Students will begin their first day of college over the next few weeks, beginning the uncompromising path to becoming a doctor. We spoke with current medical students who felt it was their duty to impart their “wisdom” and knowledge on those who stand where they once stood. Throughout their pre-medical years, they have experienced a lot, learned so much, and could not be happier with how things turned out. Here are some of the things they wish they’d known when they were freshmen and what they think freshman pre-meds should do:

Determine your learning style and get past your weaknesses

Pre-meds are smart individuals who will go through years of schooling to practice medicine, absorbing an overwhelming amount of information to one day enter one of the most respected professions. That is the general consensus at least. There are times when these students may feel discouraged, study harder instead of smarter and generally fear the challenges ahead. The truth is, understanding and acknowledging your learning style is one of the most effective ways to see success during your pre-med years. You must understand that there is a big difference between studying hard and studying smart. For many students, being premed means spending hours in the library day after day to complete assignments and study for exams. All too often, students arrive at test memorizing more information than they even understand, feeling underprepared and overanxious. What it comes down it is this – begin able to study smarter comes from knowing more about the type of learner you are. The tricks your classmate uses to remember equations for General Chemistry may not work for you. The best thing you can do is learn about different learning styles, design your study strategy around what fits you best, and hone in one what will work best for you. Being able to gain some insight early on about how you learn best will ultimately have a significant impact on not only your success during your freshman year, but your experiences moving along the path to medical school admissions.

Non-traditional is the new traditional, so take non-premed courses

Do what you love, the medical school acceptance will follow. Well, with a lot of work and determination of course. The fact is, medical schools consider and accept students from all different majors and as a greater number of medical schools seek to create a more diverse study body, the tides are turning when it comes to which majors medical school admissions committees are “looking for.” It’s quite simple. If you are really passionate about a non-science subject, take courses in the darn subject, major in it why don’t you. Choosing to take courses outside of those required for medical school can even help you standout among your pre-med competition and can possibly be an advantage. Stating what is of course the obvious, the path to medical school involves whole lot of science, so who can blame you if you choose a major you’re actually interested in? If you enjoy the subject of the major like you say you do, the odds of you doing well academically will be high, you won’t be a miserable grump of a pre-med, and you’ll be on your way.

Forget About the MCAT (For Now)

If you’re a freshman, don’t you even think about starting to study for the MCAT. And while thinking about what will probably be the most important test of your pre-med career, stop with all of the questions about if you should or shouldn’t buy the prep books now or when you should start studying. Of course there will be those who say it is never too early to begin studying for the MCAT. Wait until your sophomore year is finished to start stressing yourself out about the MCAT. The best thing you could do to prepare for the MCAT is to go to class. And oh yeah, the second best thing you could do is start saving up for an MCAT prep class (just in case you decide to take one…have you seen the price for those things lately?) Until then, try your hardest not to think about it. And if it’s really a challenge for you to not prepare for the MCAT, get into the habit of reading materials (other than your textbooks) that focus on a variety of topics so you can, if anything, work on your ability to comprehend and analyze complex material you might find in The New Scientist, Time, or Scientific American. Let your freshman year, be your freshman year. Let it be a time for self-reflection, intellectual exploration, making a plan, and knowing what you need to reach those goals. Don’t Worry About What Others Are Doing Stop comparing yourself to other and if you’re not doing it don’t start. We know it’s much easier than it sounds. But the truth is, everyone starts out from a different place and is headed on his or her own pre-medical journey. You have no clue where another pre-med’s path might take them on, you’ll be wasting your time and causing yourself a whole lot of heartache if you begin drawing comparisons between yourself and them. And yes, while it is impossible to turn off the switch that controls your reactions to what others are doing and accomplishing, you have to learn how to NOT compare yourself. This way, no matter what other pre-meds are doing, no matter what scores they getting on tests, your sense of worth and accomplishment will come for what you are doing. Strive to become a better medical school applicant. Instead of drawing comparisons between yourself and the next pre-med, differentiate. And as cliche as it may sound, the only person you need to worry about being better than is the person you were the day before. Whenever you compare yourself to other pre-meds, you risk losing who you are as a pre-med, what makes you different, what will make you standout among other pre-meds, and further minimize your value as a successful medical school candidate.

Ask For Help

While the advice to seek help might seem obvious, it remains very relevant for pre-medical students, who often, like to go it alone. The problem of not seeking help in a time of need is that an individual may begin to doubt themselves and question their ability to successfully gain admission to medical school and ultimately have second thoughts about pursuing medicine overall. The simple action of asking for help – whether it’s finding a mentor, going to office hours, getting tutoring – can go a long way toward reaching your goal of getting into medical school. Never be too proud to ask for help. The ability to admit your mistakes or admit when you need help is huge. If you mess up, find yourself struggling, ask for help, and if you want this thing you call you dream of becoming a doctor as bad as you say you do – get help, and keep it moving.

This article was published in the September/October 2014 issue of PreMedLife