To get into medical school you need to pull out all the stops.
When an admissions tutor is faced with two candidates with equally good grades, the range and quality of extra-curricular activities could swing their decision, along with work experience, personal statement and UCAS references.
Hobbies are not a nice-to-have, they are a must-have.
Doctors need to keep their mental health in a fit state to do the job, whatever the circumstances. De-stressing with hobbies is part of this, so make time for it even if you have a lot on your plate.
Many students burn out in medical school, and admissions tutors want to see a student who can strike a balance between work and play.
Try mindfulness as another way to look after your mental health during the admission process.
Getting good grades alongside high-quality hobbies, such as playing in an orchestra, is admirable because it demonstrates that you are efficient with your time.
Playing in a rugby team, for example, demonstrates teamwork skills which can be useful in intense situations at medical school.
Nina – University of Leeds
‘I thoroughly enjoyed involving myself in extra-curricular activities at school. I joined the STEM Society (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) and am on the Sixth Form Council as the Events Coordinator. It allowed me to meet many interesting people and to learn the power of being adaptable in a team context.’
Mark – University of Exeter
‘I was always interested in dance, music and volunteering. At medical school, I've realised that maintaining these interests alongside my studies is extremely important. It helps to maintain my work–life balance and a broader identity. You are not just a medical student or budding doctor, but an interesting person with a diverse range of interests and skillsets. This is invaluable for your mental wellbeing and helps you develop skills you just can't learn in textbooks.’
Team sports such as rugby, football, netball or hockey demonstrate commitment and show you are a team player. Playing in a school team and being the captain, for example, is better than just having an interest in the sport, or kicking a football around for fun with friends.
Proactively being a part of a band is better than being an individual player as it demonstrates the ability to work in a team. The completion of grades in musical studies demonstrates a structured approach to progression.
The Combined Cadet Force, Air Cadets and Scouts are all useful experiences. The Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme demonstrates a well-rounded individual who has done a range of activities.
This can include working in a care home, volunteering with homeless people or taking part in charity fundraising. Find out how to volunteer for the NHS.
Activities should demonstrate achievement rather than just participation. It is better to do one activity to a fairly high level rather than five activities superficially.
Too much time spent away from your studies may be detrimental to your academic grades. Your hobbies and extra-curricular activities are a supplement for a reason, and should not be your main focus.
You should demonstrate commitment and enthusiasm, and this will be noted in your interview. There is no point turning up to your piano lesson just because you paid for the lessons for the benefit of the UCAS application form. This lack of conviction will show during the interview, as, when probed, you will only demonstrate a superficial knowledge of the process or activity involved.
Ben – University of Bristol
‘I found it difficult at times to balance my extra-curricular commitments with my academic work, which sometimes showed in my grades. I learned how to slow down and not to take too many things on to allow myself to enjoy my other activities without compromising on my studies.’
Nicholas – Hull York Medical School
‘Try to pick something you genuinely enjoy doing or can learn from. Picking something dull that you’ve been talked into doing won’t translate into much genuine enthusiasm or passion in your interviews and won’t be an enjoyable break from studying. There are no rules about what is useful and what admissions tutors look for in terms of extra-curricular activities. In fact, if you can do something a little different, it can make you stand out and be more memorable.’
Remember, it is important to demonstrate the linkages between your extra-curricular activities and medicine in your personal statement, whenever possible.
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