The AMCAS Work and Activities most meaningful experiences are essentially the most significant experiences that stand out among the other activities you add in your AMCAS application (required for all medical school applications in the US, except Texas). In the AMCAS Work and Activities section, you are asked to provide up to 15 employment, research, volunteer, and extracurricular activities, out of which you can identify a minimum of 1 and a maximum of 3 as "most meaningful experiences". We discuss the fundamentals of the AMCAS Work and Activities elsewhere, so in this blog, we’re going to pay special attention to these “most meaningful experiences”. While all of the AMCAS Work and Activities entries are significant in the overall evaluation of your application, the most important aspect of the Work and Activities section are these “most meaningful experiences”.


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You can add up to three AMCAS Work and Activities most meaningful experience entries in your med school application. What differentiates these "most meaningful experiences" from the other AMCAS Work and Activities entries? These are experiences that had a particular impact on your growth, development, professionalization, or that were particularly transformative or impactful. While each entry is given 700 characters (including spaces), these “most meaningful experiences” are allotted an additional 1325 characters (again, including spaces). This is not intended to be used as a space to simply describe more details of the position or activity; rather, this is meant to be a more reflective, contemplative narrative that highlights the ways in which these experiences enriched your life, the lives of others, and your overall perspective toward your journey to becoming a doctor. These experiences can range from paid hospital work experience and medical research hours to non-medical volunteer experience and hobbies suitable for your AMCAS application. Just remember, this isn’t the place for an expanded CV; it’s a place to demonstrate the key qualities you’ve developed and the ways in which these have contributed to your suitability for the profession.

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What is a “Most Meaningful” Experience?

When considering which experiences to isolate as “most meaningful”, you first need to reflect on each of your experiences individually. In particular, you should consider these experiences in light of the AAMC Core Competencies and the general qualities and non-cognitive skills sought in aspiring medical professionals. Such qualities in applicants include: social responsibility, cultural sensitivity, leadership, management, compassion, altruism, initiative, cooperation, collaboration, professionalism, empathy, communication skills, and so on. You should also think through the common question, "Why do you want to be a doctor?" and consider how the above qualities connect to your own goals as a future professional. You can begin narrowing down your list of experiences based on this, to come up with a “short list” of potential “most meaningful” experiences.

As well, there is a subjective element in these choices – which experiences were “most meaningful” to you? While you want to think strategically, so that you’re clearly articulating experiences that reflect the kinds of qualities medical programs are seeking, you also need to be authentic. The reviewers will be able to tell if you are inflating a particular entry simply because it “looks good”. Think honestly about where you’ve gone, what you’ve done, and what you’ve learned – looking back on those experiences, which of them actually left you feeling transformed (either immediately, or in retrospect)? Which experiences genuinely made you feel like you were making a difference or contributing in a meaningful way? Which experiences radically shifted your perspectives or priorities? Which experiences have truly made you who you are today? If you’re speaking from that place of authenticity and effectively conveying these ideas, it will be very clear why those are the experiences you’ve chosen to isolate as “most meaningful”. The biggest, most flashy, or most impressive-sounding roles may not be the “most meaningful”. Maybe you were president of a large club on campus, or a member of the Model UN. That’s great! However, it’s entirely possible that a position handing out meals at a free kitchen, or volunteering to run weekly activities at a retirement community, had a much more deep and meaningful impact on who you are as an aspiring med school student and as a person.

AMCAS “Most Meaningful Experiences” Tip #1: Stand out from the crowd

The experiences that you list can be of all sorts – healthcare related positions, scholarship activities, experiences abroad or overseas, volunteer efforts, leadership opportunities, extracurricular or artistic pursuits, etc. – and the experiences designated “most meaningful” can also be in any category. It’s not necessarily best, for example, to devote all three “most meaningful” experiences to paid employment in a healthcare setting, simply for the sake of demonstrating that you’ve worked in a medical environment in multiple contexts, because you think that will stand out to the admissions committee. While at least one or two of these experiences can be related to the field of medicine, it’s important to note that they do not all need to be healthcare-related. You can highlight non-medical activities if you want to show depth and breadth and to highlight your well-roundedness as a candidate. You should be able to articulate the meaning behind your experiences in a concise and compelling manner.

Remember, most applicants will have strong academic accomplishments, experience in a healthcare setting, volunteer experience, etc. – it is well-known that these things are all necessary for a competitive application. So, you need to think about what is going to make you stand out in a vast sea of similarly or equally qualified applicants. What is key is that you develop a compelling narrative that demonstrates what you’ve learned, how you’ve grown, and what impact you made in each experience, and that you do so in a way that highlights the qualities sought in future medical professionals.

