Shadowing hours, research hours, clinical hours and volunteer hours are not just the icing on the cake, but part of the main course you are serving up to the adcoms when you submit your med school application. Yes, your GPA and MCAT score are the first thing they see, and either or both can exclude you a school’s interview pool. But in order for admissions committees to round out who you are, they’ll want to know how you viewed your extracurricular experiences.

Rigid rules?

There’s no hard and fast rules for exactly how many shadowing hours, research hours and volunteering hours you must have. All schools are different, and have varying minimums for each. Urban legend says that matriculants to University of California schools average 500 hours of clinical experience. That’s steep! Medical schools that are deep into research will give greater heft to a two-year long stint on a research project. Generous shadowing hours can help show you have a passion and motivation to learn about your future career. Volunteerism is looked at favorably by most schools, both in and out of medical settings. It proves your willingness to give and share your talents, and help your community in the endless ways it needs them.

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Here’s a rundown of shadowing hours, research hours, clinical and non-clinical hours you’ll need by the time you apply:

Shadowing—40-100 hours

Shadowing in various settings over several months or a year is going to be more valuable to you than cramming it all into a month or one summer. Make sure to shadow several physicians in different specialties. Remember the goal is to view different specialties and see the practice of medicine close up. There are interpersonal things you can learn from individual physicians, and more practical, practice-related things that become apparent in different medical settings. 40 is on the lowww end. 100 hours is superb.

Medical research—0-500

A fact unknown to many pre-meds is that medical research isn’t a necessity. It will likely have a positive impact on your application, but it’s not required by some adcoms. On the other hand, if the school(s) you are applying to have a deep commitment to research, you’d better show up with some great research credentials. What does this mean? For those schools, you’ll want to have clinical and/or bench research experience. However, there are some nontraditional types of research that fall under the medical research banner. Here’s a description by Kaplan of the varied kinds of experiences that might be labeled research other than working in a lab. Getting published as part of a research team is a big plus for almost any school.

Clinical volunteering—150 hours-plus

It’s best to find a gig that you are truly passionate about. Your volunteering commitment is something you’ll probably get questions about at your interview. If it sounds like something that you did simply because you had to, vs. something that brought you passion and joy, the interviewers will see that.

Non-clinical volunteering/work—100-150 hours up to full-time work

One longer term commitment that spans over 6-12 months or more is looked at more favorably than a one-time splurge of 130 hours in a month’s time. If it’s a paid job, you can pile up a ton of hours.

For more information about extracurriculars for med school, see our post on shadowing hours, volunteer hours, clinical hours and research hours here.

Or check out these posts to help you navigate your undergrad pre-med path:

—Is a double major worth it?

—Dealing with stress in the pre-med pressure cooker

—What if I get a C in a pre-med class?

—Building my medical school resume during the summer