Since freshman year, every pre-med student has had it drilled into them: “the MCAT is hard and the MCAT is important.” While that may be true, studying for the Medical College Admissions Test doesn’t have to take over your life. Here are 5 tips for studying for the MCAT at BU without destroying your GPA or social life.
1.) Make a schedule
I added my study hours to my Google Calendar and treated them like another class with mandatory attendance. If you don’t have a set time to study (no matter how brief), your MCAT studying could be just another thing to slip through the cracks. Pick a reasonable amount of hours that you can maintain consistently once your schoolwork picks up.
2.) Find a study location outside of your dorm
Most people seem to agree with this tip when it comes to studying for anything. Leave your home and all of the distractions you have in it. You could go somewhere on campus like the Stuvi study rooms to be around other people or the upper floors of the Mugar Library for silence. You could even get excited to study by studying at a different coffee shop every week.
3.) Tell your friends
If your friends know about your plans, they’ll want to support you. If they have a loose understanding of your schedule, they’ll try not to distract you during your study hours, cheer you on, and can even help keep you accountable if you start to slip. Luckily for me, one of my friends was studying for the MCAT at the same time as me, so we were able to study together, which kept both of us from bailing on our prep hours.
4.) Be flexible
If schoolwork winds up taking more of your time than expected or if you’re just overwhelmed, it’s okay to modify your study plan. Even if you have to cut back on studying, it’s better to have a smaller number of high quality study hours than a ton of “study hours” where you were too stressed to retain any info.
5.) Don’t stop living your life
Life goes on! You only have 4 years at BU and you don’t want to miss them. When you’re not studying for the MCAT, don’t waste your time thinking about the MCAT. Keep up with your friends, clubs, and all of the things that make your BU experience special
My MCAT was scheduled for August 27th. This date was starred, circled, highlighted and burned into my memory in May as I moved into my sublet for summer 2022, a cozy but small apartment in Fenway. Thinking about it made me cringe and force myself to take a breath. It was going to be a long summer.
My study schedule was personalized for my learning habits and I had planned it out perfectly, but this doesn’t mean looking at a 5 days a week, 8 hour a day summer full of studying was anything to look forward to. I think I may have explored every nook or the GSU and Mugar Library, and by the end of the summer, I could tell you anything about that library (Floor 3 has the comfiest chairs, a women’s restroom and a water bottle refilling station but it often gets cold. Floor 2, however, is much more comfortable but no water bottle refilling station and floor 6 doesn't have large tables to spread out.)
Despite all my doom and gloom in the wake of my MCAT, I was determined to enjoy my summer as a college student in Boston. Twice a week, I worked as a medical scribe at a head and neck oncology clinic, and found so much joy in my work. I fell in love with gossiping at the nurses station, my coffee conversations with my PA and attending, and getting to meet so many patients who never gave up even when they had to undergo another round of chemo. Like many other rising seniors this summer, I got a glimpse of the “after undergrad” life, and it kept me motivated to finish strong, although I was already so eager to contribute everything I had learned to a world outside college.
My best friend, also studying for the MCAT while in her hometown Toronto, helped me make an Instagram account called @MCAT_caffeine where we would explore coffee shops in Boston and Toronto and share them with our followers (my mom and I think 6 other people?). I probably looked like a crazy person when I visited these places, sometimes crouching down to get a good picture of my latte or trying to discreetly snap a photo of the bakery items that day. But I didn’t care. I was finding happiness in the little things the city of Boston gave me that summer.
As I write this, I don’t know what score I received yet on my test. But I know I worked hard and tried my best. BU helped me prepare, and my desire to become a physician pushed me the rest of the way. Not to be dramatic, but there were definitely some low points. Looking back on the summer, however, most of what I can remember is kayaking down the Charles river, trying new coffee every week, going out to bars after I finalllllyyyy turned 21, and just being grateful to have the opportunity to experience Boston in a different light.
