Why I’m Studying Pre-Med, Despite the Odds

A few weeks ago we discussed how difficult it is to get into an American medical school as an international student.  Many of them don’t consider international applicants at all, and there’s very little scholarship money available.

[Read about applying to medical school as an international student]

But a small number of international students DO get into U.S. medical schools each year, and Promise is determined to be one of them.  Here’s his story of how he hopes to defy the odds.

Med school and eating pizza. Not the same. Photos by University of Nottingham and Jason Trommetter(Photos by University of Nottingham and Jason Trommetter)

I’d previously thought that getting into medical school in the U.S. was as easy as eating pizza, until my glance fell on an excerpt from Yale University’s webpage, which warns international students studying pre-med and dreaming of medical school to, perhaps, consider waking up.

I was shocked (not exaggerating, I felt my brain scamper around for blood vessels in order to keep me alive), and I booked an appointment immediately with my academic advisor to change my major.

Here’s the truth of the situation: Only a “spoonful” of American medical schools accept international students – I can’t even say a “handful,” because to be realistic, a handful is too much. For the few that admit international students, an even smaller amount give limited scholarships. And a lot of that altruism is through loans, most of which need a co-signer. Now, tell me, who is the “Mother Teresa” who will cosign your $200,000 loan? I don’t mean to scare anyone, but only a miracle can guarantee you a form of aid, and you have to know your relationship to whichever God backs you up.

But I did not change my major that day.

The road to a medical degree is hard. My nights have gradually been getting shorter; my laptop has seemingly become my best friend. My poor eyesight is wondering when I will be visiting an eye clinic. I devour any website that has any useful information on medical school application.

I no longer tell people my major because it always results in a discouraging lecture about how hard it is or how impossible it will be….It sucks!!! I can remember a person asking me about my future career, and after I had shared an inspiring story of how I love medicine, he looked at me and said, “Hope you have a 4.0” (I think that was the nicest thing he could think of to say).

Thinking about the hurdles ahead makes me feel like an overfed rat – the types that are always confused and scared of taking a step further. But one thing I have learned in this medical school race is never to expect kind words from anyone because you will never hear anything uplifting.

Just last week my friend was excitedly telling me how she felt like a real doctor after attending a future doctors program. I will not say I was not jealous, but my jealousy was futile – I knew the program was “strictly for U.S. citizens and permanent residents.” If you’ve ever had one of those “oh wow” moments, then we may be on the same page now. That was exactly the drabness my face was wearing.

It seems every door is slammed against international students. Federal loans don’t apply to us either. My friend says, “If others work a thousand times to get into medical school, you as an international student must work a million times.” I was amazed hearing that. Not only is it good advice but it’s actually the first sensible thing she has told me.

It is clear that if I adamantly keep burning the midnight oil and pursuing my medical school dreams, my life will be rough and my risks will be very high, but my reward, if positive, will be overwhelming. It is not always as bad as the media paints it.

I have heard a few stories about international students who got into a U.S. medical school. In fact, I am friends with a Nigerian student who just graduated from John Hopkins medical school on a scholarship. In virtue of this, my head is up. Currently I am doing lots of volunteer work, especially for Organization for America. I am also sending in my applications for a summer research program at Harvard. I am doing pretty cool as the president of the First Year Residential Council. I am a journalist for my college’s newspaper. I am thinking of volunteering at a hospital next summer.

Seriously, you have to do what you have to do to get what you want.

29 comments

  1. Hi Promise,

    i do understand your struggles and determination. I am Danielle Poualeu from Cameroon and determined to go to medical school. I am still looking for ways in. How did your Nigerian graduate from JHU medical school get his scholarship? Could you please share. That could be a light at the end of the tunnel.

    thanks
    Danielle

    1. It is not easy anywhere. Just do the best you can. Try to keep a high gpa and high mcat score. Also try to have a couple of Ecs. And just keep working hard. My friend applied to 21 schools and got into two, including JHU.

      1. Hello,my name is favour menaki,i will like both of us to be friends please could you write me through my email address(favourmenaki@yahoo.com) so that i can introduce myself for you to know whom i am

    2. My advice Danielle is to have a strong gpa and good mcat scores. There is no trick to getting into med school. Hardwork sure pays off but some times it takes more than that. Med school look for match, and I guess she was a good match.

