Extracurricular/Summer Activities

Your choice in extracurricular activities should be guided by your interests and by the impact you’d like to have. There is no need to strategize about what the "best" activities are. What matters is that you’ve let your interests develop organically and pursued them.

Sustained engagement and demonstrated leadership in one or two things is more meaningful than simple membership in many groups. Health professional schools are interested in activities that reflect your engagement in activities that demand judgment, efficiency, organization, and teamwork. You don't have to find all the right activities in your first year, but depth of involvement in an activity often leads to leadership opportunities and growth in these skills.

Finally, community involvement outside of Columbia is also something to consider. Although there is plenty to keep you busy on campus, community work can provide you with the opportunity to interact with people really different from yourself, an interpersonal skill that is crucial for healthcare providers. 

Paid employment should also be viewed as an extracurricular activity.  Admissions committees recognize that many students must work in order to contribute to their college expenses and support their families. Although it would be a great learning experience to work in a medically related environment (doctor's office, hospital, or lab), this is not always possible. However, many non-medical jobs will help you develop competencies that are important for a future career in healthcare such as responsibility, integrity, judgment, good humor, teamwork, and the ability to interact well with others.

The point is to do whatever you are doing well and look for opportunities where you will grow and develop as an individual!

The Importance of Clinical Experience, Research, and Service

There are three areas of an extracurricular activity that are important for prehealth students: clinical exposure, research, and service.

Clinical Exposure

Although there are many activities required for a strong candidacy for health professional school, educating yourself about, and exposing yourself to, clinical medicine is the most important one. Before applying to medical (or any other health professional) school, you must get experience in a clinical environment, that is, you must expose yourself to doctors and other  healthcare providers and patients at the site of healthcare delivery. There is very little in your prehealth coursework which actually prepares you for the difficult task of taking care of sick people. Clinical exposure will also help you to demonstrate your commitment to, and knowledge of, the field of medicine, including both the rewards and challenges of this career

There are a number of ways in which applicants can acquire clinical exposure. Probably the most convenient because of proximity is volunteering at Mount Sinai Morningside Hospital. It is adjacent to campus and it's a teaching hospital, and thus the staff are accustomed to training prospective physicians at every stage of their education. It is, however, also possible to volunteer in a number of other healthcare delivery settings throughout the city and/or near your home in the summers. Clinical experience is often pursued on a volunteer basis but it doesn’t have to be. There are paid positions in healthcare settings such as working as a medical assistant, a scribe, a certified nursing assistant (CNA), or as an EMT. The issue isn’t whether it’s volunteer or paid, it’s the exposure you get to patient care that matters.

Please refer to our Opportunities list to search for opportunities for clinical exposure.


Physicians are expected to embrace life-long learning, continually educating themselves as the body of medical knowledge grows and changes. Physicians should also be interested in and knowledgeable about how research is conducted. They should be curious about and able to assess new scientific knowledge. Thus medical schools like to see that applicants have exposed themselves to some methodology for producing new knowledge and are adept at reading and assessing new biomedical information. 

Medical schools define “research” broadly and thus it is not just limited to wet lab or “bench” experience. Students should feel free to explore the type of research that genuinely interests them. A senior thesis in anthropology or a summer doing clinical research or public health research would fulfill this expectation just as well as lab research would. 

The exception here is the student who wishes to pursue a career as a physician scientist and plans to apply for a combined MD/PhD degree. Prospective MD/PhD candidates should  get extensive experience in basic science research. 

Research opportunities are plentiful on campus and across the city and country.  Please refer to our growing Opportunities list to search for the many research opportunities.


Medicine is a service profession and medical schools like to see candidates who have given some of their time to help others in need. While some might see hospital volunteering as service to your community, prehealth students need this experience to further their own careers so it’s not seen as purely altruistic. There is so much need in the city and beyond–whether it’s free tutoring or crisis text line volunteering, a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter, you should look for areas where you can be of service.

Summer Opportunities

Before choosing a summer program students should identify a sense of what they want to learn, what they want to explore, and what new skills they want to develop. 

Some prehealth students choose to focus on clinical exposure, research, studying abroad, or even something completely unique and different that explores their other interests while developing translatable skills for the health professions.

The following is a sample of some of the well-known summer programs. This is by no means a comprehensive or specifically endorsed list. It is highly encouraged to refer to our Opportunities list, subscribe to the Prehealth Listserv, and periodically research summer opportunities on your own time. The AAMC maintains a search engine for summer programs that is an excellent research tool: AAMC Summer Opportunities. The availability of these programs is always changing, and new opportunities are often being launched.

  • Columbia University, Biological Sciences - Amgen Scholars Program: In this 10-week program, students work full-time on independent research projects under the guidance of a research scientist. Weekly, students gather to hear a scientist describe their research, hear about a peer's, or present their own research to the other Amgen Scholars. Amgen Scholars are required to write research and present their findings after the program.

