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How To Stand Out With Extracurricular Activities

Your GPA reflects your academic diligence and your MCAT demonstrates your performance on standardized testing. While those are the 1-2 punch that you lead with, “5 Parts of a Competitive Medical School Application” highlighted the importance of extracurricular activities. Your extracurriculars can set you apart from the other applicants the way numbers and scores cannot. Involvement in extracurricular activities rounds out your application and portrays qualities such as leadership, dedication, and collaboration. It is one thing to declare that you wish to help people as a doctor, but backing it up it through dedication of your time and energy does much more to reassure a medical school admissions committee.

An extracurricular activity can refer to any activity outside of the classroom and studying. It includes (but absolutely is not limited to) clinical experiences such as shadowing a physician and working in a hospital, research projects (clinical, transitional, and basic science), volunteering in the community, holding a job, pursuing a hobby, and joining student groups. There is an entire section on the AMCAS medical school application reserved solely for “Work and Activities”, where you can list and describe each extracurricular you invested time in during your undergraduate years. With so many possible opportunities to get involved and only so many precious hours in a week, the million-dollar question becomes…

What extracurricular activities will help me stand out to medical schools?

Though the question may be simple, the answer is complex and different for every applicant. I wish I could provide a list of 3 extracurricular activities, and all you had to do was dedicate the time and gain an automatic admission to medical school. The truth is that there is no magical extracurricular activity medical schools look for – not research, not global medical trips, not working as an EMT. Parents, advisors, and peers alike will declare that “in order to get into medical school, you must do X, because that is what admissions committees want in their students.” This is false. Think about it! Medical schools love to brag about the diversity of their students, so by definition of diverse, there is no formula for the perfect medical student resume.

||Read: How To Write About Extracurricular Activities|| The Importance of Hobbies on the Application ||

Extracurricular activities should be viewed as a means within themselves. Instead of asking “what extracurricular activities will help me stand out”, ask the question “what extracurricular activities will help me mature as an individual and develop a passion”. That passion and maturity is what will stand out to medical schools when you apply, not the activities themselves. Extracurricular activities provide opportunity to develop interpersonal skills that are vital to being a good doctor. Qualities such as public speaking, communication and empathy are not learned from textbooks, they are learned from interacting with real people in real situations. Medical schools are confident in their ability to educate their students about diseases and drugs, but what they haven’t quite figured out yet is how to teach their students to be effective communicators and leaders. This is why the MMI-style interview is becoming so popular – it allows those qualities to shine through.

|Read: What to know about MMI||

The biggest mistake that pre-meds make when it comes to extracurricular activities

A common mistake that many undergraduates make is getting involved in too many extra-curricular activities. There’s a myth that in order to be a competitive applicant, you must “check all the boxes”, or try to cover every category of activity. Bouncing around different activities during your first year is encouraged, but you should have a solid grasp on which activity you are passionate about by the time your second year is over. Committing to more than 3 regular extracurricular activities will only dilute your time and energy. Not only will you burn out faster, but medical schools will see you as just another applicant who has “stacked” their resume with nothing of real substance.

I recently met with a medical school admissions officer who passed on some very insightful advice. He told me that admissions committees look for those applicants who have found one extracurricular activity and made it their passion. He encourages future applicants to dedicate their free time one activity that they are truly passionate about, eventually serve as a leader, and help that program grow and expand. If you take his words to heart, you will see yourself grow as an individual throughout those 4 years as well. This also applies to hobbies, athletics, musical interests and artistic talents! An applicant who has dedicated years to one endeavor with true enthusiasm will catch the eye of admissions committees across the nation, much more so than an applicant who has only tried to follow a formula by becoming only marginally involved in multiple activities. Being passionate about one extracurricular activity demonstrates commitment and responsibility, which translate perfectly over into the field of medicine. That passion that you possess and express is how you will stand out on your application, during your interviews, and throughout medical school.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ProspectiveDoctor

Evan Shih

Evan Shih is a writer for ProspectiveDoctor. He is currently an internal medicine resident at UCLA. He graduated from UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine and also graduated from UCLA undergrad in 2013 with a B.S. in Physiological Science. He hopes his efforts on PDr can provide the guidance and reassurance that readers seek along the medical journey. When he’s not studying, Evan likes to hike, swim, and spend time with his family in Orange County.

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