Believe it or not, earning good grades and a decent score on the MCAT—however challenging they may prove—are only the beginning to landing a spot in the medical school of your dreams. Extracurriculars boost med school applicants and 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 you can muster during your pre-med years will play into your future in medicine. That’s because the schools that take 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 to put you in a good position.
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.
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 when 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.
Next, add to your resume with other extracurriculars 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, under your belt!
Check out these posts for other steps in the application process: