Writing Compelling Activity Descriptions to Boost Your Med School Application

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Writing Compelling Activity Descriptions to Boost Your Med School Application

Writing Compelling Activity Descriptions to Boost Your Med School Application

Having worked in admissions for over two decades, I have read thousands of activity descriptions for medical school and related healthcare fields. Some candidates seem to view this element of their application as less important than their personal statement, writing only cursory descriptions of their tasks. Other applicants fill out only a few of their activity descriptions, leaving the admissions committees to wonder what they did with the rest of their time.

Although this part of the application might not seem all that significant, your activity descriptions can actually make or break your chances of acceptance. Descriptions that are confusing and difficult to read, that are superficial or cliched, or that reveal impatience, bitterness, or another equally negative emotion will not impress the admissions reader. I recently worked with a reapplicant who wrote that working in a dermatology office had taught her that she did not want to specialize in dermatology. While this is an important revelation, it is not necessarily one you want to share with admissions committee members – some of whom might be dermatologists!

It can also be quite damaging if you do not have enough activities, if those activities are not described accurately, or if you don’t provide sufficient information about what you did. To ensure that your activity descriptions shine, use these four questions to help you formulate your entries.

The where, what, why, and how of writing compelling activity descriptions

1. Where did you work or volunteer? (one sentence)

While there’s no need to describe the mission of such well-known organizations as the Red Cross or MEDLIFE, others might benefit from some context, and diving straight into your responsibilities might be confusing without such clarification. So, briefly introduce the organization or company. Describe its location, mission, type, and any other relevant details. For example, is it a Level 1 trauma hospital? A nonprofit organization? Give the adcom a succinct and easy-to-understand, one-sentence introduction to the place you worked or volunteered.

Example: ABC is a volunteer-run free clinic serving Mytown’s Hispanic community.

Example: I provided administrative support to XYZ, a transnational shipping company with 14 ships.


2. What were your responsibilities and accomplishments? (three to four sentences)

As you describe your duties, pay special attention to the tone you use. If you say, for example, that you “had to change sheets on hospital beds,” it sounds like you didn’t want to, or that you didn’t enjoy or see the value in the task! If you instead said that you “changed the sheets immediately after patients were discharged to ensure swift turnaround time and help meet patient care needs,” that demonstrates how you think ahead, take initiative, and support the work of the team and the hospital, as well as its patients. Not just what you say but how you say it really matters here.

Many people make the mistake of simply listing their job duties or the lab tests they learned. To stand out from other applicants, include how you went above and beyond your job’s basic requirements. Cover all the ways you participated and assisted others. It’s better to be thorough than to regret not having included more detail after you’ve submitted your application.

Example: In addition to swiftly turning over exam rooms to ensure a smooth patient flow, I took the initiative to create checklists that helped new volunteers prepare rooms for PCPs.

Example: I also took the initiative to reach out to neighboring labs to foster a collaborative environment and enhance research networks. As a result, more research opportunities became available for medical students, residents, and undergraduates. 

3. Why was this activity or experience important to you? Why did you choose it? (two to three sentences)

To fully flesh out your activity descriptions, explain why you wanted to do the work and why it has benefited you. Not only does this provide more insight into who you are as a person, it will also make writing these descriptions more interesting for you. If you engage in a deeper level of reflection, you might learn something new about yourself or the experience!

Example: Although I was initially inspired to learn ASL to communicate with one of my cousins, volunteering with the American Society for Deaf Children introduced me to the wider world of deaf culture. My affinity for working with young children became apparent as I assisted them with classroom tasks and supported their arts projects. 

Example: Working in customer service, I developed partnership-building skills such as listening attentively, using tact and diplomacy to manage upset customers, and adapting quickly to challenging situations in a self-directed environment.

4. Big picture: How did you influence the community you worked with? How did the activity affect your life/career goals? (one to two sentences)

Considering the outcomes of your experience will help you create more thoughtful and elegant conclusions for your activity descriptions. Dive deep here! There could be outcomes you’ve never considered before that have had a truly meaningful impact on you. But don’t feel the need to connect every activity to medicine. Without depth or reflection, these connections can feel forced or superficial.

Example: Our lab processed 10,000 COVID test samples daily, ensuring that people could make informed decisions about quarantining and treatments. 

Example: While teaching patients about lifestyle changes that could help decrease their risk of complications, I gained a deeper appreciation for the purpose of primary prevention.

Using these four questions will help you write outstanding activity descriptions that your application reviewers will enjoy reading. If yours are well written, you can inspire and impress everyone who reviews your application.

Do you need help creating strong, detailed activity descriptions? Schedule a free consultation with an Accepted expert.

Cydney Foote admissions expert headshot

A former fellowship admissions committee member and administrator at the University of Washington School of Medicine, Cydney Foote has successfully advised healthcare applicants, including those applying to medical school, dental school, nursing and PA programs, veterinary school, public health and hospital administration programs, post-baccalaureate medical programs, residencies, and fellowships. Since 2001, she has brought her marketing and writing expertise to help science-focused students communicate their strengths. Want Cyd to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!

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