How to Use Extracurricular Activities for Medical School Acceptance

Do you know how many extracurricular activities for medical school you should have?

One student asked an AdCom from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and here's the response they received, "You don't have to have all 15 activities filled out on your AMCAS application if it would be a stretch, but the students who we admit certainly have all 15 extracurricular activities completed."

Facts!

Getting into medical school can be a ruthless process.

You certainly must take your extracurricular activities for medical school very seriously. I've seen students on the cusp of an acceptance being rejected due to their extracurriculars.

Well, they were lacking or it was mediocre at best.

Pro Tip: If you have a weakness in your application and you know about it, then AdComs will definitely see it as well. If this is the case for you, it is in your best interest to hold off on applying until this weakness is corrected. 

Case Study: Stellar Stats But Weak Extracurriculars

A lot of times premed students applying to medical school believe that just because they have stellar MCAT score and GPA it will make up for any weakness in their application.

This is wrong.

I was speaking with a Dean from a prominent medical school on the east coast over lunch.

We were discussing trends in applicants when he conveyed a story.

He had an applicant who had excellent scores across the board and had attended a very reputable undergraduate institution. Basically, everything was checking out on this applicant and then there was a problem.

The applicant was very weak in his extracurriculars.

Meaning he was not even remotely competitive with his extracurricular activities for medical school admissions. 

He kinda knew this at the outset but told the Dean, "I felt with my stats that it wouldn't be an issue."

One activity the student had on his AMCAS was participating in Habitat for Humanity one weekend. Yes, he built homes for only one weekend over Spring Break one year.

Finally, the medical school came back to him with their decision.

They rejected the applicant with the caveat being if he re-applied with stronger extracurricular activities for medical school he would practically be a shoo-in applicant.

Here's what the Dean also told me at lunch about applications similar to this student's:

"Jason, we receive way more applications from applicants than we can possibly admit. My job is to fill the incoming class with the best students possible. With this applicant, it would make no sense for me to admit him to medical school when there are equally qualified applicants who have all their extracurricular activities. I am not going to admit someone who did not do all the work like everyone else. You cannot expect a free ride to medical school no matter what numbers you present."

He went on to say students who know they are weak applicants need to fix their issues because if they know it we know it and it is in your best interest to wait an additional year before applying. 

The applicant was informed that if he was serious about getting into medical school he should volunteer with several Habitat for Humanity projects throughout the year so that he shows commitment and continuous involvement in an activity. 

None of this once and done stuff. 

Bragging About Hours Volunteered or Shadowed

On your medical school application one requirement is to list the time frame you participated in an activity along with the total hours completed.

There's a common myth that I need to dispel.

Yes, it's good to volunteer and rack up plenty of hours.

But I also see students sacrificing quantity over quality. You want to show continued involvement in your extracurricular activities for medical school along with leadership positions if at all possible.

However, do not spend an inordinate amount of hours in extracurriculars if those hours could be better spent preparing for the MCAT or doing better academically.

To be honest, AdComs would rather see you applying to medical school with stronger stats rather than more extracurricular hours. 

Plus, you're going to hate hearing this but the cumulative amount of hours rarely is a deciding factor between applicants. We're just looking to see that you are involved in a diverse array of activities and just glance at the hours to ensure it is keeping in alignment of what we would expect from a "normal" medical school applicant.

In no way are AdComs calculating and tallying your hours and stating, "We have to admit Susan because she has 176 hours while Johnny only has 123 hours."

It just does not work that way. 

High Yield Extracurricular Activities 

Applicants who get into medical school participate in lots of extracurricular activities. Actually, medical schools want you to have quality over quantity when it comes to your after school activities.

The best way to accomplish this is to take on leadership roles in your clinical exposure, college jobs, volunteering, and medical research.

Medical schools will really like you if you stick with the same activities but each year you become more and more involved.

Plus, when completing your AMCAS application you will be asked to chronicle how you spent your time outside of the classroom since your high school graduation.

You must use your better judgment in which types of items you mention on your application. If something is not appropriate for medical school entry or to be discussed at a medical school interview do not include it.

Include your most significant and meaningful activities because you can describe 15 distinct areas of involvement on your medical school application. Did you know? You will have the chance to categorize three of your extracurricular activities for medical school as being significant.

This means you are granted extra space to discuss the activity in detail on your AMCAS. Use this opportunity to showcase how you were profoundly affected by the activity and why it was meaningful to you.

Choose wisely on which activities you elect to designate as most significant because this is your case to push your medical school application forward by writing in a manner about your experiences that allows medical schools to know you know what you are getting into and that your time spent in the activity was worthwhile more than just checking off a requirement for medical school entry.

For each extracurricular you will include:

  • length of involvement
  • supervisor
  • brief description

I spoke with admissions at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine and they stated you want to have something of value for all 15 work/activities otherwise this is like going to an interview and only speaking for half of the time allotted.

This is not good.

You want to present yourself as a well-rounded student who was involved in many extracurricular activities.

Premed and Academic Societies

If you are still in college the best thing you can do for yourself is to get involved with your premed society. They have resources, mentors, study groups, and networking opportunities that you will want to take advantage of.

As a doctor you will have to deal with many demands on your time, varying priorities, and working with others to achieve a common goal and participating in extracurricular activities is an excellent way to get this experience.

If you are passionate about an organization which is not the premed society, then by all means become fully involved with that group. Pursue the activities you are most excited about.

