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!

What is a Frankenstein Essay, and Why Will It Destroy Your Application?

Cartoon of Frankenstein sitting at a desk, writing a personal statement with a quill, portraying a humorous juxtaposition of a monstrous figure engaged in a scholarly task
Avoid turning your personal statement into a ‘Frankenstein essay’. Even Frankenstein knows the importance of thoughtful, careful editing!

After nearly 20 years of reading, assessing, revising, and consulting on personal statements, I have seen every variety of mistake an applicant can make. More importantly for you, though, is that I am pretty good at identifying the upstream source of the problem and providing guidance on how to fix it. One of the most common mistakes might seem counterintuitive: the author sought too much help… or at least too much of the wrong kind!

Once you’ve finished your personal statement, you may feel a little apprehensive about what you have written, and as such it is only reasonable to seek out second and third opinions to make sure that you have overlooked nothing, the prose is tight, and you have made a compelling case for your candidacy.  But, just as an excellent revision and editing can make an average essay excellent, bad editing can wreck an essay.  On such occasions, one is smart to heed the old aphorism that ‘too many cooks spoil the broth.’

Once you have completed your first draft, you need to think carefully about how you go about using advice from other people.  Here are six pointers for how to get the best advice in order to turn your draft into an excellent final version you are proud of and happy with.

1.)  Be careful about who you pick.

Obviously, you want to get advice from someone who writes well, can be frank with you, and has some understanding of the field to which you are applying.  If you choose to get advice from a boyfriend or your mother, for example, then be careful because they might give you an overly glowing review because of their esteem and love for you or may lack the qualifications to point out minor problems with your approach.  Similarly, asking your English major friend to look at your Engineering graduate school essay is not a bad idea, but if you go that route, also have someone involved in Engineering (preferably in an academic capacity) is a good idea.

Good people to talk to are your academic advisor (if you are applying to graduate or professional schools) or guidance counselor (if you are applying to college).  I know that many people will take their essays to message boards and post them to see what people think of it.  The problem here is that you have no real way to gauge someone’s level of expertise and you may get too much feedback from too many sources.

Which leads us to point #2…

  1. Don’t give it to too many people.

If you get critiques on your essay from 8-9 different people and you incorporate all of their suggestions, you will be pulled in too many directions and the essay will lose its sense of voice and focus.  The old joke that a camel is a horse designed by committee applies here.  Your essay cannot be everything to everyone, and you have to accept this fact.  There will always be something that someone would have done differently, so they will often naturally advise you that you should do something different than what you are doing.

  1. Ask follow-up questions

Whenever someone suggests a change, don’t be afraid to ask them about it.  Sometimes you will agree with their rationale, but disagree with the execution of the change.  Also, through a conversation people will often help you see larger problems that you may have missed.  People are often hesitant to give tough advice, and a friendly conversation can help you to avoid this problem because by talking to someone, the person will see that you are serious about valuing their advice.

  1. Don’t be afraid to ignore advice.

At the end of the day, this is *your* personal statement, and *your* future depends on how well you execute it.  When someone suggests changes, consider their level of expertise, think about it carefully and if you disagree, then don’t do it.  Not every piece of advice given is good; often, you will receive terrible advice.

The final decision is yours, so take your role as the gatekeeper of advice seriously, and only let the best suggestions that work well with your theme, tone, approach and goal through.

  1. BUT, try to avoid pride of authorship

In my capacity as an admissions essay consultant, I often encounter customers who are furious when I tell them that they have things that they need to work on.  It is almost as if they paid me $200 for me to tell them that their work was perfect, and they should not change a single letter.

Because a personal statement is so, well, personal, it can sometimes sting when someone gives you some pointed advice.  Try to see the bigger picture and embrace the process that will help you to move towards a better and stronger essay.  Do your best not to see a critique of your essay as a criticism of you as a person, and rather see it as a positive moment that moves you one step closer to your goal.

  1. Consider using an essay editing service

They can be a bit expensive, but in the end, it makes sense to spend a hundred dollars to give yourself a better chance of getting into the graduate program of your dreams. Getting into a top school, as opposed to an average one, is worth investing in, especially when the cost is less than a pair of fancy Nikes or a new purse.

Some things to consider:

-Make sure that they guarantee your satisfaction.

-Ask if they will work with you beyond just receiving a single revision back from you.  Often, it will take 2-3 exchanges with your editor to completely understand what you want to say, how you want to say it, and what core message you want to convey.

At Gurufi, we don’t put a cap on the number of revisions you get, and we’re not happy until you are. That’s why we get such consistently excellent reviews!

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 “Why Medicine?” AMCAS Personal Statement

Cartoon of a young Asian female medical school applicant seated at a desk, pondering her AMCAS personal statement. Above her, thought bubbles depict her various experiences: conducting research in a lab, assisting in a clinical environment, and experiencing personal growth while reading under a tree. The scene conveys her contemplation on how these experiences answer the 'why medicine?' question for her application
How do you write the most important essay of your life?