*Side note: if any reader has coffee questions, MCAT studying questions, or just any thoughts they want to share with me, I’d love to hear! You can contact me at my email: email@example.com
These are some things that I’ve learned throughout my time at BU, and I wish it wouldn’t have taken me this long to really embrace these tips!
Enjoy where you are right now
Be present in the moment without always planning for the next thing. Intentionally make time for moments of reflecting on how far you’ve come, whether this is by talking with an old friend, taking a walk, or journaling.
Sleep is NOT for the weak
Seriously, even if you might feel fine at the time, sleeping only a few hours per night is not something that you should be okay with or proud of. Create tangible sleep goals and hold yourself accountable!
Be more open to uncertainty
Don’t underestimate all the amazing people and opportunities that you will meet just by being willing to explore new things.
Say “yes” more…
Say yes to joining that club, meeting new people, and just in general putting yourself out of your comfort zone!
… but also know when to say no
Don’t put pressure on yourself to commit to things that you’re not excited about.
Spend some quality time outside every day
Yes! And don’t trick yourself into thinking that this isn’t “productive” enough for you (after all, being outdoors truly is productive for your physical and mental health).
It’s okay to live by a schedule, as long as your schedule includes time for you to relax
Regularly make time for the things that you enjoy but aren’t required to do. Try sleeping in, reading a book, catching up with family, or enjoying your favorite food.
Remember that you’re still learning
Soon you’ll look back and be amazed at all that you learned and how you grew in such a short period of time. Don’t be so hard on yourself and celebrate every small victory!
Be kind to yourself (seriously), and let your actions show it
Don’t only go out of your way to do nice things for others; also do nice things for yourself! And I mean REALLY treat yourself. Go to that symphony concert or ballet show you’ve been dying to see, go out for dinner after a difficult exam, take a break and have that movie night with friends.
By putting these tips into action, one thing I was able to do was create this painting of the Boston skyline (it’s the view from the 9th floor study lounge of Kilachand Hall) last summer. Making art has always been meaningful to me, but I hadn’t allowed myself the time nor space to truly enjoy it in a very long time. I hope that this advice can similarly encourage you as well!
It is easy to get caught up in school assignments, work tasks, club responsibilities, and general life commitments. Once the semester really kicks into gear and your to-do list gets longer, the urge to just work can get really strong. For me, little daily rituals and personal to-do lists help me make myself as much of a priority as my school work, and help me stay refreshed and ready for the day ahead.
In terms of daily rituals, I like to find parts of my day when I can be quiet, sit back, and take some deep breaths. I like to make sure that I drink water and do some stretching before I check my phone in the morning, and even then I only download a podcast to listen to during my run. When I make breakfast, I take it over to my comfy chair by the window and sit in a warm sunny spot to eat. I like to plan my day out while I drink coffee. At night, after dinner and dishes, I make a pot of tea and sit down to do the last of my work for the day. One of my favorite parts of the day is right before bed when I like to journal and then read before I turn out the light. I am currently working my way through Anna Karenina, a couple of chapters every night.
The great thing about little rituals like these is that they are built-in checkpoints in the day that, once you start, become routine. I do not have to carve out time in my day to sit down for this because it is infused into my routine. Even short moments let you relax, take stock, and prepare for the next thing you have to do.
I have also become a huge fan of personal to-do lists. Over the past couple of years, I started writing down a few things that I wanted to do each day, whether it was to do the crossword in the newspaper or to go out for lunch with friends. I do this every morning while I plan my day out over my coffee, and while the rituals I have let me slow down and check in with myself, my personal list makes having fun and enjoying non-academic and non-work activities a priority for me as well.
When life gets busy, it is easy to slip in to the habit of class, work, sleep, repeat. By making sure that you have your own time and priorities, you are more likely to be excited for each day and enjoy your classes and work even more than you would already. I believe that college is a great opportunity to find what balance means for you. I cannot recommend enough finding times to wind down during your day and finding a way to make your wellbeing as important as your assignments.
