Though many students don’t decide on their careers until after graduation, the application process for medical school begins on the first day of freshman year. Just about everything goes into painting the portrait of each applicant: tests, relationships with professors, participation in student organizations, awards, service, jobs... the list goes on. The most distinct aspect of the program is its breadth — admissions committees want to know so much about you. It’s incredible.
I came to Oberlin knowing that I wanted to be a doctor: medical school has always been in the back of my mind. Early on, I met with our pre-med adviser, Carol Sedgwick, who would eventually serve as a priceless resource throughout my college years. She laid things out really clearly, explaining what medical schools were looking for and encouraging me to draw up a game plan for my time at Oberlin. For me, that first meeting with Mrs. Sedgwick was really a point of enlightenment — like that moment before finals when you panic that you will probably pass all your classes, but only if you put in an insane amount of work.
As I looked toward medical school, I sought advice from older students at different stages of their pre-med careers. During my first year, one senior was traveling for interviews and he served as the student voice for everything related to medical school. More importantly, his success, and that of other students after him, was refreshing. I would later learn (during my own interviews) that Oberlin College has a great reputation among graduate and professional schools. According to one of my interviewers, we are known for producing some of the “most talented, most versatile and most driven applicants in the pool.” Talk about high expectations.
Things really picked up when I became a junior. I started asking for recommendation letters toward the end of the first semester, and in the spring, I buckled down to study for the dreaded MCAT (Medical College Admission Test). There was the option to take a prep course through Kaplan but I followed a slightly less formal path — an ExCo. Depending on student interest, Mrs. Sedgwick organizes a spring MCAT course, through Oberlin’s ingenious experimental college program, led by the students who take it. We all used the same books, put in work before the class, and then took turns leading discussion. For me, the structure of the class and the support from the other students were absolutely invaluable. I took the test in May of my junior year, a few weeks before finals.
The actual application process (which began in the summer before my senior year) is like going to church with my mother. She wakes you up early and makes you rush to get ready for the service... and then you wait while she gets ready. The main difference is that with my mother, the rush-to-wait process happens only once for every church service. The med-school application process is more like a cascade of rushing to wait: You RUSH to complete the primary application (described by a friend as the “common application on steroids") and then you WAIT a few weeks for that to be verified before you get secondary applications; you RUSH to send in the secondary applications and then you WAIT for weeks, months maybe, to get an invitation to interview (or in some cases a rejection letter); you RUSH to schedule and attend your interview and the you WAIT for a final decision. The waiting periods typically involve incessant checking of email boxes and 20 and 30 trips to the mail room each week.
Doing interviews during my senior year while trying to complete my majors and work on my honors project was not the most ideal of situations. I missed, on average, one day of class a week for the entire semester. I tried to do homework on my flights, at the airport, and in the rooms of my student hosts, but it wasn’t always possible. I was either too tired to study or too “engrossed” in conversation with the talkative businessman who always sat beside me on flights. You don’t want to know how much I learned about running companies during those journeys. Had my professors not been extremely gracious, providing make-up lab sessions and allowing me to hand in problem sets a day or two late, I may not have made it through.
I am currently in the final wait period, almost pulling my hair out in anticipation of the final decisions. Let’s hope the ordeal was worth it.
Update, Spring 2019:
A graduate of Duke University School of Medicine and Yale University School of Public Health, Asishana is now a fifth-year surgical resident at Massachusetts General Hospital.