Medical School Applications: The Experience Section

medical school admissions

Screen Shot 2020-06-08 at 10.18.49 AMNext to the GPA/MCAT numbers and the personal statement, the experience section is the third leg of the primary application stool. It allows up to 15 entries, although you can incorporate more than one activity into a single entry. This is the opportunity to round out the image of who you are to admissions committees. Here are some tips for writing the experience section:

1. Include some essential slots.

(a) Clinical experience (community service or paid employment), 2+ slots

Admissions needs to know that you have explored the medical field and are familiar with the clinical environment. Ideally, your clinical experiences will be longitudinal in nature, perhaps a weekly volunteering shift over the course of a year or more. Paid opportunities could include a job as a medical scribe or in an administrative role for a private office. At least 2 slots should be dedicated to core clinical experiences to showcase your exposure to the realm you want to enter.

(b) Shadowing, 1 slot

Understanding of the daily physician workflow can be a valuable learning experience. It is important to note, though, that shadowing is viewed as a passive activity of observation, rather than an engaged clinical activity. Therefore, it may not be beneficial to use any more than 1 slot given the limitation of having 15 slots total. You can use that slot to showcase a particularly memorable and extensive shadowing experience, such as a weekly one over the course of several months. You could also choose to group several rounds of shadowing in a similar field, for instance in primary care or surgery, into one. Whichever you do, highlight the lessons you took home afterwards, especially about dynamics of the doctor-patient relationship.

(c) Non-clinical experience (community service or paid employment), 1+ slots

Activities outside of the hospital setting can often reflect other passions of yours outside of medicine. This could be teaching/tutoring jobs, service industry work, library volunteering, etc. These are often activities that will arise naturally in your life due to financial need, passions, or exploratory interest. Having at least one slot dedicated to a non-clinical experience again fills out the image of who you will be not only as a clinician but as a member of the wider community.

(d) Research, 1+ slots

Research has become an increasingly common component of applications, perhaps because it suggests a love for the science of medicine. Your research endeavors can be qualitative or quantitative, wet lab or computational.

The most important qualities of your research experience are ones that reveal qualities of your character, like your independent work ethic, curiosity, perseverance, and writing capabilities. As a side note, it is also beneficial to have some finished product from your work, i.e. a publication, an abstract, a poster, a conference presentation, or a senior thesis.

(e) Leadership, 2+ slots

Doctors are leaders on rounds, at private clinics, and in larger professional circles. Admissions wants to know that you have at least a burgeoning ability to lead others. Leadership positions are typically ones within student organizations of which you have taken part earlier in college, but they can also range from managerial positions at stores to large event coordination. These activities serve to demonstrate your initiative, cooperativity, and resourcefulness. Illustrate these traits when portraying your leadership roles and the results of your efforts.

(f) Hobbies, 1-2 slots

Hopefully, you will already exude warmth and relatability throughout your application, but including hobbies on your application gives you a chance to do so even more. Hobbies can be literally anything, from sports and artistic endeavors to musical and literary pursuits. Regardless of the topic, show some level of progress through that hobby, like working your way up to a varsity team during high school, joining an undergraduate team, and going on to win competitions. I, personally, wrote about completing puzzles every summer, gradually increasing their difficulty up to thousands of pieces. Hobby slots help round out the uniqueness of the person behind your application.

2. Classify carefully.

You can only give one label for each activity entry. The choices are as follows: artistic endeavor, community service – nonclinical, community service – clinical, conferences attended, extracurricular activities, hobbies, honors awards recognition, intercollegiate athletics, leadership, paid employment – clinical, paid employment – nonclinical, physician shadowing, presentations/posters, publications, research, teaching/tutor/teaching assistant, other.

What if you volunteered through a club but also served in a leadership role for that club? List it under one or the other based both on the relative amount of time you engaged in one or the other for that club and on the balance of labels for your other activities. For example, if you already have plenty of other volunteering activities listed on your application, you might consider showcasing your leadership skills through the club instead. Be sure to survey your range of activities overall for variety and comprehensiveness.

3. Separate, organize, and simplify publications.

While having publications from undergraduate research is far from necessary, it is becoming increasingly common. Remember to list publications separately from your core research work. If you have multiple publications, presentations, and/or posters, consider consolidating them into no more than 3 activity slots according to type or topic. Also note that you do not need to indicate your number in the authorship list – in fact, it may be best not to do so unless you were first or second author. Lastly, when describing each publication, be sure to emphasize your contribution and to summarize the gist of the project without losing readers to overly technical terms. Include some focus on its greater purpose, its scientific value to patients and/or the wider community.

4. Use active language.

The activity section is akin to a comprehensive resume. Just like on a resume, you want to use powerful language that emphasizes how you proactively went above and beyond. For instance, instead of utilizing verbs of being or passive phrases, use more impressive words and phrases (engaged, provided, facilitated, managed, etc.). Rather than stating that patients at the hospital “asked you for help,” describe how you “actively sought out and addressed patient concerns.”

5. Emphasize what you accomplished or learned.

Unlike a resume, you do not want to provide a bullet-pointed laundry list of your specific duties within each activity. Sprinkle some personality into your descriptions. You can mention a few of the laboratory techniques you learned from a research experience but also speak generously about your ability to troubleshoot, to work collaboratively and productively with scientific colleagues, etc. Admissions wants to see evidence of growth in your wisdom, not just knowledge, through your extracurricular pursuits. Show them what you, and the world, got out of those passions you pursued outside of classes.

Cambridge Coaching has the most qualified team of medical school writing coaches available anywhere.  Our team is composed of MD, MD-PhDs, and professional writers because we understand that the best coach is going to help you produce a dazzling AMCAS essay, as well as a suite of supplementary materials that provides a persuasive, integrated argument for why you belong in medical school.

The challenge of the medical school application process isn’t just due to the workload, either. It has to do with the sheer competitiveness of the system. You can’t take anything for granted; every aspect of your application has to be solid - your GPA, your MCAT, your recommendations, your interviews, your activities, and your personal statement. That’s why we go beyond the usual options and offer coaching that covers the entire application, not just your personal statement. While we are happy to work with clients on a single essay or drafts, we find that we achieve the best results with clients who work with us throughout their application process - from the MCAT through to the admissions deadlines.

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