Factors that Make a Personal Statement Competitive
For medical and dental applicants!

What makes a personal statement competitive.   Mary Kate Kopec.  The Best You PAL Academy.  Premed pre-dental advisor coach

What makes a personal statement competitive?

Great question!  The factors that make a truly competitive personal statement (or personal comments essay, as med schools are calling them now) are easy to outline, but much harder to achieve in the actual writing process.  I don’t say that to be scary or anything – it’s just true.  So I tell you what.  I’ll outline the factors, and then I’ll give really helpful insight on how to make your writing process go as smoothly as possible and to the greatest success impact possible!

So, the factors that make your personal statement competitive:

  • It’s well-written!
    • Well thought out
    • Error-free (which means punctuation and grammar should be stellar)
    • Logical
    • Clear
  • It’s personally insightful and reflective!
  • It’s 100% absolutely representative of you!
  • It’s compelling!
  • It’s persuasive!
  • It is a story explaining your informed reasons for choosing this profession – note the operative words being = INFORMED REASONS
  • It is a story extolling your awesomeness through your accomplishments!
    • What are 3 – 5 qualities about you that your reviewers need to know about you?
    • Which experiences did you engage (3 – 5 of them) that made the difference for you.  That really showed you that this is what you want to do?  You need to do?  That you won’t feel complete if you’re not doing it?
  • It is filled with positive language!
    • Avoid using negatives.  Positive wording brings your reader up, while negative wording brings your reader down.  You want to keep your reader going up and up and up and feeling so positive and great about you.  Even using simple words like “can’t or cannot” … immediate downers.  Stick to the affirmative!!!!  Stick to building a positive picture of who you are, what you’ve learned, and what you have to offer.
  • For good measure, throw in some “Relevant Sparkle” as I like to call it!
    • Relevant Sparkle can be anything, but for my students it is often some totally brilliant/shiny quote or something of the like that is used to start off the statement and that sets the tone and theme of your story.
    • Generally, you figure out what your Relevant Sparkle is after you get into writing and see what your story looks and sounds like.
  • And without fail, if you have an “Elephant,” you need to use some of your character count to discuss it.  To explain it.  NEVER to be defensive about it.  Instead, you want to talk about it.  What happened.  Why it happened.  What you learned.  How how you can now apply what you have learned from going through it.
    • An elephant is anything in your record that isn’t you at your best and that could detract from your competitive status.
    • This can be a dip in your grades.
    • Below average MCAT/DAT scores
    • A break in your education
  • Overall, it needs to be your story about why you want to be a doctor (or dentist, etc) and how you know.
    • BOTTOM LINE SPOILER ALERT … this means you are supposed to talk about the experiences you’ve undertaken that have moved you personally and professionally into making the decision to care about other people and their health and wanting to help them using the skills, tools, practices, methodologies, etc of the healthcare profession you are choosing.
  • APPROACH WITH EXTREME CAUTION: unless your story about your grandmother/father moving in to be taken care of by your family is one of EXCEPTIONAL, AMAZING, NEVER-BEEN-HEARD-BEFORE WOWNESS … reconsider using this example as your story.  Consider digging deeper into you and your other experiences.  Don’t make this be your main line, go to, big reason.  It’s so over used that it can make the eyes roll in your reader.  And trust me, the last thing you want to do is make your reviewers roll their eyes at you.  You want them standing up and pointing to your app and exclaiming loudly with conviction to the other committee members, “This one!  We want this one!”

Ohmigod, MK, you said the list of factors was the easy part – that’s A LOT!!!!

Yes it is.  But it is entirely achievable!!!  You’ve just spent the last how many ever years taking courses, getting involved, learning, growing, doing, making a difference in people’s lives and in your life!  This is simply the story of all that goodness, learning, and growth!!! 

And it is a story worth telling … that needs to be told … so that your admissions committees can see you for all your goodness and everything you have to offer to their program and your future patients!!!

What makes a personal statement competitive Infographic.   Mary Kate Kopec.  The Best You PAL Academy.  Premed pre-dental advisor coach

So how can we help you write your AWESOME STORY?

Well, I recommend you do the following:

  • Accept that this isn’t a one and done kind of writing assignment.
  • Accept that to write a competitive statement, it will likely take you a considerable amount of time.  In other words, it’s most likely going to take you more than a quicky night or weekend.
    • Give yourself at least 4 – 6 weeks to engage this reflective writing process
    • I know you may be freaking out at this … like WTH MK?  It’s only a page and a third.  How in the hell does it take that long to write?
    • Well, true.  It is only a page and a third, roughly speaking (5,300 characters for the AMCAS app and 4,500 characters for the AADSAS applications – and for both that character count INCLUDES spaces), but it is an exceptionally well-written, jam-packed-with-your-AWESOMENESS page and a third … and that character space flies by in a blink, leaving you wondering how in the hell you are going to get all the rest of your goodness in there.
  • Start by NOT WRITING your personal statement.  Start by either reviewing your experience journals (in which you’ve been highly detailed and uber reflective), or if you don’t have these awesome journals, then do what I call a Free Form Write. 
    • A Free Form Write (FFW) is when you sit down an recall and reflect upon your experiences and education to date with the sole goal of answering the question:  Why do I want to be a doctor/dentist, and how do I know/what have I done to help me make this decision?
  • Once you’ve done your experience journal review and reflection or your FFW, pick out your 3 – 5 best, most wonderful experiences AND pick out what you feel are your 3 – 5 best qualities (ie, leadership, empathetic, love helping people get well, super helpful lesson learned, etc.)
  • Using those experiences and qualities, write a first draft keeping all those factors that make a competitive personal statement in mind.
  • For your first draft, do not even remotely think about character count.  Just write and get your story in order and together.
  • Then keep tweaking your drafts until you’ve told your story meeting those criteria … and when you do, you will have your Best Shining Draft (as I call it), which is your most competitive personal statement!

That is what makes a personal statement competitive!

Want to learn more? Check out this FREE video!

What makes a personal statement competitive.  Student testimonial. Mary Kate Kopec.  The Best You PAL Academy.  Premed pre-dental advisor coach

Best wishes to you while you are reflecting and writing!  You can do this!!!

Big Hugs,

Mary Kate :0)

PreMed Advice: How to be a competitive applicant
Should I rush a premed frat?

