I’m sure most of us have an idea of what extracurriculars should look like on a competitive medical school applicant’s resume. Some community service here, a few hundred hours working in a clinical setting… tack on to that the hours spent shadowing a physician, the years working at a research lab, a few publications, and that trip to Haiti at a pediatric health center, and now you’re set for medical school, right?

If it were so formulaic, admissions would be so much easier – but there’s a reason why admissions committees exist. Applicants aren’t admitted purely based on the highest academic performance and the most exhaustive list of extracurricular activities. While it’ll put you in good standing, if you hated every hours spent in the hospital, you formed no relationship with your PI during research, and studying for your Intro Biology class felt like pulling teeth, you are doing your chances at becoming a great doctor (and your own sanity) no favor.

While it may seem like medical schools favor candidates with more extracurriculars, this isn’t quite the case. What admissions committees are looking for is that you are willing to donate your time to something beyond yourself, that you see value in. Maybe that isn’t in a cutting edge research lab treating cancer cells. Maybe it’s just walking to your local hospital, and spending time with one patient, just one, because you feel like when they have someone to talk to, their quality of life improves.

What I’m trying to get at is don’t spread yourself over a lot of things that you don’t enjoy. Spread yourself, yes, please, diversify your perspective of life and never limit yourself or let a door close, but don’t do so without integrity. Don’t do so without a heart. The reason a lot of extracurriculars look good is because they typically mean that the candidate has given themselves the time to be themselves. And the same should go for you. Explore yourself and do what you like, and you will find what makes you unique.

And that’s how you build a resume.

Want to read about untraditional medical student profiles? I turned to reddit, and learned about some amazing and inspiring people who show that it’s definitely more than just a checklist that gets you into medical school:

An excerpt:

“…remember that medicine does not exist in a vacuum. There’s more to being a competent physician than making the decision that is in line with standard protocol: it’s recognizing that every person you interact with has their own story to share and their own struggles that you’ll have to tailor your treatment and style to. Medicine is a science, we know that. But it’s also the art of healing, of caring for your fellow man. It’s one of the only avenues through which you can see a person stripped of the facade they put on for everyone else any other day. It’s one of the most truly human and humbling professions if you take to seeing it this way. Maybe I’m just being pretentious and waxing philosophical, though.”