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Adcom Advice #5 – Quality Over Quantity

When it comes to giving marks for extracurricular activities , quality wins over quantity.

A fruitful summer of research with a publication is better than three summers being a lab assistant/tech. A long term commitment to a volunteer organization with significant responsibilities is better than volunteering at three different hospitals.

The same goes for personal activities. Do you play several instruments at an intermediate level, or can you play one instrument with high caliber? Are you good at several non-competitive sports or are you a varsity athlete representing your school?

Don’t think that spreading yourself over several similar activities represent diversity. Whether you volunteer at one hospital or five, your diversity of experiences remains relatively the same. Diversity is doing something different from the status quo. It is exploring options you haven’t previously considered. A competitive athlete that also helps out at a homeless shelter is diverse. An athlete that plays two different sports, not so much.

So if you’re deciding what extracurricular activities / interests to pursue, here are three good guidelines to follow.

1) Commit to something that you enjoy doing / are interested in

2) Commit to it whole-heartedly, give it your all

3) Find something you’re good at – and do it better

Abraham Lincoln said it best,

“Whatever you are, be a good one”

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  1. FD
    FD December 17, 2008

    Though I agree with quality over quantity, I found that two of your points are in discordance with my opinion. Those points will not work unless you are living in some sort of Utopia. First, not all people can be good at things that they like; no matter how hard they tried. Second, there are still people that are controlled by their parents, which means that they do not have the freedom to choose, because after all they are funded by their parents. Therefore, I would only suggest one thing, whatever you do, give it your all regardless of the outcome.

    To your quote, so if I were a terrorist I ought to be a cold blooded human killing machine (i.e., a good terrorist)? In accordance with my points before, I think what Lincoln intended to say was make sure you have a good morale behind all your actions, though it may not be the best one.

    • medaholic
      medaholic December 17, 2008

      You make a good point FD that for a lot of people, parents do have a lot of influence. Though I still believe that young people should choose things that interests THEM, not their parents – this topic can be discussed ad nauseum.

      Your interpretation of the quote is also very interesting. I’m not sure what the context Lincoln used the phrase in (couldn’t find anything on google), but to me, I feel as if he meant to say, “be the best YOU you can be.” Strive for excellence and find your own strengths.

      I think naturally, if you commit yourself to something and give it your all, you will naturally get good at it. I have made a change from “become good at what you do” to “find something you’re good at – and do it better” because it reflects more of the point I want to get across

  2. grace
    grace August 21, 2011

    hi! Great points. I was just wondering whether you think abbreviations would be acceptable in the autobiographical sketch?

    Example: exec instead of executives

  3. Spencer
    Spencer October 27, 2011

    I keep hearing that you must have a list of approximately 40 extra curricular’s to be really competitive. Is that remotely true? I have about 10 lined up as of now that require a good chunk of commitment.

    Is there a set number of extra curricular’s that I should strive for?

    • medaholic
      medaholic October 28, 2011

      Definitely NOT true. You do not need a laundry list of extracurriculars to be competitive. Instead you should focus on QUALITY as I’ve mentioned in my post.
      Ten activities is plenty, especially if they are high quality ones. Try to add some diversity by varying your activities. For instance, having 10 activities related to swimming isn’t the same as some sports, some music, some volunteering.

  4. EL
    EL July 25, 2012

    Hi! Thanks for your blog. I have been using it as a reference while preparing for the mcats and the AMCAS applications. You say quality over quantity, but I have a significant experience that was about a month long. Should I list that as my number one experience on the AMCAS? Or something longer as the first one? (I can put my 2 years of tutoring experience).

    • medaholic
      medaholic July 25, 2012

      Hi EL,

      Like I said before, quality over quantity. Which of the two experiences were more important to you as a person. Which had a bigger impact. A month isn’t a long time, but if it was something that took a lot of preparation and more effort than your tutoring, something you’re more proud of, I would list that first.

  5. EL
    EL July 27, 2012

    Thanks! Also, would you consider submitting the AMCAS earlier is better? Rather than, lets say, mid-August. It seems like people begin to get interviews earlier (Sept onwards) when they apply earlier (early June) which would be more advantageous because then you get to have more options and time to choose your school.

    • medaholic
      medaholic July 28, 2012

      If you can submit earlier, not only do you get more choices but you’ll get more peace of mind.

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