Students speaking with a doctor while shadowing.
Atlantis students speaking with a doctor while shadowing (Genoa, Italy, 2019).

Focus on Classes During Your Semesters

A key pillar of medical school admissions is your stats, i.e., your GPA and MCAT. Atlantis  accomplishes so much during breaks that it frees you up to focus more on academics during the year.

Overview: Your Time Is Limited, So Invest It Wisely

Doing everything is hard, but doing Atlantis programs accomplishes so much during breaks that it can free up valuable time during the school year. Pre-health students like yourself often report being overwhelmed. Meanwhile, parents, pre-health advisors, and med/PA school admissions representatives all tell you: “You need to remove distractions, get your priorities straight, do fewer things, and remember you can’t succeed without stats (GPA and MCAT), keeping in mind you also need to be confident in and committed to your path.”

Everybody knows extracurriculars during the school year take a lot of time. And time taken out of studying usually means lower grades. And lower grades are the number one barrier between many pre-med students and their medical career dreams. The consensus among pre-health advisors and other experts is clear: on average, pre-health students “bite more than they can chew,” and would benefit from shifting some (or a lot) of their energy away from other things and into studying. This would improve their GPA now, and also better prepare them for their MCAT later. The challenge then becomes: how can pre-health students make their reduced set of extracurricular activities more worthwhile, since they’re still needed?

It is true that grades aren’t the only thing that matters. Ultimately, med/PA schools are primarily concerned about three things: healthcare exposure, stats (GPA/MCAT), and certain AAMC competencies. Atlantis gives its students the first (exposure) and helps with the third (competencies), but the density and quality of that Atlantis experience is then what allows pre-med students to have the confidence to do what they need to do anyway: cut back on other things.

The Atlantis shadowing experience is concentrated, taking advantage of breaks, but, more importantly, it is comprehensive (offering unparalleled exposure in terms of depth, breadth, quantity, and intercultural perspective), enough so that it frees you to cut out other extracurriculars keeping the 1-2 that you’re passionate about and that you can do during your semesters without draining you. And the most ideal form of extracurriculars for your semesters probably still are clinically related. You might say “what about research, or unique non-clinical experiences that make you stand out?” For most pre-med students, and for most MD/DO/PA programs, those are only worth it to the extent the more basic parts of their applicant profile are being built (healthcare exposure, stats, AAMC competencies). Our alumni have often taken this approach of “getting the basics right first” and that may be related to the success many of our alumni have had in being admitted to great MD programs (including 40 of the top 50) and beyond.

Better, Concentrated Healthcare Exposure Lets Pre-Meds Focus on Grades, While Still Increasing Relevant Experience for Interviews

A chart demonstrating how Atlantis students have more time to focus on grades.

There is very little in your premedical coursework which actually prepares you for the difficult task of taking care of sick people.

Columbia University Pre-med Advising(Not an endorsement)

Each interview is different, but it’s common to be asked, “Why do you want to be a doctor?” To answer, you may want to tell a story about an experience or series of experiences that have led to your decision.

AAMC(Not an endorsement)

What Matters In Med/PA Interviews?

Typical extracurriculars appear to often be uninteresting to interviewers (based on the fact that they tend to ask very little about them during interviews), which doesn’t mean they aren’t worth doing, but they should never be done at the expense of grades. On the other hand, Atlantis alumni often say all of their interviews asked them about their intense shadowing experience, mostly because it clearly has greater depth, breadth, quantity, and intercultural perspective when compared with most pre-health clinical experience.

Watch Video: One Alumna’s Take On The Relationship Between Atlantis And GPA/MCAT

A monument in the city of Lisbon.

Energy Efficiency Matters

As a busy pre-med student, you want to conserve energy and get the most value for your time.

Remember, you can always add more extracurriculars later, even after college, but improving grades is harder. Improving grades can also be particularly expensive if it is done through additional coursework or graduate school.

Also, with Atlantis, you’ll be able to spend more time and energy on improving your study skills – crucial in medical school – and have the space to fall more in love with your classes.


Should You Also Shadow During the Semester in the U.S.?

You should still try to shadow in the U.S. (ideally during the summer) so that you also have that perspective on healthcare. It also increases the value of your Atlantis experience, since you will be able to tell your interviewers to Med/PA school what Atlantis alumni say all the time in their interviews: I saw the U.S. system like all your other applicants, but, in addition, I also saw more healthcare and a more relevant part of healthcare in my experience in Europe, since I had greater depth, breadth, quantity, and intercultural perspective, as part of my clinical experience.

You will also be able to compare healthcare systems, a topic which our alumni report interviewers to often spend a lot of time and interest on. This is no surprise: you’ll hear about the topic of healthcare costs every day in any U.S. academic medical setting, and the topic of the European health system is naturally intriguing: much of Europe has about five more years of life expectancy than the U.S., at one-third of the cost. There are plenty of other “pros” of that system, and plenty of “cons” too, and this is often a topic during interviews.


A student examining a book in a library.
An Atlantis student examining a book in a library (Toledo, Spain, 2016).

Take the Quiz

We’ve built the “Shadowing and Extracurricular Readiness Score” calculator to allow you to look at several expert statements and track to what extent your current extracurriculars follow best practices. We believe this exercise to be very useful regardless of whether you end up considering Atlantis.

Watch Video: 20+ Alumni Now In Med School Explain:
Atlantis Is a Major Reason I Got In Here

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