2021 AMCAS Work and Activities Section Guide

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There are nine different sections in the AMCAS medical school application. Although AMCAS Work and Activities is the fifth section, along with your personal statement, it will be the first place admissions committees will look to get a sense of your personality and if you fit the mold of the medical student they’re looking for.

Some students consider the Work and Activities section of their application to be less important than other sections. This is a fatal mistake. The section summarizes the wide range of extracurricular activities you’ve participated in during your college career. That said, the space you’re given to discuss these experiences is very limited. Effective communication and choosing the right experiences are imperative to your application’s success.

Learn more about the AMCAS Work and Activities section, including why it’s so important, how to prepare for it, how to approach this section, and common mistakes to avoid.

 

The AMCAS Medical School Application

The American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) is the AAMC’s centralized medical school application processing service. It’s the primary application method for first year entering classes for most US medical schools. It doesn’t matter how many different schools you intend to apply to; you only need to submit one set of application materials to AMCAS (unless you’re applying to DO or Texas medical schools.)

Although you submit your medical school application to AMCAS, the service has no say in admission decisions—those are made solely by the individual medical schools. AMCAS simply collects, verifies, and delivers your application materials and MCAT score to the schools you apply to.

 

An Intro to the AMCAS Work and Activities Section

AMCAS Work and Activities is section five of nine on your medical school application. You will be able to select 15 premed experiences, ranging from extracurricular activities, volunteering experiences, employment, honors, and more. You have the opportunity to discuss how those experiences shaped your desire to become a physician.

It’s important to think strategically about what you want to include so that you feature a diverse and varied collection of activities that demonstrate the essential qualities admissions committees look for in prospective medical students.

In addition to your personal statement, your activities and extracurriculars give admissions committees a sense of your interests and your motivations, as well as whether or not they match with what they’re looking for in a medical student.

It’s important to include a few core things, such as clinical exposure, research, and community involvement. Participating in activities in each of these areas demonstrates that you have the relevant interests and well-rounded experience to know whether or not you really want to pursue a career in medicine.

You don’t need to worry about spending an equal amount of time in each area. Passion is the most important thing to convey to an admissions committee because if you’re passionate about an activity, you’re more likely to take on a leadership role within it. Leadership is one of the qualities that admissions committees look for most in future physicians, so choose activities you are genuinely interested in.

You can select a maximum of 15 activities, and of those, you can select three as your most meaningful, which grants you extra space to speak about your experiences in more detail.

  1. Work and Activities
    • 15 maximum
    • 700 characters each
  2. Most Meaningful Experiences
    • 3 maximum
    • 1325 characters each (in addition to 700 each for Work & Activities)

 

Work and Activities Categories

There are 18 AMCAS Work and Activities categories that you can select from.

  1. Artistic Endeavors
  2. Community Service/Volunteer – Medical/Clinical
  3. Community Service/Volunteer – Not Medical/Clinical
  4. Conferences Attended
  5. Extracurricular Activities
  6. Hobbies
  7. Honors/Awards/Recognitions
  8. Intercollegiate Athletics
  9. Leadership – Not Listed Elsewhere
  10. Military Service
  11. Other
  12. Paid Employment – Medical/Clinical
  13. Paid Employment – Not Medical/Clinical
  14. Physician Shadowing/Clinical Observation
  15. Presentations/Posters
  16. Publications
  17. Research/Lab
  18. Teaching/Tutoring/Teaching Assistant

Admissions committees are looking for applicants with well-rounded experiences in a few different areas. Generally, these are boiled down to Clinical, Research, and Community Involvement.

You may have others that will bring value to your application, but these are the most critical aspects admissions committees look for. Ensure the activities you select include experiences in each of the following areas.

Clinical Exposure

Clinical exposure demonstrates that you know what it means to be a physician in a real, practical sense because you’ve been immersed in a medical environment. The two main ways to get clinical experience are through volunteering and shadowing.

Volunteering in a clinical setting allows you to be an active, contributing part of a healthcare environment. Being able to interface with patients will give you real insight into what it means to be a doctor. Admissions committees want you to have experience communicating with patients and their families, which often involves delivering difficult news.

