Questions About Prehealth Related Activities

Balancing Studies with Extra-curriculars
Choosing Extracurricular Activities
Choosing Service Opportunities
Getting Involved in Prehealth Student Orgs
Do high school activities "count"?
Contact Names for Activities
Things to do at Home


Do high school activities count?

Question:  Is it common to include activities from high school on my medical school application?

Answer:  A great question! When you apply, you'll have space to list up to fifteen activities, which can include jobs, internships, cocurriculars, research, clinical experience--really, anything that you've done.

At HPA, we’re lucky to engage in regular conversations with students and alums about the many ways that their activities have informed their future in health professions. Princeton students are more likely to be over-involved than under-involved during their college and postgrad years. Don't stretch back to high school just to fill those fifteen boxes on the application--quality of involvement is more important than quantity, and more recent, meaningful experiences are going to be more salient to admissions committee members.

There are two exceptions to this advice: first, if you had significant shadowing/work with patients in high school, it can be worthwhile to indicate that longstanding commitment (but you should also continue to engage in clinical experiences in college). Second, if there is a direct connection between college commitments and previous activities, including high school activities can again signal continuity / deep engagement. Maybe you began working in a lab in high school and continued researching there during your college years. Perhaps you’ve been performing with the same chorale group since tenth grade. If an activity didn’t continue into college but you feel that it had a meaningful effect on you and you’d like for the admissions committee to know about it, you can always incorporate a discussion of it into your personal statement or HPA can mention it in the committee letter, or you can find a way to tie it in with other parts of your application materials.

A lot of soul-searching and decision-making goes into compiling  the common application for medical school. If you have more than 15 items or aren’t sure which entries to include, please know that HPA advisors are happy to talk with you about crafting your final list. 

Balancing Studies with Extra-curriculars

Question: Hi HPA – I’m a sophomore and classes are getting more intense. I didn’t do as well as I thought I would last semester. I know a lot of it was trying to figure out how to balance classes, studying, and extra-curriculars. I’m in five or six different extra-curriculars right now – is this about normal for premeds? How much time do most premeds spend in extra-curriculars? How do I know if I’m doing too much or too little, or whether I’m doing the right things?

Answer: While it’s true that you should prioritize your academics, it may also be that you don’t have to give up extra-curriculars in order to do so. First, spend some time assessing your time management and study strategies. Are there ways that you can make your studying more efficient, or be more productive with your time? The McGraw Center has some useful tips on both areas - - or if you’d prefer to talk about your specific situation, set up a learning strategies consultation to receive individualized advice:

As for what others do, every premed student is different in why they make their extra-curricular choices. Our hope is that at least some of those activities are helping you to develop and demonstrate some of the characteristics you want to use as a physician, such as communication skills, leadership ability, teamwork, cultural competence, and dedication to serving others. Talking with seniors, they often have one or two activities that were particularly meaningful as they considered their personal and professional development, and those were often activities where they felt a sense of purpose and an opportunity to leave a legacy on campus or in the larger community. They also tend to have one or two activities, formal or informal, that were just for fun and relaxation – be sure you have a couple of these stress-relievers as well! We’re happy to talk with you about where and how you’re spending your time and provide our feedback, but it may be even more worthwhile to talk with some of our peer advisers and learn how they’ve made decisions about how to spend their time. You can find their bios and contact information on our website:  

Choosing Extracurricular Activities

Question:  I am a freshman, and am seeking some advice concerning my extracurricular activities. I am very serious about the violin and have won some orchestral competitions, and take regular private lessons with members of the Philadelphia Orchestra in Philly. I auditioned, and was accepted to the Princeton University Orchestra. The problem is, the rehearsals often conflict with other activities in which I am interested. It was mentioned in the freshman orientation meeting that being committed to specific activities is very important. I would like to know how important it is to have orchestra on my resume were I to apply to med school. Would being a member of the school orchestra have a huge impact on my application? Would the schools still view my playing the violin in the same light if I were not pursuing orchestra here at Princeton? Thank you.

Answer: You should do what you LIKE to do. You seem to have a wonderful talent. The orchestra here is outstanding. You may not have time to be engaged with music in this fashion again, so if you want to play the violin at Princeton, by all means do so. As you go through Princeton, you will find nooks and crannies of time to pursue other activities if you desire. You can take care of health-related experiences in the summer. Health professions schools admire passion and commitment. Follow your heart on this one. 

