When you apply to medical school, the AMCAS (American Medical College Application Service) application includes an experiences section. If you remember your college application days, think of it as an extended Common App activities section. You’ll have fifteen boxes to include relevant work, research, internship, volunteer, or extracurricular activities.
Once you have reached the academic threshold at a med school (a good GPA and MCAT score), schools evaluate your candidacy based off of your personal background and experiences. Step one of this process is looking at the AMCAS activities…
…which means that this section is not to be overlooked!
It is your first chance to show an admissions committee what sets you apart, what makes you qualified for med school, and why you would make a great doctor. So take advantage of all that this section has to offer! Here are 8 ways to use the AMCAS activities section to your benefit:
1. Choose your most relevant or important activities
You have only fifteen spaces to include relevant work, research, internships, or other extracurricular activities. Choose wisely!
There are certain types of extracurricular activities for med school you need to make sure you include: research, volunteer service, work or internships, and teaching experience. But don’t forget about nontraditional activities that may display your passions, even if they are beyond the realm of medicine. If you’re a national Tae Kwon Do champion or a graphic designer or a concert pianist or even if you worked the cash register at a convenience store, these are all unique activities to show the admissions office who you are as a person.
2. Understand the format
Know what information will go into the AMCAS activities section. For example, understanding that you will list a contact’s email and phone number is important so that you can build strong relationships with your mentors early on. Here are the pieces of information you fill out for each activity:
- Experience Type (i.e. “Community Service/Volunteer – Medical/Clinical”)
- Experience Name (i.e. “Oncology Shadowing”)
- Contact Name and Title
- Contact Email and Phone
- Organization Name
- Experience Description
- Most Meaningful Experience Remarks (additional description for up to three activities)
This is not your resume. You have 700 characters (1325 characters for your 1 to 3 “most meaningful” AMCAS activities), so you have room to use full sentences. This room allows you to express the impact these experiences have had on your journey to medical school. You can even think of the descriptions as mini-essays.
3. Do not include “filler” activities
You have fifteen spaces. But that does not mean that you have to fill all fifteen.
Activities that are either unimpressive or too general should be left off your list. For example, including “Self-Directed Reading” on your AMCAS activities section is probably best to avoid. It comes across as a filler activity, and it does not include any sort of tangible achievement that an admissions committee can understand. A filler activity is worse than an empty space.
4. Group relevant activities together
The order for the AMCAS activities will automatically sort chronologically, but schools may change this based off of their preferences (some regroup them by related activities, others by importance). So you will not be able to change this part of the process. You will, though, be able to group relevant activities together under a catchall description heading.
This is particularly helpful if you have more than fifteen activities to include. For example, maybe you have two or three shadowing experiences. Under the “Community Service/Volunteer – Medical/Clinical” experience type, you could title an experience “Shadowing Doctors”, and include the details of each individual activity under the description. This is easy to read, easy to understand, and easy to organize. It also leaves open slots for other experiences.
5. Choose your “Most Meaningful” experiences
In the AMCAS activities section, you can provide further clarification about your top three most meaningful experiences. Choose these with purpose.
What about these activities has inspired you? How have they developed your love for medicine? How have they helped you understand the compassion and empathy needed to become a doctor? The key word here is “meaning”. Make sure this comes through! You don’t always have to choose the most impressive activities. Your most meaningful experience could have been stocking shelves at a Home Depot as long as you can show how it taught you something, helped you grow, and that these lessons will play a role in your life as a doctor.
6. Take advantage of the description section
You have a lot of room to explain these AMCAS activities. Use this space wisely. These descriptions are a great way to provide in-depth insight into the effect an activity had on your medical school path. You should be displaying three key aspects in these descriptions:
- Tangible achievements
- Sustained involvement
- Leadership experience
So, being a member of a medical service club at your school is fine, but participating for four years, being elected president, and organizing a charity event that raised $10,000 is even better. Make sure these descriptions are concrete and easy to understand!
This is also not the time to repeat yourself, fill space, or get lazy with your descriptions. While medical schools are looking for meaningful descriptions, they also appreciate brevity when it is due (Remember: admissions officers are generally faculty members and medical school students!). Don’t repeat yourself just to hit the word limit!
7. Display your passions
While there are certain types of experiences you should have before applying for medical school, there is no set formula. Rather, use the AMCAS activities section to show why you are different than other applicants. The way you describe experiences plays a vital role in showing how they have shaped you. Clearly explain why you are passionate about your activities.
Your passion for medicine, your passion for helping others, and your desire to become a doctor should come through clearly in this section. Be explicit. Show how these activities have helped you grow your love for science and your love for impacting the community around you. These are the two central aspects of your life as a future doctor, so do not leave any room for questions. Strong language and concrete stories are key in displaying the way an experience has impacted you!
8. Set yourself up for interview success
Every one of the AMCAS activities that you list is fair game in an interview. Make sure that you can talk at length about each and every one of your experiences – think about it as preparation for your medical school interviews! Do not include an activity that you weren’t involved in, did not spend time on, or were not engaged with.
The experiences section is just the first layer of how you will present yourself to an admissions committee. Make sure that you can speak knowledgeably and passionately about every single one of your AMCAS activities. Do not simply “check off the boxes”. Show schools that you are unique, passionate, driven, and fit to be a doctor.
Hannah Smith is a graduate of Stanford University and an Admissions Expert at InGenius Prep.