When an admissions tutor is faced with two candidates with equally good grades, they decide between the candidates based on the students’ commitment to medicine as well as their contribution to extra-curricular activities.
Why do extra-curricular 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 studying to become a doctor. Many students burn out in medical school, and admissions tutors want to see a student who can strike a balance between work and play to avoid a similar situation.
Being able to get good grades alongside, for example, earning music awards and playing in an orchestra is admirable because it demonstrates that the student is efficient with their time.
That is, having a skill learned in one environment but which can be used in another. Playing in a rugby team demonstrates team work that can translate to situations in medical school where working effectively on a team is required.
Nina – University of Leeds
‘I thoroughly enjoyed involving myself in extra-curricular activities at school, for example, joining STEM Society (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) and holding a position on the Sixth Form Council as events coordinator. It allowed me to meet many like-minded, interesting people and I learned 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 skillsets. This is invaluable to your mental wellbeing alongside developing many skills that you cannot gain just by studying textbooks.’
What sort of extra-curricular activities can I do?
- Sport: team sports such as rugby, football, netball or hockey demonstrate commitment as well as showing that you are a team player. Achievement (i.e. playing in a school team, having been the captain) is better than just having an interest in the sport, or kicking a football for fun with friends.
- Music: being a part of an orchestra or a band is better than being 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: 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.
- Community: this can include working in a care home, volunteering with homeless people or taking part in charity fundraising.
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 away from 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.
- Doing it for the sake of it: 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.’