No one likes planning more than me, but…
I was contacted by an 8th grade parent to help her son prepare to apply to BSMD programs. Beginning to think about the college process early in high school makes sense for some, yet this seemed extreme. BSMD programs, which leave little room for any type of college experience desirable to most students, offer a direct path to medical school, sometimes eliminating the MCATs and the stress of applying to medical school. Is a 13 or 14 year old ready to make that choice?
That’s an unusual example. Yet many of my freshmen and sophomores are sure that they will study medicine, law, or business at the graduate level immediately after earning an undergraduate degree. Some do and are satisfied with their choices, but more change their minds. Instead, most grad students I work with arrived at their decisions after an epiphany well into their college careers.
There is a good reason to hold off–most notably the benefit of internships, fellowships, assistantships, and work experience gained in a year or two (or more) after graduation. These efforts make students stronger candidates. The arduous graduate school application process, which can include many stressful interviews, standardized testing, and longer, deeper essays than those undergrads must write, may be better spent later than during the senior year of college. Of course, the opportunity of a first year assistantship or fellowship may be tough to turn down.
Think honestly about burnout: would you rather immerse yourself in research or work experience without the stress of senior year courses and exams?
Finally: I think of a friend who had completed all the requirements to apply to medical school until the moment of graduation, then realized it wasn’t for him. Students should give themselves time, regardless of outside pressure, to figure out who they really are, and what makes them happy and fulfilled. The path is often less linear than we like to think.