It is extremely important for every prehealth student to get involved in activities outside of the classroom. This will help you grow into a well-rounded person with meaningful experiences. You should participate in activities because you want to, not because it is required by a school. Following are some of the things that professional schools look for:
Academics – professional schools evaluate students based on many academic factors, such as, performance in cumulative and science coursework, trend in GPA over time, semester course load, and breadth of course work (in other words your choice of coursework outside your major).
Admission Test –strong performance in the science courses typically equates to similar performance on admission tests, but this is not always the case.
Extracurricular Activities – professional schools expect students to participate in a variety of activities not only to learn about the prospective profession, but also to grow, develop and learn about themselves. Professional schools appreciate students that participate in volunteering/service, research, shadowing, leadership, and patient exposure. Students should look for opportunities that are meaningful and have personal relevance to them as individuals. Choosing activities in order to “look good” to medical schools is neither recommended nor desirable. These activities are meant to provide personal growth and development, and for students to learn if this is truly your correct career pathway.
In-depth activities – many students find opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities at a superficial level but few students go to the next order of development and find in-depth, personally meaningful experiences. The student that gets involved in-depth is the rare student with major commitment to his/her professional school preparation and excellent time management skills. We might use research as one example to illustrate the difference between a short-term, low-investment activity, contrasted to a long-term, in-depth activity (Note: time does not always equate to an in-depth experience). Many students participate in research for a semester or a year and learn valuable information about the way a lab works and how research is done, but an in-depth experience would be a student at USU that begins research early in their college career and continues throughout their undergraduate years. This long-term commitment usually has more potential for development of a strong relationship with a faculty member, more chance of participating in UCUR and NCUR, or perhaps even the potential of the student’s name on a publication. The relationship over time with a professor often leads to a strong letter of recommendation which can be invaluable in the application process. This is just one example, not every student that applies has research on their resume. You will choose where you want to commit your time based on YOUR interests!
Letters of Recommendation – what people say about you can be a powerful tool for admission committees to tease out what attributes and qualities you are bringing to a professional school classroom and your future practice. It is important to plan carefully who you will obtain these from and it is critical that you foster these relationships.
Worldview – students that are well-read, complex, well-rounded, and have knowledge of current events and issues of the day tend to be very interesting and unique.
Articulate and self aware - Extraordinary knowledge and experience is useless if you are unable to display the information in a coherent and comprehensive way to admissions committees. Eventually it will be up to you in your application (written) and interview (verbal) to help the admission committee understand why you would be a powerful attribute to the medical school and your future patients. This final level of student is the student that professional schools are looking for. The student that performs well on academics and admission tests, finds personally meaningful learning experiences, establishes strong connections with professors and supervisors, develops a broad worldview through exposure to newspapers, journals, and diversity, and is able to convey to an admission committee through the application and in interview who they are and what they will contribute to mankind. This is an incredible challenge but absolutely achievable with careful and methodical planning.