  • Columbia University, Biological Sciences - Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF): During the 10 weeks of the SURF program, the students work full-time (about 40 hours/week) on independent study projects under the guidance of a research scientist. Students are given an orientation on laboratory safety and selected topics on biological research. All students are required to present their research.

  • NYU/Bellevue, Project Healthcare: Project Healthcare is a mentored program where students are engaged in the field of healthcare and emergency medicine, allowing volunteers to rotate through various clinical areas of Bellevue’s emergency department, social work offices, operating rooms, and the cardiac catheterization lab.

  • Summer Health Professions Education Program: In SHPEP, students explore their interests in medicine, dentistry, nursing, optometry, pharmacy, physical therapy, public health, and more. The program takes place at partner institutions and offers a chance to develop competencies for becoming successful applicants to health professional programs, plan academic journeys, get clinical exposure, and network.

Prehealth-Related Student Organizations

This list is just a sampling of some student organizations. There are many student organizations out there, some new and emerging, so it is impossible to list them all! It is great to get involved with your peers who share the same passions that you have. Be sure you subscribe to the Prehealth Listserv which sends out student organization opportunities. You can also consult this list of student organizations: https://undergrad.admissions.columbia.edu/life/here/clubs/listings


Their mission is to diversify the neurosciences by building a community that celebrates and empowers Black scholars and professionals in neuroscience-related fields.


The Charles Drew Premedical Society was established in order to increase the number of minority students applying and entering into health professional schools. Although all students are welcome, Charles Drew serves as a support group and a resource for all underrepresented premedical students in the Columbia community.


Columbia Synapse is a New York City organization that scales its social impact by managing a diverse portfolio of events for the communities of individuals with brain injury and other invisible disabilities. 


AMSA is a student-run organization open to all undergraduate Columbia students. CU AMSA seeks to promote activism on the prehealth level through increased understanding of our healthcare system. This student club is a great community of students who share an interest in attending medical school. They plan programs and different lectures that are of interest to its members.


CU-EMS is a Division of Health Services at Columbia and the Department of Public Safety. It is a student operated, New York State certified, Basic Life Support (BLS) volunteer ambulance corps. CU EMS provides pre-hospital emergency medical care, free of charge, to Columbia University's Morningside Heights Campus and the surrounding area 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. The corps has approximately 65 active members and responds to over 700 emergency calls per year.


A student organization dedicated to supporting, uplifting, and ​promoting ​underrepresented minorities (URM) and first-generation low-income (FGLI) students ​ in STEM research at Columbia University.


CUSJ is a professional-level, open-access science journal run by undergraduates at Columbia University. Their goal is to help young scientists develop a solid background in the complex process of science journalism. 


USNDA is a student-led organization whose primary mission is to advance minority students within the field of dentistry. The new USNDA chapter at Columbia supports all predental students by providing events, networking, volunteer/shadowing opportunities, and information sessions.


CUWIMS is committed to empowering and supporting women as they navigate and explore the field of medicine by providing educational events, mentorship, and camaraderie. Their mission is to encourage women in the premedical field, as well as advocate for women’s health issues.


L2S is a community-centered organization aimed at demystifying mental illness and improving access to affordable care for the youth. At Columbia University and the New York chapter, they spearhead mental health advocacy and awareness by writing and distributing heartfelt letters to individuals in designated colleges, prisons, and hospitals struggling with mental health.


The purpose of Parkinson’s Pals is to alleviate the isolationism and depression felt among those affected by Parkinson’s disease in the community. Parkinson’s Pals wants those with Parkinson’s to feel more supported by virtually connecting them with college students, providing patients with extra care and giving students the opportunity to learn more about the disease. The intergenerational connection between those with Parkinson’s and students will help foster a collaborative, supportive, and caring community.


SACNAS+ at CU is an inclusive organization dedicated to fostering the success of undergraduates, post-baccs, graduate students, & staff from underrepresented, first-generation, low-income backgrounds, in attaining advanced degrees, careers, and positions of leadership in science/STEM. This is currently a provisional chapter.

Students for Health Education, Access, and Literacy (S-HEAL)

S-HEAL works with high schools that lack health education and in which the majority of the students live at or below the poverty line. These students experience a disproportionate number of serious health risks ranging from teenage pregnancy to obesity.

S-HEAL recruits, selects, and trains college student volunteers to teach high school students a comprehensive health curriculum consisting of nine standardized health workshops on topics ranging from decision-making and sexual health to substance abuse and nutrition. 


SBI is an undergraduate student organization at Columbia University, focused on the field of systems biology. ​At the intersection of medicine, biological research, engineering, and computer science, systems biology is a rapidly growing field that provides science with the ability to manipulate life processes more effectively than ever.




Preprofessional Advising


403 Alfred Lerner Hall
2920 Broadway
New York, NY 10027

Call: 212-854-6378

Advising by Appointment

Mon - Fri, 9am - 5pm 

Prehealth Virtual Drop-In Advising Hours

Mon - Thu, 12pm - 1pm 

Drop in Hours Zoom link*

*Drop in Hours are only for CC/SEAS undergraduate students