Failed to rack up any volunteer and shadowing hours as extracurriculars for med school? You wouldn’t be the first!
But still, you’re panicked and you want to know what to do…
No extracurricular activities for med school? Do this…
Contact as many clinical volunteering placements as you can. Search out doctors in your area (or start with your own). Send a quick (but thoughtful) introduction and ask about shadowing opportunities. Repeat the process.
And if this sounds unclear, that’s because it is. But don’t worry. We’ll dive into the details in this article.
- How to find extracurricular opportunities fast
- What your chances are with no (or little) extracurriculars
- Examples of good activities to include
- How much you’ll really need
Being a med student myself, I know how hard it is to get this all organized. But don’t give up. You can make this happen.
Ready to learn more? Let’s go.
What to do if you have no extracurriculars (how to find opportunities fast)
First things first, don’t panic. Everyone has different starting points. Just because people around you have thousands of hours doesn’t mean you can’t compete. There are several sections to the med school admissions process for a reason (more on this later).
But extracurriculars are vital.
So here’s a quick run-through of what you can do.
Note: We’re prioritizing clinical experience first (before anything else). That’s the thing that most makes (or breaks) an application…
- Make a list of all hospitals, nursing homes and hospices in your area. Collect their contact information.
- Write out a brief mission statement. State your intent and what you can offer.
- Reach out to each of these places individually. Try general contacts and try to speak to an actual human. Explain what you need and why.
- Repeat the same process but with a list of labs (could be on or off-campus) and research professors/teams.
- Repeat the process with non-medical volunteering opportunities (tutoring, community volunteering etc.)
Aim to reach out to a fixed amount of people each day/week. Don’t take rejection personally. Just keep moving through the process.
What extracurriculars should I prioritize?
Prioritize anything that gives you one of three things:
- Patient interaction
- Physician contact
- Research responsibilities
But failing that, you might need to start with something else first just to get momentum.
And remember; the earlier you start the process, the better!
Wait, do you really have no extracurriculars?
Something worth mentioning here (before you dive in) is whether or not you’re selling yourself short.
Do you really have no extracurriculars?
I’m sure there’s something you’ve done outside of academics that could at least mean that you’re not starting from ground zero…
I have no extracurriculars, what are my chances?
Med school admissions committees (Adcoms) are almost certain to reject you without any extracurriculars. Even with an exceptional GPA or MCAT score, having no extracurriculars is an indicator of a lack of commitment.
At the very least, Adcoms will expect a minimum amount of hours spent volunteering, shadowing or in research.
And the reason why extracurriculars are important is because they’re a differentiator.
Many pre-meds come out with similar GPA’s and MCAT scores. But extracurriculars can be diverse. They also show that you’ve gone out, taken initiative and committed to something for long periods of time.
Med schools like rounded applicants. Not pure exam performers.
And that makes total sense when you think about what kind of doctor you’d like to see from the perspective of a patient!
How much is enough?
There’s no real limit or recommended amount of extracurricular hours that you should have. The quality of experience is far more important. As well as how well you can reflect on it in interviews and application essays.
A good recommendation here is as follows…
Do as many valuable extracurricular hours as you can. But be careful not to let your extracurriculars impact your school performance (GPA) or MCAT score. Find a balance where possible.
You’ll also want to spread it out and not cram it into summers etc if you can avoid it.
On the AMCAS application section itself, you can enter up to 15 experiences (with four occurrences per experience). You then select three from that list as your “most meaningul” experiences (source).
That’s why it’s generally good to get as diverse as extracurricular experience as possible. It’ll give you much more to weigh up and reflect on. As well as really helping you stand out from other applicants.
Unique extracurriculars for med school
As for unique extracurricular ideas that can really help you stand out, here are a few:
- Start a small business or develop a side hustle (I’ve got 10 good business ideas here)
- Tutoring people in the community on subjects you feel passionate about
- Following a passion (music, film production, sports etc.) that takes you to interesting places
- Join your local military reserve unit (lots of opportunity to learn things and help others)
- Volunteer at local crisis intervention/suicide hotlines
- Work with local food banks or other integral community-based projects
- Run for student council or get involved in small-level politics (the responsibility looks great on an application)
All these can make for some very interesting (and unique) letters of recommendation (LOR’s) too.
But obviously there’s nothing wrong with the staple extracurriculars; medical showing, volunteering and research etc.
Leadership extracurriculars for med school
Extracurricular’s that help demonstrate some form of leadership work really well on differentiating you from other candidates.
Aside from some of the suggestions above, here a couple more things to consider:
- Starting and leading college-based workshops, seminars or clubs
- Running and organizing a small-scale conference around an interest or hobby
- Asking for a more responsibility at a part-time job (possibly scoring a promotion and salary increase in the process)
Just think about experiences that can really showcase your ability to help work with others toward a common objective.
Online extracurricular activities
Obviously in-person extracurricular activities, that have you involved with people directly, translate more into medical/healthcare work.
But that’s not to say online things can’t help. Especially if they fit the criteria of the types of things above. While helping to show things like organization, responsibility, leadership and creativity etc also.
A couple of ideas:
- Start a website: I’ve written a basic guide on how to get started. But you can make a site about any subject or topic. And learn valuable, transferrable skills, doing so.
- Build an online course: teach something you find interesting and learn how it is to structure, run and deliver a course to other students
- YouTube: loads of pre-med and med students turn to YouTube as an interest or passion. As long as you keep your content “safe” it shouldn’t deter Adcoms from seeing the positive side in what you’ve created.
MCAT vs extracurriculars: where to focus?
As mentioned before, you don’t want to get so deep into extracurriculars that you endanger your GPA. Both things are super important to a successful application.
In terms of what’s probably the most important of the two?
The MCAT. That’s the thing that will open the doors to getting your application viewed in the first place. Without scoring well enough, you’ll be dismissed from the process before there’s even chance to review or check your extracurriculars.
Not having any extracurriculars for med school can seem scary but it shouldn’t stop you from moving forward.
There’s a lot you can do in a short amount of time. But you’ll have to work systematically, have perseverance and not be deterred!
Hopefully this article has helped show you how.
If you liked this article, you might find the following articles useful:
- How Many Hours Of Research For Medical School Is Best? (Explained)
- How To Write An Awesome Diversity Essay In Medical School (5 Quick Tips)
Image Credit: @ray sangga kusuma at Unsplash
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.