One of the best ways to distinguish your med school application from your peers’ is through polished essays that capture your journey to a career in medicine. In a previous post, we discussed the Personal Statement and detailed the different requirements of the three US med school application platforms. Here, we’ll focus on Activity Essays across the three platforms: AMCAS for MD programs, AACOMAS for DO programs, and TMDSAS for MD and DO programs in Texas.
Unlike the Personal Statement, which requires you to weave several experiences into a coherent narrative with a unified theme, each Activity Essay focuses on a single extracurricular activity and its impact on you. These activities can include both science-related extracurriculars—like clinical experiences, shadowing, and research—and additional activities that provide opportunities for leadership, teamwork, and community service.
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Each of the three med school application platforms has different requirements for the Activity Essays, including the number of activities you can describe, the length of each description, and the categories you can choose from. Below, we guide you through what to expect.
The AMCAS application (for MD med schools) allows you to describe up to 15 activities (including work, extracurriculars, and honors), each with a maximum of 700 characters. You can designate up to three of these 15 as your Most Meaningful activities, which grants you an additional 1325 characters each to work with.
You’ll be asked to select the category that most describes each activity from a drop-down menu of 18 Experience Types. We feel that the most important categories for med school admissions are patient exposure (either Paid Employment – Medical/Clinical) or Community Service/Volunteer – Medical/Clinical), physician shadowing, research, and community service/volunteering. So if multiple categories apply, we recommend varying the Experience Types you choose in order to hit these most crucial areas.
Descriptions. For the shorter Description paragraphs (of up to 700 characters), describe your unique responsibilities, accomplishments, qualities, skills, and impact. Given the character count, concision is vital! For the non-Most Meaningful activities, include one or two sentences at the end about why the activity was meaningful to you.
Most Meaningful. For the longer Most Meaningful paragraphs (of up to 1325 characters), write more expansively about how this activity impacted you. What did you learn—about yourself, about medicine, or about the type of physician you would like to be? How did you grow as a person, scholar, researcher, and/or future physician? How did the experience shape your academic or career goals?
The AACOMAS application (for DO med schools) has separate sections for Experiences (work and activities) and Achievements (honors). Unlike on the AMCAS application, there is no limit on the number of experiences. But the entries are shorter: each has a 600-character limit, and there’s no equivalent of the longer Most Meaningful essays.
Experiences. The Experiences section of the AACOMAS application offers four possible categories. These cover the broad experience types of extracurricular activities, healthcare experience, non-healthcare employment, and non-healthcare volunteer or community enrichment. Unlike AMCAS and TMDSAS, AACOMAS does not have a separate category for research; you could categorize such activities in a number of ways depending on the specifics, as follows:
- Extracurricular Activities: research for which you received college credit
- Non-Healthcare Employment: paid research
- Healthcare Experience: clinical research in which you interacted with patients
(If you’re unsure about how to categorize an experience, research or otherwise, you can always contact a particular DO program!)
Achievements. The AACOMAS application also has five categories for achievements, including awards, honors, presentations, publications, and scholarships.
Current Activities. The TMDSAS application (for both MD and DO programs in Texas), like the AACOMAS application, does not limit the number of activities you can list. But most of these descriptions must be really short, with a limit of 300 characters for each. There are two exceptions: for three “top meaningful activities” that you choose, you are granted an additional 500 characters. For any research activities that culminated in a publication, abstract, presentation, or poster, you also have an additional 500 characters.
The TMDSAS application has eight categories to choose from; some activities may qualify to be repeated in more than one section. The categories include academic recognition, leadership, employment, research activities, and healthcare activities.
Planned Activities. Unlike AMCAS and AACOMAS, TMDSAS allows you to describe Planned Activities that will take place after the application deadline; this includes new activities as well as those that carry over from previous or current activities.
Applying to medical school is a complicated process, and writing the required essays is no exception! Please contact Collegiate Gateway if you would like guidance on any aspect of the application and admissions process. As always, we’re happy to help!