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How to Ace the AMCAS Works & Activities Section

The two most important parts of your primary medical school application are the AMCAS Works and Activities section and the personal statement  If you’ve made it this far, congrats!  You’re this close to putting this whole premed business behind you.

The activities section is a huge opportunity to show admissions committees who you are outside of the classroom, what interests you, and how involved you are in things outside of naming organic compounds correctly.  This should be a section where you spend a lot of focused time on as it can be an exceptionally powerful place to showcase your thoughtfulness, experiences, and a unique side of your personality.  Many of the entries allow you room for flexibility so take advantage and introspect!

In terms of logistics, you are allowed a maximum of 15 activities with a 700-character limit for each.  You may identify three additional experiences as “Most Meaningful” which grants you an additional 1,325 characters.   You will be asked to enter the dates, location, a contact person, average hours per week, and a description.  The description piece is what we’re going to focus on here.

You don’t have to list activities in all 15 slots; in fact, you definitely shouldn’t if you don’t have 15 significant activities. Volunteering once at a local ER should probably not make the cut.  And don’t be too shy to include activities you’re passionate about!  If playing guitar, baking, or a competitive sport takes up a lot of your free time, include it.  Admissions committees love diversity when they’re creating an incoming medical school class. In the end, you decide which experiences to include and how to discuss them in order to truly hone in on your application’s narrative.

DESCRIBING YOUR ACTIVITIES TO MEDICAL SCHOOLS

You want your activity descriptions to be substantive and efficient at the same time.  The descriptions for each activity should be no longer than 4-5 sentences and should include:

  1. What the activity is.
  2. Your role and responsibility.
  3. This should include demonstrating qualities you want to highlight to admissions committees.
  4. The impact you had.

This is a lot of ground to cover a small amount of space, so using your words wisely is important.  Avoid simply talking about what you did as that adds minimal value to the reader.  I suggest briefly writing down notes for all of your activities in the format above.  Another tidbit that will help you when choosing your “Most Meaningful Activities” is including how the experience impacted you, how you grew, and what you learned.

Below is an example from an applicant’s first draft:

Heart to Heart is an organization I volunteered at to provide blood pressure screenings in New York.  On weekends I went with blood pressure cuffs in communities and measured their blood pressures with a team of students.  We were able to hand out information regarding treatment options and clinics.  During my senior year, I led the organization and managed students who worked to screen patients.

Note how this version solely describes what the applicant did.  Yes, you gather that they were a leader in the organization and had responsibility, but that’s about it.  You learn nothing about who the applicant is and the impact they had on this organization.

After additional work with our advisors:

Heart to Heart is a student organization aimed at the prevention of high blood pressure in New York communities.  As a volunteer, I provided free hypertension screenings in communities that were at especially high risk for hypertension and had limited access to healthcare.  When I began leading the organization, I carefully researched the communities at greatest need and created pamphlets translated into multiple languages with information regarding local free clinics and treatment options. I also developed a program where students would follow up with individuals found to have high blood pressure to assist them as they connected with a clinic in order to seek care.

In the second version, the difference is evident.  The role and responsibility are clearly highlighted while demonstrating qualities that are unique to this individual.  Their work with high risk communities demonstrates interest in working with the undeserved.  Their work as a leader in the organization exemplifies initiative, compassion, and thoughtfulness.  Lastly, the impact is laid out: this applicant’s actions not only benefited the organization, but truly helped the communities they served by developing creative methods to help address hypertension while working with limited resources. Not only was this a powerful 4 sentence reflection of the applicant’s accomplishments, it served as a springboard for discussions in multiple interviews.  

We hope this advice will help you put your best forward as you start your primary application. If you find yourself struggling or want a second set of eyes, our advisors are experts in helping applicants maximize the space in their AMCAS application. Stay tuned for our next post regarding how to handle “The Most Meaningful Activities”.