Mistakes to Avoid on Your AMCAS Work & Activities Section

Applicant preparing their Work &Activities section for their AMCAS medical school application
Be thoughtful about your Work & Activities section!

Every year, our editors at Gurufi help scores of candidates earn admission to their dream medical school. In the fifteen years I have been helping applicants, I have noticed that far too many applicants don’t put enough time or thought into their Work & Activities sections.

Crafting the Work & Activities (W&A) section of your AMCAS (American Medical College Application Service) application is a crucial task that requires careful thought and precision. Unfortunately, while many people spend weeks or ever months fine-tuning their personal statement, they treat this vital section almost as an afterthought. The W&A section allows you to showcase your experiences, learning, and growth in a succinct yet comprehensive manner and provides the reader with a clear overview of your overall strengths as a candidate. Here are some essential tips to help you make the most of this opportunity.

Focus on Your Actions, Learning, and Growth

When describing your experiences, it’s important to clearly articulate what you did, what you learned, and how you grew from each activity. Admissions committees are looking for evidence of your dedication, skills, and personal development. Applicants will sometimes get this wrong by spending too much time describing what the organization does or talking too much about things that don’t relate directly to their roles or tasks.

What You Did: Describe your specific responsibilities and actions. For instance, if you volunteered at a clinic, detail the tasks you handled, such as assisting with patient intake or organizing health education workshops.

What You Learned: Reflect on the skills and knowledge you gained. Did you develop better communication skills, learn about healthcare disparities, or gain insight into patient care?

How You Grew: Explain how these experiences influenced your personal and professional growth. Did they strengthen your commitment to medicine, enhance your empathy, or inspire you to pursue a particular medical specialty? If you struggle to nail this down, think about who you were before you started and who you were afterward. How are these different people?

Highlight Promotions and Expanded Responsibilities
If you received promotions or were given additional responsibilities, make sure to mention these. They demonstrate your competence, reliability, and the trust others have placed in you. For example, if you started as a volunteer and later became a team leader, highlight this progression to show your leadership and ability to take on more significant roles.

Avoid Jargon
Medical and scientific jargon can be confusing and may not convey your experiences effectively. Moreover, individual organizations often use idiosyncratic title names or other descriptors that don’t mean anything to people outside the organization. Use clear and straightforward language to ensure your descriptions are easily understood by all readers. Instead of using technical terms, explain your activities in a way that highlights your contributions and impact and think about how you might describe what you did to a loved one who isn’t in the medical world.

Choose Strong Verbs
The verbs you use can significantly influence how your actions are perceived. Strong, active verbs convey confidence and decisiveness. For example, instead of saying you “helped with patient care,” say you “provided patient care” or “coordinated patient services.” This subtle change makes your role sound more impactful and direct.

Be Succinct but Complete
You have only 700 characters for each entry, so brevity is essential. However, being succinct doesn’t mean using incomplete sentences or resorting to “CV speak.” Write in complete sentences to ensure clarity and coherence. Focus on the most critical aspects of each experience and eliminate any unnecessary details.

Plan Your “Most Significant” Experiences Thoughtfully
Deciding which experiences to designate as “most significant” should be done in conjunction with planning your personal statement. Because you get an extra 1325 characters, you can obviously cover a lot more ground, which is a huge benefit. Taking a strategic approach ensures you provide comprehensive coverage of your strengths and avoid redundancy. Your personal statement will delve deeply into your motivations and key experiences, while the Work & Activities section can highlight a broader range of accomplishments.

Review Last Year’s Secondary Essays

Looking at the secondary essay prompts from the schools you’re applying to can provide valuable insights. Most schools reuse essay topics for multiple years before changing, so understanding what they’ve asked in the past can help you align your “most significant” selections with potential secondary essay themes. This foresight can save you time and ensure your application remains focused and relevant.

Emphasize Breadth in Your Work & Activities
While your personal statement focuses on the depth of your decision to pursue medicine, the Work & Activities section should emphasize breadth. This is your chance to demonstrate the variety of your experiences and how they collectively prepare you for a career in medicine. Highlight diverse activities such as clinical work, research, volunteering, leadership roles, and extracurricular pursuits to present a well-rounded picture of your qualifications.

Apply the Same Care as Your Personal Statement
The Work & Activities section is just as important as your personal statement, so it deserves the same level of care and attention. Meticulously proofread your entries, ensuring they are free of errors and clearly communicate your achievements. A well-crafted Work & Activities section can significantly enhance your application and leave a lasting impression on admissions committees.