  2. hi promiss

    my name is amel from tunis and today i got the same shock that you got when i found out that international student rarely get in but reading about you and your story gave me some hope so thank and i am going to try to work as hard as you do to get in plus i wanted to ask you if you think i can study my first 4 years in america as a pre-med than transfer to go to medical school in an other country like france or the uk ? do you think thats possible ?? i want to know whats your opinion about that

    1. I don’t know how possible that is, but i think it is possible. I have heard of people who attend out-of-country med schools. But the sad reality is that after med school in another country, it takes a lot of exams and tests to practice in America. I mean, it is hard to practice here if you went to med school in another country.

  3. hello,
    i am preparing to begin my pre medical studies in the US and as an international student i would be on an f1 visa which is valid for only 5 yrs. does that mean that after i get my premedical degree, i have to return to my home country???
    i have been accepted to NYIT which has an affiliated DO school called NYCOM, does this help the situation as i can enter NYCOM after my pre med degree.
    i havnt gone for my f1 visa interview yet. if i’m asked what i intend to do after my pre med degree should i just give the stereotyped answer ‘i plan to come back to my home country’ or should i explain my plans of attending medical school.

    1. Yeah, explain your plans. It does not hurt your chances I think. There is possibility in being admitted by NYCOM. You never know. Yet it depends on the school.

      1. acually NYCOM only accepts international students with a green card.. I you have an F1 I dont think they will take you. This is according to their website.

  4. wow, this is just encouraging and scary at the same time. i am international and came to the US at a young age to start college, i messed up in a fe classes so i dont have a wow gpa currently! i still wont back out on my dreams, do you have any advice on what i can do to raise my gpa up? Because i dont think i stand anywhere with people who can even apply. (3.0 gpa)

    1. What year are you and whats your major. I think it is certainly possible if you give it every ounce of strenght you have. I have heard a story of a Hravard med school student with a gpa around 2.5. It is all about the fit. And schools like an upward trend in gpa, so it is not late.

  5. I am on the same boat as you are! I have been living in the U.S for 7 years now. I did my high school and I am currently completing my bachelor’s degree in a US university. I honestly feel like I am part of the U.S already and I wish to go to medical school here in the U.S… it is so discouraging when I call the medical schools I want to apply to for information asking them if they accept international students on an F-1 visa.. I have been turned down so many times, but I am not giving up! I will get into a Medical school here. We just gotta work for it harder. But we can do that too, and the reward will be greater =). I would love to keep in touch with you about this. I have been doing my own research on medical schools and it would really really help to have the support of someone else who is going through the same thing. Anyway, that is if you want.

    1. That’s all good. I love your spirit. Keep working hard. There are only few med schools that consider international students.

  6. @Promise Okeke,

    After reading through your blog. I was made to understand the reality of things because i am a realist and try as hard as possible to evaluate things logically. With all said and done, please i would kindly ask you to please give me a list of the few med schools that consider international students so that i can at least start from there. Thank you very much!

  7. @promise…..I am from Bangladesh doing my A level right now.I belong to a middle class family.I am a good student and really wanna get into one of the top universities of US.If I have good academic records and a great SAT score,can i reach my goal? Its almost impossible for me to study in US without a scholarship because my parents cant afford it.PLZ NEED HELP !!!!!!

  8. i am doing cambridge international system the o and a level i was wondering if u could help me by telling me the steps or requirements for me to come and get an admission in med school also can u tell me which med school accept international students……..?

    1. Hi Komal. If I understand the English system correctly, if you are taking A levels you are finishing the equivalent of a US high school, right? That means you will be applying as an undergraduate to earn a bachelor’s degree. Medical school is a “postgraduate” program, which means you have to finish college first before you apply to continue your education there.

  9. is there some way i can reduce my college years….i was doing some research abt college n just wonderin wht are credit hours? plz help me i really need help

    1. In the U.S., you get a credit hour from which ever class you take. In some colleges you can get up to 4 credit hours per class. It is just same as how many credits a class is worth.