As spring is upon us, a new crop of aspiring doctors begins their medical school application process! At the heart of your application is your AMCAS Personal Statement, which asks you a simple question: why medicine? During our 15 years of helping hundreds of medical school applicants earn admission to their dream schools, we have worked with clients to help them craft unique responses to this question that resonate with their experiences and come across as genuine, compelling, and personal. Here are some tips for you on how you should think about -and respond to- this question.

 

  1. Start with your personal story: The best way to make your response original is to use moments, challenges, successes, and failures from your life. Your personal story is a unique and powerful tool for communicating why you are drawn to medicine. This can include experiences you’ve had with healthcare providers, exposure to medical challenges faced by loved ones or your community, or a moment when you first realized your passion for medicine.
  2. Highlight your experiences: Discuss any relevant experiences you’ve had in the medical field, such as volunteering at a hospital, shadowing a healthcare provider, or participating in a healthcare-related research project. Discuss what you learned from these experiences and how they have shaped your perspective on medicine.
    To avoid your essay being a cliché, strive from depth in your personal statement, not breadth. What this means is getting very specific about a particular experience -an EXACT moment or conversation- and how it shaped you. An exercise that I like to do with clients is to say, “if you have to take me to a precise moment in a time machine, where would you set the dial?” This forces you to have a specific entry point to a story that would help me understand it so that you might say, “on my third day at the clinic, I met Fred, whose leg infection had gone septic…” instead of saying, “my time volunteering at Detroit Mercy opened my eyes.” Specificity is the difference between a well-told story and a boring one.

 

  1. Emphasize your understanding of the field: Show that you have a deep understanding of the field of medicine and the challenges that healthcare providers face. This can include discussing current issues in the healthcare system, such as access to care, the opioid epidemic, or the impact of social determinants of health. BUT, only do this if you in fact have the insight and experience to do so. Faking it will be easily detected, if not by the reader then certainly by a future interviewer who asks you about it!

 

  1. Express your passion: Share your passion for medicine and what motivates you to pursue a career in this field. Explain why you believe that medicine is more than just a job, but a calling to help others and make a difference in the world. If there is a single idea that you want to convey, it is positive excitement. People are attracted to optimism and energy, so find a way to convey that.

 

  1. Demonstrate your commitment: Show that you are committed to the field of medicine and that you understand the sacrifices and dedication required to succeed. Discuss your long-term goals and how they align with your passion for medicine. For every goal you seek to identify, first ask yourself, “what experiences have I had that prepared for pursuing this goal?” and “what about my past explains this goal?” and “what about my past justifies my belief that I can attain this goal?” Answering these three questions will help your aspirations come across as more believable and, importantly, allow you to SHOW your commitment to medicine by reference to things you’ve done.

 

  1. Be specific: Instead of simply stating that you want to become a doctor, be specific about why you are interested in a particular specialty or aspect of medicine. Discuss what attracts you to this area of medicine and what you hope to achieve in this field.

 

  1. Be honest: Be honest about your motivations for pursuing a career in medicine. Don’t try to sound like someone you’re not or exaggerate your experiences or achievements. Admissions committees can usually tell when someone is being insincere. This goes beyond lying, of course. Essays that are built purely around the idea of “tell the reader what they want to hear” usually feel hollow and insincere and, perhaps worst of all, come across as cliché.

 

  1. Edit and revise: Make sure your response is well-written, free of typos and grammatical errors, and that it clearly communicates your passion for medicine. Ask someone you trust to review your response and provide feedback.

 

  1. Address any weaknesses: If there are any red flags in your application, such as a low GPA or MCAT score, take the opportunity in your response to the “why medicine?” question to address these weaknesses and explain how you have overcome them. Remember, you can’t just avoid talking about bad moments and hope that the AdCom somehow misses it. They won’t. Thus, if it comes up in the meeting about your application, you’ll want to be sure that you frame it.
    Here is a video that I did to help MBA applicants, and though the examples I use are business-related, the core ideas are the same. Or, if you want the “TLDR” version without the specifics, check this out!

 

  1. Be yourself: Finally, be yourself in your response. Admissions committees are looking for applicants who are passionate, knowledgeable, and well-suited to the field of medicine. Your unique perspective and experiences are what make you a strong candidate, so be sure to let your personality shine through in your response.

All told, the “why medicine?” question is an opportunity to demonstrate your passion for the field, your understanding of the challenges and rewards of a career in medicine, and your commitment to pursuing a career in this field. By following these tips, you can craft a compelling response that will help you stand out in the medical school application process.

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, Work & Activities sections, secondaries, and residency letters 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.