Believe it or not, extracurriculars for med school may be even more critical than earning good grades and a decent score on the MCAT. For many a pre-med, they’ve been key to landing a spot in the medical school of their dreams. Extracurriculars for med school applicants can make the difference in acceptance or rejection. Before I go on, let me reassure you that you needn’t freak out (unless you’re in your senior year and don’t have any extracurriculars at all).

Of course, your first order of business is getting good grades. But all the other extracurriculars for med school you can muster during your pre-med years will play into your future in medicine. That’s because the schools that takextracurriculars for med schoole an interest in you will vary greatly depending on your background. Here are a few extracurriculars (EC’s) that’ll give you props.

Working in medical-related settings

Since you’re planning a career in medicine, it’s imperative to have some experience in medical-related settings on your resume—places like hospitals, clinics, humanitarian health projects, medical mission trips and the like. A “good” clinical experience is anything that gives you a taste of what it’s like being a doctor, while helping you answer the question of whether you like dealing with patients. Some of these experiences should be in volunteer settings. I’d recommend a minimum of 100 and up to 200 hours to put you in a good position.

Non-clinical volunteering

Whether it’s a soup kitchen, an LGBT support center or a pet adoption agency, it’s good to get your hands dirty doing the work of your community. It’s best to find something you can get excited about, as the volunteering you do will be a point of discussion when you interview with med school adcoms. Volunteering over a long period of time shows commitment to a cause rather than a need to check a box for medical school admission. As with volunteering in clinical settings, non-clinical volunteer hours should add up to 100-200 when all is said and done.

Shadowing doctors

An essential extracurricular for med school is spending time following doctors around in medical settings is valuable and necessary! It’s not always easy to arrange these stints, so consider using any contacts in your universe including those your professors may have, and even those of parents and friends. There are lots of physicians who consider it a privilege to mentor young up-and-coming medical applicants. There’s no formula for how much shadowing you need, but I’d recommend a minimum of 50 hours, in a variety of settings. The input you get from the doctors you shadow can be extremely valuable as you consider your future in one specialty or another.

Research Extracurriculars

Hopefully your college or university will offer opportunities to work closely with professors in research settings. Research schools will want you to know basic laboratory techniques and be well rounded in lab experience. A total lack of research will be a deficit whenextracurriculars medical research applying at most schools, but research experience is especially important if you’re applying to med schools with a heavy research emphasis. If you’re able to get credit as an author on a published piece in a science/medical journal, that’s golden! The relationships you build with the research professors will pay off when you need letters of recommendation for your application package.

Being well-rounded

Next, sprinkle your resume with other extracurriculars for med school that interest you, like sports, campus clubs, journalism, grassroots politics, teaching skills to kids, even astronomy. While these aren’t hobbies admissions committees are seeking out, the fact that you are well-rounded will help prepare you in a host of ways for what’s ahead. And the members of many admissions committees know that.

When you have free time during your undergrad years, don’t drift off on social media; use your time wisely to get some EC’s, or extracurriculars for med school, under your belt!

To get raw numbers of hours needed for each activity, check out our post on Shadowing, Clinical Volunteering, Non-Clinical Volunteering and Research here.

Check out these posts for other steps in the application process:

How important is my science GPA to medical schools?

How do I choose which medical schools to apply to?

Why do medical schools need secondary applications, and when are they due?

Best books for aspiring doctors