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Adcom Advice #6 – Quantitative Descriptions Over Qualitative

While marking medical school applications, one reoccurring mistake that many students commit is thinking more is better. Less is more. Less is better. Quality over Quantity always. A few meaningful commitments, excellence in an area of sport, music, leadership, etc., will be scored higher than a laundry list of shallow activities.

Adcom advice #6 is on how to effectively present your activities in the best light. You want admission committee members to understand your responsibilities and not miss any key points. That is why when describing your extracurricular activities, You must write quantitatively.

You must present your autobiographical sketch in a way that makes sense to the medical school admissions board.

For Scholarships / Awards – A bad example would be, “I was given the Chancellor Award for exceptional academic achievement and community service.” The problem with this description is the marker receives no actual information to work with. On the other hand, a good example would go like this, “Chancellor Award given to the top 20 students entering University for academic and community excellence, valued at $18,000 over three years.” Now, the adcom has a sense of why you got the award, how many people receive it, how much it’s worth and how competitive it is.

For Sports / Music / Extracurricular Activities – Similarly for non-academic activities, you can always quantify the level of involvement you were in. A bad example would be, “I have played in a volleyball team for the past 3 years. We were able to place 1st in a local tournament” A good example would be, “I was a co-captain of a competitive community volleyball team for 3 years, averaging 5 hrs of practice a week. We placed 1st in a local adult’s tournament of 12 teams.”

If you play piano, indicate the level you’ve played up to, any contests won or awards received. If you play a competitive sport, indicate your time commitments, quantifiable achievements, special accomplishments.

Volunteering – Bad: I have been volunteering my time and talents to the choir for many years, starting out as a singer and than becoming a pianist. Good: I was a singer and pianist for my church’s choir for the past 5 years, practicing 2 hrs/week.

Leadership – describe what roles you played, what specific actions you did, how many people you managed, what directions or changes you initiated.

The concept with all these examples is to give specific and relevant details to your activities. You want to sell all the good points and key facts about your activity, without sounding arrogant or false. Using objective numbers is a good way to do this. It also helps focus your answers and makes sure that only relevant information is provided.

There is also room in your application to describe the lesson’s you’ve learned through each activity, your travels and life experiences. Just make sure to put the quantifiable information down first, and then the subjective.

Use Qualitative Descriptions. Choose Quality Activities over shallow commitments.

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  1. FD
    FD January 8, 2009

    Wow! Nice advice. Will they also ask about this when someone is applying for a residency?

  2. rachel
    rachel May 15, 2009

    Thanks for the post!

    All the examples you gave were like big awards and stuff. What if you don’t have any? lol Then wouldn’t it be better to be ambiguous than to say “Volunteered as a member 1 hour once a month”

    I know I should avoid putting anything little just because it’s wasting space, but what if I don’t have anything else under that section?

    Or is it that I shouldn’t even be applying to med school in the first place if I don’t have anything big lol

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