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How to be a successful third year applicant!

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Over the past couple of weeks, I have been getting multiple questions about how I was able to get acceptances at all 4 medical schools I had applied to as a third year. Since people on the forum seem genuinely interested on how I managed to be successful, I decided I would write a guide, which will hopefully help future premeds gain acceptance.

 

1. Stats and EC’s

Many people have been asking the extracurricular activities I did as well as my stats, so I have made a pretty comprehensive list of the activities I had done at the time of application. I haven’t put down the hours or time commitment but almost all my EC’s are long term.

 

GPA: 4.0

MCAT: P12-V11-B12

 

Extracurricular activities Soccer referee, Skating assistant coach, Soccer coach, Piano concerts and recitals at retirement homes and Boys and Girls club, Royal Conservatory of Music Lvl 8 (classical) piano and Lvl 4 contemporary piano, Soccer player, Figure Skating, Theatre, Race team Sailing, Badminton, Cardboard Boat Race, Francophone representative for Theatre Festival, School newspaper writer, Sports committee, Speed Skating, Private Tutoring, Lab assistant, Undergraduate Research Leader, Volunteer at soup kitchen, Volunteer at Hospital, Yoga, Fencing, Vice president of Communications for Health Conference, Family Physician Shadowing.

 

Awards: 2x Excellence Award for Acting, 2x Outstanding Performance Award, 2x Award of Distinctive Merit, Adjudicator’s Award at the Sears Drama Festival. Medal of Excellence Conservatory Canada (piano), Denis and Patricia Frehlich Scholarship (piano), 2nd place at Regional Cardboard Boat Race, 3rd place Provincial Cardboard Boat Race, Academic Excellence award for athlete, Governor General’s academic Medal, Multiple awards at high school graduation, Undergraduate Research Scholarship, Admissions scholarship +2 renewals, Undergraduate Research Opportunity scholarship, 2x Dean’s honor list, Merit Scholarship for Outstanding Academic success, 1 poster presentation and 1 abstract publication as well as working on 3 different research projects that should be published shortly.

 

 

2. Chronological Tips

I have been asked about tips on how to be a successful third year applicant, so here I will present tips chronologically from high school until application in 3rd year. I will give a brief overview of what I think is important for each step as well as what I did.

 

High school

Most people on the forum will probably be past this step in the process. Personally, I figured out I wanted to be a physician around Grade 12, therefore none of my high school activities were geared towards medicine. Instead I used high school as a way to discover my interests and to do multiple extracurricular activities. I never did IB because it was not offered at my school, but retrospectively I am glad I was not able to do it. IB may help you out a bit in first year of university since you will probably have seen most of the material, however having that intense work load makes it hard to diversify outside of school. Furthermore, IB can mess you up for entrance scholarships, as it is harder to achieve a competitive average. Grade 11 is the most important grade with respect to marks; try to achieve as high of an average as possible because universities will use this average to offer you admission as well as entrance scholarships.

 

 

Selecting a University for Undergrad

The worst possible mistake you can make is to choose a school based on prestige. Academic prestige is generally based on research and therefore has little impact on the quality of your education. Furthermore, Medical schools don’t care where you did your undergrad. I believe the best way of choosing your school is based on opportunity and scholarships. With respect to opportunities, opportunities are what will make you shine in the application cycle. For example, I chose my university based on an entrance scholarship I received that permitted me to work 2 summers in a research Lab right out of high school. Another important factor is proximity to home. You will have some difficult years ahead and having family support is a good way to manage the stress. Also if you stay at home you get free meals and free rent. The free meals are especially good during exam periods (I wasn’t at home but I definitely missed the home cooked meals).

 

First year of university

The transition from High school to University is a challenging one; don’t put too much pressure on yourself by trying to do as much as during High school. The most important thing is getting good grades. Good grades are essential for medical schools, but also in order to keep your scholarships and to get awesome opportunities such as the NSERC USRA. A major + side of staying at home for university is with respect to extracurricular activities; you already have all your connections made from high school. However don’t worry, I moved away from home and was able to make connections, it is just slightly harder as you need to rebuild your network. I did not do any volunteering in first year; I did a bit of extracurricular activities such as yoga and fencing.

