The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Monday June 27th

Column: More than a number

30 minutes into my Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), my testing computer crashed ⁠— and along with it, all my hopes and dreams of a pre-health career. Okay, maybe I’m being a little dramatic, but in the moment that’s exactly what it felt like. My first thought wasn’t, “ooh, a free break to decompress and relax before I resume this exciting next step in my career.” Instead, it was everything from, “do I have to study for this AGAIN?” to “this is a sign from a higher power that I do not belong or deserve to be here.” 

While my test was ultimately reloaded to where it had quit, the internalized fear that had been brewing for multiple months was finally publicly realized. I felt as if my entire value was based on the outcome of this one event.

That’s the most accurate portrayal of studying for the MCAT that I can present to you ⁠— endless months of stress and social isolation, condensed into one ultimate grueling eight-hour exam that defines the rest of your professional life. 

My summer was three inescapable months of the same endless grind: wake up, eat, go to research lab, eat, leave research lab, study, eat, study, sleep. To combat the sheer hopelessness generated by this experience, my internal motivation was that of pure catharsis ⁠— once I take the MCAT, I empty my brain and move on with my life. But when I was actually in the thick of things, I experienced this wonderful combination of role threat and unadulterated fear for the future.

What a dehumanizing thing it is to have all your worldly value assigned to a single number; to have your entire applicant file, academic history and social value summarily reduced to one indicator of success; to be worn down to this faux-representative husk of your potential contributions to this planet. 

And yet, how enlightening it is to see how systems of privilege are built into the institutions through which higher educational and professional successes are found (and frankly, how inaccessible it is for other students of color and lower socioeconomic means). 

If my entire contextual background is ignored in favor of how much information I can consume over three months and spit out in eight hours, I can’t even imagine how difficult it is for those that cannot easily afford the time or cost associated with that. 

Believe me, I’m grateful for the opportunity to be here and to have made this attempt. But mostly I’m just glad to be done (fingers crossed). This was a heavy and emotionally taxing process, and I learned immensely about how damaging the standards I set for myself can be. 

A friend once told me to pen a letter of affirmations to myself before major life events, and I foolishly did not heed his advice for this. 

So, if I had to do it all again, my letter would look something like this:

  1. You are more than a number. 
  2. This one small aspect of your life does not define you.
  3. I am proud of you.

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