Application Essentials V: Non-Medical Extracurriculars and Experience

Non-Medical ExtracurricularsThere are many things to consider on your path to becoming an excellent physician: preparing for the MCAT (the current or the new MCAT 2015), nailing a 4.0 GPA both semesters, or writing a killer personal statement for that AMCAS application.

And then there’s the consideration of maintaining a personal and pre-med life balance: I’m planning on playing the piano more in this coming year.  Given the daily grind of medical school, it’s gone on the wayside for some time, but it’s always important to keep up with your life outside of medicine.  Which brings us to today’s topic:  non-medical extracurriculars, and how they fit into your application.

But aren’t medical extracurriculars far more important?

While medical schools do expect you to demonstrate your enthusiasm for medicine through research, shadowing and volunteerism, these are not the only activities that matter.  Non-medical extracurriculars help show who you are as a person outside the classroom, what kind of citizen you are within society, and what passions simply make you more human (and, thus, more relatable to patients).  They show your ability to balance myriad responsibilities, manage time, and hone multiple skills.  They allow schools to increase diversity of the candidates entering the medical school.  And, in the end, they often make you… you!

What characteristics are schools looking for in these activities?

There’s no clear-cut answer, since every extracurricular is slightly different, but here are some themes you’d want to emphasize about these activities:

  • Leadership – taking an important position in the group (executive board, President of a Greek-letter organization, captain of a team, drum major of the band) demonstrates your ability to assume responsibility, be charismatic, and delegate activities efficiently.  A sustained leadership position significantly increases the relevance of an activity for the admissions committee.
  • Commitment – this may be in terms of time (the intense schedules of a college athletics team, hours upon hours of rehearsal for a theater show, diligent preparation for debate teams), duration (sticking with a particular activity during your college career), or even helping to found a group (granted, this also shows leadership).  In any case, the practice of medicine (and just practicing to practice!) requires commitment to your patients and to the delayed gratification of receiving that MD.
  • Well-roundedness – as mentioned before, these activities allow a school to create a more diverse class.  Which means that unique, unusual, or rare interests and skills are actually a great inclusion in your application.  Even if you feel that your extracurriculars are somewhat conventional, highlight something unusual about your experience in them; this is one of the few chances you have in your application to really stand out as a different personality from the other applicants.

What if I’m not in undergrad anymore?

No worries!  If you’re currently employed, your job acts as a non-medical extracurricular, and clearly a very strong one.  Strong personal interests can also act as non-medical extracurricular activities, whether it’s yoga, running marathons, crafting, or anything else.

There may be less that can be written about these non-medical activities, but that’s simply because there’s less of a clear-cut path than with medical extracurriculars.  Don’t neglect them!

As we move into 2013, what else are you focusing on to get you to medical school?  And how can we help you accomplish those goals?

This article is Part V in a seven-part series on Holistic Admissions.  For more information, check out:

  • Yismael

    How relevant is the MCAT material to the school of medicine?!

  • Alex Macnow

    Yismael –

    It sort of depends on what you’re talking about specifically.  Are you likely to be tested on capacitors and resistors directly in medical school?  Admittedly, no.  But the concepts behind them — what resistance does to a system, what adding additional resistors in parallel or series does to a circuit, etc. — underlies our understanding of the circulatory system, for example.

    It’s the thought processes — critical thinking, effecting use of equations, efficient time management — that really make the MCAT what it is.  Thus, it’s not just the content that turns out to be relevant (at different levels), but the way you think about these concepts that’s critical to success in medical school.

    -Alex

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