 

First summer

Summer is a good time to relax and do lots of fun activities. Don’t burn yourself out, but try and take on as many extracurricular activities as you feel comfortable with. In retrospect, I could have done a bit more my first summer, but I still managed to play soccer, coach soccer and work in a lab full time.

 

Second year of university

At this point, you want to have built a routine and have started all your meaningful activities. You should have adapted to university and understand how to balance workload and EC. Whatever you do, make sure that you concentrate on schoolwork and keep your GPA as high as possible. The most important aspect in being a successful third year applicant is maintaining a high GPA.

 

Second summer

This is by far the most crucial 4 months of your application. As a third year student, you need to write the MCAT during this summer. However, you don’t have the luxury of being able to purely focus on the MCAT. If you want to compete with applicants who have had an extra year to do things, you must continue your activities during this summer. This also helps you keep your sanity while studying. I worked in a lab full time, volunteered 6 hours per week at the hospital, volunteered three hours per week at a soup kitchen, played piano, coached a soccer team while studying for my MCAT. Many days, I would go to volunteering from 9 to 12, then go to work from 1 to 9 get home and study until I would pass out around 12 pm. But if you want to get in after 3rd year, sacrifices must be made.

 

Extracurricular Activities

I think it is important for me to mention this. Do not do EC’s because they will look good on your sketch, do them because you like them and because you want to grow from them. I find the most common question asked by premeds when they see medical students is “What did you do for EC’s?”. I understand why people ask this questions because EC’s are the black box of the application cycle; nobody really knows what they are looking for so people try to get an idea of what they should do by asking people who were successful.

 

I’m going to give you my take on how to have a successful sketch full of meaningful EC’s. I believe there are two types of EC’s: the checklist EC’s (or cookie cutter EC’s) and the standout EC’s. What I mean by that, there are certain types of EC’s that you want to have in order to not raise a red flag. These are hospital volunteering, shadowing etc. Essentially anything related to medicine. The reason I say these are checklist EC’s are that almost everyone applying will have them…they will not make you stand out. However, if you don’t have any hospital or medical related experience…it will probably be hard to justify why you want to go into medicine and will raise a red flag to the ADCOMS. So I think these EC’s are something you should actively ensure you have on your resume not only because of the reason I mentioned... but also because it helps you as a person determine if medical school is the right fit for you. You can’t be 100% sure, but at least by spending time in the hospital and by shadowing, you understand a bit more what being a physician consists of.

 

The next type of EC’s is what I call standout EC’s. For me, this consists of the EC’s that make you who you are. These are the things you are passionate about. I truly believe that this is what will make you pop out for the ADCOM when they are comparing you to every other applicant. Nobody can tell you what to do for these, because they can be anything really. The only requirement is that you are passionate about this. An added bonus of being passionate about the EC’s you do is that you will probably be very good at them because you put so much time and effort. This means you can get good reference letters as well as possibly getting awards!

 

The last thing I am going to say about EC’s is that you to try to show you are a diverse and well balanced person. This is something that I believe made me stand out. My EC’s demonstrate academic excellence, showed dedication to helping others through volunteering, demonstrated I could excel in the arts (Theatre and Piano) but also at sports (competed internationally for sailing and played on competitive soccer teams). I equally demonstrated leadership through activities such as Undergraduate Research Leader and VP Communications for a Health Symposium. I worked with elderly but also with children etc.

 

3. MCAT

As stated above, I was doing a bunch of different things while writing my MCAT, which made it slightly difficult to study. I took a prep course with KAPLAN as I thought it would help me keep on schedule while doing a bunch of stuff. I took the everywhere on demand package (access to everything and online recorded courses). This was probably the worse 2k I spent. I watched 3 sessions online and it was so slow and such a waste of time that I decided to self-study. The resources that came with Kaplan where really good, however it was not worth 2k. The resources I thought were the best (aside from AAMC) were all from Exam krackers. Get the Exam krackers Audio Osmosis as well as the 101 Verbal reasoning Passages. The audio osmosis is the best if you are working in a lab, I would listen to them while working and therefore I could study while working. The 101 Verbal reasoning passages is probably the best and most realistic practice material besides the actual AAMC exams. Finally the best resource is the AAMC practice exams. Buy every single one of them and start doing them approximately 1 month before your exam. When doing them, ensure that you can do a full test and put yourself in a similar setting as when you will be writing (I went to the library which was super quiet). Finally, don’t stress, the MCAT is a huge test and is very important…. but it is not the end of the world, you can always retake it!

