|Balancing Studies with Extra-curriculars|
|Choosing Extracurricular Activities|
|Choosing Service Opportunities|
|Getting Involved in Pre-Health Student Orgs|
|Contact Names for Activities|
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 - http://mcgraw.princeton.edu/undergraduates/resources-handouts-and-advice - or if you’d prefer to talk about your specific situation, set up a learning strategies consultation to receive individualized advice: http://mcgraw.princeton.edu/undergraduates/learning-strategies-consultations.
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: http://hpa.princeton.edu/about-hpa/hpa-peer-advisers.
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
Dear HPA: I did a lot of community service and volunteering in high school and I miss it. What are some of the popular service activities with prehealth students? Is there anything specific I should be looking for when I choose service activities?
It’s a good sign that you enjoy service and find fulfillment in it since all health professions involve serving others. A sustained commitment to service will provide evidence to admissions committees that you are motivated by serving others. More importantly, it will help you better reflect on the ways that you can best serve and help you understand the needs of diverse communities and individuals. Prehealth students have been involved with just about every service opportunity that you can find on this campus and the wider community (and sometimes they’ve created their own). What you choose could be based on many factors: the skills you want to use or develop; the populations you’d like to work with; the amount of time that you have (maybe an opportunity that meets at the same time every week works for you, or maybe it’s better to find something that you can mold around a more variable schedule, or seek classes with a built-in service component). It’s great to do as much patient-facing service as you can find time for (e.g., hospital/hospice/clinic volunteering; working at summer camps for children facing disease; EMTing). But, it can also be very valuable and meaningful for you to find other ways to serve that employ your skills (e.g., coaching Special Olympics athletes in your favorite sport, coaching a Trenton student on your instrument of choice with Trenton Youth Orchestra), or introduce you and let you connect with new populations (e.g., participating in the medical mission trip with the SPA 204 class, tutoring the GED for incarcerated individuals with Petey Greene, or providing companionship with an elderly resident of a local rehabilitation center with Creative Minds). Attending a “Find Your Pace Coffee Chat” will help you get started on identifying activities of interest, or participate in their “Field Guide to Service” to gain a fuller understanding of how to “do service well.”
Getting Involved in Pre-Health 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.