If you will be a college sophomore this semester, the idea of applying to medical school is starting to become more real. And while all of your pre-med years are important, the most successful pre-meds do certain things in their second year of college. We are fortunate to know a number of remarkable successful pre-meds. Here are a number of their habits:

They do the work

For most pre-meds, sophomore year was the hardest out of all four years of college. They could have made it through with a little effort, but instead they put in a little more effort than others do. With sophomore year comes tougher courses, busier schedules, more commitments but you cannot be successful unless you put in a great deal of effort. Talk to medical students who have gain admission into medical school and you’ll find someone who was once a premed student who put tons of hours of effort into getting to where they are. This will be the year that is all about putting in the work, seeing how hard you can work and how bad you want it. Sophomore year is when those who are successful step up, figure out how to organize their time, study smarter not harder, and be tough. Getting into medical school is no walk in the park. There is no easy way out. Everyone has heard of the 80-20 rule but no student follows it…except for remarkably successful pre-meds. So if you’re not already hip to the “hard work game,” stop wasting time and handle your business. If you are struggling through Orgo, work harder! Do more problems…heck, do all of the problems! Whatever it is, whatever it might be, work hard knowing that it is all for something and that something is worth working hard for.

They focus on their goals

For pre-med students who from Day 1 are being told that in order to get into medical school, things need to be done a certain way, this is going to require thinking differently. This is because, during their sophomore year, pre-med students know that it is not the plan that everyone says you should follow but the goal that you have set. By thinking this way, the objective of these students doesn’t change, but they understand and accept the fact that how they get to medical school and the road they take might. In the pre-med worlds, students are told what to do and when to do it. It is all about planning. Getting good grades. Making it to the finish line with as few mistakes as possible. That’s understandable. Before they move forward along their pre-med path they usually spend time figuring out what is going to take place and once they get there it is all about getting everything to fall into place. So, not surprisingly, pre-meds get discouraged when something unexpected happens. However, in the minds of successful pre-meds, any missteps or obstacles that may occur during Sophomore year should be exploited to the fullest. They see this as a chance to write their own story and chart their own individual paths to becoming a doctor. Sophomores who are successful in moving forward in a positive direction, ultimately gaining admission into medical school, learn not only to work with the factor of the unexpected, but also to use it to their advantage to reach their goal.

They show maturity under pressure

When the going gets tough (and it certainly will during Sophomore year), highly successful sop mores take action. They understand that in order to move forward and get through tough situations, they need to asses the situation, make a decision, and find a way to reassure themselves that “what won’t kill them, will only make them stronger.” It is easy to smile when everything in your pre-med life is going well, but it is how these students react to stressful situations that ultimately sets them apart from their peers. What separates a good sophomore year from an extraordinary sophomore year is often a students ability to handle the pressure that comes along with the “make it or break it” year. The smartest students isn’t good to anyone if they can’t perform when the going gets tough. And as an aspiring medical student, the times when things will get tough will be more than less. Successful students are able to thrive during their sophomore year because they are self-confident and are focus on their success.

They go to the gym

Yes, that’s right – they go to the gym. And it all makes sense because successful pre-meds (current medical students) know that the pre-medical curriculum and more so the medical school curriculum can be quite challenging. They not only pushed themselves mentally, but pushed themselves physically. Beginning in their Sophomore year, many of the medical students we spoke to turned to exercise. And whether or not they knew it or not, we don’t blame them because researchers have found that regular aerobic exercise gives the part of the brain involved in memory and learning a boost. When you take a second to think about the brain, we weren’t surprised that regular physical activity and being successful as a pre-med went hand in hand.

They want to learn

They read a lot and ask tons of questions — they are always watching and listening, trying to understand everything that is being thrown their way. They leave class wondering, asking questions, doing their own research about something they learned in class. And they understand that the profession that they chose to purse will be a space that is always changing and always growing, and the learning will never stop. They knew that even after they got accepted into medical school and finished, the learning will continue. The general consensus among this group was that during their Sophomore year, their commitment to lifelong learning was solidified. As they continued to learn, they realized that the more knowledge they gained, they could apply their knowledge to other areas, academically or non-academically.

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