The internet will have you believe that if you don’t have a perfect GPA and MCAT score, you can’t go to medical school.
Sometimes strangers (online) get in our heads, sometimes it’s our inner circle including family, friends, and advisors.
And sometimes that little doubting voice comes from within.
“My GPA is trash, I’ve already bombed the MCAT, why am I even pursuing this?”
And maybe you’re not perfect, but does that mean you DON’T have what it takes?
I’d like to introduce you to Stephanie, a former Study Hall member who didn’t earn the most stellar GPA, scored a 488 on her first MCAT and burnt out on the way to her second MCAT.
And yet she IS going to medical school.
I hope her journey inspires you as much as it inspired me, and shows you that no matter YOUR situation, you must NEVER give up. Because the only thing standing in your way,
Could just be YOU.
When I heard about the MCAT, I thought,
“What's the big deal? Let me just go ahead and take it, and that'd be it!
People are just over exaggerating. It’s just another standardized test like the SAT or ACT.”
I thought I was bright upon entering college.
I was valedictorian in High School. I didn’t realize quickly enough that I didn’t know how to study: high school vs undergrad exams are very different.
Having not come to terms with how long med school was going to take, contemplating marriage and a family, I wanted to apply quickly. I thought, “This way I'm not too old.”
So I approached it the same way. I overestimated myself and underestimated the difficulty of the test because I had gotten a little bit of confidence.
I didn’t use a test prep the first time around and tried to teach myself Organic Chemistry.
For psychology and sociology, I looked through my old journals and textbooks for the rest.
My Score: 488!
I knew I had earned this score, definitely wasn’t prepared.
I went in circles, not retaining anything, not really understanding things conceptually.
I tried to memorize — which was the worst thing I could have possibly done.
Learning the hard way that with the vast amount of information, just memorizing is literally impossible.
I've always wanted to be a pediatrician and work with disabled children. But after this MCAT score I had to re-evaluate (while still in undergrad).
I thought, “I can still work in the medical field, but let me try something easier because, obviously, this isn't working.”
I decided on Occupational Therapy.
I was all in: shadowing, volunteering at a children’s rehabilitation center, GRE, and everything.
By senior year my GPA was back up to a 3.0! Maybe I COULD do this.
My mom showed me with her own journey, going back to school for pharmacy tech after 30 years of working, that it's never too late to pursue higher education.
It’s a marathon not a sprint – you know that cliche? So, I decided to try medicine again! Slowly.
“It doesn't matter when you start, it doesn't matter when you finish. As long as you end up where you're content, and at peace with yourself in your achievement.”
After my first MCAT experience I needed a strategy to have a fighting chance.
One good habit formed while I studied for the first test, and that was going to the library: to the third floor where you can hear the ants crawling on a window sill! This took me away from home, away from distractions.
Most importantly, I needed to take the test a lot more seriously starting with fortifying my still lacking science foundation.
A post-bacc program was not within my budget. Therefore, I created my own ‘post-bacc’ with the courses I lacked: Orgo 1 and 2, Genetics, as well as retaking general chemistry, and biology.
Leah's Note: You don't need a formal post-bacc. If you're lacking sciences after graduation it's ok to take them as a non-matriculated student.
After that, I knew the MCAT had to be the focus of my time.
Despite feeling like I was in over my head I was going to try anyway.
I studied for eleven months for my second MCAT.
I didn’t plan on taking eleven months, it’s just what happened:
I knew I could do better IF I took my time.
Initially I studied from June to January. But I faced stage fright.
I felt uncomfortable and didn't want to risk scoring just as badly or worse than my first exam!
So, I pushed the date a little bit more.
But I hit a brick wall, that dreaded plateau.
I was overwhelmed.
I wasn’t managing myself,
my mental health,
nor my spiritual health well.
I was studying a minimum of 8 hours every single weekday, and even a little on the weekends.
I wasn't having any fun.
I wasn't happy
And I was burning out quickly!.
When I didn’t score as highly as I desired on a practice exam, it tore me apart. I was being super hard on myself.
I felt deprived, like I was embarking on something that I shouldn't be doing! Doing other things would make me happier.
This was compounded by my personal life: I’m in a long distance relationship therefore felt I was sacrificing a lot. I also lived with my parents, instead of moving like I wanted.
I asked myself, “Why am I doing this? Nobody is telling me to do this!”
What I was looking for during this time around was understanding.
Being a first-generation college student, pursuing medicine, I didn't have a family that understood the magnitude of what I was trying to do. I felt very alone.
Consequently, I truly felt I couldn’t make it, I wasn’t good enough.
“What makes me think I can do this? Look at my GPA, my first MCAT score – this is not the journey I should be going on, I'm just not measuring up.”
So, I took an entire month off.
My energy came from my support system, despite how I felt, they let me know I was not alone!
I went to Tampa and visited my boyfriend, and I slept, boy, did I sleep! I had fun and interacted with my family again, spent time with them, and traveled a bit.
