2. Time: At least a year before filling out applications, students should spend a concerted amount of time on their volunteer activities, Hunter says. He suggests prospective students be mindful of balancing volunteer work with classes, jobs and other responsibilities to avoid becoming overwhelmed.
"I would say a minimum of at least 10 to 15 hours a month," he says.
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At the Einstein College of Medicine, prospective students are expected to think of their volunteer work as long-term commitments.
"We're looking for students to do at least six months somewhere," Kerrigan says.
3. Place: It's become in vogue to volunteer medical help in a developing nation, says Kerrigan. Students shouldn't assume this will give them an edge as applicants.
Overseas volunteer opportunities may only be available to students who have money to travel, Kerrigan notes, which isn't fair to those who don't have the financial resources.
"It is not necessary. People can stay in their own backyards and volunteer," she says.
Volunteering abroad can also add a small challenge for an admissions team.
"We have to figure out whether the applicant has been on a so-called tourist activity that happens to have a visit to a clinic involved, or are they sincerely and deeply involved in the needs of the people and understand what the problem is with international medical care," says James Willmore, associate dean for admissions and student affairs at the St. Louis University School of Medicine.
Volunteer work is often discussed during the interview portion of the admissions process. For students who volunteer abroad, Willmore has a special request.
"Tell me what your zip code is. And now tell me what the needs are for service where you live. And if they don't know that, that's really quite worrisome," he says. "Students need to think about what their needs are locally."
No matter where the student's volunteer activities take place or what they entail, medical school admissions experts emphasize that it should be done out of a student's need to serve others above all else.
"When students are volunteering some place, it really has to come from their heart," Kerrigan says. "It shouldn't be from gaming the system."
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