Archive for April, 2009

Med School Prep: Try, Try Again

If you’re a long-time reader you might remember catching a mention that my sweetie has been working hard at applying to med school for some time now. We started discussing his goal to be a doctor right about when we met.

Well, finally, almost four years later, he got accepted!!!

It was a long, hard road, but it was worth it. I wanted to share our story with you pre-med students out there so you can get a feel for what the med school application process is really like.

The First Time Around

I’m not going to sugar-coat it: med school prep was hard, discouraging work, and we were completely in the dark about the process, which made it that much harder.

Ideally, he would have:

  • Studied for 6 months beforehand, and taken his MCAT during his Junior year of college,
  • Done some volunteering at a hospital or other medical facility,
  • Had some medical-related work experience,
  • Had lots of other volunteer service in non-medical fields to show diversity,
  • Built a bond with several professors and medical professionals who could write him letters of recommendation,
  • Gotten straight A’s,
  • Found out about financial aid for the application fees for low-income med school applicants,
  • Gone to the career center to find out more about writing an essay, interviewing, the services they offer to med school applicants, and deadlines, and,
  • Submitted his application at the very beginning of the cycle, in early June. (Most schools interview and admit as the applications come in, so waiting too late can make it much harder to get accepted.)

Unfortunately, we had no clue about any of this, so instead he took his MCAT the summer after Junior year, which put his application far behind, which meant that he got fewer secondaries and only one interview. We didn’t know about fee assistance, so we paid out a LOT of money for primary and secondary applications. He also was unable to take advantage of all the Career Center had to offer, because he didn’t know about it.

For more about how to prepare, check out this post about how to prepare for med school early.

The Second Time Around

When the rejection letters started arriving one after another, it was a big, painful hit to the heart. Every day my sweetie would head straight to the mailbox upon getting home, only to pull out another of the dreaded small envelopes. To say it was hard on him would be a gross understatement.

I was so proud of him, though, because it really lit a fire under him. He scooped up a collection of really good recommendation letters, started volunteering at a hospital, worked two jobs, and got straight A’s the last few quarters of college. He went to the Career Center and found out about a lot of the things in that list I wrote above, and almost the first day applications were open, he submitted his second round of applications to medical school.

Easy As… Rocket Science

But then came the waiting. Secondaries came, and then more waiting. Three months later he had his first interview, but not until the following February did he finally finish his last interview.

And then… you guessed it. More waiting. Rejections. Waitlists. Checking the mailbox every day. calling admissions offices periodically to check his status. Watching his email inbox like a hawk. Passing deadline after deadline, until finally, just last Wednesday, two years after he started studying for his MCAT, he finally got an acceptance. We were excited, relieved, and awed that the day finally came. (And we celebrated true broke-student style by getting some Chinese takeout. Haha.)

The Moral of the Story

Unless you are the rare “perfect candidate,” the med school application process is going to be a very humbling process. You’ll feel defeated, exhausted, and under-qualified again and again. The good news, however, is that you can (and should!) try again. Do your homework, research, talk to other students, and take every opportunity to improve your application, essay, and interview skills. (Try for message boards and helpful articles.)

Good luck, and remember, don’t give up!

photo: be healthy 2 by lusi

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6 comments April 28th, 2009

Brain Break: Two Ways to Have Almost-Free Fun With Books

Does anybody remember what it was like to read a book that WASN’T assigned reading? Once an avid book-reader, I personally felt that forming a love-hate relationship with books was one of the tougher parts of college. How could I want to read for fun after I’d just spend three hours reading by assignment about ribosomes and Pavlovian responses?

Well my friends, I am happy to say that there are still ways to enjoy books (and take a study break), and I’m going to share two of my favs with you.

GoodReads (

I can’t remember how I found out about GoodReads, but it is currently one of my favorite websites. A site for book-lovers (or at least book-readers), it lets you:

  • Create lists of books you’ve read,
  • Rate each book 1-5 stars,
  • Write reviews,
  • And, of course, much more.

You can also create a to-read list, so you can keep track of all those best-sellers and indie reads you keep forgetting to pick up at the library. Best of all, when you add “friends” you can see what your roommate has been reading lately, or even check out the book lists of one of the many authors who are part of the community. And, of course, you can integrate it into your blog or Facebook. Plus, you may as well feel accomplished for all those books you have to read for school. I love seeing the tally of how many books I’ve read next to my username! (Sorry, is that terribly geeky?!?)


PaperBack Swap (

I’ve written before about PaperBack Swap, but that was before I’d even tried it out. Now that I’ve used it (I just picked up a new book today!), I’m an even bigger fan! If you missed out on that other post, the basic concept is as follows:

  1. You list all the books you have but don’t want anymore. They don’t have to be only paperbacks; you can list hardcovers and audiobooks, too.
  2. When someone requests your book, you mail it out, paying only for media mail postage (cheap!). When they receive the book, you get swap credits.
  3. You use your credits to pick out books other people have that you want, and they send it to you. This time you pay NO shipping costs. Yay!