PreMed Advice How to be a competitive applicant   Mary Kate Kopec.  The Best You PAL Academy.  Premed pre-dental advisor coach

“What experiences do I need to be a competitive premed applicant?”

Or, “What experiences “look good” to medical schools?”

I get asked this question all of the time, and today, I’m going to answer an even more specific example of this question that I was recently asked in my FB private group The Best You PAL Academy Health Loving SQUEE Peeps. (This FB group is a happy benefit of Academy membership. To join, click here.)

I was wondering if it is worth rushing a premed frat. They brag that they have a 97% acceptance rate to medical school, but how would a premed frat look on my application?

To clarify, I asked the student, “Can I ask you, what factor(s) are drawing you to the frat?  Anything beyond the happy success acceptance stat?” and she replied:

I guess having the supportive family that will help you in your classes and life in general because they are all really close to each other. They also hold professional development events, such as doctor dinners, medical student brunches, resume workshops, and other events to help develop you as a stronger applicant to medical school. 

Watch the video to hear my response!

infographic PreMed Advice How to be a competitive applicant   Mary Kate Kopec.  The Best You PAL Academy.  Premed pre-dental advisor coach

As always and ever, wishing you smiling happiness and exciting success!

Big Hugs,

Mary Kate :0)

Applying to medical or dental school?
…when pre-health advisors give bad advice
Read this true story!

When pre-health advisors give bad advice.  Pre-health clinical experience 4 defining outcomes you need most.  Mary Kate Kopec.  The Best You PAL Academy.  Premed pre-dental advisor coach
When pre-health advisors give bad advice.  Pre-health clinical experience 4 defining outcomes you need most.  Mary Kate Kopec.  The Best You PAL Academy.  Premed pre-dental advisor coach

Applying to medical or dental school?

…when pre-health advisors give bad advice

Read this true story!  Know what to do if it happens to you.

So I just got done interviewing one of my current students about her undergraduate advising experience – it’s something I like to do with my students to understand what led them to me.  This way I get a better feel for how their previous advising was helpful and/or deficient, and this guides me to a deeper understanding of how I can help that student and future students even better.

This student, who I will call Jillian, cuz it’s like one of my favorite names.  :0)  Well, she told me all about her visits with her pre-health advisor – all 2 of them – and how demoralizing it was to hear this advisor’s “advice,” until she ran into a peer-volunteer at Mission of Mercy, an intensive dental patient care volunteering experience.  This co-volunteer, who is a previous student of mine, who is now in dental school, recommended Jillian to me.

“She told me how demoralizing it was to hear this advisor’s “advice.”

So when I asked Jillian about her 2 visits, she told me that during these visits, her pre-health advisor:

  • provided her with the timeline for the AADSAS application
  • gave her advice on how to get letters of recommendation
  • and then after a quick glance at her transcripts, suggested she pursue a Master’s degree, because she wouldn’t be very competitive with her current GPA

Let me just state right up front, Jillian got in.  With her current GPA.  Without pursuing an unneeded Master’s program!  Was her GPA a little low?  Yes.  Did she have other redeeming and qualifying factors to make her a competitive applicant?  Absolutely!!!  But only if you take the time to get to know her, understand her strengths, weaknesses, motivations – who she is and what she has to offer … and then actually help her highlight and showcase all of her amazing goodness in her application and subsequent interviews! 

This is the point of Holistic Review, which is the process by which most medical and dental schools review applicants when considering their competitive status for their programs. 

Ugh, just ugh!

When I hear about advisors taking a quick look at transcripts and dealing out judgements on competitive status using only this metric, the GPA, (or even along with either the DAT or the MCAT scores), I get very frustrated, but not surprised. 

I mean, I used to be a pre-health advisor at a Big Ten school with a very large pre-health student population.  And I can tell you this, at the time, I was 1 of 2 pre-health advisors.  We were always booked 6 – 8 weeks in advance.  We were encouraged by our supervisor to essentially hurry it along.  Hurrying it along encourages snap decisions, which is why I wasn’t very good at doing my job by this standard.  I spent at least an hour with each student, each time.  I always saw students during my lunch hour.  And I helped all day long, from the moment I arrived to the moment I left.  I knew the only way I could really be of help was to get to know my students, ask meaningful questions, listen attentively, and figure out what guidance they truly needed to achieve their success.  (And why I eventually went out on my own to build better relationships with my peeps!)

PLUS – the bottom line is:  We are advisors, not admission committee members participating in the team actually responsible for making decisions about whether you get in or not.

Many of us have informed insight into what makes a competitive applicant, but even with this insight, we do not have the power to decide, and therefore should be very careful with recommendations and judgments.

I’ve seen students with great GPAs and MCAT/DAT scores not get in.  And vice versa, I’ve seen students with low GPAs and low MCAT/DAT scores get in.  There’s simply more to it than numbers.  Thus, the Holistic Review process.

So let’s talk about this Holistic Review process for just a moment.  When you apply to medical or dental school, generally, they will review your whole application (thus holistic review) prior to making a decision about you.  So for a pre-health advisor to simply take a cursory look at your metrics (aka your GPAs and your MCAT or DAT scores) and deliver a judgment to you is in my honest and informed opinion a massive disservice to you! 

And you should never rely on this judgement. 

You should always get a second opinion from someone who is willing to dig deeper with you.  Someone who knows how to help you showcase your strengths and minimize your “un-strengths” (as I like to call them.).  Someone who cares about you and your success, and who is willing to help you find a way to succeed!

Let’s even go back to Jillian’s pre-health advisor visit, when she asked about the best way to get letters of recommendation.  I was fully floored by the superficial advice she was given.  Her advisor told her to seek out professors who knew her best and ask them.  Not that that isn’t helpful in some manner.  BUT there is so much more you should be doing to ask for letters of recommendation to ensure you get the best ones you can.  Ones that, again, help truly highlight your strengths and defend and/or discuss how your un-strengths have made you a better person.

When I work with my students, I have a whole checklist of items for them to prepare and have ready for their meetings with prospective letter writing professors.  Furthermore, it’s not about going back for letters (unless it’s currently too late to do anything else).  A good pre-health advisor, who has access to you from your first inklings of wanting to be a doctor or a dentist, should be sharing with you this helpful and vital insight (and even if it’s you going back for these letters, they should still share at least this basic overview with you):

The formula for a perfect Letter of Recommendation is Personal, Glowing, and Backed by Credentials.

