January 3, 2013

Application Essentials V: Non-Medical Extracurriculars and Experience

There 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: ...read more
Applying to Med School
March 22, 2010

Reapplying for Medical School

By Carleen Eaton, M.D. If the 2010 cycle will be your second (or third) application to med school, then you need to take a different approach than a first time applicant. Your goal is to differentiate your current application from the last one as much as possible, and to convince the committee that you are now deserving of a spot in the class. This means scrutinizing each section of the application and determining what is new or improved and making sure that those features stand out. In terms of timing, applying for back-to-back cycles may not be the best strategy if you have a major deficiency in your application, such as a very low GPA. Before you reapply, you need to determine the reasons for the unsuccessful application and then address them. Otherwise, you are likely to “use up” an application cycle without any real chance of admission. The result will be that you may end up applying a third time, which is less than ideal since some schools discourage a third application. This is not to say that a third time applicant will never be admitted, but it is more difficult. Instead, position yourself as strongly as possible before you reapply. Check out my November blog for ideas about how to use a year between applications most effectively. Once you have bumped up your MCAT score, improved your GPA or gained the clinical or research experiences lacking from your application, you will be ready to go forward. Here are some points to focus on as you fill out your application: 1. Personal Statement – Do not submit exactly the same personal statement as last time, especially if you are applying to some of the same schools again. Certain elements of the personal statement may remain the same, since, after all, your initial reasons for choosing medicine as a career have not changed. However, incorporate new elements such as achievements, adventures and activities from the past year and reword topics that you are retaining from the previous personal statement. Make sure that the opening and closing are new since these sections are essential in defining a piece of writing. Starting out with the same sentence or paragraph sets up the expectation that what follows will also be the same as last year. The personal statement needs to be well written, engaging and focused. Read your previous personal statement critically, or better yet, have an advisor or friend do so and get an honest assessment about the impact it made so that you can submit your best work this time around. 2. Work/Activities section – Adding clinical experiences and/or research to your list will enhance your application. Swap out less relevant activities to make room for at least a few activities that were not on your last application. 3.  Letters of Recommendation – Include at least one or two new letters that reflect your achievements since the last time you applied.  If you received a letter previously from someone with whom you still interact, such as a researcher whose lab you work in, then ask for an updated letter. 4.  List of Schools – Your application last time may have been competitive enough to get you into a med school, but just not competitive enough for the ones you had on your list. Reapplicants should have plenty of safety schools on their list (actually, all applicants should have plenty of safety schools on their lists). Use the MSAR (published by AMCAS)  to check out the schools’ statistics to formulate a list that will give you the best chance of admission somewhere. Applicants who succeed on a second or subsequent application are those who take the time to find the weaknesses in their application, fix them, and make sure that the application reflects this.  There are many med students and doctors who didn’t get in the first time around, so remember, an unsuccessful first (or even second) try, doesn’t mean that you have to change your career plans - just delay them a bit. ...read more

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