The Autobiographical Sketch: An Overview and How to Be Proactive in High School

For aspiring medical students, whether anxiously preparing for the first round of admissions or planning years in advance, there is always a quest to find that one thing that separates you from the rest; that should be on the verge of acceptance, this one quality will grant you the go-ahead. Although the unknown asset has been investigated by generations of students, the growing competition has only enhanced the demand for its discovery. As a result, many would be astonished to learn that in recent years, admissions executives have repeatedly affirmed that the “magic” property under question ceases to exist. If this is true, you may ask, how can one ever know what a strong applicant looks like? 

Beyond the standard requirements of exceptional grades, top-percentile MCAT and CASPer scores, the completion of various science, English, and humanities prerequisites, a significant factor of the North American med school application is extracurricular involvement. In a large pool of beyond-qualified applicants, differences in grades have become incremental. Thus, admissions boards have increasingly resorted to examining students’ engagements beyond the classroom as a way to find not only the brightest but the most-devoted individuals. The Ontario Medical School Application Service (OMSAS) is a tool used by prospective students every year in their applications to major Canadian medical faculties in the province. The Autobiographical Sketch (ABS) is a specialized curriculum vitae that details a candidate’s experiences relevant to their application from the age of sixteen. Through brief descriptions in the areas of formal education, employment experience, volunteer activities, awards and accomplishments, and research, an admissions committee can gain a strong sense of the values and key traits of an applicant. Although the ABS is currently only instituted by a handful of Ontario med schools, variations of this method of evaluating co-curricular involvement have been implemented across Canada and the US, and all aspects of the autobiographical sketch are universally recognized in admissions. With this in mind, here are some ways that high school students considering medicine can prepare for drafting their ABS:

  1. Continue pursuing a wide range of interests
  • Considering that you want to pursue a highly-rigorous line of work, you likely immerse yourself in extensive co-curricular activities. Although it may be difficult to maintain a variety of commitments, especially into the latter years of your secondary education, consider remaining involved, even if that means attending less frequently in weeks of heavy course-load. Comparatively, if you choose to hone in on a particular few skills, and have some way to communicate your dedication, this is also viewed positively.
  1. Although your co-curricular activities need not concern medicine directly, show your passion for science in whatever you undertake
  • In recent admissions rounds, institutions have duly noted that a medical student does not have one appearance and that the community of physicians is just as diverse as the field of medicine. In light of this, it is imperative that students pursue whatever subjects are of interest to them, from political science to engineering. The wide range of clubs and societies in most school communities certainly supports this notion, so don’t hesitate to join whatever fascinates you! That being said, throughout your journey, consider how your passions can be conveyed as a potential medical student.
  1. Establish good relationships with your coaches, teachers, and superiors at large
  • A critical aspect of the ABS and academic resumes at large is the applicant’s ability to affirm their commitment to the extracurriculars they list. Above all, try your best to form meaningful relationships with administrators of your activities. Even beyond medicine, you can never be certain that those references will not be of use to you later in life.
  1. Get hands-on experience, whatever that may entail
  • As mentioned earlier, admissions officers don’t necessarily consider the overachieving biology major with research publications in high school over everyone else, because in most cases, this kind of achievement is the result of individual opportunity and resources early on. However, they do value a student’s assertiveness to gain practical knowledge. Whether this means engaging in summer jobs or internships, there are countless outlets for high-school students to begin engaging in the professional environment. 

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