain a dream.  Continue to push through the dark times because there is always good around you.  The experiences that you accumulate in life will eventually aid you to become stronger, more mature, more professional, well-rounded, and more, which primarily help you become successful in life in general, but also with pursuing medicine.  Know that whatever you do, you’re not wasting your time.  I define “wasting your time” as when you’re sitting on your butt and not doing anything for your future.  Down the road, no one will ask when you completed your MD, no one cares that you’re an amazing, experienced physician when you’re 50 as compared to when you could have been 47, for example.  Medicine is a life-long career.  What really matters is that you enter medical school when you’re ready, because that’s when you can take the most out of your program and be the best future physician you can be.  Like I mentioned earlier, anything you do now will ultimately help you in what comes after MD, such as in CaRMS, which is quite important.

Lastly, I want to point out one important note.  Medicine is very important when it’s your passion.  But, there are always things that are way more important than it, such as love, family, and friends.  It was through my failures that I met my wife.  If I had a choice to reverse time and be accepted to medicine back in 2016/2017 by not re-writing my MCAT (lots of ifs), I would have not taken this offer.  Because then I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to gain experience in my work field that I have now, I wouldn’t have met all the wonderful people through my jobs, and most importantly… maybe I wouldn’t have met my wife.  This just comes to show that medicine, although a true passion, shouldn't be on a pedestal.  As I go with the flow, it will happen when it happens, as long as I don’t give up.

Long story short, I strongly encourage you guys to please, at the least, consider not giving up yet.  I’m sure you all have your personal challenges, but let my story inspire you.  Let your inner optimism resurface, too.  Gain the support of your family, relatives, friends, coworkers, and seek their guidance.  And please know that I am here – if you’d like to chat, I would love to listen.  If I can help in any way, please PM me.

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Now, after that LOOOONG story, let’s see how we can hopefully improve NAQ scores!  Below is a list of points to very carefully consider when filling your application.  Hopefully, these will help potentially increase the NAQ score.  I posted this exact same thing a few years ago (2015/2016 cycle).  

Important disclaimer:  These are my personal speculations.  These methods are NOT guaranteed to work, but will hopefully improve your perspectives and future application-filling skills.

(1)  Time:  If you are spending less than a month on your application, you are doing it wrong.  You should at least spend 1 month on your application, working hard on it almost every day of the week.

(2)  Plan Carefully:  Before you fill-out your non-academic activities, take the time to list out EVERY possible thing you have done and are doing.  Initially, they don't need to be in any order.  Later when you are done, roughly categorize your activitie.  For example, if you have traveled to many parts of the world with your family, you would never put this under Leadership.  Always have the application Help Guide in handy -- check if some activity falls under Leadership or not, etc.

(3)  Spread the Goods:  This is the stage when you make a finalized list of which activity should go where.  "Spreading the Goods" means equally distributing your major activities across all categories of non-academic activities.  As best as you can, avoid putting major activities together.  By major activities, I am referring to your roles/responsibilities in your activity, your total hours, and time range of activity.

(4)  Write Your Description:  As UBC Admissions Team emphasize year after year, write EXACTLY what you did in your activities.  Skip the "I improved on my skills blah," or "I learned how to communicate blah."  Just stick to what you did, and explain what you actually did in the best way possible.  You have only 350 characters, so make it count.  Yes, spelling matters, and yes, proper grammar is appreciated by the admissions committee.  In this little description, your job is to paint a clear picture for the person who will evaluate you.  Always ask yourself:  Is this a clear picture of my roles and responsibilities?

(5)  Repeat:  After writing your description, let a day pass, and then have a look at it again with fresh eyes.  Ask yourself again:  Is this a clear picture?  Then, try to make your description even better.  Do this as much as you can for every activity.  Here is what I did to give you an idea:  I literally spent 1 hour (sometimes 2) checking and improving a single entry's description -- that means I sometimes spent up to 2 hours writing 3-4 short sentences.

So that is it, 5 things to remember.

Again, to re-iterate, if any of you need help or would just like to chat, please do not hesitate to PM me.  I would love to listen to your stories, too. 

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 @Neurophiliac This is my first application cycle as I am an OOP 4th year UG student, and I was just rejected this week from UBC. Even though this was just my first rejection, I was quite upset, and have been demotivated ever since. I felt as if all these years of effort was meaningless, and I was jealous of in province applicants (some with lower TFR scores than me) having received interviews due to a geography bias. All that time spent volunteering, running clubs, doing research, maintaining a high GPA, spending entire summers studying for the MCAT and then having to redo the test the next summer (and lose one more summer in the process) due to CARS has not been easy. Now after reading your story, I feel quite motivated and and very inspired, you're story is in my eyes the definition of the word "dedication". I have decided now to delay being upset at least until schools from my home province of Ontario release interview invites, and even if I get no interviews this year, you're story has inspired me to continue improving my application and to reapply next year. I truly hope that you will get accepted this cycle, and wish you the best of luck with your future endeavours. 

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I'm in your interview group on FB and I've always been astounded by your persistence and dedication. Aside from making the group initially, you always upload all the questions for everyone else to view (I haven't personally gone yet since I've been busy with school) and seem to have great attendance records. I wish I could be as resilient as you, but I'm starting to become very jaded by this whole process and this is probably my last attempt. Thanks for sharing your story and looking forward to meeting you in practice sessions.

