The OMSAS autobiographical sketch is a challenging and time-consuming part of your application for medical schools in Ontario. The OMSAS autobiographical sketch must be very concise and downright surgical in its wording. But don’t worry—with some basic guidelines and principles in mind, you can ensure that your OMSAS sketch stands out and improves your chances for getting into your dream MD program. 


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Article Contents
8 min read

OMSAS Autobiographical Sketch: The Basics OMSAS ABS Tip #1: Quality Over Quantity OMSAS ABS Tip #2: Be Clear and Concise OMSAS ABS Tip #3: Start Early with Verifiers OMSAS ABS Tip #4: Be Honest OMSAS Autobiographical Sketch Examples FAQs

OMSAS Autobiographical Sketch: The Basics 

Medical schools in Ontario use the OMSAS application system, which includes the Autobiographical Sketch (ABS). The sketch is essentially a rundown of your extracurriculars for medical school, your accomplishments, employment, education and more. It’s a snapshot of who you are, so the medical school admissions committee can evaluate you outside of your grades and MCAT score.

Because the OMSAS sketch needs to be a very concise overview of your background, plenty of students struggle with which activities to include, how to write effective descriptions and how to get started. Here’s what some of our students said about preparing for the OMSAS sketch:

“I had a very helpful session with [BeMo] about how to set up my OMSAS sketch! [My advisor] helped organize which of my activities to include/exclude and narrow down which ones were redundant and/or not adding much to my sketch. We also went over examples of how to best highlight the title and description of each activity. She gave me confidence to fill out the sketch in a way that reflects me well.” – BeMo student.


[My BeMo consultant] was very helpful in going through what I should include in my OMSAS sketch, how to pick referees, listing activities that will aid my application, and going over specific school essays … I [am] confident about the next steps to take regarding my medical school application.” – BeMo student.


The OMSAS sketch provides a standardized outline of your academic and professional development since age 16. It’s structured as a list of up to 32 entries organized into 6 categories:  

  1. Employment 
  2. Volunteer Activities 
  3. Extracurricular Activities 
  4. Awards and Accomplishments 
  5. Research 
  6. Other 

The Ontario Universities’ Application Center (OUAC) recommends initially approaching these categories and activities quite broadly—their advice is simply to “list all activities that will give the admission committees insight into who you are.”

Activities in your OMSAS sketch can be structured and non-structured—i.e., undertaken in a formal organization in a specific timeframe, or informal and even self-directed. Structured activities might include things like volunteering for specific organizations or events, while non-structured activities might include things like hobbies or recreational activities.  For some programs, you will also be asked to identify the top 3 most meaningful entries, similar to the AMCAS Most Meaningful Experiences required by medical schools in the US.

One of the paradoxical aspects of the OMSAS sketch is its open-endedness. It invites you to really dig into your experiences to find what’s most meaningful, and for many students this lack of strict direction can feel like a burden, especially during such a busy period.

Not only this, but each OMSAS ABS entry has a maximum 150-character limit. In fact, you are encouraged to write in point-form and be very brief in your descriptions. This can be extremely limiting, and it can be tricky to adequately express yourself in so few words.

To help you get started on your OMSAS sketch and how to make it stand out, check out the tips below.

Would you like a quick recap of the OMSAS application system?

OMSAS ABS Tip #1: Quality Over Quantity 

Just because you have 32 entries, does NOT mean that you have to fill up all 32 entries. Remember, the point of the sketch is to demonstrate the essential qualities that medical schools value, not provide a comprehensive index of every waking moment of the last 5-7 years. In your preparation for drafting your sketch, however, you should begin with quantity, and refine into quality. 

“Quality often supersedes. I was fortunate to have a plethora of experiences, some in each category, to include. However, this is obviously not mandatory. I know of candidates who only had 20 entries listed (out of max 32) who were successful in gaining admission. Hence, although it is recommended to have entries in all of the categories (to demonstrate well-roundedness), it is completely fine to not have any activities in a category and compensate that by demonstrating exemplary skills in the other categories.” – Dr. Neel Mistry, MD, University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine.


As the OUAC recommends, a good first step is to create a spreadsheet or other such organized document that you can populate with any and all activities you can think of having occurred since age 16. If possible, start keeping a log or journal of your work and extracurricular activities to keep track of your hours, contacts and details about your experiences. 

“For the sketch categories, I wrote down all of the activities I was involved in from the age of 16. I then tried to organize those activities into the appropriate categories. Then, I tried to identify the activities that were most significant (based on length of involvement, impact, relevance to medicine, etc.) and eliminated the smaller ones to fit the maximum limit.” – Dr. Neel Mistry, MD.


Be comprehensive here—this is the raw lumber you’ll use to build your final sketch. As you list these activities, organize them into their appropriate category using the list above, and provide ample details about them to access later when you begin editing your sketch entries. Once you have a list of at least 15-20 such entries, begin focusing on those activities that have been most impactful.

“What I think of as most meaningful are the things in my life that were the most formative of who I am today. What were the events/experiences that I still look back on today and that change how I react to things around me. In general, it is usually good to have meaningful experiences to draw on from each area of your life.” – Dr. Jaime Cazes, MD, former admissions officer at the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine.


For instance, you’ll surely list your entire employment history, but if your first job at 16 was a paper route and only lasted a week, you may consider skipping this in favor of something more impactful and sizable in duration. You need to be able to provide some level of detail as to why an entry is meaningful, and things like a brief job you didn’t get anything out of would be better left aside.  

