Extracurricular activities for pre-med students: how to do it all

College medical school admissions premed

You don’t have to be a superhero to go to medical school.

If you pick up a Webster’s dictionary, the proper definition of a pre-med student is a frantic adult trying to do a million things at once with absolutely no time (I promise you—if you look closely, it’s there). Sound familiar? Many college students, including myself a few years ago, find it really hard to do all the extracurricular activities expected on med school applications while taking their difficult science classes. Let’s talk about how to get that all done and stay sane.

Be strategic, prioritize, and plan

If you’re planning on applying to medical school, you have to be mindful about what counts, and what doesn’t. As with any graduate admissions, you’ll want to try your best in your classes to get grades that reflect your effort and potential. Also, while there is no required major for getting into medical school, there are categories of experiences that you’ll need to be competitive, notably, clinical work, research, and volunteering.

Think about how to pursue your classes as well as experiences in these categories in the time that you have. There may be professors who you can reach out to, organizations you may want to join, or summer internships for which you should apply. It will make things much easier if you plan out how to find opportunities and manage your time beforehand.

Space it out

“You can do it all, but you can’t do it all at once.” A wise future doctor (ok, it was me) said this, and it’s really true! There are so many things to juggle as a premed undergraduate student, including classes, potentially a job, and all the extracurricular stuff. It’s tempting to try to load all of this on yourself at one time, but in the long run, it can be difficult to do everything at once and still be successful.

My advice would be to space out the experiences throughout the years you have at college (for example, perhaps one summer can be for research while another for a clinical experience). Dividing up your plans will really help to take the load off for any given semester.

Do what you’re passionate about

Remember, there’s no magic formula for getting into medical school. My med school classmates and I come from completely different backgrounds—some of us have done wet lab research for years while others have had whole careers in ballet dancing before wanting to be clinicians. The important thing is for you to be passionate about the work that you’re doing. It is much better to be able to highlight the niche experiences that you care about than it is to roll out a list of things that just sound good.

So, if you want to do research but don’t like wet-lab work, find something else to do research in! There are so many fields of research that you can be involved in, including public health, psychology, and sociology, among others, and they will all make your application more competitive. The same goes for your clinical experiences and volunteer work as well. You should aim to enjoy your time in college as much as possible, and it will make things easier for you in school (and in your interviews) if you actually love what it is that you do.