Choosing Service Opportunities

I’ve noticed a lot of medical schools seem to really value community service, both medical and non-medical. I don’t have much free time but I want to show that I want to help others—what are the best ways to do this in an efficient way?
Finding the right match for yourself goes a long way to making it feel like serving others is worth the time. If you’re working toward a cause you care about—reducing poverty, educating others, addressing disparities, protecting others’ rights, caring for those with health needs—in a way that resonates with you, it won’t feel like something you “have to” do for medical school applications, but rather something that brings satisfaction in doing good.
That said, there are a number of the medical school competencies that you may aim to develop in your participation in service (in fact, service orientation is one of those competencies, so participating in any service endeavor, you’re already working on one!).  Cultural Competency is the most significant: it’s much more straightforward to help people who are like you. Your patients will come from a broad range of backgrounds, beliefs, values systems—the more that you can get out of your bubble (and the Princeton bubble) to learn to communicate with and serve those different from you, the better prepared you will be to practice medicine. Teamwork can also be developed through service if you’re working with others toward a common cause, as can social skills, communication skills, and ethical responsibility. Participating in any service opportunities offered through the Pace Center or PROCeS, you’ll be joining an endeavor with some infrastructure and support behind it, so as you seek opportunities, we’d recommend starting there. And don’t forget to not only participate in service, but reflect meaningfully on what you’re gaining by doing it. Both reflection and action are important elements of your personal development through civic engagement.

Getting Involved in Prehealth Student Orgs

Question: I’ve heard there are a number of health-related student groups on campus. I am interested in getting involved, but I’m not sure how to find them. Do you have any suggestions?

Answer: Great idea! There is a wide array of Princeton student groups dedicated to health care and health concerns. The organizations offer some wonderful resources and programming, much of it community service-oriented. A bonus is that they can introduce you to a support network of peers who are similarly interested in the health professions.

HPA has a listing of health-related student groups with brief descriptions and contact information on our website: Health Related Student Organizations

We encourage you to explore the interesting options available to you! If you’re a member of a group that isn’t listed, please let us know!  

Contact Names for Your Activities

Question:  Hi! I've been doing some volunteer work with the Student Volunteer Council as well as the recent Down Syndrome Conference. Will I need (for medical school applications) signed or written recognition of this service or is keeping record of it sufficient? As a freshman, I'd like to get started on this as soon as possible so I don't end up panicking my junior year when I realize I have no verifiable service.

Answer:  Glad you're planning ahead. When you complete your AMCAS application some day--this is the generic, online application for medical school--you'll need to list a contact name for every activity you list. It is wise to keep track of who's in charge of these experiences as they happen. Ideally the contact person would be a University staff member of faculty member if it's a University-related activity, or if the experience happened away from Princeton the person would generally be a supervisor. In some isolated cases, the person who led your activity might even be an upperclassman, although try avoid listing a fellow student if at all possible. Even if that person is long gone by the time you apply to medical school, you will be asked to supply their name. That is the only 'recognition' you'll need. Don't worry, medical schools do not typically contact these people (or even attempt to), the only exception being cases where something else (perhaps comments in the personal essay, in the letters of evaluation, or the interview) raise suspicions as to the veracity of what you listed as an activity. 

Things to do at Home

Question: Do you have any suggestions for how to stay involved in prehealth activities while I'm home for the rest of the semester?

Answer: This is a time of uncertainty and disruption for everyone, so it may be hard to start a new volunteering position or other formal activity since folks in charge of organizations may not have time to bring new people on. Many in-person volunteer and clinical activities will also be suspended to try to maintain social distancing. Here are a few ideas--we've started developing a list and we'd love to hear other ideas that you might have.

  1. Be an active, helpful member of your home community. Volunteer to cover childcare needs for neighbors or to check in on the elderly. If you’re part of a religious community, see if there are ways that you can provide support through them. Check with organizations where you have volunteered in the past to see if you can step back into previous roles. 
  2. Use, and local volunteer opportunity databases (like NY Cares) to seek other local options, but be ready for slow responses. Connect with the Pace Center as they generate ideas.
  3. Read books that provide insight about being a doctor, applying to medical school, or learning about other health careers. For ideas, use our list of titles available in our HPA library.
  4. Contact alumni physicians near your home by searching by location in the Tigernet Alumni Directory and LinkedIn. Shadowing may not be possible for a while, but it will be interesting to chat with them about their experiences as physicians, especially during this time. See HPA Networking Tips for guidance on connecting (although you may want to wait until we're in a more stable situation).
  5. Learn more about the next step in your education: Surf through websites for medical schools in your home state (links to each of them are available here). Listen to the All Access Medical School Admissions podcast. Attend Virtual Fairs, virtual open houses, and other educational opportunities online (we’ll post these opportunities in our Vitals newsletter as we hear about them).
  6. Engage in free online learning opportunities, like this class about pandemics from Harvard or one about community change in public health from Johns Hopkins or essentials of global health from Yale.
  7. Do some prehealth reflection and journaling. We will post reflection questions regularly on the HPA Facebook page.
  8. Keep taking good care of yourself! Princeton is compiling resources for you here: