Getting into Medical School: Having well-rounded hobbies
February 6, 2012
Most medical school applicants tend to normalize towards a typical set of extracurricular activities; research, clinical experience, and volunteering activities are the standard and show up in abundance on applications. Applicants believe that a vital part of getting accepted is having these experiences, and that is largely true. Would it surprise you, though, to know that it was comic book collecting that was the one activity my medical school noticed most on my medical school application?
I had a strong background in research, significant clinical experiences, great community service, and lengthy periods of paid employment, but so did most of the other pre-meds submitting applications. It was crucial, then, for me to differentiate myself from the rest of the pack by including things about me that some might not think of putting on a medical school application. What matters most is that throughout the process of being a pre-med, I made sure to include time for other hobbies and activities that made me a well-rounded applicant. Doing so requires that you do not sacrifice interests in your life that are important to you.
Speaking a foreign language, playing an instrument or a sport, traveling, or being certified in a unique field (skydiving or scuba diving are great options among many), are all examples of distinct hobbies that are great ways to show a medical school that you are not just a typical applicant, but rather a well-rounded individual who will add value to their incoming class. Medical schools strive for a heterogeneous mix of students in order to ensure that the general atmosphere will be fun and collaborative.
While it might be surprising, it would be wrong to characterize medical school as a place where research-oriented automatons attend classes, study in the library, and then complete community service activities during the weekends. Instead, many medical schools support musical bands, sports teams, movie clubs, and cultural events all composed of and conducted by students. Certainly there is plenty of time and opportunity for clinical research, hospital experience, and test prep, but medical school admissions committee members feel comfortable when they know that the medical students are maintaining a healthy lifestyle throughout their four years of medical school. Whether you plan on parading through Mardi Gras at Tulane University School of Medicine or skiing through weekends at University of Vermont College of Medicine, having a life outside of medical school is an important part of the process.
Conveying your outside activities from the very beginning is the best practice. In the primary application under “Hobbies/Activities” you’ll have the opportunity to write about the things that make you who you are (like that giant collection of Batman comics you have in your closet); this includes activities in which you’re involved or even formative trips you’ve taken (backpacking through Europe anyone?). Describing the merits of your activity – like how Batman’s analytical skills and resourcefulness motivate you to do the same as a physician, or how you immersed yourself in different cultures and practiced your foreign language skills while coasting through Spain – will make your application stand out amongst other applicants.
You can continue to build on this by further describing these activities in your secondary application. This will give you an inside-edge during the interview since you’ll have mostly likely piqued your interviewers’ interest and given them something to ask you about that will make the medical school interview more memorable. Just put yourself in the interviewer’s place and think about how much more you would rather ask, “Tell me more about this one-of-a-kind coin collection you have” versus “I see you did some research, please tell me more about that”. Remember, the primary goal of the Extracurriculars section is to show your personality; this is the part of the application that reflects your life outside of the classroom, laboratory, and hospital, so make it count!
I'm a current Tulane University medical student and an MBA graduate of the Johnson School of Graduate Management at Cornell University, and a long-time instructor and teacher trainer who continues to help students throughout the country. I've also done significant work behind the scenes, helping to develop and update study materials for both the MCAT and USMLE. I've been around long enough to see former students not only join me in medical school, but also be trained by me as new Kaplan instructors. While obtaining medical and business degrees has kept me busy, it hasn't stopped me from continuing to play soccer as a goalkeeper during both outdoor and indoor seasons.