Make the most of your AMCAS Work and Activities

medical school admissions strategy work and activities writing

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been repeatedly told that your personal statement is one of the most important pieces of your American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) application. It surely is important, and thus deserves much consideration and careful attention, but don’t let it overshadow the equally demanding Work and Activities section of your application. 

The Work and Activities section of AMCAS requires you to list and describe up to 15 experiences across a broad range of categories (e.g. Community Service/Volunteer, Paid Employment, Research/Lab, Extracurricular Activities). You have only 700 characters to describe each experience (think: roughly the same number included so far in this post), with the exception that the activities you deem “Most Meaningful” are granted an additional 1,325 characters. 

Upon learning this, you’re likely to have one of the two below reactions: 

  1. “700 characters should be easy; I can just copy and paste my resume description for each activity!” 
  2. “How can I possibly fit all that I learned from these activities into 700 characters!?” 

If you’re in Group A, 

I encourage you to reconsider. While you could easily copy and paste the bullets you developed for your resume into AMCAS (very time efficient!), doing so will not necessarily yield a strong application. Why? Because the Work and Activities section is an opportunity to 1) offer more context on your qualifications for medical school and 2) provide further insight into your personality and character. You should think about the section as a chance to demonstrate how you have developed AMCAS Core Competencies for Entering Medical Students

So, you can start with the text from your resume since these bullet-style descriptions often clearly articulate what you did in the experience (i.e., what your role was/what you accomplished), but don’t stop there! Where relevant, try to work in the lessons you learned or the values you developed through the experience. What didn’t you get to say in your personal statement that feels relevant to your application? How have these experiences proved instrumental in your path to medicine? If an experience didn’t feel life-changing, that’s okay too! But for those that played a key role in your development (personally, professionally, or otherwise), it is important to communicate how the activity shaped who you are today. Think about the section not just as a list of things you did, but as an opportunity for the reader to get to know you and your journey to medicine more deeply. 

If you’re in Group B, 

Then you are like me! I found it incredibly challenging to condense my activities into 700-character paragraphs. My greatest tip is to give yourself the time to do this work. Writing up direct, coherent, and thoughtful activity descriptions requires serious refinement and iteration, and it is great to work through one at a time and really dig in deeply. I ended up spending significantly more time on my Work and Activities than on my personal statement. This fact shocked me at first until I realized just how much I was trying to encapsulate in those descriptions. 

Finding a way to stay authentic 

Now that you’ve committed to taking the AMCAS Work and Activities section seriously (yay!), be sure to make your descriptions authentic. What do I mean by authentic? Because the descriptions are so short, it is easy to feel that the descriptions must be overly packaged versions of your experience. This is because the descriptions are, in fact, neat little 700-character packages, and so applicants often feel that their experiences are reduced to the “cold hard facts” rather than the “fluffier” elements like lessons learned, etc. But when well-written, activity descriptions do both. 

Tip #1: Consider writing up both the cold hard facts AND all that the experience meant to you first without worrying about a character limit. For me, it was less intimidating and way easier to put all my thoughts on paper before narrowing them down. At its longest, one of my stream-of-thought activity descriptions was 3708 characters—a long way from its final length of 700! 

Writing up your experiences without character limits results in two things: 1) it allows you to authentically express yourself (even if some of that stylistic expression will need to be cut or refined) and 2) it ensures you have not omitted something integral about the experience due to the character pressure. Once you have all of this written, you get to decide what to discard and what to keep. That is, you get to make very intentional decisions about what you value in your application materials. 

Tip #2: Once you think you’ve finalized each activity description, sleep on it. Come back with a fresh set of eyes and ask yourself “does this represent me?” This is a good gauge of whether you are writing genuinely or whether your writing is overly canned. 

Hopefully, these two tips help you present the best and most honest version of yourself! 

Isa designed an independent major at Williams College titled “Critical Health Studies,” combining philosophy, sociology, and anthropology with the goal of complementing her science-oriented pre-medical education with a humanist and critical exploration of health and medicine. After graduating with Highest Honors, she is now an entering MD-PhD student at the University of Michigan where she will complete her doctoral work in sociocultural anthropology.


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