Example Entry
Here is an example of how to succinctly and effectively describe an experience:

Volunteer at Community Health Clinic (June 2020 – Present): Coordinated patient intake, assisted with health screenings, and organized educational workshops on nutrition and wellness. Developed strong communication skills and a deep understanding of healthcare disparities. Promoted to team leader, overseeing a group of 10 volunteers and managing clinic operations during weekend shifts.

This entry clearly outlines the responsibilities, learning outcomes, and growth experienced, all within the character limit. Note that the above provides a 388-character breakdown of the job. From there, you could add another 312 characters where you could briefly mention something like the most important task you accomplished, how this informs your thoughts on medical school, where this fits within your journey to medicine, or where you hope to go from here.

Conclusion

 

Writing the Work & Activities section of your AMCAS application requires careful planning and thoughtful execution. By focusing on your actions, learning, and growth, using clear language and strong verbs, and strategically selecting your most significant experiences, you can create a compelling and comprehensive account of your qualifications. Remember, this section is a vital component of your application, so give it the attention it deserves to ensure you stand out in the competitive field of medical school admissions.

Our editors at Gurufi have years of experience helping people put together their W&A sections. You can check us out here if you need help revising them, including making them fit within the tight character caps!

The Role of Authenticity In Personal Statements

Colorful cartoon of a young Caucasian male and an Asian female MBA applicants seated at a cafe table, surrounded by open laptops and scattered papers. They are deep in conversation, brainstorming about their personal statements, with other cafe patrons visible in the background. The setting is lively and focused, ideal for depicting the strategic planning of MBA applications.
MBA AdComs consider a host of factors, but authenticity always rings true

Striking a Balance Between Authenticity and Cynicism

         In my eighteen years of helping people earn admission into their dream schools, two kinds of applicants are quite common. The first type sees their application as merely a means to an end. They want to know what the admissions committee wants, and they’ll then try to shoehorn their life into that mold. The second type treasures pure authenticity, and insists on featuring the most important moments of their lives in their personal statements, even if they’re not quite relevant.

         Neither of these approaches are quite right; the first is too cynical and the second focuses so much on “authenticity” that it forgets its purpose. The correct path is one that splits the difference, and this is what makes crafting a perfect personal statement so perplexing and difficult. On one hand, there’s a compelling need to present oneself in a way that resonates with the Admissions Committees (AdComs). On the other, there’s the inherent desire to remain authentic to one’s true self. With that in mind, how can you blend sincerity with strategic insight to unlock the gates to top-tier business schools?

 

Every Kind of Writing Has a Purpose

Let’s start with a fundamental truth: every kind of writing serves a specific purpose. The personal statement is one of the strangest kinds of writing in that it’s a blend of memoir, CV, and interview. For MBA application essays, the purpose is unequivocally to earn admission—not to bare your soul as you might on a dating app. Understanding this is pivotal. Your personal statement must be meticulously tailored to reflect the qualities, accomplishments, and experiences that AdComs value in prospective students… but not do so in a way that feels obviously manufactured. It’s about highlighting aspects of your life that align with the school’s ethos and expectations.

However, this does not mean fabricating stories or presenting an exaggerated version of yourself. The art lies in selecting genuine experiences from your life that best demonstrate these values. This approach ensures that your essay remains grounded in reality while strategically showcasing your compatibility with the school’s culture and objectives.

Okay… so HOW?

 

The Utility of Authenticity

Let’s begin by talking about authenticity within the context of a personal statement. Why is it crucial, especially when you’re consciously tailoring your essay? In short, authentic essays are better essays. Authenticity brings a certain richness to your writing. It makes your stories believable and relatable. An authentic essay does not feel forced; it flows naturally and engages the reader by weaving narratives that are both compelling and true to who you are.

This might sound like a contradiction—being authentic while also being strategic. However, think of authenticity in this context as being purpose-driven. You’re not just recounting your experiences; you’re strategically selecting stories that authentically illustrate your values and attributes that align with the school’s profile.

 

Two Keys to Balancing Authenticity and Strategy

 

  1. Align Your Stories with Core Values

Begin by identifying 3-5 core values or attributes that your target school holds in high esteem. These can be gleaned from the school’s website, promotional materials, and by engaging with alumni and current students. Note the words and ideas that they repeat often or that they lead with. Once you have this list of values, brainstorm real-life stories from your own experiences that reflect these qualities.

