Fall is a rough time for college swimmers.
To most, it’s the start of “Rocktober”, when swimmers are beaten down by some of the most difficult training blocks of the year. But imagine going that part of the season on top of applying to 14 different medical schools and pursuing a master’s degree—that’s what reality was like for Felicia Pasadyn in the fall of 2022.
On most days, Pasadyn’s life consisted of swim practice starting at 5:30 AM, dryland, conducting med school interviews for 6 to 8 hours, going to a second swim practice session, and then doing work for her masters’ in bioethics at night. It was a stressful time, as it seemed like upon completing one thing, another thing would always pop up.
Pasadyn is no stranger to a busy schedule. In high school, she was getting recruited for both swimming and cross country/track while taking nine AP classes. Then as an undergrad at Harvard, she maintained a 4.0 GPA, was an Ivy League champion, won the 2022 Division I Women’s Swimming Elite 90 Award given to the NCAA qualifier with the highest GPA, and graduated in three years.
But Pasadyn’s solo year at Ohio State, where she had to balance her massive academic load alongside competing for one of the top teams in the country, was her most difficult challenge yet.
“There were times in the fall semester where I was always looking at the next thing, and it was difficult to enjoy the given moment,” Pasadyn said. “It’s hard to always be living for the next day because if you’re not in the present, how will you be able to soak in those moments and remember and treasure them?”
Pasadyn’s stress even made it difficult for her to enjoy things that she usually liked. For example, during Ohio State’s Monday afternoon “specialty kick” practices where she got to socialize with her teammates in between sets, she often found herself worrying about upcoming interviews rather than having fun with her friends.
But in the end, it all paid off, as Pasadyn ended up finishing the 2022-23 NCAA season ranked fourth in the nation in the 400 IM, and she also took home both an individual and team Big Ten title. She also got admitted to 11 of the 14 top-ranked medical schools in the country, which includes the likes of Harvard, Stanford, NYU, Columbia, Johns Hopkins, and Cornell.
After hanging up her goggles as a swimmer, Pasadyn will attend the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, where she was named a Silverstein Merit Scholar—a prestigious honor that will allow her to get all of her living and educational expenses paid for in addition to receiving NYU’s already-free med school tuition. At NYU, she will have the tools at hand to pursue her dream of becoming a physician.
However, Pasadyn isn’t the person she is today because she seeks labels and accolades. Every single one of her accomplishments derives from a combination of curiosity, a wish to challenge herself, and a desire to take full advantage of every opportunity given to her.
The Grad Year
Pasadyn didn’t have to pursue a master’s degree. By the time she had graduated from Harvard, she had already taken her MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) and could go straight to med school. However, given that she still had NCAA eligibility left, she decided to come back to her home state for a year.
At Ohio State, not only could Pasadyn compete for one of the best teams in the country, but she also had an opportunity to pursue an accelerated master’s in her longtime passion of bioethics, which is the study of ethical, social and legal issues that arise in biomedicine and biomedical research (per nih.gov).
“Even though it seems like a very niche area of interest, there’s an incredible amount of content within the area of bioethics,” Pasadyn said. “It’s a topic that is becoming more prevalent in 2023, especially with individual medicine and the CRISPR Cas9 gene editing system.”
Pasadyn had always been naturally curious about how the human body works, but losing her uncle to ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) as a child was what made her seriously consider becoming a physician. In addition, she also believes that physicians play a huge role in dispelling socioeconomic inequality.
“Healthcare is an area where there are huge disparities on the basis of race, class, and gender,” Pasadyn said. “That’s something that’s really drawn me to medicine—I see ways that physicians can directly impact the lives of their patients in non-discrimination.”
Before starting the school year at Columbus, Pasadyn submitted her primary and secondary med school applications, which included five to eight essays for each school. In the fall, her biggest hurdle was the interview phase, which was the last step she had to take before receiving her final decisions, and also a major time commitment. Interviews went on for hours on end and could potentially last multiple days, and she spent time researching each school beforehand to see what they wanted out of a student.
In addition, in her interviews, Pasadyn was not just having a one-on-one with one advisor or admissions officer. Just for one school, she often had to have individual interviews with multiple faculty members, current students, and diversity and inclusion workers. So essentially, she was being brought forth upon a massive judge panel.
“Sometimes you just have to cast a wide net and see what sticks with medical school applications,” Pasadyn said. “There’s really no rhyme or reason with whether a school prioritizes leadership, extracurriculars, your MCAT, or your GPA. Interview prep really helped me to see the culture of each school and how I clicked with the students and faculty.”