The more your reviewer demonstrates a meaningful, insightful, personal connection with you, the more value the recommendation will have.  The more your reviewer can share your awesomeness and discuss and/or defend your un-strengths, the better your letter will be.  The more respected your reviewer is, the more powerful your letter will be.

The take home message for letters of recommendation: Build positive relationships with mentors who are respected in their field.  Let them get to know you for real.  Show them how awesome you are.

Letters of Recommendation The Best You PAL Academy Premed Pre-dental Pre-health advising and coaching

And to make this formula come true, I suggest my students follow my checklist.  Here are some of the info you should provide your reviewers with when asking for letters of recommendation:

  • Your resume (with excellent descriptions of your experiences)
  • Your personal statement (if you haven’t written it, then a summary of your highlights, strengths, motivations, reasons, experiences … anything that will help them understand why this is important to you)
  • Answers to questions you would like them to discuss about you in the letter
  • Highlights or important points you want them to discuss
  • Point out what un-strength you have that you would like them to defend or discuss as to how it helped you grow, if they are the right person to share this insight for you
  • Essentially anything that can help guide them with what you feel is important to you and will support and/or expand on your personal statement and experience descriptions

You want your letters of recommendation to add beautiful, supportive color to the picture your application is painting of you.  You want your prospective schools to see you in your best, shiniest, bright light.  You want to look shiny, golden to your admissions committees, so they will pick you to interview!!!

And back to Jillian’s advisor’s “help.”  By never taking the moment to engage her in a personal discussion about her dreams and goals, what she had accomplished, what her challenges were, what her experiences were … without that … there is no way she could actually know whether Jillian had a chance at being a competitive applicant.  It’s more than grades and standardized test scores. 

It’s all of that, plus your academic trend over time, plus your personal statement (now call by medical schools “Personal Comments essay”), your letters of recommendation, your choice of schools, your discussion and descriptions of your work and activity experiences … it’s everything!  It all comes down to a holistic review of your entire application with the focus and emphasis on any of those individual factors being at the discretion of each school you apply to.  


You are an amazing and unique person who wants to be a doctor or a dentist, and you have reasons for this.  Those reasons need to be heard.  Felt.  And shown to your prospective schools through all the goodness you’ve accomplished.  Through your growth and development.  Through everything that has brought you to this point. 

Don’t let inadequate advising keep you from achieving your dreams.  Don’t let it demoralize you.  Get the help you need to succeed!  To find the path for you!  To help you showcase your awesomeness.  So you can Stand Up, Stand Out, and Shine!  And be the competitive applicant who gets in!  To be one of our healthcare providers of the future!

My very best wishes to you for your happiness and success, always!

Big Hugs, Mary Kate :0)

Learn more about Mary Kate, The Best You Pre-Health Academic and Life Academy and MK’s services!

Thinking of a Career in Healthcare?
Here’s an option you may not know about.

Thinking of becoming a doctor  Mary Kate Kopec.  The Best You PAL Academy.  Premed pre-dental advisor coach

Thinking of a career in healthcare?  Thinking of becoming a doctor?

Are you interested in what makes a person healthy?

Are you interested in getting to the root cause of illness?  Treating the illness rather than the symptoms?

Are you interested in how to help a person achieve wellness and improve their health?

Are you interested in primary care, family medicine, and integrative or functional medicine?  Then you might be interested in naturopathic medicine and becoming a naturopathic physician.  If so, you can learn more about this growing practice of medicine at The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

naturopathic doctor Mary Kate Kopec.  The Best You PAL Academy.  Premed pre-dental advisor coach

As ever and always, my best wishes to you for your happiness and success!

Big Hugs,

Mary Kate :0)

Protect Your Premed GPA!
Use your Drop Add Deadlines strategically!

Protect Your Premed GPA! Use your drop add deadlines strategically! Pre-health clinical experience 4 defining outcomes you need most.  Mary Kate Kopec.  The Best You PAL Academy.  Premed pre-dental advisor coach

Protect Your PreMed GPA!

Use your drop/add deadlines strategically!

Let’s talk strategy!  You’re premed or pre-dental.  Your GPA matters.  And you have a hidden power that you can wield in times of need!  If a course in your semester turns south on you unexpectedly, drop it!  Drop it like a hot potato and save yourself and your GPA!

With all awesome powers come great responsibilities and know-how to use.  So let’s hit the basics!

Empower Your Success!

You can’t use what you don’t know, so read your school’s handbook and understand the drop/add policy.

Be Proactive!

Mark your calendar with the last date to drop/add without receiving a W – and give yourself a 5 day advance warning as well.  Understand that depending on your school’s policy, AMCAS may treat W’s as F’s.  Otherwise known as ZEROES!  And those will kill your GPA!  Therefore, Withdrawals not done well – meaning before the last day to drop without a W – can be the death of your GPA.  So don’t do that to yourself!

Make Informed Decisions!

Mark your calendar with your test, paper, and project schedule and check to ensure you will have taken some kind of performance assessment and received your grade back BEFORE the drop/add deadline.  Assess your progress in the class – does your learning style match the teaching and testing style of your professor, and are you passing?  Will you be able to earn a competitive grade?

Take Action!

If not, drop the class, and if necessary – to keep you full-time – add another class.

Assess what wasn’t working to determine how you can proceed successfully in the future:

  • Take the class later with a different professor
  • Improve your study skills and knowledge base to match the skill level necessary to take the class successfully
  • Find a course more in line with your interests and aptitude
  • etc

Own Your Education

Empowered, Proactive, Informed, Strategic, = Protected!

Protect Your Premed GPA! Use your drop add deadlines strategically! PreMed INFOGRAPHICPre-health clinical experience 4 defining outcomes you need most.  Mary Kate Kopec.  The Best You PAL Academy.  Premed pre-dental advisor coach

Okay, with that, now that we are here, how are you doing?  How are your classes?  How are you adjusting to the workload?  How are your profs?

Have you been able to take an exam yet?  Have you written a paper yet?  Completed a project?

How have you done?  If you didn’t get a 100%, do you know why, and do you know what you need to do to address the weakness or challenge you faced?  You need to use these performance examinations to objectively review your progress thus far … AND use them to judge your professors. 

You want to get 2 basic things out of this review and judgement.

One – let’s think of a single class at a time – how was your prof?  Did s/he ask questions and/or test you on material that was taught and/or expected?  Did s/he go beyond the material and surprise you?  Did your prof come out of left field and shock the jelly beans out of you? 