For instance, if leadership is a recurrent theme in the school’s ethos, reflect on instances where you demonstrated leadership. Perhaps you led a project at work that turned around an underperforming department, or maybe you spearheaded a volunteer initiative that made a significant impact. These stories are effective not just because they show you possess desirable traits, but because they are rooted in your real experiences, lending credibility and authenticity to your narrative.

 

  1. Don’t Overestimate the AdComs

A common mistake applicants make is overestimating the AdComs. It’s easy to imagine them as omniscient judges capable of seeing through any embellishment or strategic positioning in your essay. While it’s true that AdComs are adept at evaluating applications, they are not infallible. They are looking for well-crafted essays that are honest, forward-looking (that connect your intended past in a realistic way with what you’ve done and hope to learn in their school), and reflective of the candidate’s true potential and fit with the school.

As long as your essay is grounded in real stories that illustrate your claims, you shouldn’t worry too much about AdComs seeing through your strategy. The key is to be honest and thoughtful in your writing, ensuring that it is both reflective of your genuine self and strategically aligned with the school’s values.

 

Embrace Your Multifaceted Self

Remember: truthfulness is non-negotiable. When I tell you to be strategic, I AM NOT encouraging you to be in any way dishonest. An excellent essay is an ethical essay, and even if you don’t believe in ethics (which… wow, shame on you!) understand that there are many negative consequences to dishonesty, not least that your essay will often feel phony.

However, recognizing that every person embodies multiple facets of themselves is crucial. In your MBA application essay, you are simply choosing to highlight those aspects of your personality and experience that resonate most powerfully with the AdComs. This doesn’t mean you are being insincere; rather, you are showcasing the parts of your identity that best align with the academic and cultural milieu of the school you aspire to join.

Crafting an MBA application essay is a balancing act of authenticity, cynicism, and strategy. By aunderstanding the purpose of your writing, staying true to your stories, and strategically aligning them with the values of your target program, you can create a compelling narrative that is both sincere and persuasive. Remember, the goal is not just to tell a story, but to tell your story in a way that aligns with the expectations and values of the AdComs, opening the door to the next big step in your career and personal development.

For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Gurufi.com. Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top Masters and Ph.D. programs in STEM, humanities, fine arts, and social sciences. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at service@gurufi.com. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Important Changes to This Year’s AMCAS Application

Two medical school applicants, one male and one female, navigate an obstacle course wearing white coats, stethoscopes, sneakers, shorts, and gym socks. They carry piles of applications while sweating, facing various hurdles, climbing walls, and balancing beams
Know the new obstacles AMCAS has erected!

With the AMCAS portal opening May 1, many medical school applicants have already begun this process in earnest. Of all the graduate and professional schools, medical school has the most intense, time-consuming, and onerous application, and changes to it can send shivers of panic up the collective spines of aspiring physicians. Not to worry, at Gurufi, we have nearly 15 years of experience helping applicants earn admission to their top choice medical schools. We’re here to help!

         Here are some of the changes to this year’s AMCAS that you need to be aware of. These changes reflect a broader shift toward a more holistic review process. As such, in addition to noting specific things you should be aware of, also note how these changes are strong indicators of how much admissions committees care more and more about whether applicants have demonstrated leadership, care about public health, and have a service-oriented mindset when it comes to medicine as a career. Thus, these changes aim to capture a wider array of applicant experiences, providing admissions committees with a deeper understanding of candidates’ backgrounds, experiences, and motivations.

  1. 1. Social Justice/Advocacy Experience Type

One of the most notable additions to the AMCAS application is the new Social Justice/Advocacy experience type in the Work & Activities section. This category allows applicants to highlight their involvement in social justice or advocacy efforts, demonstrating their commitment to advancing the rights, privileges, or opportunities of a person, group, or cause. Examples of activities that fall under this category include registering people to vote, advocating for civil rights, reducing health inequities, addressing food deserts, or advocating for vulnerable populations such as children or the homeless.

         Note that this doesn’t necessarily have to be healthcare-related social justice work, as the above list indicates. Medical schools recognize that doctors must be prepared to work with diverse populations and advocate for health equity. By including this experience type, the AMCAS application aligns with the values of medical schools that seek to produce physicians who are not only clinically competent but also socially conscious and dedicated to addressing systemic issues.

Practical Advice: considering using one of your “Most Significant” entries so that you can have an additional 1325 characters to explain, at length, what you did, why it was important to you, what you learned, and perhaps how you think this work has given you an important perspective on the kind of doctor you aspire to become.

