The 5 things you should be doing right now – whether you’re applying or not!

I’ve learned so much since leaving Texas A&M two years ago.

There I could only meet with students for 5 minutes because of so many people needing help. Now I can sit with a student for an hour or two and dig deep into their applications and questions, so on and so forth.

I’ve identified a lot over the last two years that I didn’t get when I was at A&M because it was just getting people through the system.

Here the 5 main things you should be doing right now:

Note: I am speaking specifically about the medical profession, but these things translate to any other profession.

Answer “Why Medicine?”

I’m astounded that students can’t answer this, written or orally. The question I usually pose to everybody is, “Why do you not want to be a P.A.?” or “Why don’t you want to be a nurse?” Think about that. Think about why you don’t want to be in any other professions.

I am a massive fan of students trying whatever their backup plan is, what’s in the back of their mind. In my experience, when students end up trying that, it’s the best thing they ever did. They either came back going, “I’m so motivated to go into medicine,” or they turn around and say, “I absolutely love (my backup).” This kind of goes along with the essay question of “Why Medicine?” One summer I worked for a huge law firm in Austin, and that did it for me. There was no way I was going to be a lawyer. So, you need to spend time getting out there and experiencing the things you think you want to do.

Medical Experience

Everybody asks me how many hours they have to have. It’s not about a number. Quality medical experience is so important. What medical schools like about students who take their time is the schools know that this is what the persons really wants to do.

So, quality medical experience is really important. Not just sitting off to the side and observing but trying to get patient contacts, medical scribing, medical assisting, those kinds of things are what you want to try to do.

Don’t compare yourself to someone else. One thing I do to get my students to think differently is not to focus on how many hours I need or what experience I need to get into medical school, but what hours and what experience do I need to be the type of physician I want to be? What I challenge my students to do is not always to think about getting into medical school. What do I need to get in? That shouldn’t be the focus. It should be what do I need to be successful as a physician? What kind of qualities do I need to start possessing or garnering so that I can be the type of physician that I want to be?

Utilize your time. Find people you can shadow and really spend quality time with. It’s really important. You don’t want to get into medical school then decide after two years it’s not want you want. You want to spend time now deciding it’s not what you want.


Obviously this is a quality you hear about all the time. Leadership is extremely important. Why? That’s what you are when you’re a physician. You’re a leader. You’re a decision-maker. You’re a problem-solver. That’s what leaders do, hopefully effectively. What you want to do is start garnering leadership qualities and skills now.

I work with students a lot on essays. Students are missing the point of this question. They’re not writing bad essays, but they’re really not great either. One quality that students keep mentioning after I keep prodding and asking is they want to be in charge. They are always wanting to solve things. That’s what needs to be in your essay. Every dean of admission that I’ve known has said, “Karen, at the end of the day, all of your students look great. If we have 4,500 applying, 3,500 look great. But what we can’t identify is who has the skills -who has the leadership qualities, who has the personalities, who has that other characteristic besides great grades and good numbers.” That’s where your essays come in. So, leadership is a big quality to prove to the medical schools.

You can show leadership qualities in work, research, or by being a big brother or sister. Think outside the box a little bit when you start thinking about leadership quality aspects. You don’t always have to been in a student group to show leadership. It’s great if you are, but think outside of the box. Find avenues to show leadership qualities.

Community Service

I talk about this a lot because deans are always telling me “Big Event (a major service project day at Texas A&M) doesn’t do it. We know it’s a one-day event.” One-day events don’t show you have a compassionate heart. It’s the long-term service you want to start applying. When I say long-term, I’m not saying tons of hours. The example I always use is Boy Scouts in high school. If you did Boy Scouts, go back and volunteer every month for 2 years. That shows responsibility, dependability, that you’re a role model, and a million other things. Choose service that requires responsibility.

Students will come to me and ask, “What kind of service should I do?” I don’t know. Find what you like and what you enjoy. It can be a cause you get involved in. It doesn’t always have to be right here. It can be back home, with a church, with a religious organization, or whatever. Do something that shows you’re compassionate about something and that you care about something.

You want to get excited about your community service in your medical school interviews. You want them to turn around and say, “Tell me about your volunteering with the sports car club and this, this, this.” And you light up. Trust me, I can tell when I do mock interviews with students whether or not they’re really passionate about it. You should light up and be excited about talking about that community service. It shows it’s a part of who you are.

Start somewhere. There are so many different ways. Find long-term community service that makes you light up.

Letters of Recommendation

I’ve read thousands of letters. I can tell you without a doubt there’s a difference between a letter from a professor that knows you and one that does not know you.

Start early with garnering letters of recommendation. If you’re a freshman or sophomore, start now. Sit in the front row. Stay after class.

{Your professor letters for medicine – those letters are going to be the most important. They want to know you can handle the rigor of medical school. You really do need to have 2 of 3 letters be from professors.}

Work on getting to know your professors. Remember, your professor letters are academic letters. They don’t need to know you socially. They don’t need to know you personally. They just need to know that you love their class, that you’re invested, that you perform well, that you ask questions, so on and so forth.

Note: The essays and letters are the two things that hold students back from applying. Get to know your professors earlier. Everyone puts it off. You don’t want to wait too long. Don’t put it off.

What’s Coming Up:

I hold small group seminars during the school year to talk about different aspects of the application process. For a list of the seminars coming up and registration, visit my website.

As always, if you want to meet with me one-on-one, I am here for you! Contact my office to set up an appointment.


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