Med school applications are about the most stressful thing that a university student can subject him or herself to. A big part of this stress is caused by the utter unpredictability of the system.
A good friend of mine has some 95%+ GPA, scored some rediculous 38 points on the MCAT, and did not get an interview invitation to UBC. My GPA comes in at a humble vacinity of 85% (honestly, I don’t know how they calculate GPA), got a MCAT score of 34. What set us apart was probably the supplementary material, about things that I did outside classes.
Some med schools look much heavily at GPA and MCAT, such as (from what I understand) Queen’s and U of Toronto, and I’m sure my friend will beat me to the ground for these schools.
He was also rejected by U of Ottawa, which, according to him, takes post-undergrad experiences very heavily, resulting in an average admission age of 25. So no surprise for him there. The bottom line is, every school has a different judging criteria. By word of mouth, some schools are famous for what they look for.
And UBC looks for a serious dose of well-roundedness. Remember when I whined about the application that UBC requires? That should give you an idea.
“Well-roundedness” is such a vague word, and if I stop there, this blog of mine does not deserve your attention. So here are some things that I think are important on the application:
Variety: how many types of things have you tried?
It should be obvious from all the categories that they ask for in the application form that they want candidates who have a crazy aptitude of new experiences. If you can put something significant in all of the fields that ask for (Cultural/Community Service Experiences, Leadership/Working with Others Experiences, Travel/Sports/Arts Experiences, Outdoors Experiences, Experiences Showing Self-Reliance, Other Experiences, Experiences in Rural/Remote/Northern/Aboriginal Communities, and that’s just the non-academic; they also like to see work expeprience, published research, and of course a high GPA), then I would be surprised if you don’t get interviewed. I would definitely want to meet anyone who can do all these.
Realistically though, it’s fairly crucial to point to a specific instance where you exercised leadership, creativity, curiosity, communication skills, conscientiousness, and maturity. You most likely can not do these things by studying in your room. Get involved on campus, go volunteering, join the executive team of a club, enter student government, get into your community.
Persistance: how long did you stick with it?
It’s all dandy and well if you tried a hundred things, but if none of them last for a significant amount of time, it might reflect badly on you. If you can’t be persistent with things that you are supposedly interested in, then they will probably hesitate to trust you with the med training. Year-long commitments are ok; if you can show that you are actively involved with something for years and years, then whatever you say you learned from these will sound much more credible.
Progress: how has your contribution evolved?
Related to the previous point, it is best if you can show that your continuous involvement has changed with time. Perhaps you started as an entry-level volunteer, then you became a mentor or a manager, and finally a director or a president. Perhaps you got to know the program well enough to introduce significant improvements to it. Perhaps you took on a project and launched it to the world.
Reflection: what did you learn?
All of the above would mean very little if you don’t learn something from them. Reflecting on what you saw, what you did, what you thought about was perhaps the most important part of your extracurricular activities. This is where you get materials to for applications and interviews, and this is where you actually learn and grow.
Since I started blogging 6 years ago, I’ve became accustomed to picking up things around me that I could write about later. And if I were to write about it, I would need to think it through a bit more carefully. So over time, I became a lot more reflective and can get something out of everything. Like last week, I talked to a practitioner of Chinese medicine, who was in two ways very untraditional: 1, she was female, and 2. she was white. I introduced myself as a student of pharmacology, and we quickly went into a constructive discussion on the merits of alternative medicine. At that moment, the conversation has crystalized in my head into some important lessons, and although I did not find time to write an entry, the learning was already achieved.