The best hobbies for a medical school application should be ones you’re the most passionate about. Because that’s where your personal assets; responsibility, commitment and drive, are most on display. Each of these are qualities that any medical admissions office will value and appreciate.
Putting together a medical school application is difficult. Each system, whether its the US-based AMCAS or not, has its own intricacies. And you’ll want to be familiar with each before you apply.
As a general rule though, some hobbies stand above others when it comes to showing you’re well suited to a career in medicine. So let’s take a look at what those could be – especially now that I’m better placed to appreciate what studying medicine entails!
Why Are Hobbies Important for a Medical School Application?
Medical school applications can be lengthy. Usually there’s a lot of box filling. But there’s also a chance to be creative too. Especially when it comes to the essay or personal statement sections.
My first piece of advice to any pre-med student going through this? Put yourself in the position of the reader. Understand that they go through literally thousands of applications. And that anything you can do to make it easier to read or make it memorable in any way will be a huge asset.
Hobbies are an important part of an application because they humanise you. They show a medical school you’re not a robot. Also that you have a life outside of studying.
Other reasons include the following:
- Hobbies show you as a well-rounded applicant
- Interests outside of medicine/studying show your capability to deal with stress (medical school can be an overwhelming environment)
- They give the interviewer something more personal to connect your application with
- They show what your capabilities are outside of academia (in the real world)
- Demonstrate how familiar and comfortable you might be dealing with the general public
Obviously the older you are as an applicant the more things you’ll inevitably be able to show off. But there’s plenty of things for non-graduates and younger students to write about also. So don’t let this section put you off!
How Many Hobbies Should I Include?
Most medical school application boards advise you keep this section brief (2-3 responses). Listing every interest and hobby you have? Misses the point of the process entirely.
You’ll need to polish this section to show why the things you’ve listed are meaningful and pertinent. Not just give a general list. So think carefully about what you include and always consider their relevance.
A general rule of thumb is to pick at least a couple. And use the rest of the space to talk about why you’ve chosen to include them and what you feel they more broadly say about you and your character.
In applications I’ve made I generally gave only two; my experience doing a cross-country pilgrimage and building a remote business that enabled me to learn Spanish to fluency.
Now, you might have things you deem better or worse than those but the point is not to worry too much. The main crux of your efforts should be drawing whatever it is you’ve chosen back to the rest of application. To sell your personality and your suitability to the course rather than trying to impress or depress anyone with your perceived grand (or absent) experiences.
A good example I use is to say to talk about my experiences in business as proof of my organisation and leadership skills. As well as suggesting how these might help with a career in medicine; delegating to teams on a ward etc.
But the key is not to overthink it. It might take some work to understand best to apply your hobbies to a study program but I assure you; there are plenty of ways.
And please, whatever you do, don’t assume you have nothing relevant to say either! My experiences, given my age, are very far from the norm!
Common Pitfalls (and How to Fix Them)
The mistake most pre-meds make when it comes to selecting hobbies and interests to put on an application is that of making it too generic.
You know; answers like “travel”, or “playing guitar”, or “soccer”. Typical things that most of the world does. And things whoever has read your application is likely to have seen hundreds of thousands of times over.
My opinion is it’s almost better to write nothing here than go with something that obvious.
To avoid this, here’s a process you can go through to come up with different things:
- Think about where participating in certain hobbies has taken you; i.e. odd countries, unusual competitions, strange meeting places. Include these details.
- Think about why you chose particular hobbies. OK, so you play tennis, but why? What drew you to the sport in the first place and how did your story unfold?
- Do you have an interest in or practice something that none of your friends do? What about members of your family? The more obscure the better.
- Have you started a business or any other entrepreneurial endeavour? It doesn’t matter if it’s been successful or not! Talk about it.
The key is to turn bland answers into something more impactful. Provide context as to why you do these things. As well as what motivated you.
These are the things that show admissions board what kind of a student you’ll be. They also help you look like someone they might want to sit down with and get to know better too.
Things Not to Do
If your interests are obscure bordering on the controversial? Probably best to leave them off an application for now.
I’ve already talked about how tattoos might go down at a conservative college, so listing dubious hobbies could be comparable. At the end of the day you don’t know who is going to read your application. So it’s probably best to play it as safe (but as interesting) as possible.
Just use your common sense here. Like you’d be expected to do in any public-facing role.
If you’re really not sure about a hobby or interest though? Contact me and I’ll tell you if I think it’s a good idea or not! Chances are if you take the time to send an email, it’s most probably not.
Other things to be aware of:
- Overly niche things that people have never heard of (will give you little to talk about and thus waste a chance at connecting – although this could go the other way if you’re interviewed by someone very curious!)
- Anything too obvious or things that make it look like you’re lazy or uncommitted (Netflix, 1000 hours plus in particular video games etc – unless you stream or have a YouTube channel!)
- Basic life skills; cooking, cleaning, shopping – these are not hobbies or interests!
I Don’t Have Any Hobbies, What Should I Do?
Well now’s a good time to start something. Failing that though, I bet there are at least a couple of things you could list. If you sit down and really take the time to see what you come up with.
One of the big issues here is mindset. Perhaps you don’t feel you have anything particularly interesting or exciting to list. But don’t be intimidated by that. Just work with what you have and embellish it a little if you have to.
Obviously you don’t want to flat out lie on an application. Because that could look very awkward if you get caught out with questions on the interview. But you can play a little fast and loose with the truth.
At least if you’re really stuck!
Still if you’re really stuck with lack of ideas put down something you’re willing to start exploring right now. By the time the interview rolls around you’ll hopefully have gathered more experience and be better placed to talk about it.
- Hobbies are an important part of a medical school application that can help humanise you in the eyes of an interview panel
- Talk about the impact and influence of your hobbies on your personality rather than describing, in depth, what it is that you do
- Think outside the box as much as possible when it comes to the things you list. Always write with the image of the reader at hand. If you feel what you’re writing is tired and boring? Probably better to go with something else.
A medical school application can be a stressful thing. Hopefully some of these suggestions as to how to best represent your interests and hobbies might help!
Born and raised in the UK, Will went into medicine late (31) after a career in digital marketing and journalism. He’s into football (soccer), learned Spanish after 5 years in Spain, and has had his work published all over the web. Read more.