What’s up with Undergrad?

University Difficulties

University is a big change. Many students move away from their home to pursue the school or program of their choice, leaving behind their friends and family. The isolation that can come from living on your own, especially in a new city with limited friends can be very hard for anyone. I lived at home during my undergraduate education in the same city I grew up with so I can’t provide too much insight on the process of living on your own. I’m sure, however, if you do some research, you will find plenty of helpful resources since this is not a med student/premed exclusive process, so there will be many others with much more useful insight. I will update the blog to include details of my move and how I cope with living alone in medical school and the transition which might be of interest as well so stay tuned for that.

Undergrad also has its own financial barriers associated with it. Depending on the program you are in, the school you are going to, whether you have any scholarships, and whether you are living alone, rooming with someone, or living with your parents, your financial situation will be unique. It is impossible for me to highlight all the different financial situations possible and give good advice for all the different situations, but one thing I will say is if your goal is to go into medical school and you are set on that, medical school will be expensive. Save as much money as you can in your undergrad so that your debt going into and coming out of medical school is lower – lower debt = lower stress = less headaches = happy premed gunner.

My decision to stay at home during undergrad was primarily made due to the scholarship uOttawa provided me upon entry as well as the ability to save by living at home. I knew the potential for medical school was there and knowing the years of schooling ahead of me regardless, it didn’t make sense for me to move away. This might not be the case for everyone, and the best decision varies based on your situation.

Does it matter where I go?

One important aspect of undergrad that many premeds do not realize is that the school you go to for your undergrad for the most part doesn’t matter in the selection process to enter medical school, and once you are a doctor no one cares about your undergrad. This isn’t definite, but I can say that officially, medical schools in Canada do not discriminate based on where you did your education for determining admission. So a premed gunner from UofT who has a 3.8 is not officially preferred over one that has a 4.0 from a less “prestigious” school controlling for other aspects of their application. It might be preferable for a student to pick a school that is less competitive in order to stand out more, get better reference letters, get better grades and potentially save money.

Of course more competitive schools do have their advantages. The more prestigious schools tend to have more funding, and as a result greater research potential. This increased research potential can help more students find projects that suit their preferences and the greater funding might allow for a higher chance at a high impact factor publication. There unfortunately might be an inherent bias based on name as well. Since the selection committees are people, they can have implicit biases which can sway their decisions. So while officially schools will not discriminate based on where students did their undergrad, if two applicants are equally qualified in terms of grades and extracurricular activities, an admission’s committee member needs to make a decision between them. The committee member might choose the student that did their undergrad at the medical school itself, or to a school that is notorious for having low averages. For instance, if two students were applying to uOttawa medical school, one went to uOttawa for undergrad while the other did not and their applications are essentially identical otherwise, maybe the admission’s committee individual will give preference to the uOttawa student just to make the choice there. I have never worked at an admission’s committee and do not have insider information on it so none of what I mentioned is necessarily true, just something to think about for yourself.

The major exception to the location of undergrad not mattering would be cases where there are geographical quotas or groupings for applicants. For instance, as of me writing this, the class of 2021 in Dalhousie medical school (the students that were admitted and in 2017) had 1066 total applicants, 350 of which were from the Maritimes and the other 697 were from outside the Maritimes. They admitted 110 students total, only 8 of which were from outside the Maritimes and in Canada while the other 102 were from somewhere in the Maritimes. According to Dalhousie’s website at the time of writing this, a student is a Maritime resident if they have either done 6 years of Post-Secondary education in the same Maritime province, or they are an independent student who lived in the Maritime for a full year prior to applying. There are cases similar to this where you might want to maximize your admission ability by strategically picking where you attend University as it is another factor to consider in picking schools. This is just one simple example I pulled out, and I always recommend you check the official websites of the schools. Schools publish statistics on applicants for the most part so you should always look for official data whenever possible since it will be up to date, and more correct than a random gunner’s blog.

At the end of the day, I would say weigh out all the pros and cons of the different schools and pick the one that you believe will suit you best, that is the one you will do the best in and the one that will help you grow to your full potential.

GPA – Get it Right from the Start

Aside from living on your own and the barriers associated with that, there are large differences from high school that many students don’t pick up until the end of first year, second year, or third year. The delay in being accustomed to University can drag students down in one of the biggest things that society cares about from University, your transcript. I personally do not believe that the transcript is what matters most, but the cold reality is that if you are thinking about medical school or almost any professional school, and want to keep doors open, your GPA matters. Admissions committees get thousands of applications, and many of these applicants (more than the number of interview spots and seats they have) cannot be objectively differentiated through “holistic” methods because they are all unique and have something to bring to medicine. Since there are limited number of seats and positions they need a marker or measure to objectively differentiate students, and one of these methods is your GPA.

The best advice you can get about your GPA for students that want to go into medical school that I was not given is, get it right from the start. I know many very excellent students who unfortunately have grades from first year that is weighing their transcript down. Bad, or subpar grades from first year makes it difficult to get to the interview stage because of the very high average GPA for admitted medical students, for instance UofT has an average GPA of 3.95/4.0 (including students that qualify for their wGPA, but more on that later).

But don’t panic! Different medical schools have weighting systems which can forgive a few outlier marks, or reward students that improve over the years (this is what the wGPA is). The worst thing you can do is panic after getting a mark that you did not expect and let your mental health hit rock bottom. If you get a midterm mark back and it is significantly lower than what you were hoping, use it as a learning experience and motivate yourself to do better. If you are trying your best and not succeeding try to reach out to other students for help or look for in-house resources at your school such as peer tutoring or study groups. Be an advocate for yourself, don’t settle for less than what you desire, and work your butt off! GPA is important, but at the end of the day mental health is more important and just remember that students do get into medical school with lower GPAs if they have other things to show for.

There is a common myth that circulates around high school students that your average will drop when you enter University. This is not necessarily true, although it does happen for many. In my case personally my grades improved in University compared to my high school grades, and I found I performed significantly better as University went on. The reason for my marks improving is because I was much more motivated in University and I preferred the faster pace and the more self-directed learning approach. As the years went on I refined my studying and as a result I consistently improved my average with every semester.

So how can I make sure I do well in University? First you need to gauge how well you did in high school. Depending on where you are starting from, the change that is needed from you will differ. If you were getting 80s in high school, getting high 80s and low 90s in University will be more difficult than if you were getting 99s in high school. Of course getting 99s in high school also does not guarantee you will get 90+ in University (University is the time where students in high school with 97+ averages get their first 70s in a class). The major difference between high school and University in my opinion is that University is much more time demanding and requires far more self-learning than high school. In University, a single lecture might comprise topics that would have taken several weeks in high school to go over. As a result, in high school you do not necessarily need to study/practice as much at home, due to the large amounts of repetition of content and clarification of concepts that is done in class. In University, however, they introduce you to many different concepts which they go into variable amounts of detail, but they go through it at a pace that you might not have time to absorb it in class so you will be forced to go home and review it on your own. The content in class might also not provide you with sufficient detail to understand it correctly so you might need to do some research through textbooks/internet on your own.

I will make a separate post on study tactics and ways I succeeded in my University classes, but the main takeaway point is that succeeding in University is different from high school and you will need to change your style of learning to maximize your success, but contrary to popular belief, you won’t necessarily do worse in University.

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