How to get the most out of extracurriculars

With application just around the corner, I wanted to take some time to share some thoughts on how you can prepare yourself for a medical school acceptance. I will be focusing on how to prepare your extracurriculars and dispel some common myths about building your profile.

Q: What should I do for my extracurriculars? Do I need to do research to get into medical school? Do my extracurriculars have to be in healthcare?

No and No! There is a myth amongst premedical students that extracurricular activities related to medicine and healthcare are preferred over all other activities. Fortunately, there are no “magic” extracurriculars that premeds must do to gain an acceptance. Medical schools pride themselves on the diversity of their students and are not looking for all their students to be research gurus and hospital volunteers! We have students in our class who have no research experience prior to getting into medical school.

Extracurriculars are perfect opportunities to develop soft skills (ie. communication, leadership), while also showcasing who you are as a person. Being able to cultivate these soft skills is more important than the nature of the activity itself. For example, you can gain leadership skills from managing a group of volunteers at a hospital or from babysitting a group of children.

My biggest advice is to do activities that you are passionate about or enjoy doing. You want your extracurriculars to show your personality and what you stand for outside of your academic accomplishments. You are much more likely to engage passionately in an activity that you are interested in.

Take some time and reflect on what you hope to accomplish in your future and why you want to go into medicine. Your extracurriculars and educational activities should tell a story about what makes you unique, what drew you to medicine and what skills you’ve learned that will prepare you for success in the field.

There are numerous different ways to get into medical school; don’t be afraid to carve out your own path.

Q: How should I describe my extracurricular activities on my application?

With limited space, describing extracurriculars can be difficult, as every word matters. I would try my best to include the following points in my descriptions:

1) Why did you do this activity? This can help admissions committees see what your unique passions and interests are. It can also contribute to telling a story of what your goals are or why you want to get into medicine.

2) What did you do AND What was the impact? One aspect of the application that I often see people miss is the “Impact”. Quantifying accomplishments with numbers (ie. raised $500 for x charity) can help admissions committees understand the effects of your participation.

3) What I learned from it? This is perhaps the most important part of the description. Describe what skills you’ve gained from the experience (see CANMEDs roles for skills that admissions committees are on the lookout for). And for bonus points, link it to how it will help you in a career in medicine

What are some common errors you see premeds make when it comes to extracurriculars?

A common error that I see premed students make is getting involved in too many extracurriculars. With competition being so high, the temptation is there to fill in every single slot of the application with extracurriculars.

Being involved in too many extracurriculars can lead to a diluted learning experience – remember quality over quantity. Admissions committees will see applicants who have extensive applications which lack any real substance. Focusing on a few activities and showing commitment, growth and leadership in these activities can be much more impressive than having a host of mediocre experiences used to “beef up” an application.

Additionally, it is important to realize that extracurriculars are only one part of the application process. Schools are also looking at other aspects as well (MCAT, GPA, etc) when judging applicants. A healthy balance between these multiple facets must be there to have a well-balanced and competitive application. Becoming involved in many extracurriculars will not help your chances if it leads to a significantly lower GPA or MCAT score.

Lastly, I commonly see people joining extracurriculars that they are not passionate about. This can often lead to burnout. Your time as a premed is valuable. There is a lot of stress associated with getting through the whole application process. Extracurriculars can be a nice way to unwind and do things that you enjoy. Do yourself a favour and do activities that you are passionate about; it makes the process