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Confessions of a former med school applicant

In this Stanford Medicine Unplugged piece, second-year student Orly Farber shares her experiences getting into medical school.

As I near of the end of my second-year, I've finally stopped thinking about the process of getting into medical school. But with friends going through the application cycle, waiting on and making decisions, I've been reflecting on my process and remembering just how terrible the whole thing felt. To offer some support to those going through it, I wanted to confess a few things. These confessions feel silly and small in retrospect, but I hope they'll help at least one other current student or applicant know: You're so not alone.

Confession one: I took the MCAT twice even though I was told taking it that second time would decrease my chances of admission. I was told this would be a "major obstacle" during my application cycle. It was and it wasn't, but I'm glad I took it again.

Confession two: I laughed when I found out I was invited to interview at Stanford. I thought it was hilarious that the invitation followed so many rejection letters from less highly ranked schools. And I do mean, so many rejection letters. "Dear Ms. Farber, We regret to inform you..." was practically my desktop background for weeks.

Confession three: I interviewed at Stanford on the very last day interviews were offered. I perused the Internet's black hole of med school application forums, reading comment after comment from nervous pre-meds about how interviewing on the last day meant you "practically had no chance" of acceptance. I made peace with my sentence and treated the interview like a vacation, nothing more.

Confession four: When I got into Stanford a few weeks later, I cried. Not purely tears of joy. It was my birthday, exactly two years ago. I got the call while riding the DC metro, and I sobbed under the concrete dome of the Crystal City station while passengers looked on. I didn't want to move to California, but I knew that my other options couldn't compete with Stanford's resources.

Confession five: Unlike many of my classmates, I didn't apply to Harvard. The other night my friend and I were eating takeout and watching "The Office" when she confessed that Stanford was the only medical school she got into. "And I barely even interviewed," she added. "It drives me crazy when everyone talks about the 'medical school trail' like it's the Oregon Trail or something." I laughed so hard at her metaphor, and then told her how much I could relate. I only had a handful of interviews and acceptances, and I grow quiet whenever classmates talk about their second-look visits at Harvard -- a school I never even considered applying to because it felt too far beyond my reach.

With my confessions out of the way, I'll say that I'm happy to be here now. I love the California weather, the funny moss-covered trees, my wonderful friends, and the fact that this institution supports my specific research and writing interests. Even on bad days, I feel lucky to have been admitted.

But as trivial as these confessions now seem, they do linger in certain ways. Although I've stopped wondering how and why I got in, I'll likely never feel that my place here was hard-earned, and I'm not sure I'll ever rid myself of the imposter syndrome that comes along with that uncertainty. But by opening up about this with friends, I've learned that I'm in very good company. I take solace in the fact so many of the people I respect most sometimes feel like imposters too. So many of us experience self-doubt.

What I can say, with complete confidence, is that, since getting here, I've worked hard. Even if I didn't spend months hopping around from school to school on the "Oregon Trail," now that I'm here, I'm on track and I'm able to learn well and keep pace. To me, that feels like more of an accomplishment than anything that came before it.

If you're nearing the end of the trail or wondering where the trail was to begin with, I hope that you can take some comfort in my confessions. Rest assured that no matter what happens or happened during your medical school application, med school itself is a chance to work hard and learn. It's a chance to prove yourself - for yourself, and no one else.

Above all, I hope that you too find a supportive and kind community of fellow imposters to join your wagon on the trail, and keep you laughing during this bumpy, long ride.

Stanford Medicine Unplugged is a forum for students to chronicle their experiences in medical school. The student-penned entries appear on Scope once a week during the academic year; the entire blog series can be found in the Stanford Medicine Unplugged category

Orly Farber is a second-year medical student from Washington D.C. She graduated from UChicago in 2015 and spent the following two years in an allergy lab at the National Institutes of Health. While Orly's heart remains in Chicago, her body is thrilled to be in the Bay Area! She loves running, hiking, rock climbing, baking bread, and tending to her plants -- fully embracing the West Coast lifestyle.

Photo by Shutterstock

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