One of the first terms you’ll hear during your time at BU is something called the “BU Bubble.” The Bubble looks different for everyone, but essentially it involves being stuck in the same routines and going to the same places on campus all the time. While BU is integrated into the city of Boston, it can be really easy to just always stay on campus and forget that there is an entire city of new experiences just a few steps from Comm Ave.
Kilachand co-curriculars are one of the best parts of being in the Honors College. You often get to hear from top experts in a wide variety of fields. But my favorite co-curriculars are those that help you break out of the BU Bubble by going out into the city with other Kilachand students.
This Fall, the first co-curricular of the semester was a visit to the Arnold Arboretum, a large park in Jamaica Plain maintained by Harvard University. Kilachand faculty and staff led small groups of students on excursions to the Arboretum throughout the beginning of the semester to participate in the Arboretum Experience. The Arboretum Experience is a mix of meditations, audio plays, and other guides that help shape your visit to the Arboretum.
I went to the Arboretum on a Saturday morning with a Kilachand advisor and four other Kilachand students. Not only did I get to meet new people from other class years, but I was able to take a break from city life for a bit. The trip also gave me an opportunity to visit a place that I may not have otherwise visited.
It’s not just co-curriculars that take Kilachand students out of the BU Bubble. My first semester in Kilachand, I visited the Institute of Contemporary Art in the Seaport as part of my writing studio. One of the exhibits in the museum connected to the themes of the class, so we were encouraged to visit and write about the art. (Side note: the ICA is free for BU students!)
Kilachand student leaders also take small groups on city excursions during Kilachand Community Initiative outings. The outings are a great way to meet fellow Kilachand students, visit new places, take a break from studying, and just get to know Boston better.
No matter whether it’s a co-curricular, class trip, or Community Initiative outing, there are plenty of ways to break out of the BU Bubble with Kilachand.
Living through a global pandemic has taught us to value some of the most basic things we used to take for granted. Whether it’s going to class in person, or simply shaking hands with someone you meet. As a business student at BU, the pandemic has brought both new challenges and new opportunities in my college experience.
As the smart and dedicated BU students we are, learning to overcome these challenges is something we all learn in college. Personally, the pandemic has taught me to adapt to dynamic environments and make the best of what I have. Although the learning atmosphere is not ideal, I have managed to maintain my grades and continue to expand my extracurricular activities.
I spent my Fall of 2020 semester on campus and I am currently spending the majority of my Spring semester at home. Attending college on and off campus during the pandemic has allowed me to understand some key differences. Over the past year, I have developed a list of three tips for students attending college during the pandemic. These three tips have been the key to success for me in college over the past few months. They have allowed me to create new opportunities and maintain my well-being even during these unprecedented times.
1. Virtual Attendance
Although most students are discouraged when a class or club meeting is held virtually, I have learned to use this to my advantage. Virtual class means you can attend it from anywhere! No more waking up late and running to class. Sometimes I attend class in bed still under the covers (This is a bad idea. I fall asleep 90% of the time). Attending class virtually also means everything is recorded. This allows me to prioritize what is important. Just recently I had a midterm in accounting coming up. So I decided to study for it instead of attending my IS class. After the midterm, I rewatched what I missed.
Virtual attendance does not apply to just classes but also clubs. It allows me to expand my extracurricular activities. I have joined so many new organizations across campus because of the convenience of being able to attend their meetings from my own room. Not only that but career fairs and special events are also held virtually. There is no excuse to not attend them! It’s so easy!
This one might sound obvious but it is extremely important. Before the pandemic, I was always an organized student. I had a list of things to do throughout the day and I checked it off as the day went by. But attending college now is very different. On top of the list of things to do, you need some type of digital planner that keeps track of all the meetings you have throughout the day. A space where you can write down all the Zoom links for these meetings is very important. Some days I have more extracurricular meetings to attend than actual classes! Keeping everything organized is very important! I learned this lesson after having to scramble for Zoom links last minute and being late to meetings haha.
3. Take a break
Sometimes it’s a good idea to take a break. Even just a 30-minute nap sometime during the day helps. Sitting in front of a screen all day can be exhausting and it drains your energy. Take a nap or do something away from your desk. When the weather is nice, I like to ride my penny board up and down Bay State Road. Sometimes my friends and I go on bike rides on the Esplanade and into the city. These types of activities allowed my brain to reset. Although it sounded silly at first, but I realized this was one of the most helpful habits I learned to do as I attend college in the pandemic.
As life slowly returns to “normal,” my college life will forever be changed. I joined so many new clubs because of my ability to attend them virtually. I have learned to constantly check my planner throughout the day and add every little event to it. Lastly, I have also learned to do small things I enjoy for at least 30 minutes every day. As talented and innovative BU students, we have to learn to come up with small and simple solutions to continue to make our college experience a successful one. Good luck with yours and be sure to share any tips you have!
Riding my penny board down Bay State Road right outside of Kilachand Hall to take a short break.
When I first came to BU, I was determined to excel in my STEM courses. My goal is to be a physician and work in healthcare, and I am fascinated by chemistry, biology, and medicine. However, growing up, I loved to create art. I loved the freedom of designing what I wanted and allowing my creativity and imagination to make artwork that meant something to me and to others. I was afraid that such a passion would distract me from my science classes or make me less of a scientist. Now, I argue the opposite. My art classes are an outlet for stress and ideas and a breath of fresh air. They allow me to excel in all aspects of school since my attention to detail and creative mind helps me visualize problems in a whole new perspective. I urge anyone reading to not only practice what makes them happy, but commit to it in a way that forces you to stop, take a breath, and do what you love.
Thinking back to my senior year of high school, I remember being extremely excited — but, at the same time, so incredibly nervous — about what college would be like. I spent my summer browsing Pinterest for dorm ideas, researching study hacks, scrolling through social media, and taking more Buzzfeed quizzes than I care to admit…
But ultimately, even with all of that planning, my college experience was nothing like I had expected. So, to all of the high school seniors — or anyone else who’s curious! — here are some of the major differences I’ve noticed between my high school and college experiences:
1. Dorm Life
One of the biggest changes for me in college was dorm life. Even as someone who’s shared a room with their older sister for their entire life, I found it to be such a strange experience. For many of us, this may be the first time we’re living on our own. And while there certainly will be challenges along the way, take this as an opportunity to meet new people and also learn more about your own preferences!
2. Social Life
When it comes time to commit to colleges, chances are that you and your friends will be heading off to different places. While it can be difficult to adjust in your first few weeks and make new friends, just know that it does take time. But I’ve found that there many more opportunities to meet others in college, especially on an urban campus at a large university like BU. Be open to new experiences, but also make sure you’re keeping in touch with old friends!
The summer before my first semester at BU, as I was planning out my schedule, I remember being so thrilled about just how much I had in my day. Everything had worked out perfectly: I was out of class by practically 1pm every day!
I was in for a wake-up call, however, when I met with my advisor: I hadn’t included a single discussion or lab.
Even after accounting for any discussions or labs, there are still some other differences. At my high school, students typically took 7-8 classes a semester. In college, that number falls to 4-6. And you have much greater freedom in designing your college schedule — assuming your classes don’t fill up! Pro tips for planning your first schedule: don’t forget discussions/labs, take into account how far your classes are from each other on campus, and don’t forget to save time for lunch!
4. Classes and Assignments
Closely related to schedules are your classes and assignments. In most courses, assignments are usually due once a week. While that may sound like a relief, these are not designed to be completed the night before. So plan ahead!
And unlike at many high schools, there are rarely classroom copies of textbooks which can be rented out each semester. With 4-6 classes a semester, textbook costs can add up. Look into alternatives to buying textbooks new!
Finally, midterms aren’t actually...mid-term. Instead, many courses plan for 2-3 “midterms” (or projects) alongside a final.
Now, that might sound like a lot at this point. And it can be. But at the same time, there are many resources that you have access to as a college student. On the academic/career side, you have your faculty advisor at your college (in addition to a peer mentor and Kilachand advisor at KHC!), office hours, the Center for Career Development, and career fairs. On the recreational side, you have access to the Charles River and the Fitness and Recreation Center! And there are plenty of other resources as well — be sure to check out the very first post on this blog!
One of my most intriguing memories is going with a friend to one of the workshops hosted by the Center for Career Development on professional dinner etiquette. If you ever get the chance, RSVP for free food and the chance to learn how to hold your fork...the right way.
I’ll end it off on a high note!
In college, you can expect immense independence. While it can be easy to get stuck on the campus bubble, put yourself out there and explore the city! And make sure that you take advantage of all of the opportunities that you’ll have in these next four years!
Ultimately, no amount of reading or hearing about other people’s experiences can truly prepare you. Just remember: everyone is coming into college for the first time. It takes time to figure things out. But at the end of the day, remember to have some fun!
Above: My view of the Prudential Tower and downtown Boston from my dorm window.
In high school, I was involved in upwards of 10 extracurriculars. I played two sports, was an officer for student council and National Honor Society, played in the band, was involved with my church, and more. The time I needed to devote to these activities was balanced, with all of it fitting together neatly. Most of them also doubled as social time because my friends and I joined the same clubs. If I tried to be involved with that same number of activities in college, I would fail miserably.
College extracurriculars ask much more time of you than high school ones did, and because of that, I knew I would struggle to maintain the same level of involvement. I was given a piece of advice before going to college about how to choose among the thousands of activities that colleges have to offer, and regardless of how involved you were in high school, I think it’s important to consider: “Choose three things to get involved in when you get to college: one for academics, one for service, and one for social interaction.”
As a note before I tell you what I chose to get involved in, it will take some trial and error to find the perfect three. You should probably start with 8 or 10 and narrow down which ones serve you the most, providing a balanced array of opportunities and engagement. Also, three is a guideline. I have 5 main extracurriculars that I have been involved with for most of college, and other ones have come and gone or require less time and can be added on, so take everything that I say here with a grain of salt.
Now for my big 3.
1. Academics. I am a health science major looking to get my Master of Public Health and then continue into clinical medicine. To boost my skill set and strengthen my resume, I joined Peer Health Exchange as a Health Educator. I teach a public health curriculum to Boston Public School high school students, and can say with confidence that I now know how to communicate health information and work well with young people, both of which will be valuable to my professional career.
2. Service. I have participated in community service activities my whole life and quickly found that I was missing it when I got to college. I joined Camp Kesem, a free camp run by college students for kids whose lives have been affected by their parent’s cancer, to both develop my leadership skills and become more involved in service. I am now a development coordinator and have organized fundraisers that have gathered our chapter more than $20,000 in 5 months.
3. Social. I have been inseparable from my best friend since we met in seventh grade, and going to college left a hole that she had filled in my everyday life. I struggled to find close friends and, though I was successful in making a few, I wanted a larger group of people to be involved in, so I joined Sigma Kappa, a panhellenic sorority, and Omega Phi Alpha, a community service sorority. I have absolutely loved my time in both of them and have found it so easy to find friends among girls that are like minded and hold similar values.
I want to emphasize again that getting involved is not a formula. Nobody can tell you what three things to join or if three is going to be your magic number. I also have a job that I love at the FitRec center, served as an FY101 peer mentor (highly recommend taking FY101!!!), am a Kilachand ambassador, will start a job as an EMT in the fall, and do normal college things like working out, going out with friends, and sitting around watching movies when I don’t feel like doing anything else. These are all integral parts of my college experience and have made my time at BU as amazing as it has been in just my first two years.
I think getting involved is a good thing to start thinking about before you’re in college and even for my fellow college students, it is never too late to join something that looks exciting to you. My best piece of advice is to join what you find interesting, stop being involved in something if it is not adding great value to your life, and do what you need to to maintain your balance, which for me is fitting my main extracurriculars into one of those 3 categories.