How to Juggle MCAT Prep and Work (It Can Be Done!)
You are not alone. Every year, thousands of students must make the difficult decision to work their way through undergraduate school. Whether you are working on-campus or off-campus, balancing work with school responsibilities and MCAT preparation can be quite the challenge. Nevertheless, with a little planning and a lot of determination you CAN pull it off!
Plan Ahead and Schedule Accordingly
It is really never too early to start thinking about the month and year in which you want to take the MCAT. Once you choose that date, you can slowly but surely put the other pieces into place by making an effective MCAT study schedule and asking yourself the following questions:
- How long do I need to study for the MCAT? 3 months? 6 months? Longer? (See our MCAT Study Schedule)
- How will I study for the MCAT? Self-study or a MCAT prep course?
- Will I have taken all my basic science courses by the time I take the MCAT?
Likewise, you should also think about the other activities that you need or want to do such as volunteering, research, sports, or studying abroad. You may even have the opportunity to take on an internship or shadowing experience. Whatever it is that you aim to do or achieve, schedule your activities by quarter, semester, or at least school year and by all means prioritize!
Prioritize and Manage Your Time
As much as you may have planned for your college years, keep in mind that medical school is the next step; so, your college resume should reflect that. Certainly, medical school admissions personnel will admire applicants who explore extracurricular activities or work part-time. However, your grades and corresponding GPA will be closely scrutinized; so, make studying your top priority and MCAT prep your second priority. After all, it is much easier to retake the MCAT than to retake a college course.
There are a number of ways to enhance your pre-med GPA. Yet, a great way to start is to ask each of your professors for an estimate of the number of hours you should spend per week studying for that specific course. Although that study time will usually include homework, writing papers, and completing class projects, do not be surprised if some of your courses demand more study time than others.
After calculating the number of hours per week you need to study, evaluate your other obligations--MCAT prep, team practices, club/organization meetings, research projects--and the minimum amount of time you need to devote to each obligation per week. Whatever time is left can be your working hours. Of course, you must allow yourself time to sleep at least seven hours per night and unplug from everything at least once or twice a month (i.e. see a movie, go out with friends, visit family, etc.). Otherwise, the quality of your daily activities will suffer dramatically.
Additional Tips to Consider
- Always exhaust all your financial aid options prior to getting a job
- Seek jobs that reinforce your education like teacher assisting, tutoring, or a paid internship
- While working, utilize your lunch break or other down time for studying
- Ask your supervisor for a lighter work schedule during the week prior to your course final exams
- As your MCAT test date approaches, do not hesitate to back off from some of your other obligations to allow yourself more time to study for the MCAT and take MCAT practice tests
- Register for one of the MCAT test dates in the summer when you might have less obligations or opt to just work during the summer and focus on school during the school year
For more assistance with juggling MCAT prep and work, remember you can always communicate with a pre-med advisor, school counselor, or upperclassman. Just make sure you seek help before you become overwhelmed and you will be fine.