Many prospective medical students ask about the best way to approach the work and activity section on the American Medical College Application Service application. After all, you have only 15 boxes to fill with the experiences that define you as a unique candidate. Here are some tips to make the process easier.
1. Organize your activities by category: Review your CV or prepare a list of your work and activities by category. You will definitely want to include volunteer efforts, shadowing experiences, leadership positions and research, as applicable.
Some applicants will have publications, presentations, awards and scholarships. This part of the application can also include sports, team and individual; hobbies; artistic talents, such as painting, music, theater and dance; mission trips; and employment.
2. Tally your list: After you complete your list, count the number of experiences you have.
If you have 15 or fewer, you will be able to list all on your application. If you have more than 15, group like activities together. You can list up to four of each type in a box, and they are arranged in chronological order.
For example, you can list awards and scholarships in one box on the application. If you can spare two boxes for these, place the awards in one and scholarships in the other.
Keep presentations and publications together. For presentations, be sure to list the names of the authors, title of the presentation, and name and date of the meeting.
Format publications as you would a citation, with author names first, followed by the title of the publication, name of the journal, year, volume and page numbers. You have likely already prepared your CV with this in mind and have them in the correct format.
Sports may fall into one box. On occasion, you may want to pull out a particular accomplishment. Let’s say you participated in crew, intramural basketball and ice hockey. If you were the captain of a Division I hockey team, place that information in a separate box under the experience type “leadership.”
You can also group hobbies or talents together. Unless these are spectacular, they will usually be your last entry.
3. Skip high school: Don’t include high school activities and experiences unless you continued them through your undergraduate years. Even then, simply provide the correct years.
5. Carefully choose the most meaningful activities: Reflect seriously on your selection of the three most meaningful activities. You want these to match the mission of the schools where you are applying.
You can’t go wrong with including volunteer service, whether medical or nonmedical. If possible, choose a long-term versus a one-day experience.
If you are applying to a medical school that emphasizes innovation and research, then include your research experience. For a third activity, consider a particular achievement that you worked long and hard for, especially if it demonstrates group collaboration or teamwork. Another option is a second long-term service activity, such as teaching children or helping the elderly, particularly if the activity demonstrates commitment and consistency.
Avoid including any experience, such as receiving an award, that could be interpreted as privilege or arrogance. You want to promote an image of humility.
You may be tempted to include a shadowing experience in your most meaningful activities, but remember that shadowing is passive. Rather, choose an activity in which you had active involvement. The one exception is if Dr. X allowed you to shadow over a four-year period and you really grew to care for the patients.
6. Vary your language and give detail: Don’t overly use “I” — instead of writing, “I did this … ” and “I did that … ,” try “Under Dr. X’s guidance, our team accomplished … .”
Giving credit to others is always in good taste. And include detail in your description; this is helpful to the admissions committee. Remember you have 700 characters for each experience description and 1,325 for each most meaningful experience description to effectively relay your experience.
Here’s an example of an experience description: Honor Board — I was chosen for honor board to determine the outcomes of student violations. I reviewed the cases and decided if the student should be expelled or allowed to stay.
Now consider this better example: Honor Board — It was an honor for me to serve with 11 other students on this board. We heard reports of possible violations from faculty, students, staff or administrators. This group thoughtfully discussed the events, actions and outcomes, often asking for more information. After significant deliberation, the group made recommendations from consensus or, when necessary, by a majority vote.
The first example comes across as judgmental and implies more power than one individual ever has in these processes. The second example provides a better description of the activity and professional respect for the process.
7. Demonstrate you are a good candidate: Finally, remember that these experiences are your avocations, not your vocation. While you want to convince the admissions committee that you are well-balanced, you first and foremost want to communicate that you are a good candidate for medical school.
Have fun filling out this section; the exercise allows you to reflect on your life and appreciate the opportunities and experiences you have found along the way.
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