And as far as your performance (our second basic thing to review), did you study well?  Enough?  Do you need to improve your approach?  Can you improve by the next exam?  What has the test taught you about your study habits?

When to use the drop/add deadline strategically, IMHO, is when you’ve studied your brains into oblivion, know you can’t do any more or any better, and/or your prof is off his/her rocker by asking you unpredictable, unexpected, WTH-are-you-talking-about kinds of questions. 

If you and the professor are not on the same page, and you feel that there is no hope of it happeningDROP the course.  Find something else to ADD if you need to replace it to maintain your full-time status.  But if you’ve gone to office hours, and you’ve given it your all, and you don’t see how in the world you’re ever going to understand this particular prof, then strategically re-plan your semester, find another professor, … do something. 

This is your academic journey … make it work for you!!!

If you feel your prof was fair and asked good, but hard questions, and that you need to find better ways to study, consider going to your prof’s office hours and asking questions … lots of questions.  They are amazing people … and guess what … they know what they are going to ask you.  They can help you assess your understanding of the content to know where your comprehension weaknesses are.  This is very helpful insight!!! 

Also, consider a study buddy who wants to ace exams like you.  Consider a tutor.  Consider learning new study skills and techniques.  Seek help from the TA.  Go to recitation.  If your school offers learning assistance centers, go!  Get help!!!

In my years teaching, tutoring, mentoring, and coaching, one of the biggest problems I find my students have is that they don’t actually know how to tackle the material effectively.  They study hard, but not effectively.  Happily, study skills are easily learned and adopted, so if you are having troubles, don’t jeopardize your GPA, … just get awesome help! Learn better ways! Dig in and own your education!!!

Be empowered!  Be proactive!  Get informed!  Be strategic!  Protect yourself and your GPA, so you can make your dream of becoming a healthcare practitioner come true!!!  Invest in you!!!  You are worth it!!!

As ever and always, my best wishes to you for your success and happiness!

Mary Kate  :0)

Pre-health Clinical Experiences:
4 defining outcomes you need most!

Pre-health clinical experience 4 defining outcomes you need most.  Mary Kate Kopec.  The Best You PAL Academy.  Premed pre-dental advisor coach

Pre-health Clinical Experience:  4 defining outcomes you need most!

Before engaging your pre-health (be it premed or pre-dent, or other) clinical experiences, you should know why you are there.  What’s the point?  Why are you doing the experience?  You should be asking yourself what you are supposed to be getting out of the experience.  How it will grow you.  And how it will inform your future decisions.

But where students often go wrong is in treating the experience as a To-Do to be competitive rather than the information packed opportunity it is!  When you take on your clinical experience, you are there to do a lot more than build hours toward your application.  You are there to try on the fit.  To see what you are getting yourself into.  To learn whether you really like the practice, or whether the idea of being a doctor or dentist just looks exciting and fulfilling from the outside looking in.

What should I be getting out of my clinical experience?

  1. You should be learning about whether or not you like helping people using practices and methodologies that affect their health.  And why helping people this way is important to you.  Why do you want to help people?  Specifically, why do you want to help people with their health using the healthcare profession you are choosing?
  2. You should be deepening your understanding of what health is, how it is achieved, and how it is threatened.
  3. You need to be learning about the career field you are considering:
    • The impact it will have on your life
    • What options it offers you for your future growth and development
    • Whether it is able to meet your expectations for what you want to be able to do for your future patients
    • The limitations of the practice
      • Current science, tools, and practices
      • Cultural
      • SES
      • Political / Policy
      • Insurance
      • Etc.
    • And with all of these (and any other factors you deem important), can you live with them?  Will you be able to find the success and happiness you desire?  Will you be able to achieve what you want to achieve?  And do for your patients what you want to be able to do for them?
  4. You should be building skills and personal attributes necessary to be a successful healthcare professional, along with gaining important lessons learned, and developing values resonant with best practice healthcare
Pre-health clinical experience 4 defining outcomes you need most.

Why are these outcomes so important?  Again, to help ensure you are making the right choice for you, your future career, your future life, your future success, and even your future happiness. But beyond you, and arguably more important (since to choose healthcare is to choose a profession of service to others by taking care of their health and their lives) is making sure you are making the right choice for your future patients to help ensure their well-being. 

Being a pre-health and success coach, I’ve known about doctors and dentists regretting their choices.  So much so, that it’s not uncommon for some to leave their practice and switch to a second career (what a costly unhappiness).

Or worse, the ones who realize they don’t like it, but stay anyway.

Ever been unhappy in something you’ve done?  Were you still able to give it your all, day in and day out doing that thing?  Your 100%? Think about a time when you’ve received service from someone for something and that someone was a jerk.  Maybe they weren’t nice, or they were simply unpleasant.  They didn’t appear to care.  Maybe they didn’t care.  And it was clear to you that they most definitely were NOT thinking about you, the receiver of the dis-service they were providing. 

It’s no surprise this happens.  It’s human.  It’s human to grow apathetic, or worse,antagonistic, while doing something you don’t want to do or don’t like doing.

Now think about that in a healthcare environment.  An unhappy care provider is likely to lead to unhappy patient care experiences.  And that’s just not good for anyone involved.

Medical and dental schools know this.  And they are trying to prevent it from happening to you as best they can.  They do this by requiring you to get patient care and clinical experience in the field you are considering. 

Something to think about – quotes from current practitioners who are unhappy with their field when asked whether medical school was worth it:

“Unless you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else, don’t!”

“All you do is prescribe drugs and push vaccines.  Healthcare is not your main concern or training.  You have to learn functional medicine on your own.”

“I have five children.  None of them are becoming doctors.  What does that tell you?”

See.  The trick is: Until you do it, how can you possibly know?  Until you’ve tried something out with your whole heart committed to the endeavor and seeking to learn as much as you can, how can you possibly know whether it is for you?

The hardest part about figuring out what you want to do with your career is accurately predicting how you will actually feel once you get there.  Looking forward can be dreamy, idealistic, and filled with happy visions of success and financial security.  Looking forward, it is easy NOT to be realistic.  It’s a challenge, and honestly, there simply is no way to truly know until you get there.  Until you’ve been doing it for some lengthy period of time. You just can’t know.  The best you can do is to get informed and get experience, and try it out as much as you can.  With as much depth as you can.  The more you do, the more you engage, the more questions you ask, the more you learn about the environment and how you do in it, the more you understand the ups, the downs, the goodness, the not-so-goodness – this is how you make the most informed decision you can.  And that’s what medical and dental schools expect you to do! 

