There is a great amount of extracurricular activities available for pre-med students and just as many opinions about which ones are the best. However, we believe the best way to determine what extracurricular activities a student should pursue is by asking him or herself three questions.
1. Do your extracurricular activities show that you are interested and knowledgeable about the field of medicine?
Just to be absolutely clear, a medical school will not accept an applicant who has no experience in the medical industry. This is common sense. There is no way that you can know if you truly want to (and can) be a doctor, unless you have seen them in action. If you apply to medical school with no medical experience, they will probably think you are in it just for the money or because your parents told you to apply.
Getting into medical school is extremely competitive. To be competitive, an applicant not only needs high grades and MCAT scores, but impressive medical experience as well. You can obtain valuable experience by doing volunteer work, doing clinical research, working as an EMT, working at a doctor’s office, etc. To be most competitive, it is best to choose extracurricular activities that give you the greatest amount of responsibility.
For example, if all you did was shadow a physician, it is not going to look impressive. If all you did was clean beakers and flasks for a research team, it is not going to look impressive. If all you did was volunteer for a hospital by greeting the patients as they walked in, it is not going to look impressive. The common factor in all three examples is that none of the positions gave the student an opportunity to do any hands-on medical work. Just because you worked in a health setting does not mean you did health-related work. Instead, try obtaining positions where you can interact with patients, where you can do actual research, where you can really learn about medicine. Obtaining these positions are not always easy for undergraduate students, but being a competitive medical school applicant was not meant to be easy.
2. Do your extracurricular activities portray you as a unique applicant?
Every year, about 80,000 students apply to medical school. A majority of these students will be competitive and have impressive extracurricular activities. Due to the overwhelming amount of applications, it will be easy for applicants to go fairly unnoticed. That is unless you do something unique. Do not get it wrong, it is good that you did research and it is good that you volunteered at a hospital. But if you want to go the extra mile, try to make yourself stand out in a sea of applicants.
What is considered unique? Try obtaining positions that not a lot of your peers would get. For example, try to become a supervisor of an EMT company or published as a researcher. How about starting your non-profit organization or building an iPhone app. There are endless possibilities but the goal here is to make yourself stand out.
3. Do your extracurricular activities portray you as an applicant with leadership skills?
Another important characteristic that medical schools value in their students is leadership skills. As a doctor, you will automatically be thrust upon a position of leadership. Medical schools want to accept applicants that have proven themselves to be leaders. If you are not a leader, it will be hard for you to become a successful doctor, no matter how high your GPA is.
Therefore, try to obtain positions that show off your leadership skills. For example, consider running for your president of your school, or being the editor of your newspaper. How about starting an organization or TAing for a class? All of these activities can develop the leadership within you and portray to medical schools that you are a leader.