You’ve made it through your freshman year alive and should be feeling a bit more comfortable in your premed shoes. You know more about your school, professors, and the culture of the premed community at your school. Or maybe your first year wasn’t so great and things were a bit rough for you. Either way, your sophomore year is here and to have the best year yet, there are a fe things you should really know.

BECOME A LEADER

You know the saying, “Leaders aren’t born, they are made,” and when it comes to building your record of leadership – the same hold true. You cannot expect medical schools to take your lead- ership experience serious if you say that a posi- tion or role you held just a few months before applying made you a leader. If you haven’t already done so, your sophomore year is the perfect time for you to step up to the plate and engage in a significant activity that will ultimately demonstrate your leadership qualities.

VOLUNTEER YOUR TIME

No matter what type of volunteer activity you decide on, be sure that you make the experience meaningful. Regardless of whether or not you are having the best experience of your life (or not), there is a lesson to be learned and something you can take away from the time you spent participating. “Volunteering in a health care-related opportunity or organization will benefit you in addition to enhancing your medical school application,” the AAMC’s website explains. “It ‘s a chance to see if you enjoy working in the health or medical field, network with like-minded peers, take on increased responsibility and leadership roles, and build your resume.” In all, volunteering, especially in a health care or medical setting, will demonstrate to admission committees that you have a good sense about what medicine is and what it is not.

GET A JOB

Conducting research that is. While it is not a requirement by most medical schools, having aca- demic research experience will certainly help more than it could ever hurt your changes of getting into medical school. Need a better reason to get involved in research? Well, working in a research lab will give your premed brain the opportunity to see what you may have already learned in class or read in a textbook in action. As you learn more about what is involved with conducting research and the research process at a whole, you will develop trans- ferable skills that will not only benefit you during your medical school days, but in your career as a physician. And for those who are planning to go for an MD/PhD program, the significance of hav- ing research experience under your belt is even greater.

MAJOR IN SOMETHING YOU LOVE (OR JUST REALLY ENJOY A LOT)

It is pretty simple. When it comes to choosing a major you should pick something based on your passions. As long as you plan a course of study that fulfills the prerequisite requirements for the medical schools you intend on applying to – you should be good to go. Yes, being a science major may have its advantages, like being able to take courses that can help you perform better on the MCAT, you can always customize your MCAT study plan to fill the gaps in knowledge.

MAKE PLANS TO STUDY ABROAD

Do it! If you are planning to apply to medical school right after you graduate, now is the time to think about studying abroad. Once of the best ways to begin developing the skills and attitude that you will need as a future health care professional is gaining significant experience in the world beyond the classroom. Many advisors believe that participating in a study abroad program is the ideal vehicle for premed students to develop skills that are encouraged and looked highly upon by medical school admission committees and the filed of medicine at a whole. The characteristics of health care systems and settings in the world beyond the United States can certainly offer future doctors a one-of-a-kind experience and unique background.

This article was published in the September/October 2013 issue of PreMedLife magazine.