AMCAS “Most Meaningful Experiences” Tip #2: It’s a story, not a list

One great way to demonstrate the meaningfulness of your experience is to create a vignette - a brief illustration or description that captures a particularly poignant, representative moment or experience. First, let’s look at a sample entry of 700 characters (with spaces), which we’ll explore as a “most meaningful experience” later:

Title: Volunteer Resident Attendant, XYZ Retirement Community

Description: XYZ Retirement Community aims to provide varying levels of care for residents in their retirement. With Assisted Living, Independent Living, and Intensive Care units, they offer a dynamic model that cares for residents throughout their senior years. For 3 years, I acted as a Resident Attendant, helping residents to daily meals, providing transport to events within the facility, running small errands, and providing companionship to residents. In this position, I was able to provide support to nurses’ aides during busy times of the day and encourage residents to stay active and social by attending communal meals, games of Bingo, afternoon movies, and other recreational activities. (687 characters, with spaces)

This is a pretty standard AMCAS Work and Activities entry. Now, let’s look at how we can expand this as a “most meaningful experience”. 

One of the biggest mistakes students make in composing their “most meaningful” entries is to approach the discussion of qualities in a very literal way. For example, many first drafts will be full of statements like this:

“In my Volunteer Resident Attendant position at XYZ Retirement Community, I learned to be compassionate, mature, and professional. My communication skills were also highly valued by my peers and superiors. This experience truly transformed me in ways I couldn’t have previously imagined.”

While it is clear that this individual developed (or, at least, believes they developed) compassion, maturity, professionalism, and communication skills in this transformative position, such a passage doesn’t actually demonstrate such qualities at all, let alone in a way that will make an impression on the reader. In essence, it is merely saying, “Trust me, I have these qualities”, and that is, quite simply, not good enough.

A much more effective (and more engaging!) tactic is to craft a story about your experience. Most people love a good narrative and working this into your “most meaningful” experiences is possible, even with the small amount of space you’re given. This is one reason that you must start early and get expert feedback – saying so much in such little space takes a lot of time (as Mark Twain once said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead”), and it requires a professional eye to ensure your meaning is effectively articulated. Using brief stories of real-life experiences through descriptive prose that shows the readers how you developed the qualities you’re highlighting will both ensure that you are maximizing the potential of these entries and providing a pleasant reading experience for the application reviewers. Remember, they will review hundreds, if not thousands, of these; a genuinely engaging, well-written, and thoughtful reflection on meaningful experiences will help them appreciate your application on multiple levels.

AMCAS “Most Meaningful Experiences” Tip #3: Show, don’t tell

Just as you must avoid simply listing qualities, you must also avoid assuming that the person reviewing your entries will automatically understand the significance of an experience, interaction, or event – let alone understand this significance in the same way as you. To demonstrate your strengths through your narrative, you’ll want to employ the “show, don’t tell” strategy. That is to say, don’t just “tell” the reviewer that you developed a particular quality, skill, or characteristic; rather, “show” them how that development took place. Let’s look again at the passage above:

“In my Volunteer Resident Attendant position at XYZ Retirement Community, I learned to be compassionate, mature, and professional. My communication skills were also highly valued by my peers and superiors. This experience truly transformed me in ways I couldn’t have previously imagined.”

We can get rid of the list-like elements and compose something much more compelling by combining the use of narrative with a “show, don’t tell” approach. Consider the following:

“I still recall the cool morning of April 10. I arrived for my shift at XYZ Retirement Community 30 minutes early, so I could visit Agnes, as I had every Friday for 2 years. Despite our age difference, we forged a deep friendship, which we nurtured with morning tea each week. She was a great storyteller and her age gave her wisdom and perspective; she always emphasized the importance of kindness, reminding me of the struggles all people face. Looking forward to another chat, I tapped on her door that April morning. As I entered, I saw Agnes still in bed and clearly unwell. I wanted to fall apart, but I knew I needed to pull through for her. I quickly called the nurses and aides and carefully detailed what I’d seen; with this information, they quickly assessed her and arranged her transport to the hospital. We never got to have our final tea that day, but there was love in her eyes as she was whisked away. I realized, in that moment, both the strength and fragility of those who will rely on my care. I also learned that, in moments when I may want to panic or get swept up in emotion, I can stay even-headed and help other experts perform effectively. In the end, Agnes taught me so much about the world and my responsibilities to others, and I hope to share her kindness in my role as a future physician.” (1324 characters, with spaces)

Note that the standard description of the position at XYZ Retirement Community has been provided in the initial 700 characters, so the extra 1325 characters provides space to really bring the evaluator into the applicant’s experience, to help them see how such key characteristics developed. In this extended example, compassion, maturity, professionalism, and skillful communication are all highlighted effectively, and provided via a contextual narrative that is genuinely engaging to read. The entry takes one meaningful set of interactions and allows this to speak for a wealth of important qualities sought in medical school applicants. It is clear to the reader that this was a truly transformative experience, without directly reading the words, “This experience truly transformed me in ways I couldn’t have previously imagined.” Through a story of a meaningful friendship cut unexpectedly short, this narrative shows the applicant’s transformation, rather than just telling the reader that there was a transformation.

