Starting your premed college career on the right foot

We reached out to a few prehealth advisors around the country to ask: What advice do you, as advisors, have for premed students starting at a new college or starting as new premed students?
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The premed path can be daunting, both for brand-new college students and those who have a year or two of higher education under their belt. To make the beginning of your premed journey a little easier, we reached out to a few prehealth advisors around the country to ask: What advice do you, as advisors, have for premed students starting at a new college or starting as new premed students?

Ariella Wolf, Academic Advisor, University of South Florida:
Get a lay of the land: Learn about opportunities geared specifically for aspiring physicians, including clubs, volunteering, and academic support. Find out if your school has a premed or other medicine-focused club that can be a source of social interaction, volunteerism, and knowledge about the path you want to take. Learn about the prehealth office, their hours of operation, and the services they provide. Start to identify potential study group members and good places to study. Ask student leaders, upperclassmen, and advisors what other offices you should learn about (career services, academic success/support, and volunteer offices are a few that may be good to know about early).

In addition, I suggest that from day one that you create a premed folder (virtual or real) where you can enter all the related activities throughout your academic career, with a section for volunteering, work, shadowing, etc. For every activity you participate in, record the supervisor's contact info and the total hours you spent, and add information such as what you did, reflections on the experience, and hours spent each individual event/day. This way, by the time you need the information to create your resume or an application for something, you have it all organized. 

Elisa Cripps, Senior Prehealth Advisor, University of Colorado, Boulder:
During your first semester as a premed, work with your academic and prehealth advisors to create a rough draft of your term-by-term academic plans. Your academic advisor can help you understand which courses you need to take to graduate, whereas your prehealth advisor can help you understand which courses to take to prepare for the MCAT® exam and fulfill medical school prerequisites. By creating a personalized term-by-term plan now, you will be able to see whether your plans can fit reasonably into your timeline. Also, your term-by-term plan will come especially in handy at registration time, allowing you to avoid problems proactively. For example, if you don’t get a course that you planned on, you often will be able to consult your guide and identify course swaps that will allow you to complete all of your intended courses in the same total amount of time.  

Your prehealth advisor may encourage you to take a lighter course load in your first semester than you had expected. Your first impression may be that this doesn't sound like "enough," but rest assured that your advisor is speaking from the wisdom of working with many, many premeds who have come before you ... and who successfully have gone on to medical school. Taking a manageable course load in the first term will give you the time you need to adjust your study strategies to meet new college-level expectations while also joining clubs and making new friends who will be your support system in the years ahead. After your first semester, which will give you more knowledge of what to expect in the semesters to come, you can increase or adjust your course plans accordingly.

Catherine Eden, Associate Director of Prehealth Advising, University of Massachusetts Amherst:
Use your personal interests as a guide for choosing extracurriculars. Be discerning about the activities that you choose — for example, if you’re curious about research, don't take the first research position you can find just to check "research experience" off your list. Look at the many options on your campus, choose a lab or project that fits your interests, and find out as much as you can about the duties, the time commitment, and the people you might be working with so that you can evaluate your “fit” for the experience. Also, when you look for volunteer experiences, choose one that is personally meaningful to you.

It can be intimidating to have so many choices and so much freedom when you first go away to college. For many students, life changes dramatically, with more independence and decision-making. Think of this as an important opportunity to become more confident in your own critical thinking and decision-making skills. As a future health care provider, you will weigh options and information and make many high-level decisions — sometimes with the help of a team, but sometimes on your own. Think of the decisions you make now as good practice for the future. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. The most successful applicants we see have made mistakes along the way. These mistakes have taught them valuable lessons about what their true passions are (and are not!) or what their limits are in regard to time commitments. You will make mistakes, so don't let fear stop you from trying something new. And when you do make a mistake, learn from it and move forward.

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