 

 

4. Writing your OMSAS application

 

As a third year student from Ontario, I decided that I would only apply in province, as I was not ready to move across Canada at this point. I wanted to avoid having a difficult decision to make about going across Canada for medical school, or finishing my undergrad and reapplying in hope of getting into an Ontarian school. This is why I only applied to the 4 Ontarian schools I could as a third year (Queen’s, University of Toronto, Macmaster and uOttawa). One of the disadvantages of being a third year applicant is that you only have 2 years of grades to show and are not eligible for any of the weighted formula’s…this means you have to make sure you have a stellar GPA and don’t mess up any of your courses. You also generally only have 1 chance to write the MCAT before applying (unless you chain write…which I do not recommend).

 

In order to be a successful applicant, you must put the time into your application. You have spent the past couple of years working up to this point, you want to put in the effort to properly “sell” all the amazing EC’s you have done throughout the years. I believe I spent approximately 100hrs on my application in order to make it “perfect”. The wording of your descriptions is very very important. I think the best tip for this is to use the CanMEDS (http://www.royalcollege.ca/portal/page/portal/rc/canmeds/framework). The CanMEDS is a framework used by most medical schools to design their curriculum; these are the qualities a good physician should have according to almost every Canadian school. It therefore makes sense to formulate your descriptions in order to ensure you are demonstrating these qualities. However don’t overdo it. What I mean by that is do not explicitly state these qualities in each activity, instead formulate your description to show that you have acquired the skills necessary to be a good communicator, manager etc. Try to pick 1 to 2 qualities from the CanMEDS for each activity and focus your description in portraying those qualities. Also, some activities won’t demonstrate any of the CanMEDS qualities, and that is ok as well. Not everything has to relate back to CanMEDS, it is just a good tool to orient your descriptions in the right direction.

 

5. CASPer

 

I have had a couple of people ask me about how I studied for CASPer. I was lucky since CASPer ended up being during my fall reading week (which was nice) and so I read Doing Right (which is essential for medical school interviews anyways). Besides reading Doing Right, I did not do much. I figured out 2 minutes before my test that there was a practice CASPer test online…so I went in without any practice. CASPer is very interesting…it goes so quickly that you barely have time to think, you just have to write the first thing that comes to mind. Also, there will be a lot of swearing involved, as you will be typing as fast as you can and might not have time to finish your sentences. I have heard people say that they did not do well on CASPer because they could not type fast enough; personally I have a friend who types with 2 fingers who got an interview. So regardless of how slow a typer you think you may be, you can still do well on CASPer.

 

6. Interviews

 

For interviews I bough a lot of books, which ended up being pretty pointless. The way I prepared for interviews is I reread Doing Right and then I found MMI scenario’s online. I then would read the scenario and record myself talking for 7 mins. I tried to limit my reading time to 30 secs, this forced me to think on my feet and when I got to the interview, the 2 mins they gave me seemed like loads of time! It is also good to practice with another person instead of recording yourself. This permits you to get the opinion of someone else on your responses. Also the good thing about recording yourself is you get to rewatch it and figure out if you have any nervous ticks you can try to eliminate as well as analyses the flow of your responses. Finally, go to career services. At my school they organized mock interviews (panel or MMI), specifically for medicine. I did 2 of these. They also organized a mock MMI, which actually had 10 stations that you would cycle through. If you are interviewing at Ottawa; go to the medical students mock interview…it is extremely helpful. Finally, if possible, try to ensure that during your winter semester, you do not have any labs. Not having labs permits you to dedicate more time to interviews, which is very important!

 

 

Finally my last piece of advice is this: “You gotta do, what you gotta do!”