AMCAS “Most Meaningful Experiences” Tip #4: Don’t delay - complete a draft and then walk away

Crafting a compelling narrative takes time, there’s no easy way around that. The extended description provided above took a couple hours, walking away at the end of one day and returning to it again the next -- and I do this for a living! In that time, it went through several edits and re-writes, with the language, tone, pace, and even terminology carefully considered for maximum impact. You absolutely must get started on this aspect of the application early, so that you have time to write and then reconsider, and then walk away for a bit, and then edit, and then reconsider again, and then walk away and return, review, and edit again, and so on. Even if you are already a skilled writer, there is simply no substitute for time.

Aside from the fact that engaging writing takes time, you also need to give yourself the ability to proofread with fresh eyes. Even after you think you’ve completed the entry, you need to walk away (for at least an hour) and return to read the entry again. One great way to ensure your writing flows effectively is to read it aloud. It may feel awkward, but it’s one of the best writing tips I’ve ever received. If you have difficulty following the pace of a sentence that seemed clear in your head, if you stumble over a word or phrase, it’s likely that it will be awkward for the reader, as well. It’s very difficult to identify such things when we’re reading our own words silently, to ourselves, in our head. Reading aloud, however, acts as a spotlight to little inconsistencies, incorrect verb tense, missing commas, etc.

AMCAS “Most Meaningful Experiences” Tip #5: Get expert feedback

Aside from this, the other best writing tip is to get expert feedback, and to do so early, so that you have time to make any necessary corrections. Again, when reading your own words, it’s easy to skip over little grammatical inconsistencies, but an expert will spot them immediately and give you feedback on how to correct them.

Beyond grammatical review, however, an expert will be able to tell you whether your entry makes the impact you hope it does, before it enters the hands of the application reviewers. When we’re writing about our own experiences, we know the impact those experiences had on us, and we can often assume that such an impact will be clear to the reader, simply because it’s clear to us. That, however, is the exact opposite of what usually happens. Transporting readers into your own head-space, helping them see the transformative nature of experiences through your own eyes, is an immensely difficult task, and one that is difficult for even the most experienced writers (this, by the way, is why all writers have editors – even the most well-known, decorated, award-winning authors rely on others to review their work, in order to ensure everything is conveyed effectively and with the maximum intended impact!).

This is why we offer application review packages that include review of the AMCAS Work and Activities entries, the med school personal statement, and strategy sessions with our admissions experts to ensure your examples and experiences are as impactful as possible before you dedicate hours to composing them and editing them, with us providing feedback and reflection along the way! 

AMCAS “Most Meaningful Experiences” Samples

Sample #1

Experience Type: Community Service/Volunteer – Not Medical/Clinical

Experience Name: Volunteer Tutor

Contact Name & Title: Mrs. Sally Mendoza

Contact Email: [email protected]

Contact Phone: 478024849

Organization Name: New Hope Education

City/State/Country: San Francisco / California / United States

Most Meaningful Experience: Yes

Dates: 10/2016 – 02/2020

Total Hours: 3000

Experience Description: The New Hope Education organization seeks to provide expert tutoring to at-risk children from underserved communities, with the aim of helping them achieve their high school diplomas. I taught Math, English, and Biology to high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors. After a year of tutoring, I was also given the opportunity to customize my own curriculum and create individual lesson plans. (394 characters, with spaces)

Most Meaningful Experience Remarks: I joined New Hope Education as I am passionate about ensuring equal access to quality education for students from different backgrounds and communities. In all of my classes, over 80% of students struggled with some form of learning disability or mental illness and had no idea how to deal with it. Initially, it was extremely challenging to work with young people with such different requirements, who were understandably resistant to learning based on their previous negative experiences. I experimented with different ways to get through to the students. One of my most effective techniques was to set aside some time after every class to talk through students’ personal struggles so they could feel safe and comfortable in the classroom. For me, this was an enlightening and humbling experience that helped me build my empathy, communication, and problem-solving skills. In 2018, I ran a corporate fund-raising campaign that added 30,000 USD to the annual budget of New Hope Education. One of my proudest moments was when 100% of the students in my last class achieved their high school diplomas and a few of them even chose to return to New Hope Education as volunteer tutors. This experience cemented my desire to continue to build my talents, skills, and empathy to better help underserved communities. (1310 characters, with spaces)  

