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Four Ways To Find “Meaning” In Your Med School Application

When I advise students on their medical school applications, I am always a little surprised by how difficult it is for students to choose their three most meaningful activities and elaborate on them within the extra space provided. Many seem to think that it is a multiple choice exam in which there are only three right answers, and if they don’t pick those three, their application immediately goes into the trash.

I do think it’s true that there are three “right answers,” but it shouldn’t be so hard to find them. Here’s the secret:  THEY ARE THE EXPERIENCES YOU FOUND MOST MEANINGFUL! This section of the application is a wonderful opportunity to go beyond detailing your activities, explaining how they pushed you to medical school, and predicting how they will help you once you get there. I know you are used to a lifetime of trick questions, but this is not one of them.

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Here is your study guide to acing the “meaningful experiences” section of your med school application:

1. “Most meaningful” is not the same as “most impressive” or “most time spent.”

You may have spent a year doing bench research after college but if your one week medical mission trip to South America was more meaningful to you, that’s the activity the committee member wants to read about. It is always obvious to the reader which activities the student truly did find most meaningful, and which ones the student is writing about because he thinks it is what the reader wants to hear.

2. The extra space to write is not so you can describe every logistical detail of the activity.

It is meant to give you an opportunity to describe why that activity was meaningful. Admissions committee members know what bench research or physician shadowing entails. Use this section to tell the reader how this experience affected you, why it made you choose medicine and how it will make you a better future physician.

3. Try to pick activities that may be unique to your application.

If you wrote about a meaningful experience that many other applicants did (shadowing, for instance), it loses a little bit of its luster for the committee members. The activities that you had that few others did are more compelling to read about. With that being said, even if it is a more “common” activity that you find very meaningful, you should write about it.

4. Try to pick different types of activities within your own application.

Even if you did some very impressive research in two different labs, there is only so much you can write about how those experiences affected you and pushed you towards medicine. Try to choose activities that highlight your different volunteer, clinical/ research, and work experiences. 

It can be intimidating to choose your three most meaningful activities, because it seems there is enormous—and undue—pressure to pick the three “perfect” ones. However, there doesn’t have to be, and if you follow the steps above it will probably be the easiest multiple choice test you’ve ever taken.