Interviews came in a wide variety for Pasadyn. Sometimes, schools gave her multiple sets of “mini interviews”, where she was given a series of 16 different questions that were both unrelated to her personal life and forced her to think on the spot. Other times, the interviews were more relaxed, and she was able to talk about herself and her medical origin story. Those were her favorite types of interviews.
Pasadyn’s most notable interview experience came from her NYU interview, where she was asked the question “why medicine?”, and how it connected to her strengths and weaknesses.
“That [interview] was an interesting one because it was not only telling a little bit of my story, but also reflecting on some of the strengths I have that will make me a great doctor, but also things I should work on before I have patients in front of me,” Pasadyn said. “It’s kinda like a Catch-22 I guess, but it allows me to reflect and really think.”
When interview season ended and admissions decisions began to roll out, Pasadyn had to face “complete uncertainty” over her future, but the pressure was also lifted off her. Without the pressure of med school applications, she could now enjoy every moment of her final swim season, and the newfound excitement that came with competing for Ohio State.
Though Pasadyn enjoyed her time at Ohio State and Harvard equally, there’s no denying that the schools are very different from each other. With Harvard being a mid-major institution and Ohio State being in the Big Ten, she found that there were more resources offered to athletes of the latter school, such as gear, dining halls, greater access to athletic trainers, and recovery tools.
“There’s definitely logistical and financial differences between the two,” Pasadyn said. “At Harvard, they don’t have scholarships, and they preach the idea that the resources given to student-athletes are actually accessible to all students. Whereas at a Power Five school, you might have more student-athlete-specific services.”
“But core values like empowering women and lifting each other up are the central focal points of [both schools], which is why I love both of the teams.”
Pasadyn’s final season at Ohio State was her best one yet. At the 2023 Big Ten Championships, she won a title in the 400 IM (4:03.62) in addition to finishing second in both the 200 back (1:52.29) and 200 fly (1:54.33), setting best times in all three events. She scored 88 individual points to help the Buckeyes to their third-straight conference championships, which tied her with teammates Amy Fulmer and Josie Panitz as the third-highest individual scorers of the meet.
Notably, Pasadyn’s 400 IM swim was a near-five second drop for her, as she came into Big Tens with a best time of 4:08.25. In her race, she ran down defending champion Megan Van Berkom on the freestyle leg to win her first-ever Big Ten conference title.
Felicia Pasadyn wins the 400 individual medley; Ohio State's second win of the evening and sixth of these championships. pic.twitter.com/mO8O0vgVcX
— Ohio State Swim/Dive (@OhioStSwimDive) February 17, 2023
“Big Tens was probably one of the highlights of my entire swim career, and I really surpassed my expectations,” Pasadyn said. “When I finished my senior year at Harvard, I felt like I had more in me, but I definitely had no idea that I had five more seconds in me.”
“I just think in the right setting with the right setting and the right circumstances and the right team to support you, magical moments like that can happen. And there were moments like that at both Harvard and Ohio State.”
At NCAAs, Pasadyn scored 4 points in the ‘B’ final of the 400 IM, contributing to Ohio State’s sixth-place overall finish: their highest finish in history. That meet wrapped up the most successful swimming season of her life and served as a perfect closing chapter to her career.
“Each day at NCAAs I was taking mental pictures and taking it all in because I knew those were my final few days being a collegiate swimmer,” Pasadyn said. “I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.”
On April 6th, three weeks after NCAAs, Pasadyn decided to attend the NYU Grossman School of Medicine—the scholarship she had gotten was the game changer. As the story of her swimming career ended, her commitment to NYU was the beginning of a new story she was about to start as a med school student.
Now how does Pasadyn manage to do so much at once and be so successful? The answer is organization.
When Pasadyn prepared for the MCAT in the summer of 2021, she made an entire 89-day study plan and took 18 different practice exams. Similarly, she makes to-do lists on her Notes app and arranges her schedule by the hour every day. Starting from when she was a three-sport athlete in high school, staying organized was a habit she needed to develop to be successful.
“Athletics has helped with time management because you’re forced to be flexible in a rigid schedule,” Pasadyn said. “You have to be able to dedicate potentially four hours of your day to working out.”
“I’ll just write little things that I have to do, even if a friend just wants to meet up for dinner, I want to make sure I don’t flake and I’m not late.”
Aside from helping her arrange her schedule, swimming has integrated its way into many other aspects of Pasadyn’s life. When she prepared for the MCAT, she implemented her goal-setting strategies from swimming into goal-setting for tests, as she felt that taking a test and swimming a race were more similar than they seemed.
In fact, on the day of her MCAT, she felt like she was standing behind the blocks of a 400 IM—there were so many parallels between the two situations.