Getting into medical school is hard, and there are a lot of obstacles and sacrifices needed. But you have to have a positive outlook on things and understand that these sacrifices are necessary to accomplish your goal. For example, my second summer when I was getting ready to apply as well as writing my MCAT was pretty horrible and more exhausting then my school year but I looked at it as I was trading an intense 4 months of my life in order to save 1 year of schooling as well the expenses related to that. Finally, if you end up not getting accepted after third year, it is not the end of the world! You now have more experience then most people applying in 4th year as you have already gone through the process once, therefore you are in a prime position to gain multiple acceptances in 4th year!

 

If you have any questions, feel free to comment below. You can also send me a PM, but if it is a rather general question, it would be much more beneficial if you commented on this thread.

 

Best of luck future applicants!

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A very comprehensive guide not just with the standard GPA/MCAT/ECs but also including many other details from your perspective...well done and congrats again on your success! Good luck at Queen's:)

 

Thank you! Best of luck at UofT!!!!

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Thank you for sharing. This is definitely something future applicants should read and contemplate. :)

 

I will also add, in regards to extra-circulars, that you (read: future applicants) can be successful without being 'traditional.' As a personal anecdote, I was very serious about medicine from a young age, but did very few ECs compared to Aetherus. I also preferred individual activities that had very little, if anything, to do with the community or health care... So, on paper, I must look incredibly boring. :P

 

However, we were both successful, and I think that comes down to the fact we embraced our own interests. Strive to show admissions that you care about something, anything, and that you're willing to push yourself to be successful. Medicine, after all, is a place for diversity and even the most solitary and introverted person can find their place. :)

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I agree with DarkGhost, medical schools do not look for a certain type of person, and non traditional applicants can be very successful. In this thread, I am mostly speaking of my experiences and what I found worked for me and it happens I am more of a traditional applicant.

 

What DarkGhost and I are trying to say is that if you are non traditional, do not get discouraged, you have as good a chance of getting accepted!

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I just read this and I appreciate that you took the time to write this. But, I would like to remind the premed students that you do NOT need to do all of this to get accepted to medical school. So don't stress if you didn’t do that many EC's (I honestly did a fifth of what Aetherus did). I really don't think that there are two types of EC's: you do NOT need to do hospital volunteering to get in medicine, that will NOT raise a red flag... Most of the volunteering in hospitals doesn’t actually include direct medically-related activities so the ADCOM can't expect you to have that in your EC's. I never shadowed a physician but I still was able to explain why I chose medicine as a career using my other experiences.

 

The one thing that I agree is concentrating on your grades (should always be your #1 priority) because if you don't meet the cut-off, you won't get an interview even if you have an AMAZING sketch. BUT, I find it extremely sad that nowadays, students will do ANYTHING to get good grades including cheating on exams, pressuring profs to get answers during exams, being rude and arguing with profs do get higher grades, missing the mid-terms and finals because you are 'sick', taking easier classes during the summer so grade doesn't count in the wGPA (talking about uottawa here), etc... Yes, “You gotta do, what you gotta do!” but please choose the right path, we actually need genuine and honest students to get in...

 

Also, yes I do agree that sacrifices must be made to get in medical school BUT you still need to enjoy other aspects of your life (I know, it sounds cheezy) but I feel it's something that needs to be reminded because you will realize in a few years that you missed out on A LOT before medicine since free time will just keep declining once you start medical school. 

 

To finish, the purpose of my message is not to rent on the guide that Aetherus provided, I do believe it's helpful and gives us an example of a path to get in medical school but that's only ONE example of a path, I had a completely different one and you also will have a different one and it's fine... you do not need to be exceptional or make hundreds of sacrifices to get in. Do what you like/want (NOT necessarily medically-related) and keep good grades and you will have a good shot at getting in!

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I just read this and I appreciate that you took the time to write this. But, I would like to remind the premed students that you do NOT need to do all of this to get accepted to medical school. So don't stress if you didn’t do that many EC's (I honestly did a fifth of what Aetherus did). I really don't think that there are two types of EC's: you do NOT need to do hospital volunteering to get in medicine, that will NOT raise a red flag... Most of the volunteering in hospitals doesn’t actually include direct medically-related activities so the ADCOM can't expect you to have that in your EC's. I never shadowed a physician but I still was able to explain why I chose medicine as a career using my other experiences.

