#AdmissionsPros: BS/MD And BS/DO Admissions With Kristen Moon
Welcome to #AdmissionsPros! In this series, admissions advisors and educational consultants offer their advice and insight on the big picture of elementary, secondary, and graduate school admissions — from extracurriculars, to essays, to, (of course) standardized tests.
Kristen Moon is a former test prep tutor and the founder of Moon Prep specializing in competitive college admissions as well as pre-health, BS/MD, and BS/DO programs. She is also a regular contributor to the #ProTips blog! Kristen spoke with Noodle Pros about course selection for pre-health high schoolers, choosing smart extracurriculars, and the importance of showcasing that “wow” factor.
Can you tell us a little bit about Moon Prep and the services you provide?
We provide one on one tutoring services focused exclusively on college admissions. We help with all elements of the application process, including completing the applications, essay brainstorming, drafts, student resume, LinkedIn, basically every piece of the puzzle that comes together to form the application. We also do work with younger students, from 9th, 10th, and 11th grades, providing coaching and helping them with things like obtaining job shadowing opportunities, selecting their classes throughout high school, and developing a strong profile so that when it comes time to apply for college they’re all set.
And what kinds of students do you generally work with?
My specialty is working with pre-med and direct medical students. More than 50 percent of my students are pursuing direct medical programs, either BS/MD or BS/DO. If students get into a direct medical program, they continue from their bachelor’s directly into medical school; that’s why it’s so competitive. I also work with a handful of students on medical school admissions, PhD, and master’s admissions. Sometimes my former students will come back to me for this next step when they’re nearing the end of their undergraduate degrees.
Are there some questions that you usually ask in your first meeting with a client?
A lot of times my first meeting will involve the student and the parents; I tend to work very closely with parents. So I always start out by asking what I can do to help them with the process. Where are they struggling? How can I be of service, and how can I make this a seamless process for them to alleviate some stress? Applying to college is a very stressful time, and can be overwhelming. So when I’m starting out with a new student, I want to see where I can add value to their experience.
BS/MD and BS/DO programs are very competitive, and have a lot of expectations in terms of prerequisite classes and grades. Do you advise your high school students on course selection?
Yes, I do help my 9th 10th and 11th graders pick out their courses throughout high school. When you’re applying to such a highly specific program, admissions is really going to drill down on the rigor of your courses — especially in the sciences. So you need to show that you can handle the intensity of medical school; you’re making the commitment as a freshman in college to go straight to med school from undergraduate.
Another thing that comes into play is the extracurriculars. It’s really important in BS/MD and BS/DO programs that students have both clinical and research-based experience in the medical field. Oftentimes, college students will change their majors in their undergrad years. When you’re 17, it’s hard to determine your career for the rest of your life. But schools don’t want students to change their majors once they’re accepted into these types of programs. Medicine is one of those things where you don’t really change your mind — once you’re a doctor, you pretty much stay a doctor. It’s unlikely that you’ll switch careers once you’ve gotten there. So for direct medical programs, admissions is looking at different criteria.
Of course schools look at your grades to make sure you’re academically strong enough to thrive, but they also look at your activities to get a sense of your commitment; we try to focus everything around medicine and clinical research.
What is your perspective on parental involvement? Are there times when parents should take a step back?
I tend to work with parents just as closely as I work with students. But I do tell parents to try to be in more of a supportive role — don’t take control of the whole process. This is something that students really have to go through on their own.
What is your perspective on test prep, and how can students organize their priorities when there are so many other elements to their applications?
I was actually an SAT tutor and instructor for many years, and I do believe that the SAT and ACT are two tests that you can study for. There are definitely strategies that you can implement, and practice helps as well. So I’m a big supporter of test prep, and I think it makes a difference in a student’s score.
Can you talk a little bit about the essays, and the role they play in this process?
I think the essays are one of the most important pieces of the application, because they’re really a chance for the student to give some insight into their personality and their values, and to highlight their leadership qualities. It does take a lot of time to write these essays, and a lot of students are not familiar with a narrative form of writing. So students should dedicate the necessary time to put together an essay that really expresses who they are, and showcases that to college admissions.
Should students be getting help with these? Can there ever be too much input?
Yes and yes; too much input is not good, because everyone will have their own opinion about what should go in the essay. But I do think that students sometimes need that second set of eyes, and some professional guidance, to give them more confidence. Of course the essay should definitely be in their own words, and the content should be something the student feels comfortable with.
Is there a common misstep that you see students making when it comes to undergraduate admissions?
I see some students actually focusing too much on the GPA. I’ll hear “Other people in my school have a 4.6 than I only have a 4.4…” And I think that once you get to that level, we’re splitting hairs between a 4.4 And a 4.6. Instead, students should focus more on the extracurriculars and on creating a “wow” factor, something that is interesting and impressive. Because I see so many strong students applying to college with high GPAs and high test scores; you could be valedictorian and still not get into Harvard. It takes more than grades. And oftentimes students are so overwhelmed with AP courses and difficult academic schedules that they don’t have time to really explore outside interests and build up their extracurriculars and their passions to showcase to colleges. It’s a really tricky balance for students.
What is your top piece of advice for students who are applying to selective BS/MD and BS/DO programs?
If you’re one of these students, ask yourself this: When you tell someone about your extracurriculars and about how you spend your free time, will they say “Oh, that’s great,” or will they say “WOW”? You really want to go for that “wow” factor. And it takes time and commitment to build that up.
Are you interested in working with Kristen Moon? Reach out via the Moon Prep website.
Read Kristen’s articles on BS/MD and BS/DO admissions via Noodle Pros’ on Forbes.com: