How to choose the right extracurriculars for future premeds

By Guest Blogger Dr. Shirag Shemmassian, Founder of Shemmassian Academic Consulting

If you’re a high school student who aspires to go premed, you might wonder if there’s anything you can do to start preparing for medical school now.

Maybe you’ve looked ahead to the challenging medical school admissions process and wondered if you have what it takes to get in. Or perhaps you want to apply a little sooner to a BS/MD program, also highly competitive, and you’ve read that you need to start demonstrating your interest in medicine now.

Whatever route you hope to follow, getting involved with the right extracurriculars as a high schooler will not only go a long way towards helping you gain admission to a competitive college, it’ll also jumpstart the process of making you a strong candidate for medical school.

If you opt for the traditional path towards medical school (that is, you apply at the end of college), in most cases you won’t list high school extracurriculars on your med school applications. However, experiences had during high school are fair game to discuss in medical school personal statements and secondary essays — and, of course, in your Common App essay for college.

Plus, extracurriculars that expose you to science and medicine at an early age will give you the opportunity to figure out if becoming a doctor is right for you. You might find, once you’ve gotten real insight into the job, that it actually doesn’t appeal to you the way you’d imagined. Learning this while you’re still in high school is valuable since it’ll free up your college years to explore other fields to which you’re better suited.

So, what are the best extracurriculars for future premeds? As noted above, activities that provide insight into the day-to-day work of physicians are key. On top of this, extracurriculars through which you can demonstrate your passion for science and commitment to helping others are just as important.

Here are the types of extracurriculars that my team and I recommend aspiring premeds get involved with:

  • Shadowing a physician: Shadowing a physician is one of the best ways to learn what the profession is like on an everyday basis. You’ll observe the doctor as they meet with patients, complete paperwork, review files, and more. Shadowing hours will demonstrate that you know what you’re getting into and, thus, that your interest in medicine is well founded.
  • Community/volunteer service: Any kind of volunteering activity will illustrate that serving others is important to you. However, the best service extracurriculars are those that are oriented towards health, medicine, or caregiving. You might volunteer at a hospital, clinic, or nursing home, fundraise for medical causes, or even start your own health-related initiative.
  • Science and research-based activities: In addition to being enthusiastic about service, premeds should also be dedicated to the sciences. This category of activities includes school clubs dedicated to the sciences, science competitions, summer research programs, and research assistantships.

Reading through these, you may wonder how many different medical or scientific extracurriculars you should aim to get involved with. At Shemmassian Academic Consulting, we always advise students to become “specialists” who dive deep into specific interests rather than participate in a wide array of extracurriculars in order to seem well rounded or check a bunch of boxes.

Therefore, when selecting extracurriculars, prioritize demonstrating long-term commitment and focus towards a select few activities that dovetail together around a central interest or niche. This will not only maximize what you’re able to accomplish, particularly in service activities, it’ll also grant you a memorable “it factor.”

For example, you might shadow a pediatrician, volunteer at a clinic for low-income children, and start an afterschool gardening club for kids in order to encourage healthy eating. This isn’t to say that all of your extracurriculars need to center around children’s health — you might also join your high school’s biology club or work as a research assistant in a neuroscience lab in order to gain scientific experience. Nevertheless, you’ll still be remembered as the applicant who’s interested in — and made an impact in — a specific area.

Becoming an extracurricular specialist is the best way to stand out for any college applicant. Applying this approach to science, medicine, and service activities will show admissions committees that you have a bright future ahead of you as a premed and, eventually, as a med student and a doctor.

About the author:

Dr. Shirag Shemmassian is the founder of Shemmassian Academic Consulting and one of the world’s foremost experts on college admissions. For nearly 20 years, he and his team have helped thousands of students get into top programs like Harvard, Stanford, and MIT using his exclusive approach.