 

The one thing that I agree is concentrating on your grades (should always be your #1 priority) because if you don't meet the cut-off, you won't get an interview even if you have an AMAZING sketch. BUT, I find it extremely sad that nowadays, students will do ANYTHING to get good grades including cheating on exams, pressuring profs to get answers during exams, being rude and arguing with profs do get higher grades, missing the mid-terms and finals because you are 'sick', taking easier classes during the summer so grade doesn't count in the wGPA (talking about uottawa here), etc... Yes, “You gotta do, what you gotta do!” but please choose the right path, we actually need genuine and honest students to get in...

 

Also, yes I do agree that sacrifices must be made to get in medical school BUT you still need to enjoy other aspects of your life (I know, it sounds cheezy) but I feel it's something that needs to be reminded because you will realize in a few years that you missed out on A LOT before medicine since free time will just keep declining once you start medical school. 

 

To finish, the purpose of my message is not to rent on the guide that Aetherus provided, I do believe it's helpful and gives us an example of a path to get in medical school but that's only ONE example of a path, I had a completely different one and you also will have a different one and it's fine... you do not need to be exceptional or make hundreds of sacrifices to get in. Do what you like/want (NOT necessarily medically-related) and keep good grades and you will have a good shot at getting in!

 

Hey premed005! 

 

Thank you for posting. I agree that this is not the only way of getting into medical school! There are multiple ways to get in for sure and not one way is better then the other. The reason I wrote this guide is I was getting way too many personal messages on the forum. I should have made it clear that this is how I got into medical school, but there are other ways.

 

With respect to hospital volunteering, you don't need a lot, but I still think that if possible, you should do a bit. I am talking about being on the floor, speaking with patients etc. I feel as though this will help confirm that you do indeed enjoy certain aspects of medicine. Of course, nothing is necessary to have for EC's...the main message I was trying to convey was the fact that doing 100000000 hrs of volunteering is not very useful if you are purely doing it to get into medical school.  

 

You gotta do, what you gotta do! <-- When I say this, it is about perseverance and putting the time necessary to excel at school. It means that if you have to pull an all nighter once in a while, it's is part of the process. I AM NOT talking about cheating. If you want to become a physician, you should start practicing integrity right now.

 

​I do agree that you have to enjoy other aspects of your life, but it is also a fine balance between sacrifice and fun! Do I think I got the balance perfectly? Absolutely not, but I think that you sometimes need to make sacrifices to attain your dream and again, it is an inevitable part of the process.

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What I feel is missing from this conversation is recognizing the importance of writing and self-awareness in the process.

 

Two hospital volunteering entries might convey entirely different things based on what is written. Thus, there is far more variability than simply having a particular entry...there is also how you describe that entry that presents another venue for uniqueness. 

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What I feel is missing from this conversation is recognizing the importance of writing and self-awareness in the process.

 

Two hospital volunteering entries might convey entirely different things based on what is written. Thus, there is far more variability than simply having a particular entry...there is also how you describe that entry that presents another venue for uniqueness.

 

I completely agree TurkeyHasTryptophan, I tried to touch on this in my initial post in the section about writing up your OMSAS sketch. Let me know if there is anything you would add.

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I completely agree TurkeyHasTryptophan, I tried to touch on this in my initial post in the section about writing up your OMSAS sketch. Let me know if there is anything you would add.

 

More emphasis on reflecting desirable characteristics (collaboration, communication, self-reflection, resilience), tips on phrasing statements for maximal effect, technical skills entries vs soft-skills entries and having a balance between them, creating themes (if possible) between your entries, looking at the ABS as a composite and asking what messages it sends as a whole rather than via individual entries...etc

 

These are just things I thought about when constructing my ABS and selecting my Ottawa Top 3. Of course, I don't have much "real" insight into the process myself. 

 

But I do think less emphasis should be placed on the nature of the items or the quantity of them...within limits of course (i.e. 10 items probably will look a little on the thin side). The conversation should instead hone in on how you can sculpt your descriptions to best depict your suitability for medicine. 

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Thank you for sharing your journey! This goes to show that hard work really does pay off!

 

Speaking of which, I should be studying for my exams instead of reading this right now.

 

 

No problem! Best of luck on your road to Medicine!

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