It’s summertime, and here that means barbecues on the deck–grilling meat, specifically, if you’re one of a certain group of male friends who invited me over for a recent Stanley Cup game. Gracious as my hosts were, I felt a bit daunted by the huge piece of steak that filled my plate, accompanied by a small scoop of potato salad that they’d picked up at the grocery store. Unlike my friends, I don’t think ketchup is a side dish.
Your AMCAS application is a bit like a plate at a barbecue. A lot of attention is given to the “meat” of your application–the personal statement–but it’s what you write about in the post-secondary experience section that adds flavor and variety to your profile. Here’s a recipe for delicious post-secondary descriptions:
- Select your experiences wisely. If you have more than 15 experiences, choose the ones that required your most active participation. Demonstrations of leadership, teamwork, and clinical exposure are always important. If necessary, you can combine honors like Dean’s List and membership in honor societies into a single entry.
- Introduce the organization. If the organization is well known, like the Red Cross, this can be very brief. Otherwise, succinctly share the purpose of the organization. For instance, “Friends for Life is a national mentoring organization for disadvantaged youth; our campus branch tutored 4th and 5th graders in the Boston area.” If your experience is in a lab, explain in layman’s terms the research goal.
- Describe your responsibilities. This is the heart of your experience, so be specific about what you did–and the impact you had. This might be your role as a team member in a lab: “I used PCRs, Western blots, SDS-gels, plasmid DNA and total RNA purification methods in experiments to express and purify genes for use in hemorrhagic shock experiments; my analysis was used in experiments intended to improve organ preservation.” Or it might be your leadership of a student group: “I recruited a 12-member working group that investigated safety concerns; our report to college officials resulted in increased patrols and dorm escorts that reduced on-campus crime by 20%.” Whatever it is, go beyond the superficial job description and use this space to identify your strengths and accomplishments.
- Identify how this experience will help you as a physician. Don’t ask the Admissions Committee to connect the dots for you. Whether improving your retention through teaching MCAT course, communicating with a diverse group of people as a food bank volunteer, or learning the art of compromise as you negotiate with university administrators, your last sentence should make the connection between that experience and your medical studies and/or career.
Clocking in at 1325 characters each, it may be a challenge to make your post-secondary experiences seem as hearty as the main course. But with some skillful organization and creativity, these tasty sides will add a lot to your meal.
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