Becoming competitive isn’t about adding a checklist item to your application.  It’s about you growing and learning who you are and what you have to offer, getting the education and experience you need, and making sure you have a mature, reality-based understanding of the choice you are making to pursue healthcare.  Adding a checklist item isn’t going to help you.  Being an educated, experienced, and skilled applicant with desirable personal attributes, lessons learned, and values is going to make you Stand Up, Stand Out, and Shine … and it is what will help you make the right choice for you and your future patients, and that will help you be competitive and Get In.

Big Hugs!  Wishing you happiness and success in your patient care and clinical experiences!!!  Mary Kate :0)

Getting into Medical School:
Which patient care experiences make me a more competitive applicant?

which patient care and clinical experiences will help me get into medical school Mary Kate Kopec The Best You PAL Academy Pre-health premed Pre-dental advising coaching

Getting into Medical School: Which patient care experiences make me a more competitive applicant?

When I ask students why they want to be a doctor (or a dentist, or any other kind of healthcare provider), without hesitation, they respond, “Because I like to help people.”

This is fantastic!  Helping people is great!  … But there’s a significant deficiency in this response, and it’s a deficiency that if left unanswered, it will keep you out of medical school (or dental school, or whichever healthcare profession you are interested in).

There’s a lot of ways to help people.  For instance, I help people get into medical, dental, and other healthcare schools.  I teach math.  I teach writing.  I tutor.  I mentor.  I help people find and build their happiness and success, both personally and professionally.  But I don’t prescribe drugs.  I don’t have scalpels and gauze in my toolkit.  I don’t problem solve illness or injury.  Because I’m not a doctor, nor do I want to be.  … But you do.  So, the more exact question is why do you want to care for people using the methods and practices of the healthcare professional of your choice?  Why do you want to help people by listening to their health concerns and problems, then diagnose those problems (sometimes involving diagnostic medicine), and then offer solutions via drugs, surgeries, and other medical methods? … And moreover, how do you know?  What have you done to experience this kind of helping people, and how has it led you to the choice of becoming a doctor (or dentist, etc)?

It’s at this point that I get the blank stares.  The “Uh, I guess I hadn’t thought about it like that.”’s

And, well.  That’s a problem, especially as a lot of students put off talking to a pre-health advisor or coach until it’s time to apply … usually because it’s time for them to write their personal statement, and they don’t know what to write about that will make them stand apart – stand out – stand up and shine.

They don’t know that what they don’t know can hurt them and their chances of getting in.

So, let’s NOT let this happen to you.  The first thing you need to know about your experiences (patient care, clinical, or otherwise) is that they all NEED to be a part of your journey.  Not a pre-planned-from-day-one-without-adaption-to-life-experience-and-change list of things to do.  You come to medical schools with a list of I-just-did-stuff-to-make-me-competitive, and you’ll find out fast just how uncompetitive you’ve made yourself.

So what then? Let’s start with the wrong question, and the reason why it’s the wrong question.

The Wrong question is: What do other people do?

This question won’t help you, because you aren’t other people with their likes, dislikes, interests, goals, motivations, etc.

What is the Right question?  … The Right questions is:  What should I do?

And this question should be followed by: What are my options?

To answer this let’s talk about patient care.  What is it?  How do you demonstrate it?  How do you give it?  Who do you give it to?

The simple answer is caring for patients with the practices, methods, and procedures consistent with healthcare, whether it be mainstream medicine or CAM (complementary and alternative medicine – practices such as chiropractic, massage therapy, acupuncture, etc).

There are so many options for you to learn about who you like to help and how you like to help, and under what circumstances you like to help – you just have to choose some to try and see what fits and what doesn’t.

For instance, do you like to help everyone?  Like in a family practice setting?  Or maybe you like working with children or the elderly.  Or maybe you have a special calling to help cancer patients.  Or even hospice and palliative care.  … This list goes on for quite a while.  And generally speaking, when you first start off on your pre-health, pre-med, or pre-dental journey, the idea of helping people is carrying weight in your thoughts, but you don’t KNOW who or how … not really … not until you give it a try and actually see what resonates with you – what calls to you.  And even then, it’s not unusual for pre-med peeps to decide their actual specialty until they get into 3rd and 4th years (when they start doing actual rotations).  Nonetheless, it is still on you to try out the patient care world and investigate clinical settings … and learn about the career field you are seeking to engage.

When you write your personal statement and when you interview, you will need to talk about your journey and your choices.  What led you to them.  How they guided you to medicine.  What moves you.  What inspires you.  What limitations you’ve seen, and how you might handle them in your future practice.  Etc.

Your journey must be yours and yours alone.  It needs to flourish as you grow, learn, investigate, develop, and figure out who you are and why this is important to you.

So where do you begin?  Again, this depends on you.  But if you have no clinical exposure under your belt, a good place to start is shadowing and gaining clinical exposure.  You should shadow peeps doing what you think you might want to do.  Family practice.  Specialty.  CAM.  Etc.

When shadowing, you NEED to be observant and reflective.  Ask lots of questions of the practitioner you are shadowing.  Things like:

What do you love about your job?  Why?

What’s the hardest part of your job?  Why?

If you could go back in time and do this all over again, would you?  Why or why not?

What do you feel I need to know to help me understand this practice as a future career choice?  Why?

When taking care of your patients, what are you thinking?  How do you go about helping them?  What’s important to you when you are helping them?  Why?

Are they in a private practice?  Or are they in a hospital?  How does their practice environment influence the care they are able to provide?

… Getting the picture?

When you shadow, you see.  You listen.  You observe.  You then think about all that you are seeing and hearing and ask yourself if this is you?

when shadowing aske these questionsThe Best You PAL Academy Pre-health premed Pre-dental advising coaching

Another important thing about clinical exposure and patient care is making sure you get to see blood.  Make sure you can handle it.  Make sure you can handle “the cut” in surgery.  Make sure you can handle broken body parts.  Sometimes students think they can, but when it happens in real life, they find they can’t.  Or they don’t like it.  These things can influence your journey and path.  You might decide to find another path, or you might find you are ever more convinced that you are pursuing the correct journey for you and for your future patients.

