These common AMCAS activities mistakes could have costly consequences for your medical school application.
The activities section on your medical school application may seem less important than other aspects, such as your personal statement or MCAT score, but it can reveal quite a bit to admissions committees about who you are and where your interests lie.
Other than your personal statement, this is the main area of your application where admissions committees get to know who you are in your own voice. Although you can only use a limited number of words, they can be utilized to your advantage to paint a clear picture of your experience so far and advance the narrative of your overall application.
Avoid the following mistakes to give yourself the best possible chance of gaining an acceptance.
AMCAS Activities Mistakes to Avoid
1 | Aiming for Quantity Over Quality
While the AMCAS application allows you to include up to 15 activities, you do not have to fill in every single space. Each activity or experience must be meaningful, and one of the best ways to express this is in the length of your commitment to it. If you joined a group in undergrad but didn’t take an active role and only went to a few meetings, leave it off the list.
Including activities you only had a passing interest in will cause the admissions committee to wonder why the activity was included and question your ability to commit to things. Are you inflating your list of experiences to make yourself seem more appealing? Are you someone who frequently bounces around from commitment to commitment without, in fact, committing?
Adding short-lived experiences that you weren’t actively involved in will cause adcoms to look even more closely at your entire application. Schools are not interested in students who struggle to commit to things, as medical school is a massive commitment that takes rigorous focus and dedication—for four years. And then after that, you’ll need to commit to residency for three to seven years, depending on your chosen specialty.
The name of the game is quality, not quantity. Utilize the activities section to demonstrate you can commit to things. Aim for ten quality experiences that made a significant impact on your life trajectory and ambitions for the future. If you have more meaningful experiences to include, be sure to do so, but only if they are unique experiences and you have something meaningful to say about each.
Keep in mind that admissions committees have read and will read thousands of applications; they know fluff when they see it, so don’t include it.
2 | Separating Activities That Should Be Grouped
Another common mistake students make on the Work and Activities section is separating experiences that should be grouped together. This is another way students try to extend their lack of experience to fill each of the 15 sections.
Again, you don’t have to fill all 15 sections. Not to beat a dead horse, but quality is more important than quantity. If you have 15 strong experiences, absolutely include them all, but don’t separate out smaller similar activities just to expand your list.
For example, each of your shadowing experiences should be lumped into one description. It’s expected that you’ll have at least a little shadowing experience, and admissions committees certainly don’t need you to explain what it is or why you shadowed one or more physicians. They understand the concept. After all, they shadowed doctors too during their own medical education, and they’ve seen it over and over again in applications.
Even if you had a few different shadowing experiences, this common activity should be grouped together, allowing you to discuss the overall experience you had across your shadowing hours.
Separating similar activities and achievements into their own description makes your entire Work and Activities section feel thin. It will look like you are trying to extend your experiences as far as possible because not enough made a significant impact. Just one poorly written description that lacks depth can have a negative impact on your application, boring admissions committee members along the way.
Group alike activities, especially if they were short-lived. Grouping the activities will allow you to speak to the broader essence of what you learned and, hopefully, keep adcoms from losing interest while considering your application.
In a lot of ways, this goes back to planning ahead early on in your premed years. If you didn’t already, now you know that you should include at least 10 quality experiences in the Work and Activities section of your medical school application. Since quality often directly translates to longitudinal commitment, it’s important to get started as early as possible—in your first couple years of college.
3 | Not Utilizing the Space You Have
Any space you have to express your story on your medical school application should be seen as an opportunity. It’s a chance for you to establish a clear narrative of who you are, what you’re passionate about, and why you will make a great future doctor.
The Work and Activities section is not a list, and it’s not a resume. It’s a chance to further tell your story. Think of them as several mini personal statements that allow you to concisely explain how your experiences have helped shape who you are today.
For example, don’t shy away from including one or two meaningful hobbies, even if they don’t have a direct connection to medicine. Years spent playing league sports demonstrates you know how to work as part of a team, and medicine is a team sport. A decade spent practicing piano shows dedication and commitment to learning, another key aspect of medicine.
