6 Tips on Developing your ABS for Medical School during Undergrad and Highschool

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The autobiographical sketch (ABS) is an integral part of the OMSAS application and for many Ontario medical schools, it serves as a glimpse into the applicant and may even be a gateway for securing a medical school Interview. The OMSAS website describes the ABS as a “detailed and comprehensive list of your activities since the age of 16”. However, it’s important to be be mindful that you only have 32 entries! These entries are further subdivided into six main categories: Employment, Volunteer Activities, Awards and Accomplishments, Research, and Other. 

While this may seem like a dauting task, here are 6 tips on making the process easier as you complete high school and your undergraduate studies! 

  1. Stay Organized: Create a spreadsheet with a tab for all of the categories that are included on the ABS (employment, volunteer activities, Extracurricular activities, awards and accomplishments, research, and other). For each tab make sure to include important headings including the dates (start date and end date), hours of commitment, accomplishments, lessons learned, memorable experiences, challenges, and verifier contact information. Fill out this spreadsheet throughout your high school and undergraduate years – not only will this save you time when it comes time to apply, but it will also help you keep your experiences fresh in your mind! 
  1. Self-Reflection: Building off of the headings that you created in your spreadsheet, take the time to reflect on the activities that you have completed. Ask yourself the following questions: “Why did I choose to participate in this activity? What lessons did I learn? What were the meaningful moments? What impact did this activity have on me? How will the lessons I learned impact me moving forwards? What challenges did I face and how did I overcome them?”. Some Ontario medical schools (ex. UofT, Western, Ottawa etc.) require you to elaborate on a few of the ABS items through essays so this process of self-reflection will help you create meaningful entries. This self-reflection will also be incredibly helpful during your interviews, at which point you can incorporate your unique insights and experiences in your answers!
  1. Take a Balanced Approach: Most successful applicants are well-rounded and  have a balance of activities spread out among the six categories. Creating a spreadsheet, as outlined in the first tip, will help you to see your strengths and opportunities with respect to experiences you should seek out! Don’t fall into the trap of completing activities just because they fit the typical “premedical applicant profile” (you don’t need to volunteer in a hospital if you don’t want to!). Instead, seeking out experiences that you enjoy and are meaningful to you from these diverse categories will be much more valuable!
  1. Be Authentic: When it comes to application time, you may find yourself with more or less than 32 activities to choose from – that’s alright! Remember that quality is better than quantity. Be selective. Choose the opportunities that you believe show who YOU are as a person and ones that shine a light on your values!  It can be tempting to choose activities that you think medical schools want to see; however, you should remember that with thousands of applicants you want to be able to shine with your unique experiences. 
  1. Be Quantitative and Explicit: When it comes time to writing your ABS entry, be mindful that you only have 150 characters. Therefore, be as clear and concise about the impact that you made. One strategy you may want to consider is to use action words and accomplishment statements – statements that describe the action that you took and the result that came from it. An easy way to organize your activities into accomplishment statements is using the CAR acronym:
  • C – consider the CHALLENGE/CONTEXT you faced
  • A – what was the ACTION that you took
  • R – what were the RESULTs that you obtained (use quantitative numbers if applicable!)

Consider the following example: Initiated & launched campus-wide campaign for Parkdale Community Food Bank, collecting over $20,000 in donations for the local community.

This example fits within the 150 characters and explicitly states the impact that you made! Notice how we also used “&” instead of writing “and” – using characters and abbreviations is completely acceptable as long as your statements are still clear and understandable!

  1. Develop Positive Working Relationships with Verifiers: For each activity within your ABS, you are required to provide the contact information of someone who can verify your activity and your ABS description. Be sure to develop positive working relationships with your verifiers during the experience, and if you feel comfortable, share your goals in applying to medical school (you never know where you can find a mentor!). When it comes time to apply, contact your verifier early in the process and provide them with your ABS description. Confirm that they are comfortable with being contacted and are in agreeance with your description and the responsibilities that you stated. Often times, verifiers work with many students, therefore, sharing specific memories or valuable insights from your experience with them can help them remember you and your contributions to the team!

Best of luck in the medical school application process!

Check out more blogs on writing your Resume, CV, and ABS:
Top 5 Tips for Formatting your Medical Resume/CV
It’s Never Too Early to Start Preparing Your CV and ABS
Perfecting your OMSAS ABS
Write a Solid Personal Statement