As an underclassman, I really wondered about everyone else. What were their GPA’s? For the people who took their MCAT’s, what were their scores? What kind of extracurricular activities did they do and how did they get it? Understandably but unforunately, most people kept their information private. However it was a breath of fresh air when someone was secure enough with himself or herself to share that information with me.
My curiosity stemmed from insecurity and a desire to be guided. At UCLA, there was no pre-med advising or official advisors. It is a big public school and most students do not get personal attention. I did not want to fall behind but at the same time there was no other way to gauge whether I was falling behind. To some extent, I wanted to make sure that I was keeping up with others. To a greater extent, I craved the feeling of superiority I got when I did better than someone on a test.
I am an extremely competitive person. That competitiveness drove me to study and work hard. I believe a healthy level of competition is good but I judged others who were hypercompetitive. Looking back, I’m not proud of my hypocrisy (because I was secretly hypercompetitive at times too) but that’s just how I thought. During my interviews, someone from the admissions committee made a bold but very true generalization. Every person in medical school has a “type A” personality. Although there are different types of students in medical school, all of them have something in common: competitiveness.
Learning how to channel my desire for competition was a major key to the success I have had so far. It was also important for my sanity and happiness. I eventually realized that there was no point in looking around the classroom and classifying everyone as enemies. The path to medical school is hard enough. Why make it harder by putting pressure on one another? My first year, second quarter, I made a greater effort to study with others. It was the beginning of a long process of learning how to give and receive. I looked for friends who I can study with. I learned from them and taught them as well. It was mutualism. It sucked when I did badly on a test while my friends did well and vice versa. But there was much joy when we both did well and comfort when we both did poorly. Instead of competing with them, I tried to shift my thinking. I competed with myself. I competed against the numbers: the class mean and standard deviation. I tried not to put a face to my competition.
My second and third quarter went a lot better than my first. Even though I still wasn’t doing as well as I wanted to (I was shooting for a 3.9+) but there was significant improvement. I managed 3 A’s and a B+ my second quarter and 1 A’s and 3 A-’s my third quarter. That brought my GPA from 3.45 to 3.7. This was a result of my study habit and mentality changes.
My third quarter (spring quarter), I actually got 1 A, 1 A- and 2 B+’s. For my life science class, which I got a B+ in, I was on the borderline. I also got a B+ in my History of Modern Thought class. I genuinely believed that I deserved an A- in both of these classes. For my history class, the grade was determined by final research paper. My professor said that my paper was good and most likely I would get an A. So I was shocked when I got an email from her saying that I got a B+ in the class. After months of arguing my case with my life science and history professors, they finally changed my B+’s to A-’s. That boosted my GPA significantly. The lesson? Even at a public university like UCLA, grades can be argued to your favor. Just have a good case and don’t be too annoying.
I’m not 100% sure of what I am trying to say in this article but hopefully it makes sense. In this article series, I am sharing a lot more of my personal information than I expected to. Normally, I am private person. I have a love/hate relationship with bragging. But I am giving a detailed account because I believe that it will help other pre-meds. I think it is perfectly natural to be curious of how your classmates or fellow pre-meds are doing. It is even helpful to know the grades and scores of older successful students so that you can know whether you are on the right trajectory or not. I just hope that your curiosity does not turn into jealousy or animosity. I share my experiences because I want to show you that it is normal to be insecure. It is okay to be curious and competitive. My experiences should comfort and challenge you. Our nation needs more doctors. Our nation needs more good doctors. I hope my transparency and imparting of knowledge helps that cause in some way.