Hobbies give admissions committees insight into who you are beyond your grades. Programs want to create diverse student bodies filled with students who have a variety of interests, as this enriches the campus as a whole. Plus, your unique hobby will help you stand out amongst a long list of other candidates checking off the boxes of research, clinical experience, and volunteering.
Learn more in our guide: AMCAS Hobbies—What Schools Look For and How to Stand Out.
Use the space provided, but don’t fill it with fluff that doesn’t actually help admissions committees learn more about you.
You could say:
“Two years committed to the Pioneer Leadership Program (PLP), which selects 88 qualified candidates of over 1,400 students.”
This type of description is okay for a resume, but it doesn’t dig into the bigger picture, and it wastes your limited space of only 700 characters.
Instead, expand on the details of the program; don’t just say it was competitive. What skills did you learn, and where did that achievement take you? Ultimately, this supports the cohesion of your overall application narrative.
“Each year, the Pioneer Leadership Program (PLP) selects 88 highly qualified students from an incoming class of over 1,400 undergraduates to join a specialized living and learning community with the goal of developing leaders for the 21st century. In addition to unique classes on social justice, civic engagement, and ethics, the program provides opportunities for service and community projects that seek to address “wicked problems” and teach citizen-leadership. Ultimately, completion of the program results in a Leadership Studies minor accompanied by a transformative set of skills, including the evaluation of situations through a critical lens and sustaining crucial conversations.”
Instead of simply listing the accomplishment, utilize the space you have. In this example, an applicant turned their scholarship into an activity that pulls in themes of problem solving, ethics, and leadership.
Learn from other successful examples: AMCAS Work and Activities Examples From Sought-After Matriculants.
4 | Giving a Surface-Level Response
Let’s repeat what we’ve said above because it’s so important—the Work and Activities section is not a resume.
Successful activity descriptions provide details, add to your overall story, and paint a picture for the reader. It may not be a full essay, but it’s still important not to bore your readers by filling your descriptions with generic language and cliches.
Now, we’re not suggesting you pull out the thesaurus or try to turn each description into an overly-elegant, flowery piece of verse, but you need to keep the attention of your reader. How can you describe your activities in a way that is unique to you? How can the details of your experience and what you learned differentiate you from other candidates?
Relate the descriptions back to the bigger picture, especially for your Most Meaningful Experiences.
Admissions committees have your CV. What can you add and expand on to deepen their understanding of who you are and whether or not you will be a good fit for their school? Programs expect rich responses that go far beyond surface-level descriptions of the activity.
5 | Assuming You Can Remember Your Activities
You’ll forget important details if you don’t track, journal, or keep some kind of record of your activities throughout your premed journey.
When you’re in the middle of the experience, your thoughts and takeaways are clear—so clear it may feel like there’s no way you’ll forget your insights and anecdotes by the time you apply to medical school. After all, this was a deeply meaningful experience for you. It must be imprinted on your brain forever, right? Wrong.
You will forget, and your memory will warp the further you get from the experience. That’s how memories work—they fade.
The best activity descriptions provide vivid details. Beyond remembering how the experience made you feel, you also need to provide a clear analysis of the hours you put in, when you started and finished, and who you worked with. These are all details that will become more difficult to recall as the years go by.
By the time you get to your application, you may be trying to remember information from two, three, or even four years back. That’s a long time to hold onto details, especially since your brain only has so much space to store information—space that could be better utilized for retaining study materials as opposed to the number of hours you logged last year.
Pick a system for tracking activities, including hours, breakthroughs, the people you worked with, what you learned, and how you felt during the experience. Figure out what works best for you, whether that be a physical journal, Word doc, or spreadsheet. What matters most is that you choose a medium you will continue to use.
We get it—you’re incredibly busy. However, by not tracking your experiences as they come, you risk forgetting details, and you make even more work for yourself once it comes time to apply.
Proven Resources That Will Help You Succeed
Our complete Work and Activities Section Guide includes detailed strategies for how to approach this section, the core kinds of activities to include, as well as frequently asked questions. We also have a guide on the entire Medical School Application 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 Work and Activities look as impressive as possible.
Our team of doctors has years of experience serving on admissions committees, so you’ll benefit from essential insights from people who have been intimately involved with the selection process.
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