Often times with the pressure of school and grades gone, premeds can use their summers to be more invested in their extracurricular activities. So what should premeds do in the summer? Which activities should take precedence over others?
Unfortunately for most premeds, there is no such thing as a real “summer break”. That is because summertime is the perfect time for them to pursue extracurricular activities that will boost their medical school applications. For example, it could be a clinical student travel program. Often times with the pressure of school and grades gone, premeds can use their summers to be more invested in their extracurricular activities. So what should premeds do in the summer? Which activities should take precedence over others? Here are my thoughts loosely in the order of importance:
*I have purposely left out studying for the MCAT, but investing your summers to study for the MCAT would also be a wise decision.
1. Research focus
Undergraduate research is one of the best ways to stand out as a med school applicant. And there is no better time to focus your efforts on your research than in the summer. There are two main routes you can take if you are planning to focus on research during the summer. First, you can apply for formal summer research programs. These summer research programs are a great way to do meaningful research under the tutelage of a research mentor while getting “paid”. The other option is a more informal route. You can either continue the same research you do during the school year (if you are already in a lab) or apply for a position and start in the summer. Starting research in the summer is a great way to gain a more permanent research position.
2. Service focus
If you are sick of research, don’t want to do research, or want a long break from your research, you can take a more service-oriented summer track. This means you will concentrate most of your efforts on non-health related community service, volunteering at a hospital or clinic, and/or medical missions. Some students like to serve overseas on medical or even nonmedical mission trips. Others attend formal volunteer/intern health programs that require serious time commitments. However, one of the reasons why the service focus is not on the top of my list is because you do not necessarily need the summer to be heavily involved in service. If you want to do substantial research during the school year, you will need to invest 15-20 hours at the very minimum. But even that may not be enough to really focus on your research project. This is why the summer time is so well suited for pursuing research. On the other hand, service-oriented activities do not require as big of a time and mental commitment. Unless you are committing significant time at a formal internship or on a mission trip, you do not necessarily need to take a full summer to solely focus on service-oriented activities.
3. Academic focus
Summer school is a great way to boost your GPA, get ahead in your major classes, or even catch up in your area of study. Not only are summer classes usually easier, but since you do not have the same course load in the summer compared to the school year (you can usually focus on one or two classes in the summer), you also have a better chance at getting good grades. Unfortunately, taking summer school often prevents you from doing a research program, internship programs, or going on service trips.
My personal advice for premeds would be to seek out formal and structured summer programs. Whether it is research, internship, or a medical missions program, the more official the better. Not only do more established programs look better on your CV, but also there are simply more opportunities for mentorship and guidance under official programs.
Regardless of what you decide to focus on in the summer, you can always use whatever extra time you have to pursue other extracurricular activities as well. For example, if you are in summer school, use your free time to volunteer, research, and/or shadow. Even if you are in a summer research program, find some time to volunteer or shadow. Not only is this an efficient use of your time, but it also helps you become a more balanced applicant. And finally, make the most of your summer because the more you get done during the summer, the easier your school year will probably be.