Sample #2

Experience Type: Research/Lab

Experience Name: Research Assistant at Francis Labs

Contact Name & Title: Dr. Martin Francis, Principal Investigator

Contact Email: [email protected]

Contact Phone: 38299011

Organization Name: Biochemistry Department, SCTP

City/State/Country: San Francisco / California / United States

Most Meaningful Experience: Yes

Dates: 09/2016 – 03/2020

Total Hours: 2050

Experience Description: The aim of the project was to develop a new drug to treat viral infections by introducing chemical enzymes. I was involved in different stages of the project from in-vitro experimentation to clinical trials. We tested the efficacy of the treatment on human tissue cells as well as mice tissue cells. I developed a solution that enabled the enzyme to dissolve and be carried to target receptor cells. Additionally, I was in charge of maintaining project results and protocols and training new staff members. (506 characters, with spaces)

Most Meaningful Experience Remarks: This project was crucial to helping me identify my career goal of pursuing an MD/PhD. Working on the initial in-vitro experimentation stage, I had to analyze, synthesize, and communicate my findings. I was quickly recognized as the most skilled sub-investigator from the team; I also discovered that I derived great satisfaction from medical research. As the project progressed, more challenges came my way, and the pressure also increased. When given the charge of testing different enzyme carrier solutions, I eagerly took up the task as I wanted to try out my new skills in a leadership role. What followed was a period of immense challenges and daily struggles as our team faced failures more often than success. Looking back, I consider this a formative period of my life as I gained a true understanding of the medical research process. Though faced with doubts and confusion, I eventually realized that in medical research, both positive and negative results are inevitable and equally important sources of information. I then decided to diversify my diagnostic methods and applied new glucose synthesis techniques I had read about in the New England Journal of Medicine. By the end of the 5th semester, we gained the meaningful results we sought. I consider this one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. (1320 characters, with spaces)

Here’s a video on how to make your AMCAS Work and Activities most meaningful experiences stand out:

FAQs

1. What is the word limit for the AMCAS Most Meaningful Experiences entries?

You have 700 characters to complete the Experience Description for each activity you add in the AMCAS Work and Activities section. For the “most meaningful” activities, you get an additional 1325 characters to write the Most Meaningful Experiences Remarks.

2. Is the AMCAS Most Meaningful Experiences section important?

Yes, the AMCAS Work and Activities Most Meaningful Experiences section is a crucial part of your med school application. In fact, this section is placed ahead of your medical school personal statement essay, which means most admissions committees view your extracurricular activities and meaningful experiences before they see your essay. Your meaningful experiences should help the admissions committee members better understand your motivations to study medicine, and what makes you uniquely suited to it.

3. How to select my AMCAS Most Meaningful Experiences?

In your AMCAS Work and Activities section, you can add up to 15 entries to document all your extracurricular activities, experiences, and achievements. Out of these, up to 3 can be identified as Most Meaningful Experiences. To identify the “most meaningful” activities, you should take the time to reflect and identify which of the activities means the most to you, personally, and how they might have impacted your journey to med school. You should also consider the AAMC Core Competencies as well as the personal qualities and skills that future doctors should demonstrate, such as social responsibility, cultural sensitivity, leadership, management, compassion, altruism, initiative, cooperation, collaboration, professionalism, empathy, communication skills, and so on. Which of your experiences helped you learn one or more of these competencies? Which of your activities best demonstrates your commitment to medicine? Which of them makes you stand out from the crowd and show your unique suitability for medical school? Take the time to reflect and identify the most impactful experiences and select them accordingly. You can add both medical and non-medical activities in the AMCAS Most Meaningful Experiences section; but you should ensure that even when writing about non-medical experience, the connection to your medical school journey is clearly communicated.

4. How to write my AMCAS Most Meaningful Experiences?

Medical school admissions committees go through thousands of applications every year. To truly stand out, you need to not only have impressive extracurriculars, but you should also be able to describe them effectively in your application. Your AMCAS “most meaningful” experiences should tell a story that grabs the attention of the reader and builds a consistent narrative about your passion for medicine, responsibility, leadership, initiative, empathy, cooperation, and commitment to service. Don’t write your entries in a dry, factual style. This isn’t a resume. Instead, you should include your personal reflections and demonstrate your growth through each experience. Also, add examples of real incidents to explain what you mean, rather than just adding a list of skills or achievements you picked up. Make the connections between your experiences and your motivation to apply for med school. Most importantly, write authentically about experiences that significantly changed your life. Admissions committees can see through attempts at exaggeration, and they value honesty and integrity in the applicants. You can check the Samples section of this blog to see some examples of well-written AMCAS Most Meaningful Experiences.