On the other-hand, do not be a stranger to the pre med society, at a minimum become a general member and attend their meetings.

Premedical groups sponsor many activities that are vital to surviving college and coming out unscathed. My premed group holds an annual fall premed workshop at the beginning of the year in which we invite medical students, medical admissions officers, premed advisors and give an overview of what you should be accomplishing during the academic year.

This was instrumental because it allowed for students to see the big picture before getting bogged down in the demands of college.

Clinical Exposure

You apply to medical school because you want to become a doctor and medical schools expect that you have an idea of what it means to be a physician. They will want to know if you have fully considered all aspects of life as a physician and the best way to show this is through clinical exposure. Clinical exposure can be:
  • shadowing
  • volunteering
  • being a health care provider
  • medical scribe

The key point is to show you are passionate about medicine and know what you're getting into. Training a doctor is a big investment so medical schools want to be assured that you are up to the challenge.

As for me, I wanted more hands on experience so I shied away from the typical hospital volunteering role; I worked as a sports medicine aide as one of my university jobs during my undergraduate years for my clinical exposure.

While working as a sports medicine aide, I had the opportunity to work with the team doctors learning how to diagnose common illnesses, sitting in on routine physicals, and even observing a few surgeries.

This clinical experience exposed me to doctors during office hours where they are treating patients, the operating room, and specific to sports medicine at sporting events in case an injury should happen.

Clinical exposure does not have to be limited to working with physicians you just need to have an overall sense of what it means to help sick people.

Working in an AIDS clinic, a medical mission, or volunteering at a nursing home are all good options to gain clinical exposure.

In some cases choosing extracurricular activities outside of the hospital may be better for learning purposes. These institutions are less likely to have an oversupply of medical personnel meaning you can make a lot more clinical contributions.

Research Experience

You do not need research to get into medical school. Although it can really improve your chances of admission to medical school. My opinion is to give research a try for at least one semester because you never know what can come from the experience.

On the contrary, if you are applying to a top tier medical school or planning to pursue the MD-PhD then research will be required.

Finding a research opportunity is not as difficult as you and your classmates may think. All those science professors who lecture you also head research laboratories when not teaching you the basic sciences. One suggestion is to simply speak with your professor to learn about their research and gain some laboratory experience.

To be honest, many institutions are in need of research assistants and if you open your eyes you will see advertisements posted in classrooms, bulletin boards, cafeterias, etc. Be proactive and find the research opportunities.

Do not be concerned about the specific research topic, you just want to be involved and learn from this extracurricular activity. Also, many laboratory personnel understand it may be your first time conducting research and they will be more than willing to guide you along.

Research can take a number of forms and doesn't have to be in one of the "hard" sciences.

For instance you can do research with the psychology department on human behavior; political science department on a voting trend, sociology department on a societal phenomenon. What matters is that your brain is engaging the scientific process and you are analyzing data and drawing conclusions.

There are the very lucky few who are able to have their research published. This is an added bonus that certainly adds distinction to your application and if you are even luckier to been mentioned in the author section, then well done and great job.

This is not the norm though and medical schools understand this, so just become engaged in research and learn as much as possible from this extracurricular activity.

Also, talking about your research is fair game on a medical school interview.

Hobbies

If you have hobbies or special interests outside of medicine be sure to stay involved with these extracurricular activities. As I mentioned medical schools are looking for well-rounded individuals who can excel in the field of medicine, but also have interests outside of their area of vocation.

Hobbies generally serve as a source of stress relief and are fun to engage in so stay true to them even while in undergrad and medical school.

They will serve as a source of grounding from the rigors of studying. I personally enjoy sports a lot and used weightlifting as a means of escape from academics, it is something which gives me pleasure so I continued it throughout my academic career.

If you have a unique or interesting extracurricular activities, share it on your medical school application. It just might be this one activity which gives you the competitive edge at an interview.

I've seen students mention they are DJ's, YouTube bloggers, cooks, makeup artists, etc. By sharing these activities on your medical school application you give AdComs a chance to view you as more than a set of numbers. They can start viewing you as an individual and gain better clarity of your uniqueness.

FYI: all medical schools love applicants that bring diversity to their institutions so embrace what sets you apart because you do not want to be a "diamond in the rough" premed who doesn't stand out.

Those who just blend in or do what the crowd does rarely makes an impression on AdComs, however when you're competing against over 50k other applicants for one of the limited seats available in the incoming medical school class this could sink your chances of getting into medical school.

How to Use Your Extracurricular Activities to Impress AdComs and Earn a Medical School Acceptance

It's not enough to just have 15 activities on your medical school application if you want to get into medical school.

You have to go above and beyond.

I teach students how to maximize the precious little time they have available as premeds to make the most of your experiences so that you can get into medical school and become a doctor.

If you're thinking of going to one activity to the next and hoping you cover the key areas of:

  • Clinical
  • Research
  • Volunteering

then you will be in for a rude awakening during the middle of the application cycle. You may begin to wonder why is it that your classmates who despite having lower stats than you are racking up more interview invites.

Of course, you will need to have competitive stats but beyond this it is entirely possible to strategically use your extracurricular activities to secure a medical school acceptance.

If you'd like to know what the top performing students are doing to enhance their chances of admission based on their experiences then go here to learn more. 

Click here because it will shave hours off your calendar by only having you participate in the activities that are meaningful to AdComs but more importantly will lead to you getting into medical school. 

› Extracurricular Activities


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