What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

Extracurriculars for High Schoolers Interested in Studying Medicine

If you have your sights set on a career in medicine, you probably already know that the field is selective and fast-paced. Spots in the top BS/MD programs in the country are among the most competitive to land, and even top pre-med programs often have acceptance rates in the single digits. 


For students aiming for a medical career, top grades and test scores aren’t enough to get into the best programs in the country. Grades and test scores might be great examples of your scholastic aptitude, but they don’t reveal much about your personal characteristics. Do you help your community and those around you? Do you commit fully to tasks? Do you solve problems in innovative, insightful ways? 


Qualities like dedication, empathy, and leadership are critical to success in medical school and in a medical career, so admissions committees look for these traits in applicants. You’ll need to use your extracurricular involvement to let these qualities shine through if you want to set yourself apart in the admissions process. This post will help you think creatively about how to select a range of clubs, activities, and competitions to demonstrate your interest in medicine. Read on to learn more. 


The Four Tiers of Extracurricular Activities

Before diving into specific extracurricular options for students interested in medicine, let’s talk about how admissions committees typically view different extracurriculars. 


You probably already know that some extracurriculars are more impressive than others. Factors like the duration of your participation and your level of involvement influence how the admissions committee will view each item on your activities list. When weighing the importance and value of an extracurricular on a college application, we at CollegeVine like to divide activities into four tiers. These tiers can help you understand how your extracurricular profile will stack up against that of other applicants. 


Tier one activities are the most impactful—and the most rare. They demonstrate exceptional achievements and high-level leadership. Examples include winning the Google Science Fair, attending a prestigious top summer program like the PROMYS program at Brown University, or ranking nationally as an athletic recruit. More unconventional activities that show extraordinary initiative—like starting a highly successful service organization or business—can also reach tier one status. Few students have tier one level accomplishments, so those who do automatically stand out. 


Tier two activities are slightly less extraordinary than tier one activities, but they are still impressive. These activities typically show a high level of achievement or leadership. Tier two activities might include serving as the president of your school’s Model UN chapter, winning a regional debate competition, or earning a place in the all-state orchestra. Tier two activities are still a powerful addition to your college application, though they won’t be as instantly eye-catching for admissions officers as tier one activities. 


Tier three activities are fairly common, though they still show specific commitment and accomplishment. This category of activities include being recognized as player of the week on your soccer team, serving as secretary of your school’s french club, or winning your school’s science fair. 


Finally, tier four activities are those activities that are very common and so will likely not make your college application stand out. Tier four activities are typically activities that you participate in without achieving a leadership role or particular distinction. While these activities aren’t especially impressive, they can still demonstrate your interests and experience. 


This tier system can be applied to all extracurricular activities; the appropriate mix of tiers will vary depending on your college goals. If you’re applying to highly competitive programs, like BS/MD or pre-med programs, you’ll need the strongest extracurricular profile possible; this means that you should aim to move your extracurriculars “up” to higher tiers throughout high school. Below, we’ll cover which specific extracurriculars you might want to consider if your goal is to go into medicine.


If you want to learn more about our tier breakdown system, check out this post.


Extracurriculars to Consider if You Intend to Study Medicine 

Though your level of involvement in an activity plays significantly influences its impact on your application, the kinds of activities you choose are also very important. As we mentioned above, if you’re interested in medicine, you should choose extracurriculars that showcase your skills in the sciences and your commitment to pursuing medicine. Below, we provide a list of clubs and activities to get you started as you consider how to achieve this goal.


Interest-based clubs. This classic extracurricular option allows students to learn and collaborate with peers who share their interests. Here are some interest-based clubs that could be a good fit if you’re interested in studying medicine:


  • Anatomy Club
  • Biology Club
  • Medical Explorers
  • Neuroscience Club
  • Pre-Med Club
  • Sports Medicine Club
  • Doctors Without Borders
    • This international organization provides medical professionals with the opportunity to volunteer in high-need communities around the world. High school Doctors Without Borders clubs typically raise awareness and funds to support Doctors Without Borders’ mission. By getting involved with this organization and taking on a leadership role, you can show your empathy and dedication to helping others. 
  • HOSA – Future Health Professionals
    • This national organization provides pre-professional guidance to high schoolers who are interested in becoming doctors, nurses, or pursuing other healthcare-related careers. HOSA organizations offer students an unusual opportunity to simultaneously learn about medical careers and show off their knowledge in HOSA’s competitions. 


This list shows the variety of interest-based, medicine-relevant extracurriculars that might be available to you. As you consider your options, think creatively and choose a menu of activities that both appeal to you and give you an opportunity for leadership and achievement. And keep our tier system in mind: If you commit to your extracurriculars and take on leadership roles,  you’ll gain valuable experience and boost your extracurricular profile. 


Competitions. Beyond interest-based extracurriculars, academic competitions can show off your preparation for pre-med (and eventually medical!) studies. The HOSA – Future Health Professionals competitions offer one opportunity to display your medicine-specific knowledge. 


More generally, you might consider participating in the Biology Olympiad, the premier national biology competition for high schoolers, sponsored by the Center for Excellence in Education. 20 finalists, selected through two rounds of written exams, attend a residential training program; from those 20, four finalists are selected to represent the United States at the International Biology Olympiad. 


Remember: In academic competitions, the path to impress admissions committees is relatively narrow. Merely participating in a competition like the Biology Olympiad could show your enthusiasm for biology, but, within the framework of our tier system, would only register as a tier four achievement. Higher levels of success would bring more strength to your application: A top placement could really catch admissions committees’ attention, and would be a tier one achievement; doing significantly better than the average participant could be a tier two or three achievement. 


Internship, shadowing, and research. Medicine differs from many other science-based disciplines because of its applied dimensions. From conducting research to interacting with patients, students in medical school and doctors have to apply their knowledge in unique ways. 


High school students can gain exposure this sort of hands-on experience by shadowing a local doctor, interning at a hospital or doctor’s office, or conducting relevant research. These activities, though not traditional extracurriculars, can show that you understand the day-to-day realities of a medical career–and that you’re eager to take on its challenges. Showing that you understand the challenges of medical school (and medicine!) is important for pre-med applicants, and especially important for BS/MD applicants. In fact, many BS/MD programs require or strongly encourage applicants to have research, internship, or shadowing experience! 


For more ideas, check out these awesome CollegeVine posts:



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Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.