3 Tips from a Pre-Professional College Student
By: Michelle Anne Abrina Inocencio
Have you dreamt about being a lawyer? A veterinarian? A dentist? A pharmacist? An optometrist? Or have you recently seen a couple of episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and suddenly had a strong calling to pursue a career as a surgeon or a general medical physician? (Just kidding - maybe.) These are all careers that fall into the term “professional programs” in which you must first complete your years as an undergraduate student then apply for a separate program that follows those first four-ish years. What you’re about to read is a few words of wisdom from a chick who’s spent the past few years diving deep into a pre-dental career and how I’ve survived it.
I’ve spent the entirety of my life wanting to become a dentist and starting college made me feel one step closer towards finally getting there. When I finally got to UNLV, there were a few times - actually, to be completely honest, there were a whole bunch of times - were continuing on the pre-professional track seemed incredibly not worth it. A list of things I found daunting: visiting my professors during office hours and eventually asking for a letter of recommendation, the Dental Admission Test that I had to take before applying to dental school, four years of an undergraduate program to be followed by four more years of dental school (and possibly more if I wanted to specialize), and most of all the need for an amazing GPA. Wild.
Tip #1: Remember Why You’re Here
Hopefully, if you’re putting yourself on the pre-professional track, you have an innate passion for this line of work. (If you’re in it for the pot of gold, maybe... consider adding another reason to why you want to go into this. Cliche: Money isn’t everything. The same concept goes for those who’ve watched Grey’s Anatomy and felt a calling. I had a friend do that & let’s just say - he doesn’t want to be a doctor anymore.) Some people are here because they want to help people because they had someone in this career change their life because they have a real interest in the subject (like how I feel about teeth - #FlossDaily), etc. When you’re feeling down, discouraged, and doubtful that you can make it through these programs, remind yourself of why you’re really here. It helps. A lot.
Tip #2: Think More Deeply About the Concept of Relative Time
It seems really tempting to step into another field that interests you equally without the extra years of schooling after your Bachelor’s degree. I’ve certainly dabbled in these thoughts before, but then I received one of the best pieces of advice about college I’ve ever heard. “You’re only in college for a relatively short period of time compared to the rest of your career; why not go big?” Those words have rung through my ears time and time again. Your professional program is approximately 4 years - a little more if you want to do fancy things like specializing or learn through an additional residency program - and you work after that for ~40 years. 10%, folks. That’s the percentage of school you’d be contributing energy into relative to your years in the work field. If you think about it like that, to me - at least, the extra years don’t seem so extra.
Tip #3: Take Care of Yourself First
Burnout is more than a real thing. (Basic definition of burnout: extreme physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by intense, prolonged periods of stress.) For a while, burnout was my normal. I was consistently pushing myself to do more and more and more because I felt like I wasn’t doing enough to one day get into the dental school of my choice. I was pretty much like relaxation and fun times? What’s that? To be straight with you, it SUCKED and led to a bunch of crying. At all times. I recommend that you do literally anything but handle school the way I once did. Take breaks. Hang out with friends and family. Watch Netflix. Eat legit food and drink tons of water. Don’t drown yourself in coffee to pull an all-nighter for a test you’re already prepared for. It isn’t worth it! Prioritize your health (on all sides) above your to-do lists. While you’re doing good deeds for others, also be kind to yourself. People say this, but I really, really mean it: self-love is important too.
In your first year of college - and for a big chunk of your undergraduate career - it all feels like make-it-or-break-it time. I remember feeling super overwhelmed with the huge piles of things I needed to do as a regular college student and a pre-professional student on top of that. Take it easy, friends. Take everything one step at a time. Don’t jump down the rabbit hole and think about every single little thing you need to do all at once. One day at a time. I promise. No matter how you get there (“there” as in your end goal of being a doctor, lawyer, professional person), you’ll get there.