Alumni Reflections: Applying Healthfully–Focusing on Mental Health During the Application Process by Timothy Scheinert, ‘19

My motivation for applying to medical school has its origins in classes in Psychology and Behavioral Neuroscience. The greater part of me wanted to be a psychologist during most of my time at Northeastern. Yet, sitting in class alongside many pre-medicine students inevitably led me to invest time in exploring what it took to become a doctor. Said another way, I was jealous of my classmates and wanted to share in their experiences. The encouragement of the PreHealth Advising Team and many office hours spent in existential conversation with Drs. Bunce and Melloni ultimately allowed me to identify what profession fit closest with my personal goals. 

A post-baccalaureate program at Temple University offered the chance to explore the medical field while I received hands-on preparation for the MCAT, shadowing opportunities, and professional development. The best part of this program were the friendships I made, and the times we spent revising material with one another were the most rewarding experiences of my academic career so far. 

Then came yet another challenge–the application process. When it came time to take the MCAT, the pandemic drove me 300 miles northward to Vermont to sit in an unfamiliar testing center. It happened to be situated near a military base, where jets flying overhead shook the cubicle containing me and my future. Not finding success in my first attempt, I retook practice exams, sought out guidance in sections where I was struggling, and rehearsed three hours a day toward a score I was satisfied with. With my application portal locked and loaded–my heart poured into a one page summary of my life, my personal experiences transcribed and labeled into contrived social currency, and my general motivation to see the process through in shambles–I applied to medical school. And waited. 

The application process is a tumultuous one. There are highs and lows. There is the blow to your self-confidence when a rejection is received or your clinical hours do not match up to fellow applicants. There is pride when you are admitted to school–a rush of confidence that makes you feel like you are ready to see patients and to practice medicine, even before stepping foot in your medical college. In my view, there is no process more satisfying than the pursuit of a medical education, but there may also be no more silly, depersonalizing, and altogether confusing process. As such, I aim to provide suggestions that aided me in my pursuit of medical school and helped improve my well-being after my first attempt at the MCAT. 


1. Set a schedule. Create plans for what you will work on each day. This does not require a complex scheduler–I used index cards. For instance, I set aside three hours to study for the MCAT each day of the week. I would hit that quota, except when taking practice exams. In addition, I would organize precisely what I was going to do during those three hours. This often involved one hour of reviewing missed questions, one hour of content review, and one hour of practice questions. This was helpful in becoming more efficient while studying and in not stressing over what needed to be done to prepare for my exam. 

 I would encourage studying with quality over quantity in mind. The MCAT is an exam that does not require as much background knowledge as it may seem–it is highly dependent on thoroughness in reading passages and the ability to categorize and eliminate multiple choice answer selections.  


2. Debrief with friends and peers. Talk with supportive friends about your journey. My friends Sumeet, Sam, and Steven from my post-baccalaureate year were this support for me. I would call them on occasion to vent, to practice mock interviews, and to hear about their application cycle. I always felt they cared about my success. Being able to talk to people about the process helped me feel reassured that I was going to do well, and also helped me identify any deficient areas in my own studies. Taking an interest in their journey made the whole process more enjoyable. 


3. Do not put it all on yourself. As best you can, make the application process a team effort. You have advisors, former instructors, and peers who want you to do well. Reach out to these individuals, seek their guidance, have them edit your essays, practice interviews with them, study with them, and tell others when you are feeling overwhelmed or excited. Many people have been through the application process or understand it well, and while it may seem isolating, you are most certainly not alone. 


4. Spend time elsewhere. Easier said than done. It is easy to get bogged down with the work and think about only what needs to get done. Your spending time exploring other activities will make you more productive when you are doing work. Also, as another benefit of not being work-centric, your other activities will give you more to talk about in your interviews down the road. 


5. Always be yourself. This sounds very deep, but it is all too easy to worry about what you think the Admissions Committees want to hear. In turn, you may not demonstrate who you really are. In my experience interviewing applicants, the person I most want to recommend for admission is that person that can have a heartfelt conversation, is unique not in any dazzling achievement, but in their enthusiasm for medical school, ability to convey their passions (medical and non-medical), and their relatability. This does not mean you should ever be too casual, but be yourself first and foremost.  


After a few interviews, I was left in consternation at the personal affront of being rejected and waitlisted from schools. I checked my email religiously, my eyes sunken behind the newly acquired prescription glasses that studying for the MCAT had gifted me. The very end of the 2021 Application Cycle brought good fortune for me as I awkwardly answered a call notifying me of my admission to Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine. Two years in, while moving through my clinical rotations, I also volunteer for the Admissions Team at the School of Medicine, interviewing future colleagues. In doing so, I try to reassure applicants, congratulate them on the challenges they have overcome, and remind them endlessly to always be themselves.