How to Prepare for Med School During Your Senior Year

January 19, 2015

Getting on the Right Path for a Career in Healthcare

In the competitive healthcare field, the preparations you make in your senior year of high school are the key to getting into med school or any type of professional health program. Grades are important, but completing paperwork, applying to schools and securing financial aid are all a part of the process too. Beyond that, extracurricular activities and club memberships are doing more than simply filling your time; they’re character building activities that show you’re a multifaceted individual with rich life experience and lots to offer. This is especially important in a field where you’ll be engaging with diverse groups of people on a daily basis.

So beyond studying for your final exams, here's how to make full use of your time in high school and prepare for your future in healthcare.

It Starts With Academics

To prepare for premed, students need to study diligently.

To prepare for premed, students need to study diligently.

Challenge yourself and take the most demanding classes your high school offers. Receiving good grades in tough classes is important to any secondary education program.

Honors classes are a great start, but make sure to take Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) classes if they're available at your school. Completing these high-level courses and scoring high on the final exams is a great way of getting college credits in high school. They might even help you knock off some of those prerequisites (though some schools won’t accept these for premed prerequisites, so it’s best to check). In any case, they'll make your application stand out. You should concentrate on science AP and IB credits, like Chemistry and Biology, since this is where you’ll need to excel.

The bottom line is that AP, IB and honors classes will help you prepare for med school by getting you used to rigorous and often difficult classes that require much of your undivided attention. Remember, your GPA is extremely important to getting into a premed or other healthcare program. The most sought after universities receive applicants with scores of 3.0 and higher. Having a 3.5 GPA or more will help ensure your spot, but don’t forget many students are vying for seats. You’ll also want to take the SATs, ACTs, or both. Each college has their own median levels for these scores, so you should have an idea of what your top choices want to see. As with grades, higher is always better.

Keep in mind that med school proper isn’t your only choice -- there are only a few universities in the United States that offer a combined premed/med program and that means competition is incredibly high. For most students straight out of high school, the first stop on the med school path is a premed program. This bachelor’s level education is similar for many health professionals and can be obtained in many colleges and universities across the country.

Community Service Shows Character

Community service is a way to help you show your passion for helping others, and to show initiative. In the medical field, both of these traits are valued highly. Volunteering can serve several purposes. First, volunteering in a healthcare environment gives you the chance to explore the field prior to starting school. It will give you the ability to explore many careers within healthcare including nursing, radiology and internal medicine. Community service will also make you stand out on applications. Extracurricular activities are important to a well-rounded application. Colleges and universities like to see students involved in their communities.

The How, What, Where and When of Applying

First, it’s important to do your research. Consider that you are going to spent the next few years investing in your future career. You don't want to make the wrong choice and be stuck with a diploma that doesn't quite resonate with your goals.

Are you interested specifically in med school, nursing, or perhaps an allied health career? Nursing and allied health students can choose the college route or a vocational school. There can be several advantages to vocational schools including flexibility and hands on education. Find schools that meet your financial, educational and social needs and offer programs that correlate with your career goals. Make school choices based on whether you’d like to stay close to home or prefer to go away. Think this through carefully because both options have pros and cons. You’ll also want to schedule visits with colleges and universities to determine if they are a good fit for you.

Once you’ve chosen the schools you’d like to apply to, visit their websites and review their application requirements. Be sure to gather everything you might need and download the applications and paperwork required to complete the process. Try to get an early start, so you aren't rushing to beat the deadline. There are many different parts of the application, so it's best not to leave this part off to the last minute and find you don't have enough time to complete everything. This will include writing essays, requesting recommendations from your teachers, coaches and other adults, and letting your school know where you're applying so they can send out your transcripts.

Campus life can vary from college to college.

Campus life can vary from college to college.

During the whole process you need to stay organized. So, again, start the process early. Make sure you go through all your paperwork very carefully since mistakes can cost you big. The best strategy is to start on all of the components right off the bat -- delaying isn’t a good idea because things like recommendations will take time, and may cause you to miss crucial deadlines. Last piece of advice -- keep copies of all the paperwork you submit. You may need these if there’s an error or if the school doesn’t get them for some reason. Always get confirmation on all submitted paperwork whether it's been sent electronically or by mail. For mail confirmation, you’ll want to use a return receipt through the USPS.

If you’re planning on going to med school after your undergraduate education, you’ll have to repeat this whole process again for med school. In addition to that, you’ll be required to take the MCAT. This exam includes questions from biological sciences, verbal reasoning and physical sciences. Information on how to prepare, register and what the scores mean is on the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) website.

How Do I Pay For It?

I know this all sounds great, but you're probably wondering how you’re going to pay for it. The first thing you should do is fill out the FAFSA. This will determine how much federal financial aid you qualify for. This aid comes in the form of grants, loans and on campus programs like work study. Be sure to fill out the FAFSA before your state deadline.

There are many ways to pay for college.

There are many ways to pay for college.

You should then explore all the grants, scholarship and awards that may be available to you. Before you’re even accepted, you can apply for grants, scholarships and awards through your high school. Check with your guidance counselor to see what you can qualify for.

Another avenue for this type of financial assistance is through your state. Each state keeps a list of scholarships for various degree programs and some of this scholarship information can be found on the Health Resources and Services Administration website. Healthcare scholarships are plentiful, so you should check out this option. Another great scholarship resource is College Beyond that, a quick Google search for “healthcare and college scholarships and grants” will bring up an abundant list of additional resources, as well. Either way, don’t give up. There are an infinite amount of resources in this field, so make sure you use your guidance counselor who's there to help you find the data you need to get going on the right path.

Once you’ve been accepted to a school, you can also check to see if they have grants or scholarships in-house. You’ll want to check with the financial aid department about these programs. Many schools often have grants and scholarships for academic performance, being a member of a particular group or for specific majors. It’s a great idea to check these out even if you have loans, since they’ll reduce the amount of money you end up paying in the long term.

Be Motivated!

Applying for med school or any healthcare program can be challenging. It may seem like there are countless obstacles along the way, but don’t get discouraged! If you’re devoted to caring for others and if you pursue this path with fervor, you’ll get there. Sure, it takes hard work, but you don't have to go it alone. You can rely on your advisors for advice and your friends and family for support. The road is arduous, but the payoff is tremendous.