A Reflection on Freshman Year as a Premed: Essential Pieces of Wisdom From My Experiences
written by: Maya Roytman
I always imagined that my first day of college would be on a warm day with the sun shining, the lake glistening, and the smiling faces of new people happily walking across campus. Instead, my first day of college consisted of pouring rain, soaked clothes, no one to talk to, and emotional exhaustion. I couldn’t help but think, “Is this first day a foreshadowing of the next four years of my college experience?” Fortunately it wasn’t, and after that day, I enjoyed every second of my first year of college. Here are some of my main takeaways as a premed from my freshman year.
Get Involved: I remember walking into the student activities fair being completely overwhelmed. I wasn’t planning on attending – because, like my first day of school, the Chicago weather was not being cooperative – but my new friend convinced me that I wouldn’t regret it. She was so right! The opportunities were endless, especially at a new university with new people. I highly recommend putting your email down or signing up for ANY organization that you might even be remotely interested in, because even if you don’t attend their meetings, you can usually gain new connections and access to their resources within the first month of school. This can help you choose which organizations you are most passionate about, and these don’t have to necessarily be premed-related. As a premed, it is also traditionally recommended to participate in some type of research during your undergraduate career. If research is something you think you would be passionate about, you could reach out to a professor whose research you’re truly interested in the summer before college, so that you could get into the lab as soon as classes begin. While freshmen typically aren’t offered spots in a research lab, you might still be able to find research positions, which opens up a plethora of opportunities to apply for fellowships and to find a long-term commitment to a research project! That being said, research isn’t every premed’s thing, which is perfectly okay! It’s important to find your niche as an undergrad and devote time to your true passions.
Everyone’s a Mentor: The best thing about university is that everyone has their own unique background and set of experiences. Whether it’s a professor whose office hours you visit or an upperclassman who has the same major, everyone has something valuable to share with you. The best way is to reach people through their school email or even sometimes, through social media platforms. During my freshman year, I found many people who were willing to share their premed path with me, and their advice shaped how I registered for future courses and the extracurriculars that I joined. Remember, the worst anyone can ever say to you is “no,” so be fearless and send those emails to establish meaningful connections!
The Art of Sending Emails (and Follow-ups): I can’t even count how many emails I have sent within the past year! From day one of college, it became such a pertinent skill to email professors, peers, and outside organizations with ease and efficiency. Even more critical is following up on your emails. This shows your continued interest and helps the receiver recognize your name in the future.
Prepping, Planning, & Time Management: Never pay full price for your textbooks, period. When it came to preparing for my chemistry class, I was so glad that I was able to save money by finding my textbook as a free PDF online. You can usually find the PDF versions of textbooks either for free, for low prices on Ebay, or for a reasonable rent price through Amazon.
I experimented with a ton of different planning methods to organize my time…and frankly, I still don’t have a set system that works for everything. The beauty of the college journey is figuring out these things for yourself. I found that I have much more free time in college compared to high school, and at times, it can be more difficult to fight the urge to procrastinate. Something I tried was starting the assignment the day it was given so that by the due date, I will at least have started the assignment. Usually when I force myself to get started, I get in the zone and end up accomplishing much more work than I had originally intended, which gives me more time to relax before assignment deadlines. Another tip would be to set a hard deadline for yourself two or three days before a large project or assignment is due, so that you allow yourself to complete as much of the assignment as possible prior to the deadline. Doing this gives you some wiggle room to fix anything or complete any tasks that might take a bit longer.
Resumes and LinkedIn: I came into college with no resume, which was a rookie mistake. I never understood the true value of having a regularly updated resume until I entered university. Having a document like a resume/CV helps to track all your activities and academic accomplishments. I can imagine that this will come in handy when it’s time to fill out medical school applications. Many research opportunities also typically require a resume submission, so it’s beneficial to make an appointment with your university’s career center to ensure your resume is in its best and most recently updated condition. This past year, I found that LinkedIn is an amazing platform not only for tracking your activities and accomplishments but also for connecting with people from different universities and getting inspiration from what they are currently doing. It’s also a fantastic way to find internship opportunities and follow different medical schools to see their latest news!
Apply, Apply, Apply: Whether it’s to a research lab or to a summer internship, apply to any opportunity that comes your way. Numerous times throughout my freshman year, I would apply for a position in a club or for a summer internship even if I didn’t think that I had enough experience to get the spot. Sometimes your best experiences come from taking a leap of faith and putting yourself out there, so try to be open to opportunities that come your way whenever possible.
Self-care & Relaxing with Friends: Something I wish I did more of as a freshman was to hang out with friends and attend social events. Being a premed is difficult, and often, I feel a lot of pressure to do medically related things. It’s important to know, however, that to be successful in your activities and your academics, you must ground yourself with the practices and people you love the most. You don’t have to study all the time or always be preoccupied with the thought that you must always be doing something, especially your freshman year! Take a day to watch Netflix; Zoom with friends; do yoga; or read a book (I’m currently reading The House of God by Samuel Shem, and I recommend it to all my premed friends). Sometimes a day where you sleep in is exactly what you need to relax and re-energize yourself.
Although COVID-19 cut my freshman year experience on campus short, I am so thankful for all the people I have met so far who have tremendously helped me find my passions in public health and guided me on my premed path. Here’s to looking forward to sunny days on campus in the near future!
– Maya Roytman
Neuroscience & Public Health, Pre-Med Student at Loyola University Chicago