My boyfriend and his family, having pursued difficult law careers, understood what it takes. It was their support that really kept me going.
They reminded me, “You're struggling because you are breaking this mold. That's why you feel like you're alone.”
Molds aren't easy to break!
If you don’t have that type of support or a mentor, reach out to someone, right away.
Join a group like the Study Hall, and you're golden! They're the ones that understand. You have to put in work to find the support.
Also, it's important to know that life doesn't stop.
People still expect things from you, people still rely on you, and as unfair as it may feel, that's just the reality. Your family doesn't stop loving you and wanting to spend time with you, no matter how mean you are.
But it's a very good thing.
They want to spend time with you and your attention. And you have to give some, because it helps you keep your sanity.
Strangely enough, before long, I missed studying. I felt like I had unfinished business.
I registered in March for an April MCAT.
I raised my score by sixteen points to a 504!
But up until I got my acceptance, I still felt my effort wasn't enough.
I was at my internship and I opened the letter in the break room.
Everybody was huddled outside the door, waiting. My first thought seeing the 504 was, “What is this? This is not what I wanted, this is not what I studied so long for.
What do I do with this? Do I take it again or do I just go ahead and apply?
I didn't know what to do.
Ultimately, I decided to accept it, “I’ll just take my shot.”
I hoped to break a 500 and I did!
Spoiler alert: The last two interviews I went on, they were shocked, and they asked me how I did it!
They were more interested in my improvement than my actual score!
I told them I studied for an entire year and I took at least ten practice tests. I explained to them my study strategy and I bragged about Leah!
I wanted to apply early.
I finished my primary application and submitted it the first week of June.
I intentionally applied where I stood a fair chance of getting in by looking at each school’s average MCAT scores and location.
I picked schools along the east coast where the average accepted MCAT score was between 500 and 506.
Leah’s Note: See how to choose your target Medical Schools in my MCAT Prep Guide.
I received secondaries from all of them and completed them by September. My goal was to complete them all within two weeks but was delayed due to my internship and work.
The Grueling Waiting Game.
The waiting game causes so much anxiety because you're worried that you might not get an interview.
I applied to 20 schools (9 MD and 11 DO schools),
and received 5 interview invitations.
One interview came in for August 1st, and the response was not until December.
Surprisingly, I was accepted to the very school where I felt I bombed the interview!
This is in addition to 1 rejection and 3 waitlists.
I don’t have any regrets. You learn a lot about yourself during this process.
If I could go back and talk to pre-MCAT Stephanie I would've said,
“Wake up girl! You're just repeating the same mistakes that you made in undergrad.”
“Practice more!” If I had, I would’ve realized I wasn’t ready!
My first round ‘confidence’ came from a single practice exam and old textbooks!
I understand now where I went wrong and decided to write my personal statement about it. How I told my story is what made the biggest impact.
I’m going to medical school! I am so grateful and this all feels very surreal. I freak out in waves and then calm back down.
Leah’s MCAT Study Hall is what helped me improve 16 points on my second MCAT.
I had heard so many horror stories and I heard a lot of mixed results about the big test prep companies.
Leah was the most consistent with so many free resources including youtube videos and the free workshops that I decided to give the Study Hall a try.
The Study Hall always had detailed videos and material to help.
It taught me how to think more, and how to conceptualize things.
There is so much material to study for this exam!
It can be overwhelming, but Leah had a very good outline and thorough coverage of what I needed to review. She taught me how to have a simpler way of thinking and learn how to be efficient.
My advice to students preparing for the MCAT
Avoid any advice that goes against where YOU want to arrive in your career.
I don't care if it’s a premed committee, an advisor, or someone you want to write your letters of recommendation – if they're not willing to support your pursuit of your goals and believe in your dreams then ignore them.
If you don’t, you will regret it. I had some of those advisors and professors.
Also, be present on the Study Hall Facebook accountability group if you choose to join Leah. You don't have to speak a whole lot, but it will really show you that others are doing the same exact thing. You’re not alone!
Your learning style really matters. I’m a visual person but I also have to do it, I can't just conceptualize by hearing.
All the different color markers and the pictures worked because you remember the picture.
As far as Leah’s webinars, go to every single webinar, especially the CARS webinars. Learning to utilize your strategy and triaging definitely saves a lot of time.
This MCAT journey has been a humbling and eye opening experience but I'm excited to step in to the next phase of my life. I'm going to be a doctor!!!
4 Months Later: an Update!
Leah's Note: The response to Stephanie's journey has been amazing! I reached out to Stephanie to answer some of your questions!
Stephanie has had 4 interviews out of the 20 schools she applied to, including both DO and MD.
She has received 1 acceptance and 3 waitlists. She is currently in her first year (Fall 2019) at Meharry Medical School in Nashville, TN!
With her permission to share with you, here is her update in the MCAT Study hall Facebook Support Group!
I want to hear from you!
What ‘roadblocks' have you faced along the way that you (or others) use as the reason to discourage you from pursuing your dreams?
Let me know in the comments below.