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Understanding Extracurriculars in Med School Admissions

A lot of applicants put too much faith in the ability of their numbers – their GPA and MCAT scores – to get them into medical school. They underestimate the weight that harder-to-quantify things play in admissions decisions. Those things include qualities like an applicant's motivation for becoming a physician, their work ethic, and their commitment to the medical profession.

In fact, these things are as important to admissions decisions as MCAT scores and GPA performance are. That's part of the reason why schools want to know about applicants' extracurricular activities.

A few years ago I worked with a client who came to us as a re-applicant. She had thought that everything was perfect when she applied to schools the year before – and with some reason. Her MCAT and GPA were above average. But she only got one interview invitation, and was eventually rejected by that school.

When I reviewed her applications I found that a big part of her problem was that she had listed no extracurriculars whatsoever. When we talked about this, it turned out that she didn't really understand what extracurriculars meant. She thought it was only things like sports teams and glee club. But extracurriculars, in a broader sense, mean anything you do outside of your classes.

As I talked to her, it became evident that she had done things in college that amounted to a whole load of extracurricular activities, like volunteering with her school's admissions office. She had done many things outside of her classes that demonstrated her people skills and her personal and career interests.

We worked together on revised applications that played up her extensive extracurricular activities as well as her academic and intellectual strengths. It made a big difference. This time around, she was accepted at several of her targeted programs and schools, including two M.D./Ph.D. programs.

- Contributed by Senior Consultant Tim Wu, M.D. Tim served on the SUNY Downstate College of Medicine admissions committee.

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