Having worked in admissions for over a decade, I have probably read thousands of activity descriptions for medical school and related healthcare fields by now. While this part of the application may not seem very important, it can actually be the component that makes or breaks your chance of acceptance. It can be quite damaging if you do not have enough activities or if those activities are not described accurately or do not provide enough information about what you did.
The where, what, why, and how of writing compelling activity descriptions
Over time, I began to see a pattern in these short essays. The best activity descriptions usually cover four major areas: where, what, why, and how. To write the most informative and complete activity descriptions for any application system, use these questions to structure your responses:
Where did you work or volunteer? What is the organization/company? (1 sentence)
It can be confusing if you start with your responsibilities. Instead, give the reader some context by first introducing where you worked or volunteered. Introduce the organization or company briefly. Describe its location, mission, the type of organization it is, and any other relevant details. For example, is it a Level 1 trauma hospital? Or is it a nonprofit organization? It’s dangerous to make assumptions in applications. Give a succinct and easy to understand one-sentence introduction about where you worked or volunteered.
What were your responsibilities and accomplishments? (3-4 sentences)Many people make the mistake of simply listing their job duties. If you want to stand out from other applicants, make sure that you include the things you did to go above and beyond the basic requirements of your job. Cover all the ways that you participated and assisted others. It’s better to be thorough than to regret not including more details after you have submitted the application.
Pay special attention to the tone here! If you say that you had to change sheets on the hospital beds, it will sound like you didn’t want to! If instead you changed the sheets immediately after patients were discharged, to ensure swift turnaround time for hospital rooms to help meet patient care needs, that would demonstrate how you think ahead, take the initiative, and support the work of the team and the hospital as well as its patients. What you say and how you say it really matters here.
Why did you choose this activity or experience? What did you learn? (2-3 sentences)
To fully flesh out the activity descriptions, explaining why you wanted to do the work and what you are learning from it can provide more insight into who you are as a person for the reader. Also, it will make writing these descriptions more interesting for you, if you engage in a deeper level of reflection. You may learn something new about yourself or the experience!
BIG PICTURE: How did you impact the community you worked with? How did the activity impact your life/career goals? (1-2 sentences)
One or both of these things may have occurred in your activities. To provide closure for the paragraph, considering the outcomes of your experience can help you create more thoughtful and elegant conclusions. Dive deep here! There may be outcomes that you’ve never considered before but that have had a larger impact on you.
Features of a non-compelling activity description
In contrast, the worst activity descriptions are confusing and difficult to read. They have a tone that reveals impatience, anger, bitterness, or other equally negative emotions. They are repetitive and superficial, frequently cliché. Often, they don’t have conclusions. Or worse, they have the same conclusion for every single activity description listed. Or they try to connect every experience back to medicine in a way that lacks depth or reflection.
You can easily avoid making those mistakes by seeking out activities that interest you and challenge you and by using the questions above to help you write outstanding activity descriptions that your application reviewers will enjoy reading. If written well, you can inspire and impress all who read your application.
Do you need help creating strong, detailed activity descriptions? Check out our Healthcare Admissions Services to learn how we can help you with your activity descriptions and any other element of your applications.
Alicia McNease Nimonkar worked for 5 years as the Student Advisor & Director at the UC Davis School of Medicine’s postbac program where she both evaluated applications and advised students applying successfully to med school and other health professional programs. She has served Accepted’s clients since 2012 with roughly a 90% success rate. She has a Master of Arts in Composition and Rhetoric as well as Literature. Want Alicia to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!