It’s no secret that it takes more than a high GPA and MCAT to get into medical school. Medical school admissions committees carefully examine each prospective student’s application to see what kinds of extracurricular activities he or she was involved in. Why? Because these activities and applicant’s personal statement are really the only ways admissions committees can get to know their applicants personally before inviting them for an interview.
So what are admissions committees looking for when they read about your extracurricular activities? According to a previous article (What Are Medical Schools Looking For?), medical schools want the following types of students:
1. Students who will excel academically.
2. Students who know what they are getting themselves into.
3. Students who are motivated by the right reasons.
4. Students who will contribute positively to their school.
If you are a potential medical school applicant, your extracurricular activities are necessary to demonstrate that you are a student that fulfills criteria 2-4. With that being said, here are 5 ways premeds should choose extracurricular activities:
1. What is your story?
Your past experiences should be one of the primary factors that dictate what activities you engage in. Were you motivated to pursue medicine because taking care of your mother with breast cancer had a profound impact on your life? Perhaps you should consider doing breast cancer research or volunteering to raise breast cancer awareness. If you are proud and passionate about your cultural upbringing, maybe you can join a cultural club (whether or not they are medically related). The basic point is that your extracurricular activities should weave into the greater story of who you are. If you don’t have much of a background to build off of, you can create a new story that begins in college. Before you engage in any activity, think about your past and future, and evaluate how the prospective activity fits into both.
||Read: Weekly Weigh-in: Extracurriculars in Medical School||
2. What are you passionate about?
“Do I have to do research?” That’s a question I hear a lot. Honestly, there is very little you have to do in college. If research is something that you are not passionate about, then it may not be the right choice for you. Nevertheless, it’s hard to know what you are passionate about before you try different things. As a freshman in college, I told myself that I would never do lab research. It just seemed so boring. One year later, because of my classes and job as an assistant in clinical trials, I became very curious about basic science research, and ultimately joined a lab. Follow your passions but remember that your passions can change and therefore, keep an open mind.
||Read: Identity Outside of Medicine||
3. Will it build your character?
In my opinion, pursuing a career without building character is a futile exercise. As a patient, I would not want an arrogant, unethical, impatient physician who puts himself/herself first before patients. Would you? Almost any activity will help you build character as long as you have the right mindset. Does one of your club members annoy the hell out of you? Think of it as good training for learning how to deal with a future frustrating patient or teammate. Maybe you’ll have the club president scolding you because you forgot to reserve a room for the general meeting. Think of it as a humbling experience that you should learn from. Actively think about your character no matter what situation you are in.
4. Will it help confirm whether medicine is right for you?
Most people who live in Western cultures would not marry someone without, at the very least, going on a couple dates first. Why would you marry someone you barely know? The same principle applies for choosing your career. Why marry a career, especially medicine, a career that is grueling, long, and full of debt, without dating it first? Volunteering at the hospital, shadowing a physician, working at the homeless shelter, and doing clinical research are all ways you can date medicine. Don’t neglect these things because you might be headed for a nasty divorce later down the line.
||Read: How To Write an Undergraduate CV||
5. Is there a positive community?
Mentors and friends play crucial roles in helping you develop as a person and as a budding physician. Even if you may not be incredibly passionate about your lab research, if you have a great relationship with your principal investigator and she/he really invests in you, that is a very good reason to stay in your lab. You may meet some of your closest friends in a club that is not premed oriented. It is not easy to find great friends and mentors, so keep that factor in mind anytime you are considering extracurricular activities.