Balancing School with Extracurriculars?

Hey all,
I had a quick thought I wanted to throw out to you all to see what your perspective is.
I started my pre-med path in August of 2003. I am in the middle of my third semester at the moment. I have taken 7 credits each semester thus far. The first semester I took General Biology I, Generaly Biology Lab I, and General Chemistry I; the second semester I took General Biology II, General Biology Lab II, and General Chemistry II. I am currently in the process of taking Physics I, Physics Lab I, and Organic Chemistry I. While I have taken classes I have worked a full-time 40 hour/week work schedule that has an on-call rotation. Work allows FLEXtime so on the days where I had classes in the morning, I could stay late at work to complete my 8 hour day and on days where I had class in the evening, I could come to work early. Between working an 8-hour day, taking 7 credits per semester at school, commuting one hour each way to and from work, and maintaining a house (cutting the grass, picking weeds, and all the other chores associated with a house), I have had very little time for anything else. Over the past 8 months I have managed to put in 30 hours of volunteer work by spending an hour or two once every week or two at Children’s Hospital.
My thought process right now is that I only get one shot at doing well in my classes, but I can always build on my volunteer experience. Plus, I think a medical school admissions committee will look heavily on the fact that I was able to work full-time and go to class at the same time. The way I look at it is 8 hours of work + 2 hours commute + 1.5 hours of class + 7 hours of sleep + 1 hour to eat +.5 hours of getting ready in the morning leaves 4 hours on the weekdays (plus weekends) to accomplish everything else. Thus far I have maintained a 4.0 GPA in my classes. I worry though that I have not done enough of the volunteer side to make a competitive application.
What are your thoughts on completing all the prereq classes first and then adding the volunteer experience (being a TA, hospital work, research, etc.)after words to strengthen your application? If I finish my prereqs this summer and do well on the MCAT in August, is it worth applying in August or should I spend a year strengthening the volunteer portion of my application?
Thanks in advance for all your advice on this,

Hi there,
Keep your grades up. You said it yourself, you can always build on your extracurriculars after your have done well in your classes. That 4.0 GPA is going to open more doors than any extracurricular activity. Keep up the good work.

when I first applied I had 50 hours shadowing plus 100 hours clinical volunteer work. By the time I got to interviews I had 100 hours shadowing and 200 hours clinical. Most interviewers commented that this was significantly more than most applicants, though I felt it was not enough for some schools. (I also had a lot of years of non-clinical community service work, which didn’t seem to count at all)
you need enough shadowing/volunteering to be able to speak knowledgeably about what you have learned about medicine. It’s quality more than quantity.

I’m a bit confused. Are your chemistry classes with labs? I’m having trouble understanding how you can have 7 credits/semester instead of the 8? Perhaps it’s a difference in school but I’m used to seeing the science lectures as 3 credits and the lab as 1. According to this you would be missing the lab for your chemistry classes…or am I missing something?

As usual, I must agree with Dr. Belle!! I found that when people find out that a non-trad wants to be a physician, they tend to stress that you maintain good grades and, everything else will take care of itself. I only volunteer a weekend or two at the most every other month tutoring at risk teenagers and with the AIDS outreach taskforce here in Cleveland. I work and go to school full time so, I figure the time that is left goes to “me and my partner” time to keep “grounded”(and out of trouble with her!!! . When I left my pre-med program to pursue becoming a respiratory therapist, my GPA was 3.73 and, in school now, it’s still around 3.7 so, I think I’ll be in good shape come next August when it’s back to “pre-med” mode!! As I said in my re-intro to the group, I feel that this detour into respiratory therapy may prolong the journey to become a physician but, it was the best thing for me. It will allow me to have a job that will keep money in my pocket, bills paid, work, on maintaining my 403b(potential med school resources) and develop my critical thinking and practical skills to help in in the areas I hope to specialize in(Emeregency and Critical Care Medicine). Hopefully that helps a little!!!

Thanks for the replies.
In response to the question about the chemistry labs, the University I go to allows you to take the chemistry labs seperately. There is a General Chemistry Lab for science majors that is 3 credits and an Organic Chemistry Lab that is 2 credits. Because of the amount of hours you end up spending in the lab, scheduling these classes around my work schedule has been difficult so I plan on taking them last on my list of prerequisites to take.

You know what, my feeling is that it is not the number of hours you put into extracurrics / volunteer work / medical shadowing, but WHAT YOU GET OUT OF IT.
Normally I don’t “shout” (use caps) but I really feel strongly about this. And it’s a place where I do believe the non-trad perspective gives you a distinct edge. A college student volunteering in the ER (if I may stereotype) is looking for, well, emergencies. A non-trad student may observe, and remark upon, the poignancy of an 18-year-old mother bringing her baby to the ER because she doesn’t have a primary care doctor. What you observe, what you absorb, what you DO in your volunteer work is far, far more important than the number of hours spent doing it. If you can write and speak meaningfully about your experiences, then you have what it takes to make a strong application.