This is a bit long so hang on tight…
In high school, things came easier for me. As a pre-med, I was in the Health and Science Academy, took AP courses, and received predominantly straight A’s. I never really struggled in class. If I did have trouble with something, my teachers were more than willing and available to help me. I was never afraid to ask questions. During this same time, I was accepted to a 4-year pre-med program called ‘The Physicians Pipeline Preparatory Program (P4)’ through the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. The P4 program equipped with so much information I even thought I knew what kind of doctor I wanted to be (a neurosurgeon at the time). I graduated 4th in my class with honors, a GPA above a 5.0, and received a decent enough ACT score to get me accepted into multiple colleges, and enough academic scholarships to get me through. What great preparation heading into my freshman year of college as a pre-med student right? Well… sort-of.
As hard as it was or me to grasp at the time, all my prior experiences and knowledge in high school were not enough to prepare me for my first year of college both academically and socially. I come from a Christian, Nigerian family. Our norms and morals stemmed a lot from our culture and beliefs, as you can imagine. And as such, college was very much a ‘freeing’ experience for me. I was free to try new things, free to go out whenever I wanted, and…free to make mistakes.
My first mistake was trying to do too many things at once. I was a little overzealous and joined about 20 different RSOs (Registered Student Organizations aka clubs) and ended up trying to actively be a member of about 10 of them, mainly the premed ones at that. I also joined the track club, tennis club, the African Cultural Association club, and even a book reading club. I was trying to remain an active member in each organization AND maintain my newly found social life, not to mention keep up with my studies as well as sleep. I stopped attending the pre-med organizations, deciding that I didn’t need them because I knew a lot of the information they were presenting already from the P4 program I did previously. This was another mistake that I paid the price for (more on this later).
As far as academics, I came into college undeclared. I honestly was not sure of what I wanted to major in. However, I made sure to begin to take the required pre-med prerequisites. I was taking six classes first semester, most of which were easy one or two credit hour freshman enrichment courses. My struggle began with the two of my hardest courses for the semester: molecular and cellular biology and general chemistry. Attending a large university, my science courses were filled with anywhere form 300-600 students, most of which were pre-med or pre-health. In any case, I attended all my classes, and did the required homework and readings. Yet, I struggled when it came to exams. As you can probably relate, college exams are much different than in high school. There is so much more information you need to know for each exam. It seemed like my professors were out to get me at one point when what I studied would not show up on the exam and what I didn’t study would. I wasn’t deterred though. I studied harder, tried some new strategies and progressively saw improvement with each exam, learning from the last. However, even with my later improvements, I was not prepared for the grading scale/rules of University. My school was on the +/- system and classes were of course weighted based on credit hours. I preformed okay at the end of the semester, however my overall GPA still took a slight hit.
As if I didn’t learn from my mistakes first semester, my academic performance second semester was even worse. I attribute this to poor decision making: poor decisions of time management, prioritizing, and study habits. I recall missing a couple discussion classes so that I could leave early to compete at my Track meets. On top of this I was even taking harder classes in the biology/chemistry sequence. I would receive exam scores either at or below that of the class average. Even with all I had going on, I did not understand how I wasn’t preforming as well as my peers. I mean, missing a couple classes and waiting until the last minute to study couldn’t have that much effect on my performance right? WRONG. I received my worst grade ever, a D+ in general chemistry 2, which I retook the following semester. My GPA paid the ultimate price. For the first time in my life my semester GPA had fallen below a 3.0. and my overall and cumulative GPA were now in the low 3’s.
I remember racking my mind trying to figure out how I had gotten to that point. I was so down and worried that I wouldn’t be able to bring it up and that no medical school would take me. To make matters worse, I wasn’t hearing what I wanted to from others. My advisors made sure I knew how difficult it would be to bring up my GPA given that my major (MCB) and prerequisite classes would only get more difficult as I progressed. In addition, because my overall GPA had fallen to the low 3’s, they would also add in comments such as: “Medicine is not for everyone,” and “There are other options out there, you could always change majors,” or my favorite “How about being a nurse instead?” What aspiring physician wants to be told that they should “try being a nurse instead,” because they weren’t “smart” enough to be a doctor?” Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a nurse, it’s just that I did not want to be one! I wanted to be a doctor! But the thing is, I was smart. I am smart. Not to be conceited or egotistical, but I know my capabilities when it comes to school (you should by now too)!
After feeling sad, disappointed, and discouraged for a bit about my freshman year academic performance, something changed. My perspective changed. This is where I truly thank God for my family because they were and are my greatest support system. They continued to fill my ears with words of encouragement and told me over and over again that I could do it, citing my drive and previous achievements in high school. Sometimes that is enough, having someone believe in you is enough. But I also believed in myself. My goals had not changed. I still aspired to get into medical school and become a doctor. I sort of had to rekindle that drive and remind myself again and again of that overarching goal. Not getting into medical school and becoming a doctor was NOT an option. I considered nothing else. I wanted nothing else. With this rekindled drive and encouragement, I made a conscious decision to work harder, try harder, and overall to do better. I did extensive research online, trying to figure out better ways to study. I also researched more information about the medical school admissions process and started to form a timeline of things to do. I had to stop making excuses and start prioritizing.
I became more focused. I knew what I needed to do and would work out the how as I proceeded. My primary, and immediate concern was to raise my GPA, which I accomplished. However my journey was not over or any easier. My GPA continued to increase with my efforts, but it was now time to start studying for the MCAT.
- Performance in high school is important, but don’t let it define how you will do in college, especially your freshman year! Don’t be afraid of change and trying new things (especially new study habits)! There’s always room for improvement and forming new, and healthy habits.
- When joining campus clubs, choose 2-3 to actively be a member of and make sure at least one of them is pre-med club! If it seems like you’re receiving redundant information at first, stick with it as the information they give out changes based on the time of year. They can come in handy in giving information on pre-med courses and some even tend to have past exams from classes!
- It’s okay to come in undeclared or undecided about your major as a freshman. You’ll have a little bit of time to decide, just be sure begin taking the med school prerequisites immediately. And remember: you do NOT have to major in biology or be a science major to get into medical school!
- If you’re at a large school or taking a class with lots of students and are shy or feel uncomfortable asking questions in class, don’t fret! You can always make use of your professor and TA office hours or even class discussion boards.
- Don’t be afraid to fail. The high school to college transition may be harder for some than others. If you are not performing the way you used to or want to stop and breathe for a second. It will be okay. Try to figure out where you’re going wrong by talking to your professors, advisors etc.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you need a tutor, get one! Your classmates and peers in your classes are also good resources. Find someone who’s performing better than you and ask them what they’re methods of studying and preparing are. You never know!
- Make use of campus resources. Whether it’s the career center, counseling center, or the library!
- Have a support system. I cannot stress this enough. Whether it’s your close family or close friends, you should have someone(s) that you can go to for advice, encouragement, prayer, whatever you need. Your support system should recognize your passion for medicine as well as have a good understanding of the rigor of not only your courses, but the path to getting into medical school and becoming a doctor.
So, how was your freshman year experience? Still in high-school? What are you most nervous about entering freshman year? Respond or ask other questions here, or continue on and read sophomore year below!