High School Students Interested in Medicine: Building Your Profile Strategically
May 29, 2019
High School Students Interested in Medicine: How to Build Your Profile Strategically
So you’ve decided that you want to pursue a career in medicine. Although you’re still in high school, you know that the choices you make today will have an impact on your ability to reach your goal of going to medical school and ultimately becoming a doctor. While you don’t have to know exactly what you want to do with your life, admissions officers appreciate understanding your passions and ambitions. In fact, for a strenuous career like medicine, it’s best to know as early as possible, and even start taking steps toward fulfilling your goals.
If you’re one of the many high school students interested in medicine out there, why not start pursuing medicine-related academic and extracurricular work right now? Having a specific course load and focused activities can help set you apart.
While you have a number of years left before you actually begin your applications to medical school, the following tips can help high school students interested in medicine put their best foot forward.
Challenging (STEM) Course Load
What you choose to study and how much you challenge yourself with your course load in high school will demonstrate to admissions officers how seriously you take your learning and what type of student you’ll be in their classrooms. While a rigorous curriculum is important for all students aiming for selective colleges, it is especially important for students who are interested in being pre-med or applying to combined BA/MD or BS/MD programs to choose courses that will deepen their learning in STEM subjects.
BA/MD and BS/MD programs usually last 6-8 years, and are offered at schools such as Northwestern, Howard, and Baylor University for those who are completely certain that they want to commit to a career in medicine. These programs are extremely competitive - Northwestern’s acceptance rate for the program is only 2%! Qualifying for such rigorous programs means enrolling in AP/IB/Honors classes that your school offers, especially for science and math classes. It goes without saying that top tier colleges look at the difficulty of your course load, and succeeding in them will make you stand out among other students with similar academic interests.
High school students interested in medicine should take math all four years (including calculus senior year) and four years of science (including biology, chemistry, and physics). If you’ve maxed out your school’s STEM offerings, perhaps consider taking advanced STEM courses at a local college or even online. The goal here is to flex your STEM academic muscles so you’re prepared for pre-med learning in college.
Another way to show your prowess in STEM subjects is through excellent scores in SAT subject tests. If you’re one of the many high school students interested in medicine, admissions officers will be looking for high scores in tests such as Biology, Chemistry, and Math II. If you’re gunning for the most competitive programs, aim for a 750 or above. Take these subject tests around the time of your AP or IB exams so that you can prepare for them simultaneously!
While a challenging course load is an important part of demonstrating academic rigor, the grades you get in those courses are especially important. Although you don’t have to receive all As and have a flawless record, your transcript should be made up of mostly As. Taking a challenging class isn’t going to benefit your profile if you’re going to struggle and not do well in it.
There’s an important balance that you need to strike with your course load to ensure that you’re pushing yourself, but not too hard. Your guidance counselor can also shed light on what a rigorous schedule looks like for other students at your school. For some, it may mean taking five AP classes while for others, it may mean a few AP courses with some regular classes.
Time management in high school is difficult, but knowing what kind of schedule works for you to succeed in classes goes a long way to helping you achieve strong grades. Pick up some good habits such as maintaining a calendar, prioritizing what’s important, and quitting clubs that aren’t beneficial to help you improve in your classes.
Internships and Research
High school students interested in medicine should, well, find work in medicine-related fields! Often times, this can be done through an internship or a research project. While admissions officers do not require prospective pre-med students to have these two experiences, hands-on work in the field can help you stand out. Seek such opportunities with university researchers, research institutions, or organizations that focus on STEM. Ask your local hospital if they have any opportunities for you. Take advantage of your summers to build your application profile around activities related to medicine.
The extracurriculars that you choose to get involved in during your high school years will provide insight into your interests. Don’t be afraid to dive deep into extracurriculars that excite you. Even though you may be a pre-med hopeful, you should feel free to choose activities that may not be medical in nature. Maybe you love theatre and have participated in drama club for years.
The good thing about your extracurricular involvement is that it does not always have to relate to your academic field. Admissions officers appreciate students that have dynamic interests. The main caveat to this point is consistency, long term involvement, and demonstration of leadership. The longer you’ve been involved in an activity, the more confidence admissions officers have in your passion and know that it is not something that you’re suddenly involved in just to add to your activities list.
Similarly, being a general member of a club shouldn’t be where you stop. You need to stand out from other high school students interested in medicine. A great way to do that would be to initiate your own club or take any initiative which helps bring out the leader in you. Start a veterinary organization that helps out at local animal shelters. Coordinate with the Red Cross and help run a blood drive. Arrange a lecture series by different doctors or researchers. Medicine is a wide field and the possibilities are endless.
This tip will be more relevant when you actually begin your college applications, but it’s never too early to start thinking about what you want to communicate in your application essays, especially your personal statement. Your essays will be an opportunity for admissions officers to hear your voice and learn about you through your own words. As someone who is excited about medicine, you may think that you have to write essays about your medical interest.
This is not necessarily the case. Other pieces of your application (courses, grades, letters of recommendation, activities) will speak to this interest. Your essays will give voice to your identity and what matters to you. Make sure that whatever topic that you choose to write about is something that couldn’t have been written by anyone else. Be true to yourself, and pick a topic that conveys your unique story to admissions officers. And even if medicine is not the core focus of the essay, show that you possess qualities that are key in a doctor, such as confidence, compassion, and determination.
Ultimately, the expectations for high school students interested in medicine are similar to the expectations for every other student applying to top-tier colleges. The difference here will be how much you’ve built upon your knowledge in STEM subjects and the ways you’re able to express your interest in and commitment to studying medicine. Becoming a doctor will require a lot of hard work and commitment, from applying to colleges to graduating from medical school and beyond. However, if you know that this is what you want to do, start now, and your transition to the rigorous pre-med life style will occur much more smoothly.