October 19, 2012

Hunting the Elusive Backup Plan

Cartoon courtesy of
We here at the Froshblog meet lots of students who purposely avoid creating a Backup Plan. They have Plan A. But, ask them about other options or what they'll do if Plan A doesn't work, and they either stare at you blankly, or look like you like you’re Voldemort. Why are "exploration" and "backup plan" dirty words?

Some students are legitimately unsure of what other options they have. Some are employing the "head in the sand" method of ignoring that there are other options. Others believe that by formulating a backup plan, they'll somehow undercut their main goals. That's like not saving for retirement because you're afraid to jinx your chances of winning the lottery.

Seriously, though, there is a common misperception that if you create a backup plan or try other options, then you are not committed to plan A. Premed students are probably the biggest offenders of this way of thinking, but it happens across many majors and career goals. But, think about it:

If you were on an admissions committee, wouldn't you be more interested in a student who had tried different options, come to a greater understanding of themselves and possible careers, and THEN chosen medicine for all the right, realistic reasons?

Photo by flickr user the-starkeys.com
through Creative Commons license
When students proclaim, "I've wanted to be a doctor since I was 4," they think they are communicating the depth of their devotion.  Instead, I wonder why they think their perceptions of medicine at such a young age would have anything to do with the realities of the profession. What they see as admirable focus, I experience as willful blinders. I’ll take an informed decision over blind devotion any day. And so will every medical school admissions committee.

As one of our colleagues likes to say, adults have backup plans. We live in a rapidly changing world where even all the best planning and preparation may not ensure we get everything we desire, and where new opportunities are created every day. If you're ready to take a look around, consider meeting with your academic adviser, attending the Major Fair, completing the online Career Assessments, even consulting O*Net for career information. If nothing else, the view is better when your head is out of the sand.