There is definitely no easy answer to this. In fact, maybe there is no real answer at all. But from a fellow premed, I thought I could give you some tips.
Medical schools really want to know that you are a well-rounded person. While it is important to have good grades and good test scores, what you do outside the classroom is equally as valuable. Personally I think it’s more important, because this is really when you can shine as a unique candidate. Let’s talk about the types of extracurriculars you should definitely pursue first.
Community Service / Volunteering
Medicine is a field of service and as such, schools expect that you engage in some level of volunteering during your undergraduate career. Long term activities are especially valuable, so remember, quality over quantity! Some examples could include volunteering at a local hospital, in nonprofit organizations, or at your local soup kitchens and food banks. You could also tutor and teach younger kids to play your favorite sport or play your favorite instrument. Really, the opportunities are endless here so really find what is most meaningful to you.
Academic research is a huge feature of the medical school curriculum and many schools will expect you to have some level of experience. This could be something as simple as a summer internship at a local laboratory, or a long-term commitment in a research group at your university. You could even do a thesis project as part of your school’s honors program. Research can be a very daunting experience as many early undergraduate students have never done anything similar to it. I highly encourage you to take your time to find a project or an opportunity that you will really enjoy. And who knows, maybe you could even become a published author because of it!
I write a whole blog post about how to find research opportunities, so check it out here: www.shcollegeconsulting.com/our-advice-blog/finding-research-opportunities-plus-example-email-template.
These are typically the most difficult opportunities to find as undergraduate students. Before you apply to medical school, it is imperative that you reinforce for yourself that you really want to pursue this career path. This is how schools will know that you are committing to a life-long career in medicine. Some examples include shadowing physicians, working as a medical scribe or medical assistant, health advocate, emergency medical technician (EMT), or pharmacy technician. Many students even choose to get a certificate in nursing or phlebotomy! Definitely do some research about what opportunities may be around you and be patient.
Other Common Extracurriculars
A lot of students choose to get involved in premedical groups such as the American Medical Students Association, American Women’s Medical Association, Premedical Honors Society, or even premedical professional fraternities. Another common activity is teaching. This could look like tutoring for a specific subject or working on the core staff team for a class that you have taken in undergrad.
In addition to everything I mentioned above, doing some non-traditional activities is also highly recommended. Again, medical school applications are all about standing out. So maybe you want to get involved in student government, continue a sport you did in high school, be in an Acapella group, work as a dance instructor, be a photographer, etc. Often, these are the experiences that will help you develop leadership and communication skills. Personally they have been some of my most formative experiences to date and definitely proved to be an asset when I was filling out my applications.
It can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the requirements and recommendations for medical school but I really hope this gives you a place to start. Take your time finding activities and opportunities that are genuinely enjoyable for you. Try not to worry about what others are doing and just focus on what YOU can do to become the best medical school applicant, and the best person all together. If you need any guidance or would like to hear about my personal experiences, I would be more than happy to chat through one of our College and Career Coaching Calls at Study Hall College Consulting.
Navya is a consultant on the Study Hall Consulting team. She recently graduated from UC Berkeley in May 2021 with a double major in Molecular Cell Biology and Public Health. She is currently working as a medical assistant and applying to medical school. For more application and essay tips, check out our Study Hall College Consulting website at: shcollegeconsulting.com.