Your college plan will sound particularly noble if it includes going to med school. You don’t want to just “go to college”—you want to lend your expertise to curing sickness and disease. However, if you ask anyone in the know, the long hours and tough decision-making you face isn’t just the fiction of television medical dramas.
No matter how you slice it and dice it, college prep along the road to med school—and actually becoming a doctor—is no easy task. If you have your heart set on it, get a jump start in high school by careful college planning, making smart choices in your curriculum, and using your spare time productively.
Pre-med college prep includes higher-level science classes
While it’s usually true that your college major as a pre-med student can be in just about anything you want (as long as you meet the core requirements for med school), it’s a good idea to put some effort into building your science and math background while you’re still in high school. Choose AP or honors classes in subjects such as biology, chemistry, physics, calculus, and, if offered, anatomy.
If you’re truly dedicated and your school is a bit lacking in the science department, talk to your guidance counselor and the college admissions office at a local college to see about enrolling in college-prep or college-level courses at the college. You may also want to consider enrolling in a private school known for its academics, or look into choice or magnet schools within your district if they’re available and suit your needs. Entering college with a solid science background can put you a step ahead as a freshman as you may be able to enroll in upper-level courses right out of the gate. (As a bonus, such course selection will help you get into college just about anywhere if you change your mind about medicine.)
Keep an eye on college admissions as you balance your academics
Focusing on science and math shouldn’t give you a reason to spend your remaining class time in PE and home ec. (though cooking skills will likely come in handy in college). And, given the notorious reputation that doctors have as far as handwriting, more time spent writing essays and book reports in Honors English will come in handy. Really though—the folks in the college admissions offices want to see students that excel in all areas and who demonstrate a balanced academic background. Take classes in all academic areas and take as many AP and honors classes as you can handle.
If you want to go to college, you’ve got to score
When it comes to standardized admission testing, spend time and effort to prepare thoroughly for your PSAT and your SAT or ACT. Obviously, higher scores will increase the likelihood of your acceptance at competitive or more prestigious schools. Performing well on the PSAT could also earn you a National Merit Scholarship—another bright spot on your student resume when the admission committee compares you side by side with hundreds of other applicants. Med schools look for the best and brightest. After all, as an M.D., you’ll be dealing with people’s lives!
Getting experience should be part of your college plan
Familiarizing yourself with topics you will no doubt cover heavily in both a pre-med program and medical school is great, but you should also look for work or volunteer opportunities that relate to health care. Hospitals often sponsor teen volunteer programs and are a great way to gain familiarity with a clinical setting early on—and before you commit yourself to med school. (Who knows? You may find that medicine isn’t what you really want, and it is better to find that out sooner rather than later).
Introducing yourself is one fruit of good college planning
If you’ve earned good grades and test scores, then it’s time to apply. Spread your applications around to your top-choice and safety schools. If you’ve got your heart set on one school in particular and you meet their admission criteria, think about applying Early Decision to demonstrate your commitment to both that school and to your future as a doctor.