Questions About Prehealth Related Activities

How many activities?

I want to invest a lot of time in music, but I'm afraid medical schools won't think it's important and it'll take time away with things they prefer. Do you have any advice?

As you go through Princeton, you will find nooks and crannies of time to pursue other activities if you desire. And there are a lot of skills that you gain as a musician that transfer to being a doctor! Teamwork, capacity for improvement, time management to balance everything ... you'll often be asked at an interview how what you've learned in your activities will help you be a better doctor, so reflect on that question regularly.

You should still pursue clinical experience that will help you demonstrate your commitment to medicine, and remind you why you're putting yourself through the rigorous premed path, but you can seek these experiences in the summer or in glide years, when you aren't in a lot of rehearsals and performances.

But yes, please invest the time in music--Princeton has great programs and you won't have the same time and access once you're in medical school and in practice. Health professions schools admire passion and commitment. Follow your heart on this one. 

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?

While it’s true that you should prioritize your academics, having some outlets to destress, connect, and otherwise find balance in extra-curriculars is important! 

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 health professions school applicants, 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!

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 HPA Peer Advisers and learn how they’ve made decisions about how to spend their time.  

Choosing Activities

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.
  • Social skills, communication skills, and ethical responsibility also come through in your work with others in service endeavors.

Participating in any service opportunities offered through the Pace Center or PROCeS, you’ll be joining an initiative 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.

Should I get involved in health-related student organizations? How do I find them?

Student groups offer some wonderful resources and programming. Many have a civic engagement/service component, which can help you break out of the "orange bubble." They can also introduce you to a support network of peers who are interested in the health professions.

HPA has a listing of health-related student groups with brief descriptions and contact information on our website.

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!  

Reporting / Documenting Activities

How do I report my activities when I apply? Do schools receive my resume?

When you apply to health professions programs, you'll complete an application similar to your college application, where you will provide the name of each activity, type of activity, dates of participation, time spent, location, supervisor, and a brief description of your participation. Some individual schools may request a resume or CV in addition to the application, but you should be prepared to write short essays about each activity in addition to the bullet point style list that you provide on a resume.

There are no restrictions to what activities to list (beyond a maximum number--for MD programs, you can list up to 15). You are allowed to list activities from the past and anticipated activities in the future. The most value tends to be placed on activities that you've participated in recently and those where you have committed significant time or had a high level of responsibility. 

What counts as an activity when I apply? Since I got a grade for my thesis, can it still be an activity?

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) provides guidance on what to include. The categories you use to classify your activities is also useful in considering what "counts":

  • Artistic Endeavors
  • Community Service/Volunteer - Medical/Clinical
  • Community Service/Volunteer - Not Medical/Clinical
  • Conferences Attended
  • Extracurricular Activities
  • Hobbies
  • Honors/Awards/Recognitions
  • Intercollegiate Athletics
  • Leadership - Not Listed Elsewhere
  • Military Service
  • Other
  • Paid Employment - Medical/Clinical
  • Paid Employment - Not Medical/Clinical
  • Physician Shadowing/Clinical Observation
  • Presentations/Posters
  • Publications
  • Research/Lab
  • Teaching/Tutoring/Teaching Assistant

 So your thesis, which is a research experience, should certainly be included. As part of the HPA Preapplication Process, we give you more guidance on the kinds of activities to include. We ask you to generate your activities list as part of our process and we provide feedback on what you've included and how you've described it to help you prepare for your application.

Will I need (for medical school applications) signed or written recognition of my activities (like shadowing or volunteer hours) or is keeping my own records sufficient?

When you complete your professional school application, you'll list a contact name for every activity. 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.

Even if that person you worked with 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. 

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

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 medical school 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 choral 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, HPA advisers will work with you to craft your final list.