29 March 2009

Working and attending college...

Potential lethal combination?
Many students find themselves in the unenviable position of HAVING to work and attend college at the same time. This a a potentially lethal combination in many ways. First of all, when something starts to suffer, it generally isn’t the job and second, burnout is a strong possibility. Both of these problems can be potentially avoided if you cut back on your coursework if you find that you must work full-time. If you are a full-time employee at most jobs, you have minimal time to study in between and thus, you can’t take on a full-time course load that includes pre-med lab courses. Decide that you are going to take your time and do well in your courses while leaving yourself plenty of time to rest from both coursework and employment. No medical school admissions committee is going to give you “brownie points” for trying to do a full-time course load along with full-time employment especially if your uGPA (or postbacc) work has suffered.

Recharging your batteries
You need time to digest and assimilate the material that you are learning in your pre-med coursework. Rushing through these classes with last minute “cramming” is not going to leave you with enough time to get the material in your long-term memory so that you can apply it on the Medical College Admissions Test. You need to be able to see the subtleties of what you are studying in addition to having some time to let your brain just rest. Again, rushing through your coursework makes MCAT review on the other end a total chore instead of a progressive process that will lead to success. Take your time, recharge your brain (even take a semester off if necessary) and then come back refreshed and ready to work at very high level.

Damage control
If you are retaking courses or attempting to take additional postbacc work to enhance your application, you need to do well without exception. You can’t keep posting mediocre grades and retaking courses with the expectation that eventually you will get that A and get into medical school. If you have significant prior poor coursework to overcome, take your time and remediate one course at at time. Pair a more demanding course like Physics with something less demanding like English/Psychology. Again, if you have prior poor coursework, you can’t afford to either do poorly in your recent coursework or drop courses because you have overloaded yourself. Slow, steady excellence will bring the success that you seek.

Keeping some perspective
If you have a family to support and take care of, be sure that you allow plenty of time for them. Working, attending class and then diving for a nap on the sofa or heading for bed is not going to do much for your relationship with your loved ones. They need your undivided attention and you need to interact with them for your sanity too. Let your loved ones be your much-needed and much-desired break from your schedule. They generally don’t expect your to be on your best behavior but only want you in your basic form. Allow them to see you, hang out with you and take you away from the grind of work/study on a regular basis. You grades will be better, you will be happier and you can keep yourself reminded of why you seek your goals in the first place.

Setting goals and achieving them
The whole key to finding success in the medical school application process is keeping your eye firmly on your long-term goals. I have stated in other posts that the process is like having 100 pounds of weight to lose. It isn’t going to happen overnight and you must take small steps on a daily basis to stay on track. It’s easy to get off track by the demands of work but you can’t achieve your goals by letting this happen. This means total organization and total commitment to the task at hand, be it work your studies. If you are at work, you give your work your full attention. When you attend class, you give your classwork the attention that it demands. It’s neat to be able to multi-task but most people are not able to work at a high level and achieve those A grades that you need for medical school admission at the same time. Again, if you work full-time, don’t expect to attend school full-time. If you attend school full-time, don’t expect to work full-time. The end result is that you wind up doing both things at a mediocre level which won’t allow you to achieve your goals.

There are no “points” for getting this process “almost” right. The level of academic achievement that is demanded of a potential medical student is getting higher every year. The MCAT is getting more competitive as many students are taking prep courses and spending more time preparing for this exam. You can’t expect to be competitive next year with this year’s work because the bar will move higher. If you are attempting to upgrade your credentials, then you need to do a complete overhaul and put up some good academics (even one course is better than nothing). Don’t expect to be the exception to any of the rules in this process. You are not generally in a position to be objective about yourself and your abilities. Make sure that you get some honest and objective advice. Trying to self-evaluate is like asking your Mum if you are a great kid. Of course, she’s going to answer in the affirmative but it’s far better to get someone who doesn’t know you, to look over your things (like a good academic adviser who knows the pre-med climate). Allow plenty of time for getting your work done at a high level and you will see movement toward your goals without sacrificing your employment records, your sanity or your soul.