Only your experience can guide you.

So you’ve been shadowing, and you are freaking loving everything you see, or at least important certain parts, and you want more.  You’re ready to try on actual patient care.  How do you do that?

Where do you get this experience?

Again.  Options.  Sometimes, students get offered positions from their shadowing experiences.  Their performance impresses the doctor, and next thing you know, the doctor offers them a more involved role.  And this role can provide on-the-job training, with growth and patient-care skills to develop.  For instance, you could become an assistant to the doctor.  And this can be a tremendous opportunity!

This is another reason why I’m always telling my students to always give their best.  You just never know what kind of opportunity is waiting to knock on your door when you prove yourself dedicated, competent, and caring.

In addition to these kinds of awesome opportunities, you could volunteer in places like:

Ronald McDonald House

VA hospital

Nursing homes


Red Cross

Hospital or clinic volunteer

Medical mission trips

Maybe you want more skills and certifications, so maybe you seek out becoming a certified phlebotomist, EMT, medical assistant, or scribe.

patient care opportunity ideas Mary Kate Kopec The Best You PAL Academy Pre-health premed Pre-dental advising coaching

Choices!!!  You have to begin your path with your foundational interest and see where it takes you, what it teaches you, how it influences you and guides you to make new choices about what your next steps are.

And all the while, you want to be developing your personal attributes and skills, lessons learned, and values established and gained.

Clinical exposure and patient care are MUSTs on your experience agenda.  Which ones you do depend on you, your likes, your dislikes, your values, your goals, your interests … etc.  And once you get started you might find that something you liked or thought you disliked might just surprise you and turn out to be the opposite.  You won’t know until you try.

As a whole, the point is to answer the question of why you want to be a doctor (someone who helps people with healthcare) and how you know.  You’ll need to be able to discuss your journey; the personal attributes and skills you’ve gained; the lessons you’ve learned; the values you’ve gained; and you’ll need to talk about why this is all important to you and how you know (which means talking about your actual experiences and your specific journey).

When you can do this – when you can show medical schools how your journey has led you to the practice you desire, then you will have chosen the patient care and clinical experiences that make you a competitive candidate!

Big Hugs and wishing you happiness and success in your patient care and clinical experiences!

Mary Kate :0)

Getting into Medical School:
Does doing research help?

does doing research make you more competitive The Best You PAL Academy Pre-health premed Pre-dental advising coaching

So, you see yourself as a doctor or a dentist and you want to know whether doing research will help you.  Help?  It can, but it depends.  Is research required to become a doctor (or a dentist)?  No.  Do lots of students get into medical or dental school without doing research?  Absolutely.  So how do you know what you should do to become a competitive applicant who gets in?  Great question!

Let’s talk about doing research, or not, to help you get in.

We need to start with the most important question regarding doing research, and that question is: Do you like doing research?

Honestly, we get straight to the core of the matter with this one question.  Because if you don’t like doing research, then there are plenty of other ways for you to dedicate and devote your time, efforts, and energies in helping you grow and develop into an amazing and competitive candidate.  Usually, if a student isn’t driven by research, they tend to be more patient driven, and they seek out Incredible Experiences that allow them to directly engage people and the clinical setting with goals of learning about the human spirit, the human condition, behavior, needs, fears, challenges … and this list just goes on and on.  There are so many ways for you to develop your patient care personal attributes, skills, lessons learned, and values.  And instead of forcing yourself to do research when it doesn’t call to your heart – which is a waste of time for you – it’s best for you to find the activities and experiences that mean something to you, inspire you, … call to you, for real.  Those are the experiences that will grow you into your Best Shining Self, and they will help you become the competitive applicant you need to be to get in.

Now, if on the other hand, you try research and you love it … then get in there and get researching!  Having been a researcher, I can tell you, it’s its own way of life.  Research comes with its own personal attributes, skills, lessons learned, and values.  Some of my favorites are things like: learning how research informs clinical practice and in turn how clinical practice informs research (It’s a cycle of hopeful lifesaving discovery, my peeps!  It can be awesome and exciting!); learning problems solving skills; truly understanding the scientific method; learning where a lot of our knowledge about health and healing come from; gaining a specific attention to detail; learning how to think critically and evaluate outcomes … and this list goes on and on.

If you love doing research, then do research.  I suspect you will find yourself being drawn to medical or dental schools that have research components (not all do), and in turn, if you do well in your research endeavors, they will be drawn to you.  Does this mean that you should pursue an MD/PhD or DDS/PhD?  Again, that will come down to you and your personal goals and how you see yourself living your life and your career – how you want to contribute and spend your time.  If you want it, go for it.  If you don’t, then don’t.  …But MK, I want to ensure I get a good paying job. … I hear ya.  If you love what you do, then you will find your niche, and once you find it – should it be healthcare – then rest with confidence, the peeps are always going to need healthcare.  You will have a job.  And at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether your healthcare practice comes with research as a foundation or not, or whether you are clinical researcher with a patient load in your area of expertise.  What matters is that you love what you do so that your patients will get the best healthcare they can and need from you to help them heal, regain wellness, and/or maintain wellness.

And before I wrap this up … I just want to make sure to state this important fact: Whether you choose to do research or to not do research as part of your prep, be sure to get clinical/patient care exposure and experience.  Because where research is optional, clinical and patient care experience is not.  You’ve got to try on taking care of peeps to learn lots of good things about caring for people … and to show your future schools you’ve tried it and know you like it.  If you don’t, you won’t be competitive!

does doing research make you more competitive The Best You PAL Academy Pre-health premed Pre-dental advising coaching

So.  Do you like doing research?  If you don’t know, it’s worth trying on to find out.  Get the answer – it’s important!  Once you know, you’ll be able to guide your path with whether to do research or not to help you become a competitive applicant.  The point is, whatever you choose, you choose what you love and what inspires you … and you will become the competitive applicant you need to be to get in!!!

Big Hugs and as always, wishing you happiness and success!!!

Mary Kate

Getting into Medical School: 3 Essential Steps

3 essential steps for getting into medical or dental school The Best You PAL Academy pre-health premed pre-dental coaching advising Mary Kate Kopec

Are you dreaming of becoming a doctor, or a dentist?  If so, … good dream.  We need awesome, caring, wonderful healthcare givers, and if that is you, then we need you!  So how do you make this dream come true?

