Growth Year Chronicles – Lemuel Hackshaw


Yesterday I had the opportunity to talk with a few students about the growth year. No, I don’t mean the gap year. I mean the growth year.  To me, “gap year” has a negative tone, and like I told the students last night. time between undergrad and professional school is ANYTHING but negative.  It’s a ripe opportunity to rest, rejuvenate, grow and prepare a stellar application.   I can tell students this as much as I want to, but nothing beats showing them students just like them who are flourishing in the transition period.   Hopefully Lemuel’s experience will help show, that there’s nothing negative about a growth year at all 🙂  Enjoy

HealthOU: When did you graduate from Oakwood?

May 7, 2016

HealthOU: Describe your activities post Oakwood?

From graduation until August 19th, I studied for the MCAT (which consisted of 6 weeks of independent study followed by a 6 week MCAT prep course at UConn Health). Submitted all of my med school secondary applications by September 23rd. 3 days after my MCAT score was released. (I used SDN to pre fill out secondary applications questions before I actually received the secondaries). After that, I joined up with a humanitarian organization called NAPS. The National Association for the Prevention of Starvation. In which we travel the nation full time doing service. With the team, I’ve traveled to Seattle WA, Portland and Medford OR Sacramento, San Diego, and Los Angeles CA, and Phoenix AZ. We then plan to go to Ethiopia and Haiti this summer as well.

HealthOU: When did you take the MCAT? How did you study?

I took the MCAT twice. The first time I took it, (May 2015) I studied during spring semester junior year, in order to take the MCAT early and complete a summer of research at Duke. Which was a mistake. I took the MCAT a second time after my senior year on August 19th. I studied for approximately four months. Two months of content review, reading and studying through all of the Exam Kracker books, then I did two months of practice tests. In which I took the 2AAMC test and 9 Kaplan practice tests. I studied each test after I took it for two, 12 hour days. I re-read through all of the passages, questions and explanations until I understood everything. I practically retool each test in depth. Which is why it took 24 hours over two days to review each practice test.

HealthOU: Why do you feel it was a mistake to study for the MCAT during the spring semester of your junior year?
I studied during the busiest semester of my life. I was doing research, heavily involved in NAPS (National Association for the Prevention of Starvation), Planning an outreach event in the community for NOBBChE, teaching three different lab sections. Doing research on campus, taking 18 credits, traveling with Honda Allstars Intercollegiate Quiz Team, plus more. All while trying to study for the MCAT


HealthOU: After your first MCAT scores came back did you still go ahead and apply to med school, or did you then opt to plan for a gap year?
I did both. I submitted my application based on schools I had connections with or was recommended to apply to. After I submitted my med school application, I then began to make plans for a gap year. I applied to UConn’s MCAT program, and I applied to various postbacc programs. Which I opted not to complete in exchange for YOD (Year of Dedication)*
HealthOU: How many schools did you apply to?
First cycle I applied to 8 schools. 0 interviews. 0 acceptances.
Second cycle I applied to 12 schools.
So far. 7 interview invites. 2 rejections. I have completed 4 interviews thus far and have been accepted to 3 of the 4 schools. One with a full scholarship.  I still have three interviews pending and am still in the review process for the other three schools I applied to.

HealthOU: What things do you think played a role in you not getting the score you wanted on your first attempt at the MCAT?   

Everyone that I talked to that scored well on the MCAT from various places all told me the same thing. And it was that they had to dedicate an entire section of time without doing anything else to study for the MCAT. So the mistake came from trying to study in the midst of a heavy load. Another thing that lowered my score was that I only took one practice test. I studied a lot but didn’t practice. The same people that I talked to told me that score increase came from practice. I also took an early MCAT. I took an early MCAT because I wanted to do research. I thought having Duke on my resume was more important than investing more time to study. Professors tried to warn me, but I didn’t listen and a lot of students don’t listen.  So a lack of devoted time, and ineffective studying due to a busy schedule, and a lack of practice tests all contributed to my low score.

HealthOU: How did your scores change between your first and second attempt of the MCAT. 
My score went up by 13 points and 45 percentile points.Having four focused months definitely helped.  Because I was able to do things in preparation for my MCAT that I couldn’t do if I was in school. I couldn’t study 12 hours a day while taking 18 credits. And I couldn’t fit in two entire 8 hour practice tests a week while in school. The four focused months allowed me to study without having to worry about anything else but studying. In the summer I was able to take 11 practice tests. Which really helped improve my score.
HealthOU: You took the MCAT in August 2016, when did you submit your AMCAS application?
I submitted my AMCAS about 4 weeks prior to my MCAT release date. I knew that medical schools couldn’t review my application without my MCAT, and that most schools don’t send secondaries without the MCAT. So I submitted it so that my MCAT release date and my AMCAS verification date could be close together. My MCAT was released September 20th. I submitted my AMCAS August 23rd. I also only submitted my AMCAS to just one school initially. So that way it can be verified without being sent to a lot of schools. That way when I got my MCAT score back, I could then decide which schools I’d want to add to my application


HealthOU: Did you plan on taking a gap year prior to graduating?

No I did not.

HealthOU: Students often have a timeline in their heads and it can be discouraging to find yourself taking a gap year if you didn’t initially plan do.  Did you experience any of these feelings?

Sure did. I wanted to go straight through. It was even tougher knowing that all of my friends made it into medical school the first time and I didn’t. But I also realized that God has a specific plan for everyone and we cannot lean on our own understanding. Proverbs 14:12-There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.

HealthOU: What did you learn from your growth year experiences?

I learned that a gap year is a BEAUTIFUL thing full of opportunities. I’ve literally been in school for the past 17 years. And having an entire year to find myself, do things I enjoy, travel, minister, and meet new people, is a great thing. Especially since all I ever knew was school. I think everyone should take a gap year. Even if their application is already medical school ready.

HealthOU: What were some of the benefits to taking some time off between undergrad and professional school?                                                                            

Getting that time to do whatever I wanted to do. I wanted to build a strong foundation in every aspect of life before starting medical school. I could do that. I can grow spiritually without the usual compromise of school. I can work out consistently. I can work and save up. I can travel the nation. I can learn a new language. I can learn the capital of every country in the world. I can spend a lot of time with friends and family. I was able to do everything that I couldn’t do because of school. And lay a strong foundation within myself and develop the characteristics that I wanted going into medical school.



Lemuel Hackshaw was born and raised in the Southside Jamaica Queens in New York City. His favorite scripture is 2 Cor 5:17 because choosing to follow God took him from Central Bookings in Kew Gardens, to Medical School on a full scholarship. He believes in God’s power to make all things new and is thankful  that God  is using him to fulfill the great commission. 

*YOD ( Year of Dedication) is a year long mission commitment organized by the National Association for the Prevention of Starvation.


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