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How important are extra-curricular activities and like student clubs, volunteering etc to getting into med school? I'm a bit worried because in my first year of university I just focused on school and didn't join any clubs yet.

Yeah like the title says, I feel a bit behind the curve because although I have a good GPA from my first year, my resume and professional life are kind of lacking in regards to some of my peers. I do plan on volunteering and trying to get coop jobs this summer and of course later on in university, I'm just worried that my application will be worse because I chose to focus on school only in my first year.

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4 answers

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James’s Answer

hi RJ. i'm a family medicine doctor who graduated from a texas medical school in 1993. that means that i applied to medical school in the late-1980s. i'm sure some aspects have changed, while others persist.

your dilemma has been a universal one for anyone contemplating further schooling. good grades are a "necessary" condition - if you ain't got 'em then you ain't gettin' in.

so your top priority must be to do whatever you need to do to meet that first criteria. maybe that means getting a tutor. or finding a study group. or taking fewer classes per semester. or maybe even taking time off from school. know thyself - your strengths, weaknesses, limitations.

for me, i found that i studied much better with jazz music playing softly in the background. and i retained info better when i would reread my lecture notes immediately after each class. but to each his own.

top marks, however, are not a "sufficient" condition. Every year, to their consternation, a plethora of brilliant students will be denied medical school admission.

once you've reached a certain scholarly threshold then your next question will be: what will distinguish my application compared to all those other would-be doctors?

some applicants will have extensive resumes, with research, or jobs, or clubs, or volunteering, or a combination of all this. those individuals have my admiration and likely will garner an interview with any medical school they desire. the interviewer will then tease out which parts, if any, of that resume are relevant.

i agree with the previous answerers who eloquently explain how extracurriculars COULD give you invaluable knowledge and experience to help you become a better physician. therefore, if you're able to find time in your busy life for these then please, please, start thinking now about HOW that experience or those skills are/will preparing you for your future in medicine. filling up a resume is never as important as explaining it.

the vast majority of applicants, however, will be in the same boat as you, needing all of their available time to attain and maintain high grades. if you're that type of pre-med then please, please, start thinking hard now about

1) why you want to go into medicine and
2) what specifically you plan to do within the medical field.

having either a rock-solid motivation OR a well thought out, detailed plan will go a long way toward separating you from the pack.

Good luck!

James recommends the following next steps:

speak to your college's health professions counselor.
ask a doctor, your own or a local one, to shadow them for a specified time period. make a great impression and later possibly ask them for a reference letter.
make a list of your strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes. formulate strategies for either exploiting or compensating for them.
make painstakingly detailed lists and notes of your motivations and plans.
befriend others in a similar situation to bounce ideas off of and commiserate with.
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Wayne’s Answer

Hi R J,

Joining extracurricular activities in college has a lot of rewards, from a better social circle to a higher chance of getting employed.

Extracurricular activities widen your social circle. Whether you join the sports team or an organization, you’ll be surrounded by like-minded people who have the same interests as you. By joining extracurricular activities, you can get to meet people with whom you can form long-lasting connections. Joining a group also tells a lot about your interpersonal skills. How you get along with people will matter greatly when you’re applying for jobs.

Extracurricular activities can improve your professional skills. Extracurricular activities can show that you’re confident when it comes to public speaking and that you can convince people. Your extracurricular activities may actually teach you important professional skills that you can use in various aspects of your life, especially at work.

Extracurricular activities can train you to manage your time. Even though joining extracurricular activities does add more things to your plate, it’s the best way to test your time management skills. Many students would find adding more commitments to an already-full schedule to be a completely insane idea, but it can train you for a more packed schedule in the future. Balancing multiple activities while maintaining excellent grades and meeting deadlines will force you to partition your time wisely.

Extracurricular activities look good on your applications. Good grades matter, but these days, they don’t matter as much. Companies are looking for individuals with a good work ethic and strong interpersonal skills. These will matter more in the workplace, anyway, because how you interact with your coworkers can determine your ability to transcend your ideas and make plans work. Most companies these days won’t bother considering your application if you have no experience at all, so it would help to have had a part-time job.

If you’ve had experience, employers will think that you’ve gained transferable skills, as well as have a general idea of what it would be like to be an employee. All part-time jobs, even making coffee and being a cashier, are relevant, because you will have learned something valuable from that experience.

Extracurricular activities come in different types, like sports, community service, employment, hobbies, and academic-related activities, so you’re bound to find something that best suits your interests. If you join one now, you will soon become an active member of the community, who is also sure of his skills and talents.

Good grades are important, yes, but what they really do is put a graduation cap over your head. If you’re looking to achieve more, then it’s best to invest your time in good extracurricular activities.

Good luck!
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Jolene’s Answer

Hi RJ!

Definitely try to join clubs and groups on campus. I'm currently in college now, and I'm part of greek life here on campus! Like the others have been saying, it's an opportunity to build your social skills and have fun, because that is just as important as your work! You need to find that foundation, those people who can help you during tough times. Joining a group is so good for that!

And the nice thing? It isn't just greek life! Schools have hundreds of different organizations or groups you can join, even some specific to a major or minor! If you don't know where to look, I would talk to someone from student life, or see if your school maybe has an org fair, where you can learn about what the campus has to offer!

Of course: keep time to study, but make sure you have fun too!

Jolene recommends the following next steps:

Find a student life counselor
See if your school holds org fairs
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Brian’s Answer

Hi RJ,

Great to see your desire to pursue a medical degree; a worthy goal. While I am not an MD, second hand observations from my close friends (2 from Yale undergrad, 1 from UC Berkeley undergrad) who did fulfill their dreams of becoming an MD:

1). None of my 3 friends had significant club activities freshman year as they, like myself, were focused on just getting used to college life (e.g. the independence, more rigorous coursework, etc.). They also had a late start and did just fine.
2). Extracurriculars should be related to medicine or life science, but more important, be something you're passionate about. 1 Yale friend did crew because fitness and exercise were her passions (which she wrote about in the essays), another Yale friend did research (diabetes research and clinical research in Peru), the Berkeley friend was in the public health club (she is an MPH/MD) and research. Note they all really started/got heavily involved their 2nd year
3). Grades for med school matter, in particular pre-req (Chem, BioChem, Biology, Physics, Calculus) courses. MCAT scores are heavily considered to so budget time to studying the MCATs to maximize your chances.

You still have plenty of time to figure things out, but keep in mind, a lot of MD candidates actually take 1-2 years off post-grad to work (a lot of people work in biotech, research labs, etc.), so preparing yourself for a full-time job (either with internships or co-ops) is just as valuable for medical school as it is for career development.

Note: Research (life science academic research) is a common theme I saw amongst my friends and their friends when applying to medical school, HOWEVER, you do not need to be published. None of my friends got their research published, rather, it was a great experience to learn more about their field, build relationships with potential recommendation writers, and something they were interested in.