Application Essentials V: Non-Medical Extracurricular Activities

September 29, 2016
Emily Hause

Wondering about non-medical extracurricular activities?

Venturing outside of medicine shows you’re a well-rounded candidate.

A previous version of this article was originally published by Alex MacNow.

In this fifth installation of our a seven-part Application Essentials series, we address frequently asked questions about non-medical extracurricular activities.

Finding activities outside of medicine

There are many things to consider on your path to becoming an excellent physician: preparing for the MCAT, nailing a 4.0 GPA, and writing a killer personal statement for your AMCAS application.

Then there’s the consideration of maintaining balance in your personal life as a pre-med: things like eating right, exercising, and remembering to call your family. Given the daily grind of medical school, it’s easy for life to take backseat to medicine. It it is essential to keep up with your life outside of medicine, not only for your mental health, but for your AMCAS application as well. That brings us to today’s topic: non-medical extracurriculars and how they fit into your application.

Aren’t medical extracurricular activities more important?

While medical schools do expect you to demonstrate your enthusiasm for medicine through research, shadowing, and volunteerism, these are not the only activities that matter. Non-medical extracurricular activities help show who you are as a person outside the classroom and the passions that make you more human (and, thus, a better and more relatable doctor).

Experience outside of medicine shows your ability to balance responsibilities, manage time, and hone multiple skills, and help medical schools screen candidates for the purpose of increasing the diversity of their entering class. Most importantly, they often make you… you.

What characteristics are schools looking for in these activities?

There’s no clear-cut answer, since every extracurricular is slightly different, but here are some themes you want to emphasize about these activities:

  • Leadership – Taking an important position in the group (executive board, president of a Greek-letter organization, captain of a team, drum major of the band) demonstrates your ability to assume responsibility, be charismatic, and delegate responsibilities efficiently. A sustained leadership position significantly increases the relevance of an activity for the admissions committee.
  • Commitment – This may be measured in terms of time (the intense schedules of a college athletics team, hours upon hours of rehearsal for a theater show, diligent preparation for debate teams), duration (sticking with a particular activity during your college career), or even helping to found a group. The practice of medicine requires dedication and the commitment evident in your non-medical extracurricular activities is a great way to show that you’re ready to deal with the delayed gratification of receiving that MD.
  • Well-roundedness – As mentioned before, these activities inform medical schools on how to select a more diverse class. Unique, unusual, or rare interests and skills are actually a great inclusion in your application. They make for great conversation topics during interviews as well. Even if you feel that your extracurriculars are somewhat conventional, highlight something unusual about your experience in them; this is one of the few chances you have in your application to really stand out as a different personality from the other applicants.

What if I’m not an undergrad anymore?

No worries—even if you’re currently employed, your job absolutely qualifies as a non-medical extracurricular, and clearly a very strong one. Strong personal interests can also act as non-medical extracurricular activities, whether it’s yoga, running marathons, crafting, or anything else.

There may be less that can be written about these non-medical activities, but that’s simply because there’s less of a clear-cut path than with medical extracurriculars. Don’t neglect them. They are often the most interesting and unique thing about your application.


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Emily Hause Emily has been a teacher for Kaplan for over eight years; she's taught MCAT, ACT, SAT, SAT2 and tutored pretty much every subject under the sun in both the classroom and live online (aka Classroom Anywhere) settings. She's also worked for Kaplan in content development and teacher mentorship roles. Emily is currently a fourth-year medical student at the University of Colorado and is hoping to go into Pediatrics. She's involved in many campus opportunities such as being a Prospective Student Representative, admissions committee member, CU-UNITE member, and co-president of the Education and Teaching Interest Group. Prior to medical school, Emily got a BA in Biochemistry and Spanish from Lawrence University and a Masters in Public Health- Epidemiology from the University of Minnesota. In her free time, Emily enjoys dancing, baking, playing tennis and exploring her new Colorado home.

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