5. In what order will the experiences appear in the AMCAS Work and Activities section?

Your experiences are automatically arranged in chronological order. However, if required, admissions committees can rearrange them as per their own preference.

6. Can I include the same activities in my AMCAS Most Meaningful Experiences section as I cover in my personal statement essay?

Yes, it’s acceptable to talk about the same experiences in both your personal statement essay and AMCAS Most Meaningful Experiences section. In fact, it might look odd if you’ve mentioned a specific experience as life-changing in your personal statement but its not covered at all in the Most Meaningful Experiences section. However, that does not mean you can simply add identical content in both these sections. You’ll have to be briefer and more to the point in the AMCAS Work and Activities section. Focus on highlighting the responsibilities, achievements, growth, and learning you experienced for each experience, and think of a different angle than the one you used in your personal statement. This demonstrates your adaptability and reflective thinking while also building a consistent narrative.

7. How many meaningful experiences do I need to add in the AMCAS Work and Activities section?

You can add a maximum of 15 experiences or activities in the AMCAS Work and Activities section, and for each of them you can add up to 4 occurrences. Out of these 15, you can identify up to 3 experiences as “most meaningful”. However, adding 15 experiences and identifying 3 as “most meaningful” isn’t mandatory. Quality is more important than quantity. If you have only 4-5 experiences, then don’t try to come up with filler entries just to meet the “15” mark. Rather, focus on the existing 5 experiences and talk about them meaningfully and in-depth. If you add more than one experience, you must rank at least 1 of them as “most meaningful”.

8. For the AMCAS Most Meaningful Experiences, should I list all similar types of entries separately or club them together?

To answer this question, let’s consider an example of hospital volunteer work. If you have completed multiple stints of volunteer work either at the same hospital or in different hospitals, you should ideally combine them into one entry, listing the brief details of each experience along with what you learned. The only reason to add separate entries is if you had an individual volunteering experience that was significantly different in terms of what you learned, your feedback, your achievements etc. If there was one such experience that was special and more meaningful than others, you can add a separate entry and mark it as “most meaningful”. However, if you basically have the same talking points for each of your volunteer experiences, just combine them as one entry. Otherwise, separating them out will just make it look like you are trying to fill up space. 

9. Can I include awards/achievements as “most meaningful” experiences in the AMCAS Work and Activities section?

You can mark any of your entries as most meaningful. It’s really up to you. Just make sure you explain clearly why that award or achievement is so meaningful to you. Don’t just add it like a line in your resume. For example, if you were awarded a merit-based research grant in recognition of your innovative research work, don’t just talk about the award criteria and your research. You also need to talk about why the award, specifically, meant so much to you, if you learned something from the entire journey, and how you grew from it. If there’s no such significant story behind what the award meant to you, it’s better not to highlight it separately as a “meaningful experience”. 

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

Image credit: GotCredit, via the Creative Commons License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

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4 Comments

Samantha Greenblatt

Great article! This was very helpful.

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BeMo Academic Consulting

Thank you so much! We are glad you found this helpful!

BeMo Academic Consulting

Samantha Greenblatt, you are the winner of our weekly draw. Please email us at content[at]bemoacademicconsulting.com from the same email address you used to leave your comment to claim your prize!

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Sarah W.

Would you say there is enough space in the regular activities section to use storytelling and "showing"/ interpretation of the event or should these be more summaries / descriptions?

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BeMo Academic Consulting

Hello Sarah! Thank you for your question. Absolutely! It is always important to use solid examples for your AMCAS entries and these examples must be somewhat detailed. It is not easy to write impressive entries under 700 characters long, but it's important to articulate what you learned and what impact you had. Your entries should never be dry summaries of events. Please review examples of regular entries in our AMCAS Work and Activities blog (https://bemoacademicconsulting.com/blog/amcas-work-activities-definitive-guide)

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Sarah W.

Good afternoon, are weekly draws still occurring?

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BeMo Academic Consulting

Hello Sarah! Absolutely! We announce a winner every week!

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Amanda Lopez

Well written examples are hard to come by. Thanks for the detailed advice!

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BeMo Academic Consulting

Hello Amanda! Thank you very much for your comment! We are glad you enjoyed these examples and found our tips useful.

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