Activities and interests can make a great impact on a medical school application, if the student has a grasp on how they can be shown as assets to their story, rather than just a list of accomplishments. Students have a wide variety of interests and experiences; they don’t need to be medically-oriented in order to be relevant to a medical school admissions committee.

Take the story of a past client of mine, Chris. He was an athlete during his undergrad days – a football player, in fact. However, he was very reluctant to include this in his application packet because it seemed very irrelevant to a medical degree.

However, participating as an athlete in a collegiate program can very much be a great extracurricular activity to put down. Being a college athlete shows some great qualities to admissions boards. It shows determination and leadership. It communicates a high level of accomplishment and a strong work ethic. Taken all together, it shows positive indications of character – something the admissions committees are always looking for.

Chris’ football experience wasn’t going to make him a lock for medical school. Fortunately, he had a GPA of 3.5 and a MCAT score just above the 50 percentile, which qualified him for all his target schools. Yes, his GPA was a little low, but with his college football experience, it showed that he still had a solid handle on academics; even with all the time consumed being a top-level athlete, he still had the mental stamina to do well in academia.

Being a collegiate athlete builds several skills and character strengths that are very much necessary for a successful career in the medical field. Students who do well in academics and maintain athletic status show they can prioritize their time and live a structured way of life. It takes dedication to handle such a dual role of athletics and academics, not to mention a strong sense of teamwork. Being successful in athletics and academics demonstrates to an admissions committee the fitness of the applicant for a career in medicine, which requires the same habits on a core level.

Don’t misunderstand, however – any applicant who is successful in their extracurriculars, especially those who attain a high level of achievement, demonstrates these skills and habits as well. Being a successful student-athlete is not an automatic ticket into medical school. Many applicants have activities and achievements that set them apart from others. The challenge is to figure out how to frame these as relevant to the medical school application process.

Admissions officers are not just evaluating how well a prospective student will fit with the school; they’re also evaluating the student as a future practitioner. Do they have what it takes to make the tough choices down the road? Does the student show strong character traits and a solid work ethic to be a positive influence in the medical community during and after medical school?

I managed to convey the importance of this to Chris and then we put all his activities and successes into perspective. With his dedication to both academics and athletics, he had the core foundation that admissions officers look for in future medical students. We just had to make sure that stood out for the committees to notice, without overshadowing his other stats.

Combining his personal assets and interests with his academic qualifications into a great story was what he needed to do in order to stand out in his target schools’ application pools. And stand out he did – he received admission offers from both of the medical programs that he wanted to attend!

– Contributed by Senior Consultant Wayne Shelton, Ph.D. Wayne served for twelve years as a member of a medical school admissions committee and made thousands of accept / reject / waitlist decisions during that time.

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