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As pre-health students we hear professors, guidance counselors, Youtubers--pretty much anyone in academics telling us we need to “stand out”. Why? Because  graduate programs in the health fields have gotten quite competitive. The accepted GPA range continues to rise and the extracurricular expectations seem to increase each year. This may be due to a higher number of students applying, but it’s also because of higher expectations set by schools for their incoming classes. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t change that fact that for us, as students looking to go into health care, the challenge of getting there seems more daunting than ever. And we’re all wondering how we can increase our chances of acceptance into graduate school. 

“Be unique…stand out…tell a story.” These are the types of answers we hear when we ask mentors or professionals in health care what we can do to be competitive applicants. But how exactly can we do this? If you’re like I was, you start frantically Googling “Ways to stand out for graduate school” and planning how you’re going to change yourself to match the appropriate level of “uniqueness.” Then eventually, you’ll find that none of these interesting or cool things you try to do to look a certain way on an application stick for the long run because it’s not authentic. This is not what admissions offices want. – disingenuous notions about yourself that you try to adopt in a last-minute attempt to rise above the crowd. They will see what you are truly passionate about during the interview, so it’s best if you present your true, but also, best self.  

But what if you feel you’re not naturally unique in your extracurricular activities? What if you think your application doesn’t shine? Should you just accept that and move on? Of course not! Although it’s true you shouldn’t try to hastily jump into a new hobby just to appear different, taking time to discover something you really love will help give you that unique factor admissions offices are looking for. Finding a niche that you really enjoy, whether related to the health science area or not, is how you can set yourself apart. Take the time to think about what you truly enjoy doing outside of school--what you might still do even if you didn’t have to.   

So, don’t hastily jump to find something different to put on an application. Instead, actively search your own interests to find a passion that’s both authentically and uniquely you. To give you a little head start, here are some interesting extracurricular and hobby ideas for you to consider. 

A certificate in sign language: Take a few courses to learn the basics and intricacies of signing. This could give you a great competitive edge but also allow you to create meaningful relationships with people with whom you might otherwise not be able to communicate.  

Become a personal trainer at the Pete: If you enjoy working out, there are job positions open to be a personal trainer for other Pitt students. This is a great opportunity to teach others and a chance to get away from the classroom.  

Learn a coding language: As technology is integrated more and more into the health fields, this will become an even more valuable skill. You could even build your own website.  

Photography: This is an interesting skill for someone looking to spend more time away from a desk. You could turn this into an opportunity to start a social medial account to share your best photographs and learn from others.  

Learn another language: This is a very desirable skill in the health fields. It could open up more opportunities to work as a translator and advocate for people who might not be able to advocate for themselves.  

Work as a personal care aide: SHRS offers a lot of positions like this through advising announcements. This is a great way to get clinical care hours in a much more personal and fulfilling way.  

The way you choose to set yourself apart will show a lot about you in an application, so taking the time to really think about enhancing your true self is worth it.  With all this in mind, go out and really search for the uniqueness that encompasses who you truly are.  


Mara Hartoyo

Written by: Mara Hartoyo, Pre-medical student  

Current SHRS student, Class of 2023, Rehabilitation Sciences