Medical School Admissions, Explained

Extracurriculars In Medical School Admissions

Extracurricular is a broad medical school admissions category and it refers to any activity outside of the classroom that does not involve community service or research. So that can be anything, from sports to arts, to hobbies, different languages, anything. Basically anything that doesn’t fit in the other buckets. Admissions committees like to see a commitment to activities and a leadership role in them.

I’ll give you an example. Let’s say you joined a club in college called the Global Health Brigade, an group that organizes trips to different parts of the world to bring medicine to people in need. When you joined freshmen year, you helped organize trips.  Then, sophomore year you started going on trips. Junior year, you became the vice president. Senior year, you became the president, and created a handbook for how to start a local chapter of Global Health Brigades in other schools. Admissions committees eat that up. Why? Because you’re committed, you stuck with it and you became a leader in it. It’s just the same as community service.

Extracurriculars can really help you stand out. They are especially helpful for outliers. This is why: It’s the bucket where anything goes. I’ll give you some examples of extracurriculars from former clients that I think were fabulous.

One client had gone to New York City and seen some local Chinese men playing mahjong. He then sat down, learned how to play mahjong, brought it back to his university, and taught his friends. They started to have mahjong nights instead of poker nights and my client became so interested in it that he went to a nursing home and started teaching mahjong to nursing home residents to give them something to do. They got so into it that they started a mahjong club with regular tournaments. Look how fabulous that is. He was interested in something. He was so interested that he learned to play it himself, he then taught his friends, and then he taught people in need how to do it. He used this activity in his personal statement. It was fabulous and made him stand out. I can’t think of one other person who’s done that.

Your knowledge of other languages used to help others is also valuable in your application, and your commitment to sports is an area you shouldn’t forget. For me, I was the captain of the Harvard basketball team. We played in the NCAA tournament three times. I got to play on TV. That was something that may have made me stand out; and of course I put in my personal statement. So the extra-curricular bucket is where all the things that make you ‘You’ go. This is where you can really be creative and where you can stand out.

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As you well know, academics are a huge part of the medical school admissions process. This Academics Bucket is filled with items weighed by the medical school admissions committees when assessing your readiness to excel academically in medical school. These include: GPA, MCAT, undergraduate/graduate school strength, course strength, and major. I am often asked, “What GPA and MCAT do I need to get into Harvard Medical School.” I always answer, “It depends.” Many pre-meds think it takes a 4.0 GPA and 45 MCAT score to get into medical school. They are wrong. Pre-meds with 4.0 GPAs and 45 MCAT scores used my consulting services after they were NOT accepted to medical school. Sure, you generally need good grades and a decent MCAT score to get into medical school, but there is no exact GPA or MCAT score that guarantees admission. Medical school admissions committees look at a pre-med’s "whole package" when deciding who gets into medical school. Great grades and MCAT scores, a top-20 school pedigree, upper level classes, and a challenging or unique major are not enough to get into medical school. You need to be well-rounded and stand out among the other 40,000 applicants.