You can also make a “Wish List” of books you want to read that may not be available yet. When another user lists one of those books, you’ll get an email offering you the option to request it.

I LOVE this service for several reasons. First, I love getting good, non-bill parcels in the mail. Second, I love a good deal. (If you like this concept, check out my previous post to find out other sites to swap DVDs, books, and CDs). And third, I love the satisfaction of scrolling through my To-Read list on Goodreads and being able to pick up a copy of one of those books without even heading to the bookstore!

Tip: You can sometimes find textbooks, too! Imagine getting a $100+ textbook for just the price of shipping! Sweet!

photo by lusi

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4 comments April 25th, 2009

Cheap & Easy College Recipes: Pizza!

With spring beginning to shine down on us and lovely new fruits and veggies popping up at the local farmer’s markets, I am thinking more and more about making good food with fresh ingredients. I found an amazing recipe for a margherita pizza (no, it doesn’t involve alcohol) and have adapted it to be more new-chef friendly. Give it a try! It’s easy and YUMMY!

Pizza Dough

You can always by a pre-made or ready-to-cook dough at the store, but those are pricey and honestly, never taste as good as home made. This dough, adapted from a Martha recipe , is easy and yummy.

  • 1 1/2 c warm water
  • 2 packets active dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 c olive or canola oil (olive oil is expensive so canola can substitute!)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 cups flour (leveled off)

1. Pour the warm water into a bowl, and pour the yeast on top of it (you don’t need to stir). Let it sit for about 5 minutes. The yeast should “activate” meaning it will bubble slightly, and begin to smell very… well… yeast-y. 🙂

2. Whisk in sugar, oil, and salt.

3. With a wooden spoon, stir in flour 1 cup at a time until a sticky dough forms. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let it sit in a warm place for an hour. Dough should “rise” meaning it will about double in size.

4. Turn dough onto a well-floured surface (a countertop is fine). Flour your hands and knead dough for about 15 seconds. Split dough in half. This is enough dough to make two large pizzas! 🙂

Margherita Pizza (adapted from a Cooking Light recipe )

  • Fresh pizza dough or 1  (10-ounce) can refrigerated pizza crust dough
  • Cooking spray
  • 1  teaspoon  olive oil
  • 5  tomatoes, thinly sliced (Roma or on-the-vine tomatoes work great)
  • 1  cup  shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1  teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2  cup  thinly sliced fresh basil
  • 1/8  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/8  teaspoon  black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 450°.

2. Coat cookie sheet with cooking spray, and spread and pat dough into a 13 x 11-inch rectangle. Bake at 450° for 10 minutes.

3. Remove crust from oven, and brush with 1/2 teaspoon oil. Arrange tomato slices on crust, leaving a 1/2-inch border; sprinkle evenly with cheese.

4. Bake at 450° for an additional 8-10 minutes, or until cheese melts and crust is golden.

5. Sprinkle pizza evenly with sliced basil, salt, and pepper.

6. Whisk together 1/2 teaspoon oil and vinegar. Drizzle the vinegar mixture evenly over the pizza.

Voila! You’re done! Enjoy!

Have a recipe to share? Feel free to leave it in the comments! 🙂

Photo: Cooking Light Magazine

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5 comments April 21st, 2009

How to Get Stellar Letters of Recommendation

So, you want to apply for a scholarship. Or med school. Or grad school. Or a really competitive job. What do all these things have in common? Clearly, you need some awesome letters of recommendation. And I’m going to tell you how to get them.

  1. Do Some Legwork. Not applying for med school for two more years? Perfect. Start networking NOW. The sooner you start making friends with the people you want to recommend you, the better your chances that they WILL recommend you. Early networking means your letter-writer will know you better, and (hopefully) be more inclined to be your advocate. Plus, they won’t feel like you’ve used them just for a letter, which, frankly, can make them just say no.
  2. Choose Wisely. If you want good, solid letters of recommendation, choose people with whom you have a good rapport. (Go for the teachers whose classes you have aced, not the ones who gave you a C+ on your final.) Also, stay away from asking family. Instead, try asking professors, employers, volunteer/church leaders, or long-time family friends (adults!) who work in your field
  3. Give Plenty of Notice. Remember how hard it is to write a good paper the night before its due? Don’t put that kind of pressure on your letter-writers! If possible, give them at least a solid month to write your letter (and give them a deadline before the real one in case they’re late!).
  4. Give them Specifics. Let your recommendation writer know exactly what you need in the letter, especially if you need them to focus on certain aspects of your achievements. If your letter-writer has never written a letter or rec before, be sure to give them some samples (campus career centers are usually a good source for these, or you can look around online) and let them know about how long it should be. A too-short letter of recommendation can be almost as bad as a half-hearted one.
  5. Offer to Help. Ask your letter writer what you can do to help them out. Do they need a list of your awards and achievements? Do they want to read your application essay? Try to give them as much assistance as you can so they can get your letter written quickly–and well!  Providing them with a one or two page resume of your list of achievements can jog their memories, inform them of things they didn’t previously know about you and make the task a lot easier.

