ERAS Application, Part III: Extracurricular Activities

By | September 15, 2014

fire_dancer

Use this section to really shine on your application. There are lots of activities that many of us participate in that we may not think of as being all that important, unique, or even think should go in an application at all. However, if you have ever had an intriguing experience that’s worth sharing, why wouldn’t you include it?

By telling your story, you allow the reader (usually an interviewer) to get to know you better. In addition, you open yourself up for “softball questions” during your interview.  These are the types of questions that you want because they are soft, non-threatening, and prove that everyone just wants to have good time. They will also make interviewing easier and take some of the stress away on interview day. At the very least, it shows that you are passionate which is what you should be aiming for — program directors and interviewers are impacted by passionate people. You will really stand out in your interview and your overall residency rank will be positively impacted.

Let me clarify the above with some examples.  Men’s Health Magazine organizes a number of competitive Urbanathlons every year and I love competing in them. Many people do not know what an urbanathlon is, so I used this to my advantage. An urbanathlon is a 7-13 mile race within an urban environment with obstacles sprinkled throughout the course. In my applications, I was certain to include that I was an “urbanathloner.” This is a single word that I basically made up at the time, but at every single interview I was asked about it. This gave me a great opportunity to share my experience at the Chicago event running up Soldier Field to the top of the stadium, how both my calves completely cramped up with 2 miles left in the race, and how I hobbled the rest of the way until I crossed the finish line.

By including this in my application, it gave me the added bonus of loading my interview questions by providing content in a manner so that you influence your interviewer’s question. It also helped me build rapport while demonstrating that I can be both vulnerable and powerful at the same time. This should give you a good idea of how to master your application on a higher level.

Last year, an applicant contacted me for some additional help. He complained that his applications looked like his classmates and he did not have anything interesting to write about to make him stand out.  This applicant happened to be from Hawaii.  I prompted him to think about a hobby or specific interest that he is good at or loves talking about.  About 10 minutes into this brainstorming session, he informs me that he used to be and still practices as a fire dancer. Once I heard that, I got excited and told him he must include that experience in his application. This is definitely a statement that loads the questions because every interviewer would be interesting in knowing more about. More importantly than rapport, this interaction gives the interviewer something to remember you by.

This is the holy grail! If you can have such a great conversation (notice I said conversation, not interview) with your interviewer, you set yourself up for success. When the members of the admission committee are meeting to discuss the applicants and create their rank order list, you want one of your interviewers if not all of them to remember you and say something like, “Oh yeah, I remember him…he’s the fire dancer!” Its all about making a positive and lasting impression. Something that initially seems insignificant could be the key piece to making you stand out among the other candidates. Now start your own brainstorming session!