If you’re considering applying to medical school, you’ll need to consider becoming involved in some extracurricular activities to include in your AMCAS or AACOMAS application. Extracurricular activities are a way to provide medical school admission committees with evidence of responsibility, diversity, and dedication of any applicant.
What are extracurricular activities?
Extracurricular activities, or “EC’s”, are things with which you choose to become involved outside of the classroom. Extracurricular activities can be anything from a hobby you enjoy, an interest group, or a service organization to which you have special ties. These activities could occur on-campus or off-campus and the duration could be as little as a few hours or the span of several years. Extracurricular activities are a method for you to utilize in order to become more involved in the community around you, contribute to a cause, or simply find enjoyment outside of an academic environment.
How do medical schools evaluate my extracurricular activities?
Generally, medical schools look at a few aspects of your extracurricular activities when evaluating your admissions application.
- Length of time you were involved.
- Extent of you engagement.
- Leadership roles held. Leadership is a desirable trait, as well as a quality shared by most physicians. Holding a leadership role in a club or organization also shows that you are capable of being organized, respectable, and have a sense of duty.
- The impact of the experience on you. No activity is worth becoming involved unless you enjoy it.
- The nature of the activity. Many medical schools are attempting to venture away from the premed stereotype, and instead are seeking well-rounded, diverse individuals to become medical students.
Use the factors listed above to determine the most appropriate club or organization with which you should become involved. Take the opportunity to consider the time required to become involved, the extent to which you enjoy the activity, and whether or not it’s something you will consider continuing even after you graduate.
Be prepared if you are invited for an interview. Interviewers love to use an applicant’s extracurricular activities, in addition to the personal statement, as resources of questions and topics of conversations. Ensure that you keep the descriptions on your application truthful and pertinent. Some may even consider keeping a journal or log of the activities and events, which could help hog your memory just before the interview.
How do I choose an extracurricular activity?
The best extracurricular activities are ones that you enjoy. If you’re an athlete, find an intramural sport to play if there’s one available. If you love physics, join the physics club. The easiest ways to find these opportunities is to attend freshmen orientation. Usually, there are many organizations and clubs that are eager to give you information about what they do and how to get involved.
Examples of Clubs, Organizations, and Activities
- Sports. Intramural sports, NCAA athletics, and club sports.
- Greek Life. Fraternities and Sororities.
- Academic Clubs. Physics Club, Accounting Club, History Club, etc.
- Special Interest Organizations. American Medical Student Association, American Marketing Association, etc.
- Faith-Based Organizations. Bible Club, etc.
If you missed orientation, you should be able to find flyers or postings of events around campus. For those who aren’t still in school, you may want to venture away from university campuses and find an organization in the community to help fill that void. Even students should keep in mind that your options are endless. Don’t limit yourself to what the university or local community have to offer. There are many opportunities abroad that may provide you with adventure as well as involvement while you finish your degree.
Extracurricular Activity Considerations
Joining AMSA. Medical schools want to see that you’ve been truly engaged in something outside of studying and going to class. While academics are extremely important, it’s just as important to be a well-rounded individual. Many students join AMSA merely to have the opportunity to list the organization on their application. The fact is, AMSA chapters serve as an extremely good resource for premedical students. Often, they are very well-connected with physicians that may be willing to offer shadowing opportunities for members.
Checking the box. This is probably the biggest mistake of premeds when it comes to extracurricular activities. Don’t join an organization and pay the required dues so that you have something to list on your application. That is a waste of time and money. Also, remember that the ultimate goal of having extracurricular activities is to become involved. The quality of the experiences you have are far more important that the quantity of activities on your application. It’s best to choose one or two activities that you enjoy and have time for, as opposed to being a member in many and only attending meetings. Give yourself the opportunity to prove your leadership ability. Allow yourself the time to give back to the community.
What Extracurricular Activities are NOT
Shadowing. Shadowing a doctor is not an extracurricular activity. In fact, most schools expect you to shadow a physician in a clinical setting in addition to being involved in other clubs and organizations.
Research. Research can be an important part of preparing for medical school, especially applicants that wish to pursue a M.D. / Ph.D track. However, for the sake of extracurricular activities, these experiences lack the quality of community or university engagement.
Volunteering. Although many student and community organizations perform community service functions or host philanthropic events, volunteer work is another expectation that should possibly be met outside of your extracurricular activities.
Employment. Of course, many students work while completing their undergraduate degree – some by choice, others by necessity. However, paid employment is rarely a valid substitute for extracurricular activities, especially for those premedical students with little professional and/or clinical experience.