Shadowing physicians is also an excellent way to get a practical sense of what it means to be a physician. You will gain insight into what the daily life of a doctor is like, and being able to watch doctor-patient interactions from a third-party perspective may inspire you to determine what kind of physician you want to be. Although most medical schools don’t require shadowing, we recommend you obtain this experience.

Research Experience

Research is the foundation of advances in healthcare—a critical field in medicine. Demonstrating a passion for learning is a very important part of being a physician, and it’s something that admissions committees look for. Many colleges offer opportunities for undergraduates to get involved in research, sometimes for pay or credit.

The field you choose could be basic science, clinical, or even non-hard-science. The most important thing is showing that you know how to analyze data, ask relevant questions, and develop logical conclusions.

Community Involvement

Volunteering in your community or with certain groups in college, in a medical setting, or otherwise, shows admissions committees that you are committed to helping real people—an essential part of being a physician. If you’re going to say in your application that you want to help people, this is the section where you demonstrate it through your actions.

There are plenty of different ways to get involved, so pick something you feel genuinely passionate about. Admissions committees are especially interested in applicants who have previously volunteered with underserved populations.

Learn more about the types of Extracurriculars Medical Schools Look For.

 

How to Prepare for the Work and Activities Section

Plan Your Activities Early

Start thinking about this section of your application early. Don’t wait until you are already preparing your medical school application, as you may find out too late that you don’t have enough meaningful experiences.

These experiences take time to find, and they take time to fulfill once you commit to them. You may also start an activity only to find you don’t enjoy it as much as you thought you would. Give yourself as much time as possible to discover where your interests really lie so that you’ll be able to speak about different activities with passion and detail.

You don’t need to spend equal time in each area if you feel more passionate about one than the other, but ensure you have sufficient experience in clinical, research, and community involvement.

Keep a Journal

Keeping a record of your notable experiences is vital. DO NOT simply rely on your memory, as it might be years between when you participated in the activity and when you apply to med school. Throughout your activities, be on the lookout for significant experiences and interesting anecdotes.

Write down any relevant details and how the experiences made you feel. These insights will be invaluable when it comes time to organize your medical school application, write your personal statement and essays, and prepare for interviews.

 

How to Approach the Work and Activities Section

1 | Narrow Down Your Activities

Start by making a list of all of the activities you participated in. Next, eliminate any activities that you weren’t an active participant in. For example, if you were a member of a premed organization but only attended a few meetings, leave it off the list. The name of the game is quality, not quantity.

Only include the activities you were most heavily involved in; otherwise, they won’t be particularly notable or relevant to your application.

2 | Write Descriptive Activity Titles

Ensure your activity title is as descriptive as possible. A vague title like “Volunteer” or “Research” won’t provide the admissions committee with any real insight. Be specific and describe both the activity and your exact role succinctly.

3 | Classify Each Activity

How you classify the activity is up to you. For example, a clinical research position could fall under clinical experience or research experience. If you already have several clinical experiences, you may want to classify it under research experience.

It’s important that your experiences are well-rounded, but ensure the category you select is still relevant to the experience—don’t misclassify anything.

4 | Describe Your Experience

You don’t have much space to describe the activity, so be very careful to make every word count. Don’t describe the activity itself, but rather your individual experience and specific role. Focus on your responsibilities and use one or two sentences to reflect on what you learned or gained from the experience.

Many applicants spend far too much time describing the activity but not enough time reflecting on and detailing their individual learning experience. You only have so much space, so choose your words carefully.

5 | Choose Your Most Meaningful Experiences

You can select three experiences to classify as “Most Meaningful Experiences.” This grants you an additional 1325 characters in addition to the 700 characters. It’s your opportunity to highlight exactly why these specific activities were particularly meaningful to you. As opposed to writing about your roles and responsibilities, the MME section is a chance to reflect and provide the admissions committee with insight into what you learned and how the experience helped you grow.

You aren’t required to use all three slots, but ensure you utilize at least two. If you’re able to write about three meaningful experiences, do so. If you can speak about research, clinical, and volunteer experiences, that’s great, but it’s more important to choose the experiences that were most significant to you.