OMSAS ABS Tip #2: Be Clear and Concise

Importantly, you must be clear and concise to demonstrate your excellent communication skills. Using an entry to describe your meditation practice or other hard-to-summarize activity within the limit may be challenging, but if you take your time and refine your entry, it can go a long way toward demonstrating your communication skills.  

“For the sketch, it is important to be as detailed as possible in the activity description while respecting the character limit … Simply start writing, and then refine your answer once you have the first draft … Have as many people [as possible] look over your work, and having the right people look it over is crucial …” – Dr. Neel Mistry, MD.


Again, the point is quality not quantity, even within a given entry—more words don’t necessarily help, and in fact will often bog down an entry or description without affording enough space for additional detail. This also speaks to the need to give yourself time to refine and edit your entries as well. Think of them a bit like poems—every word, every letter even, counts a great deal, and carries a lot of weight. Avoid putting yourself in a position where you need to rush through your sketch so that you can really polish each phrase to be as economical and impactful as possible. 

Consistency of formatting and language is important throughout the sketch, so be mindful of how unnatural certain conventions are—such as the year-month date format, and of using a forward slash instead of a comma for the location. Make sure to maintain uniformity: erratic punctuation may not automatically get your application chucked in the bin, but providing evidence that you have an eye for detail and organization will help you tremendously.

Check out our video on the OMSAS Application for more tips and autobiographical sketch entries

  

OMSAS ABS Tip #3: Start Early with Verifiers 

For any activity, other than formal education and scholarships, you must provide a verifier. For structured activities this can be a supervisor, a coach, etc. and for non-structured activities these can be friends, family members, neighbors, and even yourself.  

Since the range of verifiers is so vast, reach out to potential verifiers as you draft your initial, unrefined entries to make sure these people are comfortable with you listing them for a specific activity or experience. As you begin deciding which entries to refine into your final sketch, be mindful not only of what a given verifier might say, but whether they can be relied upon to respond to a contact request from a medical school. If possible, select verifiers you know will provide additional detail on an entry as well.

For instance, if you put down a store manager for an occupational entry but rarely interacted with that person directly, consider moving down the hierarchy a bit to a department or team manager with whom you spent more time. The temptation to try to include high-ranking verifiers may be strong, but what matters most is their reliability and ability to attest to your involvement in the activity. Hierarchy and status simply do not matter for verifiers.  

OMSAS ABS Tip #4: Be Honest  

Admissions committees at Ontario medical schools read so many OMSAS sketches in a given application season that any whiff of insincerity or posturing will be detected as such. Part of this is speaking truthfully and not embellishing a given entry. If a given volunteering experience was a trial or even a letdown, don’t embellish it into some kind of life-altering transformation. Not only will your verifier likely not back that up, but the stink of dishonesty or embellishment will come through to the people reading your sketch. 

“It can be easy for people to look through your application and spot the ‘CV stuffers’. And these things are activities that you don’t have a long commitment with, aren’t passionate about, or that seem like things you just do to pad your CV with.” – Dr. Jaime Cazes, MD.


One of the skills experienced admissions committee members develop is the ability to piece together an actual, working picture of the student whose sketch they’re reading. Entries that stick out from the tone and character of their surrounding entries will almost always read as ill-fitting or even hypocritical. A smart tactic when considering how to present the details of an experience is to assume a kind of omniscience in your eventual reader—assume any atom of falsehood will be sensed, and carefully refine your language to avoid embellishment. 

Similarly, don’t exaggerate your hobbies or other entries that will rely on self-verification. You may be tempted to list a marathon or two if you enjoy running, but admissions committees don’t care about your ultimate level of athleticism so much as the fact that you’re a disciplined person who’s mindful of their own health.

Check out an overview the OMSAS application system:

OMSAS Autobiographical Sketch Examples 

FAQs

1. How long can my OMSAS sketch entries be?

Every OMSAS ABS entry has a hard limit of 150 characters. Put into perspective, that's the exact number of characters in this response. Pretty small!

2. Should I tailor my sketch entries to address the CanMEDS framework?

To some extent, yes. Don’t just list CanMEDS roles in a job description, for example, but instead identify a skill you gained while performing the job’s duties that implicitly corresponds to some aspect of the framework.

3. Should I list solitary hobbies or activities in OMSAS?

If you absolutely can’t think of someone who can verify an activity, you can still put it down in “Other,” and simply list yourself as a verifier. Keep these to a minimum, but if it’s an especially meaningful activity or experience, and you can capture that meaning succinctly and engagingly, then include it.

4. How many entries am I allowed for my OMSAS Sketch?

OMSAS allows you to include up to 32 entries total, but you do not need to include the max. Focus on quality and quantity, and try to include an activity for each category.

5. What are some important details to include in Extracurricular Activities entries?

Describe the impact the extracurricular had on you or your academic performance. For instance, noting that your time coaching little league baseball helped you improve your communication skills with both children and parents. 

6. Who should I use as OMSAS verifiers?

People who are notoriously hard to get a hold of should be substituted for someone more accessible, even if they held a position of higher stature in the given activity or experience. It’s much more important to have someone reliable act as your verifier. 

7. Should I include whether or not an employment entry was part-time or full-time?

Yes! Again, committees aren’t going to hold it against you if you only worked 20 hours per week instead of 40—the point is what skills and insights a job afforded you, and whether you performed its duties well.

8. I participated in a research project that unfortunately wasn’t published. Should I still include it?

Absolutely, yes. The general format for research activities includes fields for duration—i.e., “from” and “to”—a description, location of research, title of project, type of publication, and your role. If it wasn’t ultimately published, simply don’t include that line, and use those extra characters to describe your role or the project itself.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting 


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