“You know that you’ve done it several times, but it’s difficult,” Pasadyn said of both a 400 IM and an MCAT test. “It requires mental, emotional, and even physical stamina. You have to exude confidence and really make sure you’ve prepared the absolute most leading up to that moment.”
Though Pasadyn is moving on to another stage of her life, it’s not a “goodbye forever” between her and swimming. She still plans on swimming regularly and has already trained eight or nine times in the water since NCAAs ended. In addition, she has never left high school running roots, as she frequently signs up for 5k races.
“I like exercise and working out just because it frees my mind and keeps me healthy,” Pasadyn said. “I like the way the water feels, it makes me happy.”
Additionally, Pasadyn also developed skills in leadership and communication when she worked on diversity and inclusion programs on the Harvard Swim team, and she believes those skills can translate to the physician’s office eventually.
But despite being involved in so many things both academically and athletically, Pasadyn doesn’t consider herself a workaholic—a work-life balance is one of the most important things to her.
“I wouldn’t say I’m always ‘go, go, go’ in only one area of my life. I really appreciate how academics, athletics, social life, and the spiritual aspect of myself are able to keep me balanced,” Pasadyn said. “I frequently check in myself, asking ‘what do I need today? Do I need lunch with a friend because I was feeling isolated yesterday when I studied?’ Continuing to reflect on where I’m at emotionally helps me to see what I should prioritize in that given week or month.”
Even if they weren’t going through the same rigorous med school application process as her, Pasadyn also found comfort in supporting her teammates throughout their academic journeys. For example, she felt like she could relate to her teammate Katherine Zenick, who is a pre-health major conducting multiple research projects as a junior at Ohio State.
“Her leadership potential is truly astounding,” Pasadyn said of Zenick. “She’s someone who I was able to look to in times when it felt like it was so difficult to balance so many things at once.”
“I wouldn’t say I ever felt isolated from my teammates even if they weren’t experiencing exactly what [my life is]. We have loft goals, but we’re working every day to balance those facets of our lives so we can be emotionally and mentally stable and fulfilled in our futures.”
Soon, Pasadyn will be headed to The City That Never Sleeps, where she’ll make one last stop before finally living out her childhood dream of becoming a physician.
“I’m overwhelmed at the thought of moving to the middle of Manhattan,” Pasadyn said. “But the other side of me is excited that four years of my young twenties will be spent in a place where people dream about living because there are so many wonderful opportunities in New York and so many crossroads between people of different disciplines.”
As Pasadyn finishes up college swimming and enters the realm of medical school, there are up-and-coming college swimmers that are experiencing the same challenges of maintaining sports and academics at the same time. In fact, at NCAAs, she said that several people came up to her and asked her how she handled it all.
So what’s Pasadyn’s advice to the swimmers and other student-athletes currently going through the med school process? The simple answer is to continue staying motivated and ask for help.
“On the hard days where it feels like there’s no way to balance life, take a second to step back and look at the broad perspective,” Pasadyn said. “You have your whole life to work, and ask yourself now, ‘How will I be fulfilled when I’m 30 or 40 years old?’”
“So just continue to think about what you’re passionate about, and hopefully that will keep you motivated even when the hour-by-hour schedule can be very challenging. Reach out to coaches, family members, or friends, and don’t be afraid to ask for push or advice.”
Strikingly similar resume to derek maas’
Way to go Felicia! Very impressive. Best of luck on your new journey.
What an inspirational article! Congratulations to Felicia!
Another top NCAA swimmer, Derek Maas, will also be attending NYU Med School this fall!
But what is her 75 with fins?
NYU Med students all receive full tuitions scholarships – incredible! (fact check me but I think this is correct)
Yes, that’s correct! Pasadyn also got an additional scholarship that covers her living and textbook expenses as well.
This is insane
That’s correct, since 2018. And is the reason that it will probably march its way to the best medical school in the world (or at least the most-desired, which we all presume leads to best). It’s a radical new model that required them to raise $450 million.
It was done sort of under the guise of beginning to take on student debt, but NYU’s ~108 medical students per class is about .2% of the medical schools in each class nationwide, so it’s a drop in the bucket. Not that medical doctors are the group that generally speaking are most in need of tuition relief programs.
Inspiring! Amazing energy and drive. Good
Luck. Make the world a better place.
Best of luck along the journey!!
For those interested in purchasing the rights to a slightly less inspiring story that involves much slower swimming (but highly competitive ultimate frisbee and flag football), missed application deadlines, minimal MCAT preparedness, one generic application and essay, and many wait-list correspondences please inquire within this text thread.