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42 minutes ago, Baljinderthecrow said:

 @Neurophiliac This is my first application cycle as I am an OOP 4th year UG student, and I was just rejected this week from UBC. Even though this was just my first rejection, I was quite upset, and have been demotivated ever since. I felt as if all these years of effort was meaningless, and I was jealous of in province applicants (some with lower TFR scores than me) having received interviews due to a geography bias. All that time spent volunteering, running clubs, doing research, maintaining a high GPA, spending entire summers studying for the MCAT and then having to redo the test the next summer (and lose one more summer in the process) due to CARS has not been easy. Now after reading your story, I feel quite motivated and and very inspired, you're story is in my eyes the definition of the word "dedication". I have decided now to delay being upset at least until schools from my home province of Ontario release interview invites, and even if I get no interviews this year, you're story has inspired me to continue improving my application and to reapply next year. I truly hope that you will get accepted this cycle, and wish you the best of luck with your future endeavours. 

Aww man.. I totally feel you :(.  I know how tough of a pill it is to swallow, I know how frustrating the entire process is, and I also know how unfair it is for great OOP applicants like yourself – honestly, the 61+ TFR is such a steep cutoff.  Oh man, I am so so so glad that you think of me and my story as such... it truly warms my heart to realize what I've shared has impacted you in a positive way.  Yes, please keep up hope!!  At the end of the day, UBC is just one school.  I am keeping my fingers crossed for you to hopefully hear amazing news in the New Year, and I am sincerely rooting for you this year :).  Please keep me posted on what happens.  If you ever need my help, I'm just a PM away :).  All the best!

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32 minutes ago, struggling2getin said:

I'm in your interview group on FB and I've always been astounded by your persistence and dedication. Aside from making the group initially, you always upload all the questions for everyone else to view (I haven't personally gone yet since I've been busy with school) and seem to have great attendance records. I wish I could be as resilient as you, but I'm starting to become very jaded by this whole process and this is probably my last attempt. Thanks for sharing your story and looking forward to meeting you in practice sessions.

Oh gosh, thank you so much for these lovely comments!  I am more than delighted to be hosting the FB group!  I know someone who said that EXACT thing, and they got accepted on their last attempt year :lol:.  It would be an honour for me to meet you in person during practice sessions.  Let's give it our best shot.  Cheers!  :)

EDIT:  I ran out of likes/reactions again for the day :lol: or else I would've liked your comment a 1000 times.  Thank you very much.

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3 hours ago, neurophile said:

You're the epitome of grit. Kudos.

 

3 hours ago, nsrdude said:

I took away one word from all of this...

 

 

 

Resilience :)

 

2 hours ago, DreamBig19 said:

Thank you, that was very heartwarming to read. Like you, I also struggled to get a minimum score in CARS for two application cycles. I know the joy of finally having the chance to get the full file review. 

 

2 hours ago, InstantRamen said:

Join the 8 MCAT club. That thought if that exam still triggers my anxiety. 

 

1 hour ago, Live_your_BestLife said:

Thank you for this post @Neurophiliac ; it was exactly what I needed

 

1 hour ago, Pakoon said:

Honestly inspirational, I'm rooting for you, go out there and make us all proud!

You guys are all amazing.  Thank you very much for your amazing messages!  @InstantRamen I know, right??  I'm done with that stupid exam for now, but still get anxiety at the thought of it too :lol: 

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8 minutes ago, eastofeaden said:

I read this and started sobbing from happiness for you. I would want you to be my physician. Thank you for sharing. I wish you all the success for this cycle!

Aww, thank you so much!!  Oh gosh, from all the love I've received today in return... I'm controlling myself really hard not to shed a tear :lol:.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your lovely comment.  As I've mentioned earlier, my whole point in sharing this story is to impact people in a great way.  Since I've lived through these experiences, why not share them with others if there's one person out there who will benefit?

Lastly, like I mentioned to @struggling2getin, PM101 says I've reached my like/react limit for the day :lol: otherwise, I would have liked your comment a 1000 times too.  Thank you again from the bottom of my heart  <3

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4 hours ago, IMislove said:

I wish you the best, I too know the feeling of repeated cycles and rejections. Once you get that acceptance, it's the best feeling, remember that feeling for whenever you are down after that. Now focus your energy on that interview.

Thank you so much!!  Absolutely, just the mere fact that I’m eligible again is one of the best feelings in the world.  With the interview, I don’t even have the words to express my gratitude.  And if I get accepted... oh my gosh I have no idea what I’ll do haha.  I’m beyond grateful to have this opportunity — I will give it my best shot!  :D

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4 minutes ago, Neurophiliac said:

Thank you so much!!  Absolutely, just the mere fact that I’m eligible again is one of the best feelings in the world.  With the interview, I don’t even have the words to express my gratitude.  And if I get accepted... oh my gosh I have no idea what I’ll do haha.  I’m beyond grateful to have this opportunity — I will give it my best shot!  :D

I read your story this morning on my way to school and just got around to writing a quick message now. Thank you for sharing this. I wish you nothing but the best of luck in your interview - sending good vibes and encouragement! :) 

Hugs.

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1 hour ago, la marzocco said:

I read your story this morning on my way to school and just got around to writing a quick message now. Thank you for sharing this. I wish you nothing but the best of luck in your interview - sending good vibes and encouragement! :) 

Hugs.

Thank you so much!!  I am absolutely thrilled how much love I've received, and I'm grateful for everything everyone has said.  Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart for the encouragement and support!  :D

Hugs back  <3

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