Applying to Medical School: Why it’s Important to Have Balance

There’s a few weeks left until Orientation Week at McMaster University School of Medicine. Our start date may be August 24th, but preparation starts well before then. Since June, I’ve been filling out my health clearance forms, getting my vaccinations and TB tests completed, getting my background check, finishing pre-medical school modules….and the list goes on.

Four years later, I’ve graduated from UC Berkeley with a B.A. in Public Health. It’s been a roller coaster journey, but I can truly say I (mostly) enjoyed every moment of the ride. Despite late nights in Doe and Moffitt Libraries, downing countless energy drinks to stay awake, rushing to get on Telebears to enrol into the classes I needed, and constantly comparing myself to others to ensure I stacked up to the thousands of pre-meds that populated my alma mater, my life at Cal was pretty much perfect.

I say my life was perfect not because I never struggled – I definitely spent hours crying over my physics midterms and hours upon hours alone, studying for the MCAT. It was a struggle, but it was a balanced struggle. During my four years, I made sure to party, travel and socialize enough to keep my sanity.

Getting into medical school is just the beginning of a long journey. In undergrad, you fret over your grades in classes, striving to keep above that 3.7 GPA benchmark. You worry about your CV, your extracurriculars, your research, your ability to stand out from tens of thousands of other applicants. It seems like the odds are stacked against you, considering less than half of medical school applicants actually get in each year. 

And yet, I’m so glad that I understood studying had limits. I understood that you only go through college once. I understood that life is not just about getting to the next step, but rather enjoying and learning from the journey.

There are definitely nights where I planned to study, but ended up going to a party (or two). There are days that I should’ve spent holed up inside, but instead chose to go to a rave with my friends. There are midterms I could’ve been better prepared for, but people who were much more valuable to me than an A. In college, I traveled to over 20 countries, missed quite a bit of school because of it, and even more when I traveled for interviews. I had the privilege of volunteering in Peru, studying abroad in England at the London School of Economics and going to EDC Las Vegas, Beyond Wonderland, POP etc. etc. My experience in college was diverse, rewarding and absolutely unforgettable.

Maybe if I had studied harder I would’ve graduated with a higher GPA. Maybe if I had spent more time in lab I would have more publications. Maybe if I had worked more I would have saved up more money for medical school. But would I have regrets? Definitely.

Having applied to both Canadian and American schools, I can say without a doubt that the process sucks. From inception in college, when all the pre-meds are forced to compete with each other, to trying to check off all those boxes (leadership, volunteering, research etc), to taking the MCAT, to writing wayyyy too many secondaries to count. Sometimes you just have to forget about being perfect and live your life the way it was meant to be lived. You’ll still get to that coveted destination, I promise!

I feel so blessed to have gotten into one of my top choices for medical school BUT I feel ever luckier to have had one of the most amazing, unforgettable and exciting college experiences possible. My life has been so rich, from my friends, my family, and the risks I took.

All this being said, have fun in college. Get too drunk at a party, stay out too late, say yes when your friends want to go for late night cheesecake during exam week. Be yourself and find activities that you actually enjoy! I found my passion for healthcare-technology in college, and a desire to combine that passion with a deep interest in public health.

I look forward to my next adventure in medical school, I have full confidence that my next 3 years will be just as amazing as my 4 years at Cal!

If you’d like advice on medical school applications, or want to know more about applying to two systems simultaneously, feel free to contact me via email: gua1@mcmaster.ca or via Twitter: a_gu77

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Author: adagu93

Graduated from University of California - Berkeley in May 2015, but I still bleed blue and gold. First year medical student, learning how to balance school, learning, research, extracurricular activities, friends and life's many distractions. So excited to see what adventures lay ahead! Love traveling (I've been to over 50 countries!), trying new things like sky diving and shark cage diving, skiing, going to raves, reading, wine tasting and of course, relaxing with friends.

2 thoughts on “Applying to Medical School: Why it’s Important to Have Balance”

  1. Thank you so much for writing this!!! I just started university and because I know I need a decent GPA to apply to medical school one day, I have to turn down invites to parties and other fun things and feel sad that I’m missing out. I feel really encouraged that it is possible to balance being a competitive pre-med with studying and extracurriculars but still be able to have fun and just live. Other articles I’ve read about how to start off your undergraduate right is “be prepared to give lots of fun things up and be antisocial.” Do you have any specific tips on how to manage your time if you want to go out and socialize but still devote enough time to studying? (i.e. judging whether to go or to suck it up and stay in and study) Cheers! I look forward to reading more of your blog posts 🙂

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    1. Hey! Thank you so much for your comment, I apologize for the delayed response but the past couple weeks have been kind of a whirlwind. In terms of managing your time, this was my thought process in college.

      1. In sophomore year, I felt like I had to do everything. This was definitely not healthy, and I don’t recommend to anyone this kind of lifestyle. I was probably part of 15 different clubs, working on 2 research projects etc. etc. etc. while also trying to have a social life and maintaining an acceptable GPA. During this time, I used any time I wasn’t doing something or hanging out with friends to study. This meant in the morning when I was eating breakfast, I would study. During my 30 min breaks, I would bring a textbook with me. I made cue cards to study on the bus and bart, and sometimes brought my notes to work out with me. DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS.

      2. Studying for the MCAT: study ALL THE TIME. I maybe went out once (or twice) a week during the 3 months I was studying for the MCAT during the school year. I turned down invites to almost everything, until my best friends told me “it’s like you don’t exist anymore.” So honestly, there are times that you really do have to buckle down, shut down your FOMO and make your books your best friends.

      2. JUNIOR AND SENIOR YEAR: I feel like I really found balance during this time. It’s of course important to be involved and do extracurriculars, but you have to find the times in your schedule that you can devote to your textbooks and coursework. I would usually block in time to my calendar for studying. If I finished everything, it meant that I had the evening free. I also studied whenever I could, but I studied in a way that was effective for me. This meant making a million flash cards, pacing while repeating mnemonics out load, and doing marathon study sessions with friends.

      Honestly though, you’ll never have the unique experience of college again once you graduate. Don’t say no to every invite. In fact, try to say yes to as many things as you can (if you feel like they have social/networking value). You WILL have to suck it up and study sometimes, but also don’t say no when you don’t have to. That means you don’t have to stay up late reading on Saturday night to get ahead, just do it on Monday.

      Hope that helped! Feel free to send me an email if you have any more questions!

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