  1. Replacement of the “Disadvantaged Status” Question with “Other Impactful Experiences”

The second major change to the AMCAS application is the replacement of the Disadvantaged Status question with the Other Impactful Experiences question. This new question aims to promote a holistic review by allowing applicants to provide additional context about the challenges they may have experienced in their lives. The Other Impactful Experiences question is designed for applicants who have faced or overcome challenges in various areas, such as family background, financial circumstances, community setting, education, religion, or other life experiences.

This change provides a broader scope for applicants to share their unique stories and backgrounds, allowing admissions committees to better understand the hurdles they may have overcome. It also reduces the stigma associated with the term “disadvantaged” and offers a more inclusive platform for applicants to express their personal journeys and resilience.

Practical Advice: Any time you are discussing status, you want to make sure that you go beyond describing the status. Ultimately, the idea that you hope to convey is that a particular status is connected to experiences, worldviews, certain kinds of empathies, and connections to causes or problems that are personal to you. This is partly a function of wanting to make sure you convey yourself as a compelling candidate and partly a function of schools wanting to make sure that they remain on the right side of the law vis-à-vis new affirmative action rulings by the US Supreme Court.

  1. Addition of Drop-Down Categories for the Institutional Action Question

The third change involves the Institutional Action question, where applicants must report any disciplinary or academic issues they faced during their undergraduate education. Previously, this question was open-ended, but the new format includes a drop-down menu allowing applicants to select “Conduct,” “Academic,” or “Both.” This change aims to provide a more comprehensive view of any institutional action and allows applicants to categorize the nature of the issues they encountered.

The addition of drop-down categories provides more clarity and context for admissions committees. It helps them better understand the type of institutional action, reducing ambiguity and promoting a fairer assessment of applicants with disciplinary or academic histories.

Practical advice: We have written extensively about how to address missteps in your medical school applications. Check out these shorts, here, here, and here (this was done for MBA applicants, but the ideas are the same!):

  1. Optional Field for AAMC PREview® Exam Registration Date

The final change to the AMCAS application is the inclusion of an optional field to indicate an upcoming AAMC PREview® exam registration date. This addition allows applicants to indicate their intention to take the PREview exam, providing medical schools with information on when they can expect the score .

The AAMC PREview® exam assesses applicants’ pre-professional competencies and is designed to help admissions committees evaluate candidates’ readiness for medical school. By including this optional field, the AMCAS application aligns with the growing importance of the PREview exam in the admissions process, allowing schools to plan accordingly for the evaluation of these scores.

Remember, though these changes are important, the underlying components of a strong application remain the same. Take these changes into account as you craft your personal statement, Work & Activities, and secondaries. And, if you need help with these vital documents, Gurufi’s editors collectively have more than 50 years of experience helping students earn admission into the top medical schools in the country! Check us out today.

For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Gurufi.com. Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top medical schools. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at service@gurufi.com. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Storytelling Mistakes on Your Personal Statement (and how to avoid them!)

Cartoon of a young South Asian man, animatedly telling a story to a captivated, diverse audience in a modern conference room. He is dressed in a smart business suit, gesturing with his hands as he speaks. The audience, consisting of various ethnicities and genders, shows expressions of engagement—some are leaning forward, others are laughing, and a few are clapping. A projector screen displaying a presentation is visible in the background, adding to the lively atmosphere of the interaction.
Understanding how to tell your story is key to success!

In nearly 20 years of helping people get into their dream schools, I’ve made a point of working with clients to create essays that are both engaging and substantive. This balance is the key to a great essay for graduate or professional school. But, somewhere along the line, people got it in their heads that the only purpose of a personal statement was to let the reader get to know them. This is a mistake.

Over and over, I will read a personal statement for medical school or law school in which the author will tell a story that is highly personal to them, but in which they fail to link that story to their application’s core strengths and themes. When I try to explain that they need to focus on things germane to their application, they will tell me that they want to let the reader know who they are, as if this is a sufficient explanation for a medical school essay that focuses almost exclusively on their love of triathlons or a law school essay that does not ever use the word “law.”

Why does this happen?  Essentially, it happens because people get so fixated on writing an *interesting* essay that makes the applicant sound *unique.*  I hear these words –interesting and unique- all the time, and while they are important goals, and they will help an essay if used properly, they are a means to an end and not the end itself.  The end, the purpose, and your primary motivation in a personal statement are simple: convince the reader that you are prepared and qualified for admission.

Given this, as you write your personal statement, you should keep in mind a simple and well-worn maxim that every salesman has heard a million times: Always Be Closing (ABC).  In other words, at every point in the essay, you need to keep in mind whether or not what you are saying is moving the reader closer to believing that you have the requisite knowledge, experience, and understanding of the field you hope to enter.

