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How to Spend your Winter Break as a Pre-Med
As a pre-med on winter break, you may be unsure what you should do to prepare for the MCAT and med school. Read on to see what you should do each year.
You’ve just finished your final exams for your Fall semester – congratulations! You’ve earned a nice break from schoolwork. Winter break is a wonderful time where families can get together and reconnect during the holidays. Many pre-meds use this 2 to 4 week break as a time to reset themselves mentally in preparation for the Spring semester. This is certainly a smart thing to do – but should you be doing more during your Winter break? Here, we will offer suggestions for what you can do during each undergrad year.
Winter break of freshman year
First, take some time to reflect on what strategies brought you success during your previous semester. Did you find a study group that helped you ace your Chemistry final? Was that coffee shop around the corner a great place to finish your English paper? Figuring these out now will pay off; you will lay a strong foundation for those semesters in the future where you are juggling a seemingly overwhelming number of tasks.
Many pre-meds will spend their first winter break simply destressing and enjoying the holidays (in fact, your pre-med advisor may suggest only doing this!) – and that is totally ok. But if you want to get ahead of the game, shadowing is a great idea. Shadowing physicians is a great way to learn more about different medical specialties in a relatively low-stress environment. Not sure how to get started shadowing physicians? One method is to start with obtaining the phone number of nearby hospitals and/or medical schools. From there, a courteous email to a physician you are interested in shadowing is usually met with a positive response. Want to learn more about getting the most out of your shadowing experiences? Check out this blog by Sketchy.
Another thing that can be done is starting a research internship. Research PIs often value long-term commitment to research projects, and being able to commit several years to the same lab can pay dividends down the road. I personally joined a research lab during the winter break of my freshman year, and I was glad I did.
Winter break of sophomore year
In addition to the aforementioned activities, another thing that can be done as a pre-med is clinical volunteering. Although volunteering is ideally a long-term activity that you participate in during summer breaks and maybe during the school year as well, winter break is a great time to gain some more clinical experience.
This can also be a great time to start thinking about how you will approach the MCAT. You will have taken several courses by now that are core disciplines on the MCAT, and now can be a good time to take a step back and assess how much you have learned. In fact, some more ambitious pre-med students will take the MCAT in the summer between sophomore and junior year. For these students, this winter break will be an invaluable time to put in the time needed to get a great MCAT score.
Winter break of junior year
This is the time to hunker down and really formulate a plan and start studying for the MCAT if you haven’t already. It's generally best to take the MCAT by May of the year you apply to med school - although *when* to take the MCAT is a whole conversation by itself, and you can find helpful information here.
By now you will have taken most of the pre-med requisite courses, and this is the perfect time to consolidate all of the information you learned and synthesize it together. In all likelihood, you will be spending some time during the upcoming Spring semester studying for the MCAT as well. Therefore, devising a plan on how you will balance studying for your classes and the MCAT will pay dividends.
Also, you can start to formulate ideas for your personal statement and AMCAS application. Even just jotting some thoughts down about your most important experiences in medical school so far can save you a lot of time and effort down the line. It also never hurts to periodically update your resume.
Winter break of senior year
You may have some medical school interviews scheduled during this time, though most have happened prior to this time. If you are in this boat, keep your interview skills sharp! Keep practicing your responses to common interview questions. If your interview cycle is not going as well as you had hoped, bear in mind that interview invites can extend into January, so don’t lose hope!
If you’re in your senior year, check out Blueprint’s blog for a more in-depth guideline on how to structure your senior year as a pre-med here.
It may seem overwhelming that there are so many things you can do during Winter break! Rest assured, you are not alone. Your undergraduate pre-med advisor is a great resource to guide you. No matter how you choose to spend your time during your Winter breaks, try to spend the most time on activities that will have the greatest impact on your medical school application.
And in case it wasn’t clear, please do spend a lot of time with family and friends during winter break! 😊
Gearing up to study for the MCAT this year? The Blueprint x Sketchy Bundle has everything you need, which combines the Sketchy course, Blueprint full-length practice exams, and an integrated study plan calendar into one great package.