Well, if I’m not wasting time sugar coating it … hard work.  Plain and simple.  Except, not actually simple.  For example, thinking of hard work, you might automatically think of your coursework, and if so, you’d be correct in thinking this, but it’s also much more.  So. Much. More.

Did you know that over half that apply DON’T get in?  That can be a very intimidating stat, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t make it happen, or even that you won’t.  It just means that you need to know how to set yourself apart from everyone else … It means you need to shine brighter!

That doesn’t mean you have to get straight A’s or get perfect scores on your MCAT or DAT – although, sure, that would help.  What it means, though, is you need to know what it takes to build yourself into a competitive applicant.  And today, we are going to focus on Phase 1 of the two phase process of being a competitive applicant, where Phase 1 is everything you do leading up to the application, and Phase 2 (which we’ll save for another chat) is everything you do while you are applying.

2 phases to becoming a competitive applicant The Best You PAL Academy Pre-health premed Pre-dental advising coaching

Now mind you, I could write books (here’s another book or check out my author page for more) about about everything there is to do and know for Phase 1, but for this chat, I want to focus on 3 things that are essential to your happiness and success!

You need to start by taking excellent care of yourself. … Don’t roll your eyes at me … LOL, or worse, hit the snore button.  Seriously, if I had a nickel for every time this topic gets me a yawn or disinterested look, I’d be so rich – but honestly, this is a big deal.  And it oftentimes goes undervalued or overlooked.  Hey, I get that you’re busy and young, and I mean, you like, slept for 5 hours and ate a whole power bar with that cup of coffee, so you’re fed and rested, what’s the big deal?  Right?  Well, the short of it is, you need to do well in school and in all of your developing and growing activities, and if you aren’t doing well, then you won’t do well.

So you need to love yourself and care about yourself, and you need to give yourself the healthy basics.  You need to get enough sleep to actually rest and restore your body (science shows that number to be on average 7-8 hours for peeps … you know … science and health, the basics of the career field you are interested in).  I get that you’re a busy student with SO MUCH to do, and you can’t always get this kind of golden, glorious sleep, but try – seriously TRY to get this amount more than not, and when you can’t, schedule in a “make up” day and make it happen.  If you’re not rested, your brain productivity and reasoning skills are going to drop, and that’s not doing you or your GPA any good.

Eat a healthy diet … yep … I speak of those fruits and veggies … food with fiber and nutrition to fuel your brain and your body (and if you eat them, eggz iz good for da brainz! … it’s the choline in them; it’s a rare and uber helpful nutrient!).  Find fun; find laughter – and LMAO every chance you get.  It’s stress relief of the golden kind.  You’ll kick up your endorphins and other happy brain chemicals, and your body will thank you!  Hydrate, my awesome peep!  Carry your water bottle around with you daily.  Keep it filled up!  Did you know that when you get dehydrated you and get tired and lose your ability to fully concentrate, among many other non-conducive-to-being-awesome-in-your-education-and-prep kind of things.  Such an easy fix to keep you alert and ready to learn and perform.  So hydrate!!!  And last but not least for taking care of yourself, exercise!  Whether you walk or bike around campus, do yoga, hit the gym … whatever works for you … make time for it!  Make it happen.  It will improve your mood, coping skills, and overall mental, emotional, and physical health!

3 essential steps for getting into medical or dental school The Best You PAL Academy Pre-health Premed Pre-dental coaching advising

You want to follow taking care of yourself with developing awesome, effective study habits!  If you have just recently landed at college, and are just out of high school, it is very likely that you are realizing how much work your classes can be, and how much faster the professors cover material than your HS teachers did.  It’s college, and classes usually move at a minimum of 2X faster than HS.  That means you’ve got to up your game, and up it fast!  Get brave, learn to raise your hand in class and ask questions.  If you have a question, stats show that at least one other student in the room likely has the same question.  Be awesome and get that answer.  Every bit you don’t understand is a bit that can kill your performance on the test, or on that paper, or however your prof is assessing your learning.  And that results in lower grades … and you want HIGHER grades!!!

Every human learns and processes information at different rates and with different context dependencies (think about how you and a friend might read the same book and find out that you had different favorite parts, and you read it faster or slower than your friend).  When it comes to mastering your coursework, you have to think of yourself and the amount of time it’s going to take YOU to learn it.  Don’t worry about how fast or slow anyone else is going.  Doesn’t matter.  You’re not working for their life or their career goals.  You’re working for you life and your goals.  So.  How much ever time you need to learn the material, that’s the amount of time you need to give yourself.  Otherwise, you’re just being self-defeating, and that’s not going to help you.

When you’ve tried and tried, and you’ve read the material, and reviewed your notes, and done all the problem sets or handouts, but you still have questions … pack up (grab your book, your notes, everything that you’ve done) and head to your prof’s office hours.  No one knows the material (or how they are going to test you on it) better than your professor, so go to them and have them fill in the blanks and heighten your understanding, so that your new found comprehension can get you those A’s!!!  And if you need more, find a study buddy, get a tutor, … whatever … just get help!!!  (Also, note, you will need awesome letters of recommendation when you apply … the only way to get those … meaning awesome ones … is to get to know your profs and let them get to know you … let them care about you, invest in you, want to help you achieve your dreams … so beyond immediate help of learning the material, prof’s office hours can help you build those necessary relationships and mentorships that make a ginormous difference during application time!)

So, now that you are taking care of yourself and learning at your highest, most productive awesome-sauce-ness, it’s time for you to get out of the classroom and engage Incredible experiences!!!  To be competitive, you must develop lots and lots of personal attributes and skills (like time management, compassion, empathy, responsibility, patient care, etc), along with lessons learned and values gained and developed.  And you have to experience STUFF (life, people, hardship, having to make choices, opportunities, etc) to get these awesome-sauce characteristics and traits!  So for our quick chat today, I will just add these final thoughts for gaining incredible experiences.  1.  Get clinical experience as quickly as you can.  Why?  Because it doesn’t make sense for you to dive headlong into 3 years of pre-req courses and taking the MCAT or DAT for a career field that you may not even like.  (I’ve met with juniors who haven’t gotten in their clinical experience thinking they will do it after they apply.  News flash: That WON’T help you!!!  Firstly, you need to have the clinical experience BEFORE you apply, so you have something to talk about on your app and in your personal statement.  And secondly, I’ve seen some of these same juniors finally get out there and try it, and then realize it’s not for them … and they find themselves lost with wondering what-the-hell-do-they-do-now???  Don’t let this happen to you!)

