The #1 Pitfall for Pre-Medical Extracurriculars

Posted by Bliss on 7/1/16 6:30 PM

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So you’re a member of ethics, debate, and math teams? Captain of the volleyball, soccer, and swimming intramural teams? A violinist and pianist in the state orchestra? Chances are, you won’t be attending Harvard.

How not?!

Parents and students alike can’t fathom how someone so involved and good at so many things could possibly experience a mediocre application cycle. You see, by being involved in your twenty different activities (a.k.a. "well-rounded"), you only devote a few hours per week, at best, to each endeavor. Sure, that leaves you “good” at a lot of things, but are you phenomenal at any one thing?

Let’s take a look at medical schools (and also colleges). Schools are parents, just like yours. Parents like their children to succeed. Moreover, they love to boast about their children as they go on to shape the world. After all, schools such as Princeton and Harvard are famous because of their alumni and what they’ve done throughout history. This means that schools want students that will bring them fame and fortune, literally. How do you go about selecting students who can do that? By looking at past achievements and potential. 

The Well-Rounded vs The Pointy Applicant

Now, let’s come back to the student who participates in everything and anything. The best schools don’t care whether you’re good at swimming or violin—there’s thousands of other applicants who are also good at those very things. What schools really want are students who are the best at what they do or have a high likelihood of being the best in their field. How many national champions can there be? How many of those national champions are applying to medical school your year? Only a handful. “Hey, we have an Olympian, a movie star, and a Marshall Scholar in our incoming class” sounds much better than “Hey, we have several students who are good at swimming, acting, and violin.” By the way, “Olympian” is an amazing one-word description of a person’s dedication, passion, and ability to deal with setbacks—all traits required of our future leaders in medicine.

Still don’t believe me? Take a look at the profiles of students at top schools. Here’s some from Harvard Medical School: http://hms.harvard.edu/departments/medical-education/hms-student-profiles. Maybe you even know someone who attends your dream school. Chances are, they really excelled at something. They have a theme. Though they seem to do everything, that’s a mere illusion. If you become a research powerhouse, everything from grants/awards to talks and posters come from that one activity. If you’re an Olympian, you may volunteer with the Special Olympics and coach junior athletes. By being at the highest level of an activity, you will naturally have greater productivity that gives you the appearance that you do everything, everywhere, all the time. Take a closer look, and you will see that the best students are the ones who pursue one or two passions to the highest levels.

The Takeaway

Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do certain activities. If you want to be a physician, you better have some shadowing and demonstration of altruism. That doesn’t mean you need to rack up hundreds of hours in those activities. 

Choose one or two passions and spend (almost) all your time on them. Pursue the activities because you love doing whatever you do and success will follow. The road won’t be easy, but by and large, how far you get depends on your dedication and the amount of time you spend. Would you believe me if I told you that being a national champion is not as far-fetched as people think? Stay tuned for the next blog post about time, the MVP behind super applicants. Don’t forget to check out Cambridge Coaching’s MD Admissions experts who not only help with the application itself but also provide guidance on academic and extracurricular pursuits years before applying.

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Want to read more blog posts on the MD Admissions process? Don't miss out on our blog posts below:

MD Admissions Timeline: 4 Crucial Things to Remember in June

Extracurriculars for Pre-Meds: The Dos and Don'ts

Two Study Habits That Will Boost Your MCAT Score

Tags: MD/PhD admissions