In my experience, many premeds who seek medical school admissions advice do so in their junior or senior year of college. Typically, these premeds are asking for help because something has gone wrong -- primarily poor academic performance -- or because they are unsure they are taking the right steps to get accepted into medical school.
Unfortunately for many of these premeds, by the time they ask for serious guidance they have already dug themselves into a hole that is very difficult to get out of.
Let's create a student to represent a common and familiar profile of a struggling premed student. "Eric" is a fourth year neuroscience major who has dreamed of becoming a physician all his life. But because of a lack of focus and discipline during his first three years in college, his GPA has dropped to a 3.2.
[Find out how to rebound from a bad premed semester.]
Eric believes that his GPA is a poor reflection of his actual academic abilities and thinks he could improve his GPA if he tried harder, but he is worried that he has run out of time. Eric also has not been involved in extracurricular activities other than shadowing a couple of physicians.
He has heard that other premeds volunteer, research and are active in other clubs and is wondering what medical schools require of him in terms of extracurricular activities.
Eric's low GPA puts him in a difficult position. Even if he got straight A's during his final year of college, his GPA probably wouldn't go any higher than a 3.4, which is still low if he is planning to a go to a U.S. allopathic medical school, as the average GPA of medical school matriculants in 2012 was 3.68, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.
He is also behind in participation in extracurricular activities.
Although medical school admissions might be incredibly difficult and time-consuming, Eric still has options. He would probably have to take time off after college to raise his GPA through a postbaccalaureate program and boost his resume. He will also have to do very well on his MCAT to make up for a lower GPA if he wants to attend a U.S. allopathic medical school.
[Learn ways to apply to medical school with a low GPA.]
This kind of situation should be avoided altogether and the best way to prevent this scenario is by seeking help early. Freshmen and sophomores in college -- or even juniors and seniors in high school-- should know what they are getting themselves into when they decide to become a doctor.
Many college underclassmen lack motivation, do not know what it takes to get into medical school and do not know how to study. The perfect time to find academic help is during or before your freshman year of college.
One of the best ways is to have serious discussions with friends or family who are physicians or medical students. Ask them about their motivations and how they prepared for medical school. Find out how they fought through challenges and balanced studies with everyday life.
If you do not have a relationship with a doctor, medical student or even an older premed that is on the right path, you should go out of your way to make those relationships. Meet a doctor or medical student while volunteering or shadowing.
[Understand the keys to achieving medical school success.]
Make friends with other premed students who are also serious about getting to medical school and keep each other accountable. Take advantage of your school's premed advisers or career centers, or consider paying for a professional counselor if you have to.
You need to find a mentor who can lead you down the right path. There are useful websites, but nothing beats a personal connection with a knowledgeable individual. The most important thing is that you get the right information and motivation.
On my own path to medical school, there were many people who gave me valuable advice and provided me with opportunities such as research or shadowing positions.
Do not get trapped into thinking that you can do it all by yourself. And do not wait until you mess up before getting help. Find valuable online resources that you can trust, build relationships early and emulate the success of others.
Edward Chang is a graduate of UCLA, where he attends the David Geffen School of Medicine. In addition to managing ProspectiveDoctor.com, he also counsels prospective medical school applicants. Contact him by email or follow Prospective Doctor on Twitter.