2. Don’t research if you hate it.  If it’s not your thing, it’s okay.  You don’t need research to become a doctor or a dentist.  But if you do like it … what a great way to build a mentor-mentee relationship and get a much needed awesome letter of rec!  Plus, by doing original research, you will build problem solving skills, develop a deeper understanding of science and how new knowledge is generated along with the scientific method, … among many other things.  So if research is your bag … fill it deeply with your awesomeness!!!

3. Volunteer only in the things that interest you … even if after you try it you realize it doesn’t really interest you.  SO MUCH is learned by trying new things and finding out what you like and don’t like and what your strengths and un-strengths are!  But don’t volunteer in something just because a friend told you it will make you competitive.  By doing so, you are already proving you’re not competitive.  You are showing that you can’t think for yourself or learn for yourself or find out who you are and what you want for yourself … do you see what I’m saying?  There is no perfect list of volunteer activities that makes you the perfect candidate except for the list of activities that you choose for yourself and for the reasons why you choose them, and then all of the personal attributes, skills, lessons learned, and values you gain from them.  Your journey is personal … yours alone!  Enjoy it!  Love it!!! Make the most of it!!!

4. Travel!!!  Ohmigosh!  Meet new people.  See new places.  Learn about how other people live and learn.  What their challenges and joys are.  Their culture.  All of it!!!  You can gain cultural sensitivity and tolerance along with compassion and empathy for others … and you grow your understanding of how the world is and works.  And so much more!!!  Yes! YES!! YESSSS!!!!

And, finally … 5. work if you have the time.  Build your resume.  Gain desired personal attributes, skills, lessons learned, and values.  Build your support network.

All of these help you develop yourself into your Best Shining Self … and when you do that, you learn how to Stand Up, Stand Out, and Shine!  And that is how you set yourself apart from the other candidates!  That is how you help ensure you get in!!!  That’s how you make your dream of becoming a doctor or a dentist your reality!!!

Know that you can do this!!!  You can make good choices and give yourself the time you need to succeed!  You can be the dream!!!

Big Hugs and as always, wishing you happiness and success!!!
Mary Kate

Building a Competitive Application Package
Getting the Best Letters of Recommendation You Can

Letters of Recommendation The Best You PAL Academy Premed Pre-dental Pre-health advising and coaching


Your chances of building a competitive application for medical or dental school increase tremendously when you consider the Holistic Review process and then use it to your advantage when pulling together all of your elements: metrics (GPAs, academic rigor and trend, and MCATs or DATs), personal statement, your experiences and work activities (and how you use the descriptions of them to make you flourish on paper), and your letters of recommendation or evaluation, and should you get them, your interviews.

Here, we are going to talk about your letters of recommendation.  You might think you have no control over them at all, and if that is the case, you would be happily wrong.  In fact, there is a lot you can do to secure wonderful letters of recommendation … letters that will make you shine … letters that will turn your un-strengths into strengths … letters that will fill in any gaps and make the picture you are painting for your admissions committees burst with excellent supporting colors and details … letters that can make the difference between you getting in or getting sidelined!

So to get the letters you need, you first need to understand the formula for a perfect letter of recommendation.  It needs to be PERSONAL, GLOWING, and BACKED BY CRED!

Being personal means that your recommender/reviewer knows you.  They know your strengths and un-strengths.  They know your interests and what motivates you.  They are invested in you and your success.  When you accomplish this, your reviewer will care, and s/he will able to demonstrate a meaningful, insightful personal connection with you.  In doing so, the value of their letter is far greater than that of merely acquiring a letter from a prof for a one semester class that you got a good grade in, but didn’t build a relationship with.  The difference (aka the level of successful support) will show.  And you want all of the amazing, successful support you can get!

The only way to get a truly glowing recommendation is to glow.  To show your mentor/reviewer the best you have to offer.  When you commit to your relationship with this person, and you show them all the awesome that you are and have to offer to your future patients and school programs, they will be able to easily share that in their letter.  So the more your reviewer can share details of your awesomeness and discuss and/or defend your un-strengths (by turning them into personal positives), the better your letter will be!  I have an additional tip for you here … to maximize the value even more … share your personal statement with them (or if you don’t have it yet, a written synopsis of you, your accomplishments, values, lessons learned, and goals) … talk to them about what you would hope they would be willing to highlight for you … or even discuss/defend for you.  Of course, it’s their letter and their final say, but you can always let them know what is important to you and why, and what you hope they could support on your behalf.  Also having a copy of your current transcripts and resume can help a lot, too!

Backed by cred … it’s so easy to get sucked into your education and running around trying to get all of your volunteerisms in, and in doing so, miss the importance of what you are doing and why you are doing it.  As you are growing and developing along your journey towards becoming a doctor or a dentist, it is important for you to invest thought into your future as you go and know that you’re going to need stellar letters of recommendation.  GREAT ONES!  That means building relationships with peeps who are well respected in their fields.  And even though it sucks, those cred letters make a difference.  PhD, MD, DO, DDS, etc … these handsome letters will go a lot further than an MA, MS, or … TA for my course (who you oftentimes have way more access to than the human with the fancy letters).  It can be hard, especially in larger institutions with larger class sizes, but nonetheless, the responsibility falls on you to build relationships with peoples of respected authority.  So seek out your mentors.  Get involved with them.  Let them get to know you.  Volunteer in their lab.  Go to their office hours ALL THE TIME!  Be involved in class.  Ask questions.  Share your triumphs and challenges with them.  Ask for advice/counsel/guidance.  Listen to their story.  … Something.  And enough of that something for them to be able to get to know you.  And keep in mind, you need at least 3 letters.  That’s 3 valuable mentor/mentee relationships.  And every relationship of positive substance takes time.  So invest in them, so they will invest in you!

The bottom line take home message:  Build positive relationships with mentors who are respected in their fields.  Let them get to know you for real.  Show them how awesome you are. 

Know that you have far more control than you might think … and know that you can build a spectacular, shining, successful application for medical and/or dental school!  Invest in you, so they will!!!  :0)

As always, my very best wishes to you for your happiness and success!

Big Hugs,

Mary Kate


Mary Kate Kopec · Copyright © 2019. All rights Reserved.

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