For every story, for every paragraph, and for every sentence, you do need to ask yourself, “What does this say about the strength of my candidacy?”  If the best that you can come up with that it says something interesting or unique about you, it doesn’t pass the ABC test.  On the other hand, if it shows that you have an important and germane skill or perspective, then it passes the ABC test.

Now, what I am NOT saying is to be boring or rote, or to provide a straightforward rendering of your CV in essay form. If there is some aspect of your personality that is meaningful to you, then take the extra time to think about how it aligns with your application. For instance, if you’re a triathlete applying to medical school, can you create an overarching frame or metaphor and use the three phases of a triathlon to discuss the three pillars of your preparation for medical school? Or perhaps you’ve learned things from preparation and training that are germane? Did the discipline you found in the pool, track, and open road give you a framework for thinking about challenges? In other words, a great story is wonderful… so long as you connect it to what you’re doing and who you aspire to become.

The story is your way in, but it’s not the sale. Make them interested, then make the sale. Always be closing.

For more tips on how to build a story that moves the reader AND improves your application, check out these two videos we did:

And

For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Gurufi.com. Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top Masters and Ph.D. programs in STEM, humanities, fine arts, and social sciences. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at service@gurufi.com. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Ten Tips for Your Medical School Secondaries

With your MCAT, personal statement, Work & Activities, and letters of recommendation all lined up, it’s time to start on your secondary application essays. Here are eleven tips for getting the most from your secondary essays.

  1. Get a head start. Your calendar is going to get pretty crowded, so begin as early as you can. Fortunately, most schools use the same essay from year to year, so even if you’ve not yet received the prompts, you can at least begin some light brainstorming, outlining, and rough-draft writing for the secondary essays you anticipate getting.
  2. View your secondaries as complementary. Think of your application holistically. Your personal statement provides your core theme and depth on a few moments and accomplishments. Your Work & Activities provide breadth and some additional depth on a few “most significant” items. Then, your secondaries fill out the application while emphasizing how your strengths, interests, and background align with what the school offers and values. As such, don’t use these secondaries to repeat information at length that you’ve already covered well elsewhere. A good way to think about it is that your AMCAS personal statement is your best case for admission, but your secondaries should emphasize your next best arguments. For instance, if you feel your core argument is “clinical experience and extensive public health work,” then your AMCAS personal statement should focus on that in-depth. Then, in your secondaries, you might also highlight another strength or experience, such as your scientific research.
  3. Carefully follow the directions. Be careful to follow the medical school’s word restrictions, formatting specifications, and any other instructions.
  4. Create unique essays for every school. I know you’re going to write A TON of essays. And, you can repurpose some text where it makes sense. But, don’t shoehorn text into an essay that doesn’t quite fit just because you want to avoid some work. The main idea behind a secondary essay is to focus on aligning your strengths as an applicant with the school’s culture and values. This requires customization. Find out the aims and values of the medical schools to which you are applying, and then use your essays to show how you share those ideals.
  5. Provide concrete instances to support your arguments. Use particular stories and examples to explain your experiences and accomplishments rather than making generalizations. Your essay will become more interesting and memorable as a result.
  6. Steer clear of clichés and overused words. Avoid using overused words and clichés in your writings since they may make them look generic. Your essays should be distinctive and genuine.
  7. Carefully proofread and edit. To guarantee that your writings are devoid of typos, grammatical errors, and other faults, be sure you proofread and edit them thoroughly. You should be just as fussy and meticulous about your secondary essays as you were about your primary AMCAS essay.
  8. Show, don’t tell. To demonstrate your experiences and accomplishments rather than merely recounting them, use vivid language and specific facts. This can make your writing more compelling and interesting.
  9. Be true to yourself. Write about subjects that are personal and significant to you since medical schools are seeking applicants who are real and authentic.
  10. Write clearly and concisely. Be as plain and succinct as possible in your writing, and avoid using jargon or too complicated terminology. Be sure to end your essay by returning to your introduction.

 

BONUS!

  1. Request input from others. Think about inviting dependable mentors, family members, or friends to read and comment on your essays. This might assist you in identifying areas for development and ensuring the strongest possible essays. BUT, make sure that you are thoughtful and assertive in weighing every piece of advice.

 

For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Gurufi.com. Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top medical schools. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at service@gurufi.com. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

 

References:

Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). “Writing Your AMCAS Personal Comments Essay.” https://students-residents.aamc.org/applying-medical-school/article/writing-your-amcas-personal-comments-essay/

 

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