One of the first posts I ever put onto this site was to Aim for Zero, a principle I encountered reading a book by astronaut Chris Hadfield. That was more than two years ago, and ever since I have continued to find this advice sound and universal. So many times I see people trying to aim to be a +1 only to actually be a -1.
Nonetheless, there ARE some people who are a +1. And, in vet school, internship, residency, and faculty applications, if you can be a +1, you will obviously stand out compared to the rest of the field. I have maintained that, while you can do A LOT to improve your application, I’m not sure if you can actually BECOME a +1.
I did vet school interviews this year and thought about this concept as we did the interviews. Some students were clearly +1s- maybe 5 out of the 80 we interviewed. They smiled, they had hundreds of hours of experience, they had amazing grades, they were prepared, they were personable and humble. In all ways I could detect during the interview process, I thought they would make amazing vet students and, probably, amazing veterinarians. So how did they GET to that point in their life?
My frankly honest evaluation is that getting to be a +1 is probably a combination of: 1) a lifetime of decisions, 2) privilege, and 3) luck.
All of the +1s I observed had a fairly privileged upbringing: their parents were medical professionals who seemed to support them throughout life. Having parents who have gone to graduate or professional school is a significant advantage- they can share their stories with their children, give them advice, and they know HOW to get there and can help their children make decisions from youth to facilitate their academic progress. Having parents who provide significant financial support is also amazing- it means you don’t have to work summers but can volunteer instead. It means you don’t have to work during college but can go to club meetings and volunteer at the local clinic. That’s not to say you HAVE to be born to privilege to be successful, but it is an incredible benefit for those who are.
A combination of life decisions also led to those people being where they are. I don’t think half-way through undergrad you can turn around and suddenly make all the decisions needed to get you to be a +1. But when they were 8, they were going on farm calls with their veterinarian parent or making a juice stand instead of watching cartoons. When they were 10, they took up gymnastics and then pursued it through high school, learning grit and the value of a growth mindset. When they were 13, they studied over the weekend instead of going out with their friends. When they started high school, they figured out how to get into honors and AP classes. When they went to college, they worked or volunteered at the local clinic, got leadership roles in clubs, and studied hard and got As.
Finally, luck plays a huge role in their success. In addition to being born to privilege, they didn’t get sick or get into a debilitating accident with a traumatic brain injury. They were fortunate enough to get the genetics which made it easier for them to be pleasant, personable, and happy (yes, a lot of happiness is due to genetics).
This isn’t really an advice post. The point of this post is to try to emphasize to you why I don’t think it’s worthwhile to spend much time focusing on being a +1. Too much of it is just out of your control. Instead, Aim for Zero and you’ll do better than SO MANY applicants.