Advice for Premeds

A blog about the medical school admissions process

Frequently Asked Questions: Activities Section

by Ally Dove in Advice for the Wary No Comments
Frequently Asked Questions


What are the main changes to how schools review the activity section in light of the pandemic?
Medical schools recognize that opportunities for clinical experience are limited, and they are focusing on how you have demonstrated service to others. They are looking for applicants who, despite limitations due to COVID-19, have sought out experiences and demonstrated creativity, resilience, and adaptability. Activities that are highly regarded by medical schools at this time include: contact tracing, virtual scribing, tutoring inner city youth, volunteering with Crisis Text Line, working as a medical assistant or EMT, volunteering your time with shelters or food banks, and other ways of serving your community.

Which activities should be the most meaningful?
Many of your experiences are meaningful, but you might have more to say about a complex or multi-faceted role, than one that is more straightforward. Or you may have developed many more competencies from one activity over another. Choose the activities that you can write compelling statements about.

If you are aiming for a career as a physician scientist, then include a research activity as most meaningful. If you are aiming for primary care, include a service or clinical care in your three most meaningful. All things considered, one of the most meaningful experiences must be a service experience, especially if it is related to social justice or you were proximate to human suffering. Often, experiences that influenced your decision to pursue a career in medicine are candidates for most meaningful.

How technical do I get with my research experience?
It is important for the reader to understand the question your lab or project is seeking to answer. Minimize your use of technical terminology and focus on the competencies you developed in your role.

What should I put for “Experience Name”?
Emphasize the degree of action, independence, and impact in the title. Be descriptive with the name so you don’t have to include these details in the experience paragraph, which is limited to 600 (AACOMAS) or 700 characters (AMCAS).

Can I include highschool experiences?
Do not cite high school activities, unless your engagement continued after you graduated from high school. The only departure from this would be if you are lacking service or clinical activities in college or post-college, but you did something exceptionally noteworthy before college.

What should I combine if I have more than 15 activities? How do I decide?
This only applies to the AMCAS application because there is no limit on the entry of experiences in the AACOMAS application. If you have more than 15 relevant activities to include on your AMCAS application, you might be able to bundle certain activities in the same entry.
  • Did one experience build upon another? If so, then they may be good to bundle.
  • If you have a couple of research experiences that you engaged in for short durations (less than three months) or where your roles were more passive, write about them both in one entry.
  • If you have multiple experiences in the following broad categories –research (in-person laboratory, remote, or publications), clinical (engaged or shadowing), or service– consider bundling them into the same entry.

Can I add future experiences or planned hours to my activities list?
Enter only current and in-progress experiences (not planned experiences). If you have a firm job offer in hand, you can include those projected hours. For current activities, you can count hours up to the future end date.

How can we accurately calculate the number of hours if our experience was a long term (years) activity. It seems like this would be a number to easily over or underestimate without realizing it?
Consider the number of hours you dedicated to the experience each week and multiply that by the number of weeks you were a participant. While admissions committees recognize that the exact number of hours may not be realistic to calculate, do your best to be accurate and honest.

How are my activities organized on my application? By default, the application lists your activities in chronological order. Schools may rearrange the order in which they view your activities based on their specific review process.

Who do I list as a contact? It is recommended to list a contact who can confirm your participation in the activity. If you had no direct supervisor, or the person you worked with is no longer at the organization, list the most relevant person in the most relevant role at that organization. It does not need to be a direct supervisor, or someone who knows you well. Think of the contact as someone who can attest that you are being truthful about the experience and less as a reference. If you got a letter of recommendation related to this experience, then the contact should be that person.

If I put an activity as most meaningful, is it off limits for my personal statement? Not at all, and for many students, their meaningful activities should appear in their personal statements. The activities section will address your responsibilities and accomplishments in the position, while your personal statement will discuss the activity from another perspective, such as how you grew or what you learned.

Is it okay if I do not have 15 activities?
Yes, that is fine and it is preferred to have fewer activities rather than listing activities that really don’t matter to your application (such as your responsibilities as a bridesmaid). Admission committees will be able to tell if you are writing experiences or activities just to fill up space. The AAMC wrote a short description of how to fill out activities here.

Can I copy and paste my resume information into the activities section?
No. Every year, admissions committees see some applicants who use bullet points and incomplete sentences in their activity descriptions, which shows up as a lack of effort on the applicant’s part. While reviewing your resume can be a good starting point, take a journalistic approach and write a complete paragraph. It’s a good time to note that typos in your application are unacceptable – you should review your entries multiple times and ask one or two people to review your application for typos before you submit it.

How should I go about writing hobbies? Should I include them?
Yes, absolutely. Take a journalistic approach when writing about your hobbies. When you include hobbies, it shows the admission committee that you are a real human being and it gives them something interesting to ask you about during your interview. It sets you apart.

What are the main changes to how schools review the activity section in light of the pandemic?
Medical schools recognize that opportunities for clinical experience are limited, and they are focusing on how you have demonstrated service to others. They are looking for applicants who, despite limitations due to COVID-19, have sought out experiences and demonstrated creativity, resilience, and adaptability. Activities that are highly regarded by medical schools at this time include: contact tracing, virtual scribing, tutoring inner city youth, volunteering with Crisis Text Line, working as a medical assistant or EMT, volunteering your time with shelters or food banks, and other ways of serving your community.

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