How I Got Accepted to Boston University School of Medicine
This is just one in a series of blog posts that will feature medical students telling their stories of how they got accepted into medical school. Today, Faizah Shareef shares with us the story of her acceptance to Boston University School of Medicine.
Faizah, give us a peek into your life. What initially attracted you to pursue medicine?
Since the majority of my family are doctors, I had been steeped in medicine since birth. So the process of deciding to pursue medicine was really a question of whether it was something that I personally wanted or just the normal family career path. And that wasn’t an easy question to decide. I went to the University of Miami for undergrad and while I was there, I began to complete some of the medical school pre-reqs while volunteering and working at some of the hospital centers. What really solidified my decision was the realization that medicine was a career path that excited me on a personal level, with the interplay of scientific inquiry and patient care, serving people from diverse paths, and something I genuinely saw myself doing for the rest of my life.
Why did you choose to apply to Boston University School of Medicine?
To be frank, I just applied to many schools, and I had never actually been to Boston prior to my interview at BU. If I had known the statistics about Boston University, I don't think that I would have applied, because I would have thought I wouldn’t be accepted! I just applied on a whim and thought, “Alright, I’ve never been to Boston before, we’ll see what happens.” Then, they got back to me with an interview. When I got to campus, I realized that it was where I wanted to be. Essentially, Boston University's hospital is a safety net hospital that provides healthcare for a lot of individuals who would not otherwise have access to it. I think that reality drove me to Boston University. It is a very mission-driven university and medical school, and it allows us as medical students to play a very strong and pivotal role in providing for these patients. I was really struck by the fact that faculty and doctors collaborate on one common mission which is to provide exceptional care without exception. This is something I realized after the interview, and that solidified my desire to attend BU.
So it was something that you uncovered rather than something you knew when applying?
What are three reasons why you think you were accepted?
The first step is to get an interview, and the second step is to seal the deal with a very good interview. Getting an interview usually results from crafting an excellent application and essays that highlight why you want to pursue medicine. Naturally, it is vital to clarify what sets you apart from every other student that is applying in this application pool.
I believe that engaging in activities I cared about during undergrad, while maintaining good grades and making sure that I studied for my MCAT, helped me to achieve an interview. Although numbers should not define you, they are important. So I made sure that my grades and scores did not suffer while I pursued my own personal passions. For example, my undergraduate degree was in exercise physiology in the school of education, which is not the most conventional path to medicine. I did a lot of programming and a lot of volunteering. I worked in various gym facilities, shadowed in various hospitals, worked as a scribe, and did things that I enjoyed. I ended up graduating a year earlier than I expected and did a research fellowship at the NIH for a year.
It is so easy to become a cookie-cutter applicant to medical school because it entails a lot of box-checking. In this process, many people forget to ask themselves: “What makes me tick and what makes me different?” I took the time to figure out what mattered to me, and what I wanted to highlight in my essays. I think BU also took the time to know me before they offered me an interview.
How do you think the Atlantis Fellowship influenced or impacted your acceptance?
I participated in the Atlantis Fellowship in Spain, and I think that that helped me develop more of an understanding of medicine on a global sphere. That further solidified what I envisioned my trajectory in medicine to be. Last summer, I worked with Atlantis as a mentor in Greece. I think that I have a little bit of connection to the organization in some ways. It has definitely been important in my journey towards medicine, and I have also been able to give back.
I actually did mention Atlantis during my interview. For me, the most important part of the Atlantis Fellowship was being immersed in a completely different culture and healthcare system. As with any experience, you get what you put in. I put in a lot of effort in the beginning and took the opportunities that I had to shadow and learn in different specialties. I carry those experiences with me in how I approach medicine today.
How did you feel after the interview?
Obviously, there is prep work that is required before going into an interview. It is vital to figure out what the school is really about and what matters to this school and seeing if you yourself fit into that. At the end of the day, it is a sort of like a relationship. You want to make sure that you will be happy in the location you will be in, and the school wants to make sure that you will contribute positively to the community. So essentially, I did a lot of research prior to my interview to make sure that I knew what I was talking about.
I also reviewed my application to see where my strengths were and how those strengths aligned with BU’s mission. Once I entered the interview room, it was really about reading the room and figuring out what makes the interviewers tick. I thought about how I could best present myself in a way that was sincere and true, while highlighting my best qualities and showing what I could bring to the table. Thankfully, it worked out well. I walked out of the interview feeling that I gave it my best shot and that my interviewer and I had gotten along very well. I was concerned that BU only accepts about 150 people, but I just thought to myself: “Let’s hope that I am one of them.”
Walk us through the moment you found out you got accepted.
It was January, and I was taking a break from my work at the NIH when I got a call from Boston. At first, I was confused as to why I was getting a call from there because I had only been that one time for my BU interview. In that moment, I was not at all expecting a call from BU. For context, BU has a first round of acceptances in January, and at that time, they don’t accept very many people. In March, they have a second round, and more people are accepted. I was anticipating that I would be in the March group. I picked up the phone and the doctor who had interviewed me was on the other end. “Hello, is Faizah there?” he said, and I responded, “Yes,” and then he said: “I just wanted to call you to let you know that you have been accepted to Boston University School of Medicine.” I said, “No, I don’t believe that.” Then he said, “No, it’s true, and it is nice when the interviewer and the admissions committee agree.” In my mind, I was elated and shocked but I couldn’t believe him. He told me that I would get an email that day with all the paperwork that I needed to fill out to confirm my acceptance. Then a few hours later, I got an email, and the way that the email was phrased was so odd. Usually, acceptance emails read: “Congratulations, you are accepted!” This email just spelled out point blank steps that I needed to take. For another second, I still didn’t believe that I was accepted, and I thought that he had accidentally called and made a mistake. Finally, I re-read the email, and I realized I truly had been accepted. It was surreal for a really long time, but I was on cloud nine. I was running around in the snow, and I wasn’t even wearing a jacket. It was a great feeling.
Last question: How can others imitate your success?
I would never tell someone to follow my path. I would never tell someone to do what I did. I mean this in the sense that I believe people have their own way of getting where they need to go. Whether that is taking a year off to do some research, explore other options, or to study for your MCAT-everybody’s path is very different.
I think it is important for students to pursue things that they are passionate about because that will reflect during their interviews. That being said, make sure that your grades and your scores are something that you put very high on your priority list because getting into medical school is a huge investment of time and energy. In the context of medical school, you have pre-reqs that you need to complete in a given amount of time in order to take your MCAT and be able to apply in a certain cycle. Keep track of those deadlines and stay on top of your grades. Add other activities into your schedule as you see fit and in a way that is meaningful to you.
At the end of the day, you must be able to bring to life what is on your resume and application. If you can’t elaborate on and show you care about what you have written, it will be hard to create rapport with your interviewer. The committee cares deeply about whether you did what is actually important to you, and not just what you thought you needed to do to make an impression. That being said, the hardest part of all this is figuring out that crucial piece and not letting others tell you any differently.
Faizah Shareef is a third year medical student at Boston University School of Medicine. She graduated from University of Miami with a degree in exercise physiology and participated in the Atlantis Fellowship in Spain.
Or read more medical school acceptance stories below: