A Common Struggle That Every Medical School Applicant Needs to Overcome

If You're Thinking This Way About Your Medical School Applications, You're Probably Wrong


I want to share a story that clearly highlights a common struggle I see with medical school applicants.

Recently, a student and I were discussing which of their many extracurricular activities they should indicate as 'Most Meaningful' in the AMCAS Work and Activities section.

They had chosen the first—work in a research lab—but struggled to choose the other two. So, I asked, "Which activities are you considering to indicate as 'most meaningful'?"

After some deliberation, the student listed the following three:

  • Working at a children's hospital

  • Teaching

  • Sports participation

I asked the student, "Of the three, which one do you definitely want to write about?"

The student responded, "Teaching," and proceeded to explain why.

Of the remaining two, the student quickly chose sports team participation. The one that was left over was working at the children's hospital.

I followed up by asking, "Is there any reason you're uncomfortable with this list?"

The student answered, "Well, I'm worried admissions committees will think it's weird if none of my three most meaningful activities is an experience related to medicine."

I'll let you know how the story ended at the conclusion of this article, but I want to discuss how the student's answer exemplifies a major struggle shared by so many applicants while writing your personal statement, Work and Activities section, and secondary essays.

Does any of this sound familiar?

  • "I feel like I have to write about XYZ."

  • "It would be weird if I left out XYZ."

  • "I [can't mention/don't think I should mention] XYZ."

  • "Don't adcoms expect students to write about XYZ?"

  • And so on.

Anytime the thought crosses your mind that you have to write about something, can't write about something, etc., guess what?

You're probably wrong.

Admissions committees want diversity—in background and insights—in their student bodies. When applicants overfocus on what they have to say or shouldn't say, they end up looking like everyone else—and getting turned away by great medical schools.

My encouragement throughout your applications is to follow Oscar Wilde's sage advice: "Be yourself; everyone else is already taken."

Believe me, admissions committees will thank you for it. By authentically completing your applications, the qualities that will make you a great physician will come through.

If you're curious about how the story ended, read on: I challenged the student by saying that research is an experience very clearly related to medicine. It clicked right away, and they agreed to choose the three experiences that were actually most meaningful :)

My requests

If you found this article helpful, please share it with your friends and premed advisory committee.

And I'd love to hear your thoughts on this common error in the comments below. Do you struggle with feeling like you have to or can't write about certain topics? If so, why? I read and respond to every comment.