Sydney Pickering

Sydney Pickering graduated Virginia Tech in 2019.

As many of us find our undergraduate careers coming to a close, some of us begin to shift our sights toward grad schools and med schools. The thought of having to undergo a second, more rigorous round of “college” applications might be even more daunting than the very application process that led us to Tech in the first place. 

Sydney Pickering, a Virginia Tech alumna, graduated in the spring of 2019 as a biochemistry major with minors in medicine and society and chemistry and is currently applying to various medical schools. According to Pickerin, here’s what you might be able to expect from test scores to interviews in your search for the perfect med school.

For starters, in terms of the differences between postgrad applications and the initial applications to get into college, the applicant pool is significantly smaller.

“It is extremely important to start building a network within the program’s community; go to open houses, shadow medical school associated physicians, ask professors about their research and take advantage of any extra public events,” Pickering said.

When applying to medical schools, there are two degree options to apply for in the U.S. Pickering applied to six programs in the doctor of medicine degree and seven in the doctor of osteopathic medicine degree.

In doing so, she began her search for the right school based on their curriculum styles, residency match rates and attention to medical humanities. She suggests looking on the “applicant” section of the schools’ websites to find most of the relevant information. 

The medical school application system has three main phases: the primary application, secondary application and the interview. 

“The primary application includes Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) scores, undergraduate grades, personal statement, background information and resume,” Pickering said.

Following this primary application, you can expect medical schools to send you a secondary application that consists of short essays regarding your goals and experience. The final portion of the application is the interview phase in which you interview with multiple physicians or professors in addition to a variety of mini scenario-based interviews (MMI’s).

During the final portion of said application cycle, Pickering notes just how difficult it is for many students to talk about themselves and flaunt their successes or perhaps lack thereof. 

“My advice is to use your connections (like your) family, friends, professors, advisors and roommates to get practice communicating your personal qualities before the actual application cycle,” Pickering said. “Find your voice in both your writing and interview skills so you’re able to express your authentic and genuine self.”

The application cycle as a whole, however, is extremely time consuming. Pickering took a gap year to work hands-on in the Blacksburg area as a nurse aide in Highland Ridge rehabilitation hospital while she applied to schools. 

“For a couple months, (it) feels like a full-time job,” Pickering said. “It was difficult balancing work, writing essays and studying for interviews.”

Taking a year off from school has not only allowed her the time to work on her applications but a quick insight into adulthood. She was also able to gain vast experience in the medical field prior to school. It’s allowed her to comprehend just how important human compassion and connection are in terms of caring for and working with others.

Despite how laborious applying to medical school has been, Pickering notes how resourceful Virginia Tech’s Health Professions Advising (HPA) has been. She recalls how HPA provided her with a timeline of the process and guided her through a mock application scenario. 

“If anything, I was surprised by how crucial the on-site interactions with medical school professors and students were to my decision-making process,” Pickering said.

In terms of the best advice she’s received so far, however, Pickering advises everyone to find what makes you unique whether it’s your attitude, your experiences, your goals or just your personality in general. Nearly everyone finds difficulty when having to describe themselves. It forces you to ask the especially difficult existential question: Who are you?

After working introspectively on med or grad school applications, it’s nice to know that you aren’t alone in your anxieties regarding the workload, the future or about finding who you are/who you want to be. Having others help you through the process can be a big help in managing that stress. Whether you revel in her experiences or want to know what to expect during your next chapter, it’s people like Sydney Pickering who know just how demanding these applications can be. 

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