When an admission tutor is faced with two candidates with equally good grades, they decide between them based on their commitment to medicine, as well as their contribution to extracurricular activities.
Why do extracurricular activities?
Simply put, they can set you apart from other capable candidates.
Good for mental health
Having a hobby or an outlet to relieve stress is good for a budding medic, to prevent burnout and to stop being overwhelmed with the demands of being a doctor. Many students burnout in medical school, and admission tutors want to see a student that can strike a balance between work and play to avoid similar situations.
For example, being able to get good grades alongside earning music awards and playing in an orchestra is admirable because it demonstrates that the student is efficient with their time.
Having a skill learnt in 1 environment but able to use it in another. Playing in a rugby team demonstrates team-work that would apply as if you were working as part of a group in a medical school on a team project together.
Nina, University of Leeds
“I thoroughly enjoyed involving myself in extracurricular activities at school, for example, joining STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) Society and holding a position on the Sixth Form Council as events coordinator. It allowed me to meet many like-minded, interesting people and I learnt to be adaptable and to work well in a team. "
Mark, University of Exeter
“I was always interested in lots of activities outside of school and medicine – such as dance, music and volunteering. As I’ve gone through medical school, I’ve realised that maintaining these interests alongside studying is extremely important. It helps to maintain your work-life balance and a broader identity; you are not just a medical student or budding doctor, but also an interesting person with a diverse range of interests and skill sets. This is invaluable to your mental well-being alongside developing many skills that you cannot gain just by studying textbooks.”
What sort of extra-curricular activities can I do?
Sports: Team sports such as rugby, football, netball, hockey etc. demonstrates commitment as well as being a teamplayer. Having an achievement (i.e. playing in a school team, been the captain) is better than just having an interest in the sport, or kicking football for fun with friends.
Music: Being a part of an orchestra or a band is better than an individual player as it also demonstrates the ability to work in a team. Completing grades in musical studies demonstrates a structured approach to progression.
School activities: CCF/Air Cadets/Scouts etc are all useful experiences. The Duke of Edinburgh (DoE) award demonstrates a well rounded individual activity.
Community: Working in a care home, volunteering with homeless people, charity fundraising etc.
Pitfalls of doing extra-curricular activities
Doing too much: 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.
Time consuming: Spending too much time on this may be detrimental to your academic grades. Your hobbies and extracurricular activities are a supplement for a reason, and should not be your main focus.
Doing it for the sake of it: You should demonstrate commitment, and enthusiasm and this will be noted in your interview. It’s 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, as you will only demonstrate a superficial knowledge of the process or activity involved when probed during the interview itself.
Ben, University of Bristol
“I found it difficult at times to balance my extracurricular commitments with my academic work, which sometimes showed in my grades. I learnt 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.”