Remember, admissions committees sort through thousands of applications every year. To save time, they will focus more on your most meaningful activities to get a better sense of who you are as a person and applicant, which is why it’s important to take great care in this section.

 

Work and Activities Section Common Mistakes to Avoid

The biggest mistake applicants make on the Work and Activities section is falsely thinking it’s not as important as the other sections. Just because it isn’t as complicated as crafting a personal statement doesn’t mean it’s any less important.

Mistakes to avoid:

  • Thinking the section is easy and not spending enough time crafting answers
  • Not thinking about your extracurriculars in advance
  • Not keeping a journal and record of your activities throughout college
  • Not crafting a descriptive title
  • Using too much space describing the activity versus sharing your personal experience
  • Misclassifying experiences to create a broader list of activities
  • Choosing the same Most Meaningful Experiences as your personal statement
  • Including high school activities (if you didn’t continue them in college)
  • Inflating your activity hours
  • Padding the Work and Activities section with obvious fluff
  • Filling in all 15 activities when not all are strong enough to be included
  • Not proofreading thoroughly

 

Work and Activities Section FAQs

How Many Activities Can I Include?

You can include a total of 15 activities, and you have 700 words to describe each. You do not need to complete all 15, but you should complete at least 10.

What If I Have Too Many Activities?

You have two options if you have too many activities to include in the 15 spaces. First, simply remove any experiences that are less meaningful or interesting. Second, combine multiple activities into one entry. For example, if you worked on a few different research projects in the same lab, you could include them as a single entry.

Do I Need to Fill Out All 15 Experiences?

You do not need to fill out every space. If you’re considering filling out each one, only choose to do so if you have 15 quality experiences to share. Diluting your activities with less impactful or less noteworthy experiences will only hinder your application. Aim for at least 10 quality responses and don’t include any that won’t add value to your application.

Do I Need to Fill Out All 3 Most Meaningful Experiences?

No, but you should fill out at least two. If you have three activities that you can speak to in a meaningful way, complete all three. The admissions committee wants to know if you will be a good fit for their school, and your MMEs are your chance to prove that. It’s another opportunity for you to distinguish yourself and your background to the admissions committee.

How Far Back Can Experiences Be?

Limit your activities to your time in college. If you started an activity in high school and continued it throughout college, that’s fine to include, but don’t include activities you exclusively participated in during high school.

Does it Matter if I’m Still Currently Completing an Activity?

Each activity asks for a start and end date. If you plan on continuing to participate in an activity until you begin medical school, then use the date you will start medical school as the end date. Include the hours you expect to spend on the activity in your total hours.

What if I Don’t Remember the Exact Hours of an Activity?

If you don’t remember the exact hours you spent on an activity, do your best to make an accurate estimation. Check your calendar to see how frequently you participated in the activity and for how long in each instance. You could also reach out to the organization itself to see if they have a record of your time there.

It can be difficult to make estimates after the fact, which is why it’s so important to document your activities in a journal, calendar, or online log throughout college.

Are Hobbies and Artistic Endeavors Worth Including?

Yes, your hobbies and artistic endeavors are yet another opportunity to showcase who you are as a person to an admissions committee. That said, only include hobbies if you have something especially meaningful or noteworthy to say about them. If they are particularly meaningful to you, it’s important that you’re able to illustrate exactly what you learned, how the activity shaped who you are, and how it has prepared you for medical school.

For example, if you’re a proficient pianist, you could discuss how dedicating your time to learning music has prepared you for the rigors of medical school.

Should My Most Meaningful Experiences Match My Personal Statement?

Your most meaningful experiences can overlap with the stories shared in your personal statement, but do not repeat the same stories or personal insights. It’s important that your personal statement and most meaningful experiences are distinct from each other, as boring an admissions committee is the last thing you want to do.

 

Craft a Stand Out Medical School Application

Med School Insiders will help you create a stand out medical school application. Our team of doctors has years of experience serving on admissions committees, so you’ll benefit from key insights from people who have been intimately involved with the selection process.

Our Comprehensive Medical School Admissions Packages are designed to maximize your potential. We offer one-on-one advising, essay editing, application editing, mock interviews, and more based on key tactics only the top-performing physicians know about—such as how to make your research experiences look as impressive as possible.

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