Rounding Out Your Medical School Application: Extracurriculars, Research, and Internships
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This week’s column will focus on extracurricular and outside activities/opportunities for pre-health students. I myself have found it quite difficult to maintain a proper balance of academics and extracurricular activities, and hopefully I can point out what would benefit your application for a health-professional school.
Why do I have to pursue extracurricular activities? It seems like a waste of time to me – I’d rather study. What if I get a 4.0 and 99th percentile on my respective admissions test?
First, let’s define what an extracurricular activity is. These are activities that you participate in outside of class, and are distinct from studying for your enrolled classes. What does this entail? Shadowing a physician, volunteering at a local animal shelter, running a club, working a job, or even pursuing a musical instrument as part of the guitar ensemble. Why are these important? You’re right – getting a 4.0 and doing really well on your MCAT or DAT should prove that you are more than capable of becoming a health-professional, shouldn’t it? Well, becoming a health-professional is much more than being intellectually gifted or hardworking. You need to be someone who is well rounded, able to socialize, and pursues something apart from their job or academics. Each activity can give admissions committees insight into who you are, and how you spend your time.
The number one piece of advice I can give is cliché and repeated countless times: do something you enjoy. If you enjoy something, you’re much more likely to remain committed to it and be involved as a leader. Simply writing that you attended club meetings every other week is not going to persuade admissions committees that you’re well rounded. As you begin your Skidmore career, sample many extracurricular activities, but choose a few and devote yourself to them throughout your undergraduate studies. This shows commitment and the ability to follow through with something – which is what admissions committees like to see. One caveat: try to have a few activities that give you the ability to have a meaningful impact on others. Only being a 4-year member of the Sailing Club, for example, will not really show admissions committees much of anything – just that you really enjoy sailing.
Try to get experience doing research, volunteering at hospitals, or shadow a health-professional recurrently. These will show schools that you are familiar with the clinical setting. By having clinical exposure and experience, you demonstrate that you know what a future career entails, and that you have made the conscious decision to pursue a difficult career path. Resume stacking is obvious; doing a number of extracurricular activities for short periods of time, for the purpose of adding them to your list of accomplishments, will not get you anywhere. Commitment to activities over a long period of time will show that you’re dedicated.
I want to get involved with research at school, but when can I do so? Do I have to interview and make an application?
You are able to do research with faculty members beginning with your second semester as a freshman. Some professors may have a class pre-requisite, such as Biology 105, or Chemistry 125, prior to beginning research. The great benefit of having a small school means you don’t have to worry about applying and interviewing for research positions. On the Skidmore website, look through faculty descriptions, and find a project you’re interested in. Send the faculty member an email, and ask them if you can meet with them to discuss your interest in research. Professors enjoy having students pursue research with them, so don’t be hesitant in asking. If, after a semester or two, you find yourself not interested in continuing research, by all means find a new professor to work with. Professors understand that students may not find their favorite kind of research off the bat, so don’t worry – you won’t really offend them by switching labs.
I know I should be spending my time during breaks doing something productive, but it’s been hard to find opportunities that I’m interested in. Is there some easier way of finding jobs and internship positions?
Yes! Skidmore’s Career Development Center is here for this exact reason: to help you find positions outside Skidmore, and help you with applications. You can access the web portal here: http://www.skidmore.edu/career/. Register for a CDC account, and you will be able to access an interface that lists a number of positions that have been posted, mostly by Skidmore Alumni. A more general list of opportunities can be found in the left column under “Find Opportunities” à Career Shift. You can also access it at http://Skidmore.CareerShift.com. Career shift is a general database that pulls employment and internship opportunities from across the United States. You should be able to do a keyword term search to narrow down your selections.
If you need help putting together a resume, cover letter, personal statement, or other application material, consider setting up an appointment with Shannon Rodriguez, who is the Associate Director for Pre-Professional and Graduate Study. Shannon is also a member of HPAC and is a liaison between the health professions and career development. Send her an email at email@example.com, set up an appointment, and tell her what your plans are, or what opportunities you need help searching for. She is a phenomenal help, and any pre-professional student should meet with her ASAP for help regarding career advancement. Again, please set up an appointment with her beforehand! Walk-ins are welcome, but Shannon is obligated to help those with appointments before any walk-ins.
As always, don’t hesitate to send me questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want a Health Professions Advisor, please contact Tracy Broderson at email@example.com. An HPAC advisor will be able to work with you on a one-on-one basis to schedule out what you have to accomplish each year at Skidmore in order to reach your goal.