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Student startup

These Johns Hopkins grads got into top med schools; now they want to show others how it's done

Three soon-to-be med students launch White Coat Strategists, a venture designed to help future applicants navigate the formidable admissions process

As they were going through the daunting process of applying to medical schools last year, two friends from Johns Hopkins University learned to lean hard on each other.

The two premed students—Melaku Arega and Haziq Siddiqi—were picking up insights on the admissions process as they went along, and they found value in exchanging that knowledge.

The idea behind White Coat Strategists is that peer wisdom—from those with personal experience navigating through all the paperwork, interviews, essays, and general stress of the med school admissions process—is the most valuable resource an applicant can find.

"Haziq and I talked often, asked for advice on interviews and how to go about things," Arega says. "A lot of times I really relied on him, and he relied on me. We felt there weren't a lot of other resources out there."

Now, a year later, both students are preparing to attend Harvard Medical School in the fall. They're also putting their consulting experience to good use with a new service to help others achieve their med school ambitions.

Their firm, White Coat Strategists, offers personalized support through every layer of the admissions process, from brainstorming initial strategies to eventually selecting the right program.

Arega and Siddiqi launched the concept this spring with fellow Johns Hopkins graduate Lamin Sonko, who will attend the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. They've now built up a team of nine consultants, eight of them Hopkins alums.

The idea behind White Coat Strategists is that peer wisdom—from those with personal experience navigating through all the paperwork, interviews, essays, and general stress of the med school admissions process—is the most valuable resource an applicant can find.

White Coat's consultants can also point to their own successes with this process, after winning acceptance to some of the nation's top medical programs. Arega, for example, was accepted to all 10 of the schools he applied to, raking in more than $2 million in total scholarship offers.

With White Coat, clients can expect between five and 20 hours of one-on-one support, usually through emails and Skype. The firm's services include mock interviews, editing personal statements, and guidance on letters of recommendation. They work with students who have already taken their MCATs and are moving through the primary and secondary rounds of the application process, then into school selection.

The firm has priced these services to be affordable for any applicant (packages begin at $399), filling a void the three founders identified during their own experiences.

"What I looked for were any commercial services to provide me more extensive support," Siddiqi says, "but there wasn't any affordable admissions consulting out there."

Lamin Sonko, ​Haziq Siddiqi, and Melaku Arega

Image caption: White Coat Strategists co-founders (from left) Lamin Sonko, ​Haziq Siddiqi, and Melaku Arega.

They're also making free consulting available to clients eligible for the Fee Assistance Program through the Association of American Medical Colleges, which supports students who couldn't otherwise afford the costs of med school applications.

A forward-thinking strategy guides this pro bono option: White Coat views its own clients as potential consultants.

"Once we work with our students and they get into good schools, we know who's good at writing, who's good at interviews—we can have them join us and continue this process," Arega says.

In addition to acknowledging financial disparities, White Coat is interested in working with clients from different ethnic and racial backgrounds, to help promote greater diversity in the medical profession.

"In medicine, people like me are underrepresented," says Arega, who was born and raised in Ethiopia. "We want to help open up this premed path to more people from all walks of life."

Arega won a full scholarship to attend Johns Hopkins as a Gates Millennium Scholar; he graduated in May with degrees in neuroscience and molecular and cellular biology. Both Siddiqi and Sonko graduated from Hopkins in May 2016 with degrees in molecular and cellular biology.

Siddiqi, who was born in Pakistan, has spent the past year on a Fulbright Scholarship in Spain. Sonko, who's from Gambia, has been working for health care firm Remedy Partners.

So how will the consultants juggle their White Coat services along with the demands of the first year of med school?

First, Siddiqi notes the timing of applications works in their favor, with the busiest phase during summer break. Second, the firm's founders hope to bring in more team members, so each client gets personalized attention.

Beyond that, they're exploring ideas to expand offerings, such as a podcast, a blog, or even a book.

"Long term," Siddiqi says, "I see us diversifying the ways we can provide affordable consulting."

Editor's note: The Johns Hopkins Office of Pre-Professional Advising offers medical school admissions advising and consulting services at no cost to Johns Hopkins students and alumni.

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