  10. Hi Promise,
    I’m Ranya, currently a senior and hoping to go to medical school. After doing some thorough research, I too experienced a big slap in the face. I feel so crushed and discouraged; it has been my dream since I can remember to graduate from harvard with a medical degree, but it’s time to face reality. Since I still haven’t applied, I was wondering if you would recommend I take a chance like you or if it would be more suitable to do my undergraduate somewhere else and then apply to the states for post-graduate studies?
    I truly hope you make it. You seem very well accomplished. I’m rooting for you!
    Best of Luck.

    1. Thank you RanyaB,
      Regarding your question on continuing with your medical dream, I will say that if you wanna be a doctor so bad that you don’t mind putting 4 years of study on the line then go for it. I certainly will and that’s why I am pursuing my medical dreams. Medicine is all I think I will be best at.

      1. You’re welcome. And yes I feel the same. I can not think of me becomming anything else, it’s the only thing I wanna do. However, I want to do it so bad that I don’t want to risk it. But I do undertsand the situation you’re in now. Medicine is a long and tiring field, and you have already worked so hard – it’s not worth giving up. I will definitely look into it and find my best option. Thank you and good luck. xx

  11. thank you! you give me hope. I thought the same thing after reading what Yale had to say about it. I dislike Yale now, haha.

    I do have a few questions.
    Do you think majoring in Biology gives you an advantage? How hard is it to maintain a good GPA?
    aand I’m a high school freshman, do you think i should take physics in 11th & 12th grade? will it help if i have Physics APs when applying as a Bio major or should i not take it since it will lower my GPA, hence my chances of going to a good undergrad school, hence my future medical career?

    and i genuinely would like to thank you for this article. wish you all the best with med school, with this determination, you have a good chance 🙂

    also, this might make you feel better! 11% of international applicants get into medical school in US. Considering that the number is 44% with US residents, thats not so low!

  12. Hey
    I am also an international student and I am facing the same problems that most of you are facing, but after speaking with my premed advisor she told that I should not give up on my dreams if being a doctor is that important to me. So I am pretty much working on killing the MCAT and blowing my GPA out of the water plus research experience and ECs. I know that everything is gonna work out one way or another.

    Here is link of a video I made about international students who are pre-med
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lvfkGrbGEPw&feature=plcp

  13. Hello!

    Wow! Thanks for writing this. Now at least I don’t feel like I’m the only one.. This is really sad. I’ve been told the same things about how hard it is to get into med school, the tuition is double almost triple and all that but honestly I think that we have to be optimists and take all those comments in a positive way to encourage ourselves!

    Don’t ever stop pursuing your dreams, there is going to be ups and lows but we gotta keep ourselves strong! If medicine is what we really want then let’s work hard to get it! Lets start working for better lives! Lets help others and it that way prepare ourselves! Common people don’t let anyone tell you that you are not good enough! Knock on every door and you’ll find a way! It’s a long, rough road and we gotta be willing to take it if medicine is what we want!

    I haven’t gotten into med school yet but I keep my hopes up!

    Good luck to everyone and don’t give up! Lets show this country the good things we know and have!

  14. Hi Promise
    i currently just got into the US as a permernent resident and currently hold a Bsc in Microbiology from a Nigerian university with a GPA of about 3.7.. Attending med school has been my life long dream even though gaining the admission proved difficult back home in Nigeria. i understand that american universities do not accept the prerequisite courses from schools outside the US. How do i fulfill this requirement? do i apply for premed in a 4 year university or are there 2year colleges that can help me meet this equirement? and please what is the requirement to gain addmission into premed?

    please could you site examples of schools that admit students into premed, so that i can visit their website and apply.
    Thanks
    Your bro

    1. Ezenwa, since you already have your bachelors degree all you need to do is take the prerequistes for medical school, These vary from school to school, but the following are the standard premed classes
      Organic Chemistry 1 &2 ( some schools also require a semester of Biochemistry)
      Physics 1& 2
      General Chemistry 1& 2
      Calculus 1 ( & Statistics for some schools)
      Biology 1 &2 ( some schools require some upper-level biology classes as well)
      English 1& 2
      After you are done with the classes you can then take the MCAT and apply to medical school. Hope that helps

  15. Guys don’t be pessimistic I know getting into american med school is really tough but its not impossible some school give 100%need based scholarship too. get great grades and try to get into top tire colleges!

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