How do I decide which experiences to indicate as my AMCAS most meaningful activities?
A major component of applying to medical school is completion of the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) online application. In one section of the application, applicants may briefly describe up to 15 activities in which they have participated. Applicants then mark three of those activities as “most meaningful,” which allows them additional space to describe the significance of that experience and the impact it had on them as a person.
The additional space for “most meaningful” activities is a great opportunity to set yourself and your experiences apart, but it can be difficult to choose which experiences you want to write about. Let’s go through a few questions that will help you identify your three activities that are most worthy of the title “most meaningful.”
What activities are you most proud of?
After you’ve come up with your list of 15 activities, it is often helpful to take the task at face value and simply ask yourself which activities really were the most meaningful to you. In other words, don’t try to guess what will be most impressive to an admissions committee, just think about what activities you are most proud of. You can trust, to some degree, that if an activity had an impact on you, an admissions committee will be able to appreciate its importance.
You have made the decision to commit to a career in medicine, which indicates that you have an intellectual and emotional maturity that is likely to guide you toward activities that help others, satisfy your curiosity about the world, or help you move toward your goal of becoming a physician. Furthermore, if you write about an experience that meant something to you, it will come through to the committee better than if you try to force additional meaning onto a less significant experience simply because you imagine it might sound more impressive. Therefore, going with your gut about your most meaningful activities is a good start, particularly to help you narrow down the possibilities.
Is the activity relevant to a career in medicine?
A good way to verify your initial intuition about “most meaningful” activities is to think about their applicability or relevance to a career in medicine. Patient interaction is a great feature, but not mandatory. Research or a systematic project of learning in any field is also good.
It’s important to note however that an activity can still be relevant and work great as “most meaningful” even if it isn’t directly connected to science or medicine. Service to others in any capacity is applicable, since this is a common theme in medical practice. Similarly, experience as a tutor, coach, or athlete displays that you can work and communicate with others, both important skills for physicians.
However, if you really can’t think of any possible connection to a career in medicine—unless the activity or experience says something vital and unique about you as a person—it is probably not a great choice for “most meaningful.”
Does the activity show sufficient dedication?
The next question to ask yourself when looking for your most meaningful activities is: does the activity show sufficient dedication? If an activity is truly meaningful to you, it stands to reason that you would put a significant amount of time and energy into that activity. The AMCAS application requires you to record the total number of hours you devoted to each activity and the timeframe in which you completed those hours. Even if an activity has a tantalizing title and description, admissions committees may not give the activity its full weight if they do not feel the experience shows a sufficient investment of time.
This does not mean that your “most meaningful” activities should simply be those in which you logged the greatest number of hours, but rather it means that you should be honest with yourself about whether you invested sufficient time for a given experience to be truly meaningful.
Here’s a way to vet your activities. Would you describe yourself as a “dedicated” _______ (fill in the blank)? Let’s say one of your activities is “research assistant.” Would you describe yourself as a dedicated research assistant? If yes, great! But if this adjective doesn’t apply to you in that role, you may want to choose a different activity for “most meaningful” status.
On the other hand, there are circumstances where a relatively brief experience can be incredibly meaningful, or where the duration of the experience may not be as important, and admissions committees know when they encounter such a circumstance. For example, a former classmate of mine was the daughter of immigrants from Southeast Asia. She once traveled to the country of her parents’ birth, and, while it was a relatively short trip, it was a powerful experience for her. She was able to eloquently tell the story of her travels as a “most meaningful” activity. In her case, this was appropriate.
What activities do you enjoy talking about?
One final question to help you maximize your “most meaningful” activities is: What activities do you most enjoy talking about when you share with friends or relatives? The answer to this question will most likely bring you to activities that contain good stories.
The AMCAS application limits the number of characters you can enter in each section. Medical school interviews have time limits. A great way to get the most bang for your buck in the application and in an interview is to have a story or anecdote. They hold your audience’s attention and are more memorable than a list of accomplishments or character traits.
Think about the stories you tell or the descriptions you give when a friend asks about one of your favorite activities. Odds are these stories demonstrate special things about you and your activities that will help you jump off the page when an admissions committee reviews your application. If you can’t think of any stories connected to an activity, it suggests that you might be better off making a different choice for “most meaningful.”
Make sure you tell your stories respectfully, particularly if they describe patient interaction, but the opportunity to communicate your perspective on events that are important to you can be powerful. As an added bonus, indicating that these activities are “most meaningful” might make your interviewer more likely to bring them up, meaning you’ll get to discuss something you like to talk about!