Final Tip: Ask your letter-writer to send you a digital copy of the letter once it has been sent. Keep all your letters in a folder, so that if you need to apply to another scholarship or school, you can just send the copy to your recommendation writer to sign and send off. They’ll be more willing to help you multiple times if they don’t have to search their own computer for the letter again and again!

photo by asafesh

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2 comments April 18th, 2009

Farmers Markets = Cheap, Fresh Food!

I think it’s safe to say that a lot of what we eat in college is based on one of two things: ease of preparation, and cost. That probably explains why I subsisted mainly on Easy Mac and cereal my freshman year (though I did survive, I do not advocate this diet!!!).

Lucky for us the centuries-old tradition of Farmers Markets make healthy, yummy foods available just the way we like it: cheap.

Why Is Fresher Cheaper?!

As you may already know, a farmer’s market is a place where local growers and farmers gather to sell their fresh, delicious crops. There is no middle-man (like the grocery store, the shippers that get the produce to that store, etc.), which means you are only paying the farmer for growing the food, not all the other people who are involved in selling grocery store food (they pack, transport, unpack, display, etc.).

While you will have to buy whatever is in season (no imported watermelon in February) you will get fresher produce right from the source, and it will be much more delicious and affordable than what you find at a super market.

Shopping Tips

So, now that you’re excited about shopping there, here are some tips about how to get the best out of a farmer’s market:

  1. Know Where to Go. Don’t know how to find a farmer’s market? Some schools have them once a week right on campus, but if your school doesn’t offer one, you can still search the local community. Check with health food stores, your local co-op, the library, or the community section on!
  2. Bring Cash. Most farmers markets are cash-only, so leave your credit and debit cards at home.
  3. Ask for Samples. Farmer’s markets are full of new and different foods, so if you see something you might want to try, ask for a sample before you shell out your hard-earned cash. 🙂
  4. Befriend Vendors. If you plan on becoming a regular, be sure to get to know the farmers and sellers you buy from most. Friendly faces are more likely to get the top selection!

Feel free to share your thoughts & tips in the comments! 🙂

photo by woodsy

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8 comments April 14th, 2009

5 Easy Ways to Go Paperless

There’s just no getting around it, dorm rooms (and new apartments) are tight quarters. Your space is precious, so why clutter it up with paperwork? It’s time to “go paperless.”

There are many, many perks of going paperless, the most important of which are (1) it eliminates clutter, (2) it is a great way to get (or stay) organized, and (3) it’s good for the environment. And it’s also surprisingly easy. Here are 5 quick and easy ways you can go paperless, student-style.

1. Get Online Billing & Statements. Most companies who regularly bill you or send statements offer you the option of either getting them in your inbox or viewing them online. If you can, sign up for online billing/statements for your:

  • Rent,
  • Utilities (gas, electric, water, etc.),
  • Cell phone,
  • Credit card(s),
  • Bank,
  • Car payments, and
  • Student loans

Stay organized by keeping digital copies in PDF on your computer. (Be sure to back them up!)

2. Bring Your Laptop to Class.
I’ve debated the merits and disadvantages of bringing a laptop to class before, and honestly I still believe that taking notes by hand is a better way to drive the message of a lecture home. However, if you’ve got the conviction to both avoid Twitter in class AND go green, taking notes on your computer might well be a good option for you. Many professors offer their lecture note outlines for download, so you may even be able to simply add your notes to their outline.

3. Pay Your Bills Online. There are two ways to go about this–you can either sign up for bill-pay with your bank or credit card (and they send out the payment) or sign up with each of your billers and have them auto-debit from your bank account or credit card each month. Done right, this can save you paper (no check writing!) and money (no late fees or stamps!). Just make sure you always have enough in your account to cover your bills–you don’t want an overdraft fee!

4. Do Your Homework Online.
Sites like Google Docs and Zoho allow you to write documents and spreadsheets, and then share them for editing online (so no more red marks all over your papers when your friends edit them!). They also let you access these docs from any computer with internet. If you haven’t already made the switch, I’d recommend it!

5. Do Your Taxes Online.
I hope that you are one of the lucky ones whose parents do taxes for them, but if you’re not, you should consider doing your taxes online. There are several services to choose from (I like TurboTax) and they walk you through the forms step-by-step. You can also choose to have your refunds direct-deposited into your bank account–again, no check so no paper to worry about, and you tend to get your refund faster this way!

photo: Layoff by xlucas

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2 comments April 10th, 2009

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