6 Things I Wish I’d Known As a Freshman Pre-Med Student
I started my freshman year of college as a fresh-faced pre-med student, eager to get a head start to becoming a competitive medical school applicant. Although I had a lot of drive and ambition, I had absolutely no roadmap or mentor to guide me in what to/not to do. So, I had to undergo a lot of trial and error in my freshman year before gaining my footing as a pre-med student.
Looking back, here are SIX tips I would give to my freshman year self:
1. Don’t do things for the sake of doing things.
Here’s what I mean: In my freshman year, I was convinced that I had to do everything under the sun–find a research/lab position, join a culture club, get a leadership position, find a sport to join, etc.–to check off the boxes of what a pre-med student needs to do. This led to a lot of painful/forced activities that left me feeling drained and unhappy. Looking back, I wish I had been more careful/selective in the activities that I chose to commit to. For example, I would’ve picked *one* volunteer activity that I felt truly passionate about, and *one* club (service/interest) that I had a genuine interest in and could see myself investing in.
2. Leave your comfort zone to find worthwhile activities.
On the other hand, I do think it is important for a freshman pre-med student to jump into different clubs and activities to figure out which ones are a good fit. Now is a good time to attend as many general club meetings as you can–a lot of times clubs are looking for freshmen to join the e-board at the start of the year, so this is a chance to get a head start on finding a leadership position. And if you end up disliking the club/activity or feeling like it is not a good fit, it’s perfectly normal and acceptable to leave–you’re just a freshman after all. Personally, I stepped outside of my comfort zone to join the Equestrian Club, and it turned out to be a tremendous learning experience that I was asked about in my medical school interviews!
3. Take classes outside of the generic STEM classes/Find your non-science passion!
In my freshman year, I decided I’d get all of my prerequisites over and done with so I could move on to other things. However, this made me feel overwhelmed with my sheer course-load (e.g. taking Calculus with Gen Chem and Cell Bio). I completely understand and agree with the logic of taking your pre-med pre-requisites earlier rather than later. However, if I could go back in time, I would have spaced out these pre-requisites more and taken non-STEM classes (e.g. Anthropology, Philosophy, Art) in my freshman year to discover my passions outside of the sciences. It is a common misunderstanding that a pre-med student needs to be purely science-oriented (e.g. a Biology major) in order to be competitive for medical school. However, investing in a second major/minor in the humanities can greatly expand your perspective of medicine and make you a more intriguing candidate for medical school. Get a head start by doing this freshman year!
4. Find and keep a solid network of friends who share similar interests/goals.
Often times, the pre-med community can be unfriendly at best, toxic at worst. Pre-meds are notorious for being ultra-competitive and wary of each other. This makes for an extra stressful environment in college as a pre-med student. This is why it is incredibly important to make friends who have similar interest/common goals as you who can provide you with emotional and academic support when needed. I cannot emphasize how important this is–friends are people who understand exactly what you are going through and are there to pull you up when you are down. I once read a quote that says, “You are the average of the sum of your five closest friends.” Looking back on college, this was true for me. I surrounded myself with hard-working, compassionate friends (most of whom were also pre-med)–and they shaped me into the person I am today.
5. Develop healthy study and fitness habits.
When I was a freshman in college, I had to re-learn how to study. Many of my unhealthy study habits from high school (procrastinating, spending way too much time taking overly-detailed notes) simply did not work in college. I had to figure out from scratch what learning style worked best for me. Unlike high school, college classes are usually held in large lecture halls where it is very easy to disappear in the crowd. I made it a point to connect with my professors and teaching assistants so I could ask questions whenever I had them. I also had to learn how to balance/prioritize my assignments and tests to maximize my efficiency. Although college affords you a lot of free time, it is super important to keep an orderly schedule in between classes to not fall behind. Similarly, I developed a work out routine that kept my blood bumping and dopamine levels up–which helped me to de-stress from school.
6. Don’t spend ALL of your time studying/working.
One mistake I made my freshman year was being way too focused on succeeding as a pre-med, which made me miss a lot of fun social events that I felt like were a waste of time. If I could rewind time, I would have spent more time attending these events and hanging out with friends to really relish in my freshman year experience. You’re only a freshman once! Also, this is a point that a lot of people miss–doctors are ultimately working with people. As such, doctors need to have the social aptitude to interact with and relate to others (this is something they gauge in your medical school interviews). So going to a social activity/hanging out can greatly benefit your career as a physician!
The list could go on, but I think these six are fairly comprehensive and would have helped me enormously as a freshman pre-med. Keep an eye out for my future pre-med posts!