abc student group

Building Confidence and Showcasing Strengths at KGI’s Application Boot Camp

This story was first published in the 2019-20 Annual Report.

Completing graduate health applications can be overwhelming. Keck Graduate Institute’s (KGI) Application Boot Camp (ABC), a five-day interactive workshop, helps students to navigate this process as they learn to write personal statements that capture their unique stories, create a strong first impression in interviews, and highlight their extracurricular activities in a conducive way.

ABC is organized by Joon Kim and Elba Muñoz, director and assistant director of KGI’s Postbaccalaureate Pre-PA and Premedical Certificate programs. It features personalized advising and feedback in the areas of school selection, personal statements, interview prep, and more. Its overall goal is to help students become stronger candidates for the schools they are applying to.

“I am a low-income, first-generation college student, and I was very clueless when it comes to the financial and admission process of applying for dental schools,” said Long Gao, a rising senior at Lehigh University who grew up in a small village in China and immigrated to the United States when he was 11 years old. “I was always really shy and lacked confidence because of my upbringing.”

“Joining ABC really helped me to build up my confidence and become more hopeful about applying to dental school.”

One of his most surprising takeaways from the 2020 summer program was learning how to highlight his extracurriculars. Many applicants feel pressured to participate in as many activities as possible, but Muñoz and Kim stressed that it’s more important to build a cohesive narrative around their activities.

“At first, I was just going to write directly about the things I did, like volunteering at a food kitchen, but at ABC I learned to go beyond that, going into detail about why the activity was meaningful to me,” Gao said.

Lauren Furst, who is applying to medical school and also a rising senior at Lehigh University, found this takeaway enlightening as well. She learned to connect her passion for music to her medical ambitions, as both have elements of teamwork.

“As a musician, especially as an ensemble musician in choir and orchestra, you always have to be listening to those around you and paying attention to all the details to make sure that you can bring these different groups of people together,” Furst said.

She compared this to being in a hospital, coordinating with nurses, administrators, other doctors, and patients to ensure the best possible outcome for the patient.

Both Furst and Gao enjoyed learning about the interview process and details they never would have thought about, such as questions that pose ethical dilemmas, proper dress code, and how to prepare for an online interview. Furst learned the importance of elaborating on her answers in interviews.

“They advised me to answer the question with more than just the answer and tell them more about myself than just, for instance, my favorite extracurricular activity,” Furst said. “That way they get to really know you even in a confined interview setting.”

Furst, who hopes to become a pediatrician, said she appreciated all the individualized support she received from Kim and Muñoz in addition to the general discussions.

“I thought it was super helpful to be able to talk specifically about anything I needed to focus on, even if it didn’t relate to the topic of the day,” Furst said.

Gao is looking to go into either general dentistry or periodontics. He said he feels more confident about his prospects because of this experience.

“ABC really helped me prepare for each step of the process, and the individualized meetings with the professional counselors were invaluable,” Gao said. “Joon and Elba helped me put together the best application possible.”