Undergraduate Student Blog, Speaking of Princeton

Undergraduate Student Blog

Author: Cricket Gullickson ’15

Rio, Wisconsin • Ecology and Evolutionary Biology View Profile

10 Tips for Being Premed at Princeton

Advice from a senior premed

A few weeks ago, I was a part of a Google Hangout hosted by the Office of Admission (available here, if you’re interested). Because of time constraints, we could only get through about 20 of the top questions. As I scrolled through the questions we missed afterward, I noticed a number of them had to do with being pre-med at Princeton. What does it mean to be pre-med at Princeton? What is it like? These are great questions, and ones that I definitely had when I was considering Princeton, too. 

I thought as a way to answer these and give you a sense of the experience, I would give you my quick list of 10 Tips for Being Pre-med at Princeton - basically just advice that I have after going through it myself and watching friends go through it. So, here it is! 

Pediatric ward in Kenya.
A photo from the pediatric ward I worked in last summer - one of the most impactful experiences I've had as a premed at Princeton.


10 Tips for Being Premed at Princeton

Disclaimer: It isn’t easy, but with determination you can do it and do it well. 

  1. Utilize the Office of Health Professions Advising - This will be your #1 resource on campus, from freshman year right up until the day you matriculate at medical school. Be familiar with their website and their materials. Actually read “Preparing for a Career in the Health Professions” before you arrive on campus. I didn't read it until about halfway through freshman year, and I wish I had read it sooner! Thankfully I had good friends who, like me, were premed but who, unlike me, were not procrastinators, and they gave me most of the information I needed to know. (Incidentally, "Preparing for a Career in the Health Professions" is also a good publication to read for anyone who's trying to get a sense of what being premed entails at Princeton.) Finally, when you do arrive on campus, get to know the HPA Advisers. Kate and Allison are super friendly people, and the better they know you the better they will be at helping you make decisions, and the better able they will be to write a Committee Letter for you when the time comes for you to apply. 
  2. Plan ahead, and plan carefully - As a premed, you’ll have a list of around 13 classes you’ll need to take in order to apply to most medical schools. These include two semesters of general chemistry, two semesters of organic chemistry, two semesters of general biology, two semesters of general physics, two semesters of math, two semesters of English, and biochemistry, at a minimum. With the introduction of the new MCAT, a psychology course or two is also not a bad idea. Since the average student takes 4-5 courses a semester, these classes end up taking up a decent amount of your time. If you want to major in something completely outside of the sciences with a relatively high course load—say, English or Woody Woo—or if you want to get a certificate or two (Princeton-speak for minor), you're going to end up with about 28 or so classes that you'll need to take as a premed requirement or major requirement, with little or no overlap. When you also consider that most bachelor of arts students take only 31 courses, it's easy to see that you'll want to do some careful planning early on. 
  3. Study what you love - There is no “premed” major at Princeton as some institutions have; there is also no set major that premeds are encouraged to enter. Indeed, the advice I have always heard —and would definitely echo—is to major in whatever catches your interest. So long as you successfully complete your premed coursework, you will be equally likely to gain admittance. So do what you love! It will make your time at Princeton much more enjoyable. 
  4. Make sure it’s what you want to do - In my opinion, this is one of the most important parts of all those extracurricular clinical experiences and summer internships you’ll pursue. If you can, get a chance to work with patients or in a clinical setting. See if you like it. It’s much better to find out now if medicine really isn’t your thing; and if you find that you really love these types of experiences, they’ll serve as great motivation for your toughest moments.
  5. Get involved - Extracurriculars are important, but don't worry too much about being involved in the "right ones." Get involved in activities that you find meaningful—they'll enrich your Princeton experience in so many ways. If you can, it's good to make sure you have at least one clinical experience, for the reasons I mentioned in above in #4. You'll learn a lot about yourself, and hopefully do some good along the way.
  6. Have a good support system - There will be times when you struggle. There are the everyday premed struggles of impossible problem sets and unsavory schedules (I can't tell you the number of times I have heard "Why is biochem on Fridays? I swear I am THE ONLY upperclassman still stuck in Friday classes"). And then there are the harder times, times when you truly question whether being premed is what you want, whether it's right for you and whether it's worthwhile for you. A good support system is important for all of these struggles. In my experience, family, friends and mentors have been essential for helping me work through both the everyday and larger struggles of being premed.  
  7. Make friends with your classmates and form study groups - Along those lines, it can be super helpful to work with people on problem sets and assignments (so long as your professor allows it, and you are working within the Honor Code). Study groups are great not only for letting you compare answers or work through problems together, but also for keeping due dates and assignments in order. Even if study groups aren't your thing, I'm of the opinion that having friends in your class or lab section makes the experience much, much more enjoyable. 
  8. Sleep - This one applies to all Princeton students, really. I know we read studies all the time about how important sleep is for learning, being healthy and being happy, but when things get busy sleep is usually the first thing to go. Seriously, though, sleep is important.  
  9. Remember it's a marathon, not a sprint - To follow up with my point above, I just wanted to give some advice that my freshman-year Residential College Adviser always gave. She was constantly reminding us that "Princeton is a marathon, not a sprint." Sometimes it can feel like you need to be giving 100 percent all the time—that you need to be getting straight A's in six classes and be president of 15 different clubs and participate in a sport. But this is hardly sustainable. It's important to take breaks, to sleep, to see friends, to watch bad TV or go for a run or do whatever re-energizes you. So as you go down the premed track, remember it's a marathon, not a sprint. Find a happy balance between premed and everything else in life, and you'll have a much happier four years at Princeton and be better off in the end. 
  10. Remind yourself why you came to Princeton and what you want to get out of it - For me, I chose to follow the more traditional pathway of four years at an undergraduate institution followed by four years at medical school over a combined undergraduate/M.D. program because I wanted to have the flexibility and time to explore other interests during my undergrad years. I chose to come to Princeton 1) because of its undergraduate focus and 2) because I had a variety of interests coming in and Princeton offered excellent programs for every single one of those. For me, reminding myself of why I came to Princeton always grounded me a bit. It helped me to manage the stress of school, or the guilt of questioning whether I wanted to be premed. I reminded myself that I had come to Princeton because I wanted to explore many things; if I found that I didn't like one of them, well, then, I had learned something about myself and there were other things to explore. On the flip side of this, there were also times when I had to remind myself: I came to Princeton for the academics; I came to Princeton because I wanted to be prepared for a career "in the Nation's Service and in the Service of All Nations." This helped me prioritize. There were activities that I gave up and jobs that I turned down because of this, but in the end I am glad that I stayed true to what means the most to me.