How to Fill out the ERAS Experiences Section

How to Expertly Fill out the ERAS Experiences Section

medschoolcoach

Posted in: Residency

Table of Contents

The Experiences Section is a big part of your ERAS (electronic residency application service), and some residency applicants find the sections and instructions somewhat confusing. But this section of the application is crucial for matching with your preferred program.

In 2024, the MyERAS Application service made major updates to this section, including:

  • A limit of only 10 experiences (previously no limit)
  • Space to describe the 3 “most meaningful experiences” from the list
  • Specific experience types (to help “programs easily identify and review specific experiences that align with their mission(s)”)
  • New options for mission-focused characteristics of each experience to define the setting, focus area, and key characteristic (designed to “showcase the mission-focused characteristics of the experience”)
  • Multiple short descriptions for each experience: roles, responsibilities, and context (previously, this was just one “Experiences Description” field)
  • Optional “Impactful Experiences” question (for applicants to “describe any challenges or hardships that influenced their journey to residency”)

I’m Sahil Mehta, M.D., and I’ve helped hundreds of med school students successfully make it into their ideal residency. Below, I break down the parts of this section and tips that I give students when filling out the ERAS Experiences Section (which includes considerations for the most recent changes).

Skip to the tips.

What Are the Parts of the Experiences Section?

The Experiences Section allows you to list up to 10 experiences or activities that you engaged in as a med school student or pre-med student (or, in some cases, as an undergrad) that demonstrate your strength as a candidate for medical residency.

This section breaks up each experience into multiple parts: 

  • Type (category)
  • Organization name
  • Position title
  • Start and end dates
  • Frequency
  • Location
  • Primary focus area, if applicable
  • Key characteristic developed or demonstrated, if applicable
  • Description of the experience (1,020-character limit)

The description is arguably the most important piece because your writing must be interesting, professional, concise, and persuasive. You can find my suggestions for writing these descriptions later in this article.

Out of the 10 experiences, ERAS will ask you to choose your three most meaningful experiences. Under these three, you will write an additional description (up to 300 characters in length) explaining why these experiences impacted you most of all.

Read Next: A Guide to Supplemental ERAS Applications

Experience Types

Types are categories to better define what kind of experience you’re including. Residency programs understand that experiences can fall under more than type, but you must choose the one that best describes the experience or activity (you can’t select multiple categories).

You’ll be able to select from these experience types:

  • Education/training (including clerkships, away rotations, subinternships, or structured observerships)
  • Military service
  • Professional organization (including at the local, regional, national, or international levels)
  • Other extracurricular activity, club, hobby (including things like sports, music, theater, or student government)
  • Research
  • Teaching/mentoring (including as a paid teacher, teaching assistant, or tutor)
  • Volunteer/service/advocacy (including unpaid experiences)
  • Work (including paid clinical, nonclinical, business, or entrepreneurial experiences)

Primary Focus Areas

You can also list a primary focus for each experience. You may technically leave it blank, but I’d advise against that. Two or more focuses may apply to your experience, but you must choose only one. The types and primary focus areas overlap somewhat, but are used by program directors to organize information differently.

Here are the primary focus areas you can choose from:

  • Basic science
  • Clinical/translational science
  • Community involvement/outreach
  • Customer service
  • Health care administration
  • Improving access to health care
  • Medical education
  • Music/athletics/art
  • Promoting wellness
  • Public health
  • Quality improvement
  • Social justice/advocacy
  • Technology

Key Characteristics

I would recommend listing a key characteristic learned through each experience. You can leave it blank, but I would always try to choose one. Two or more may apply, but programs understand that you’re listing the characteristic that best describes what you learned.

Below are the key characteristics you’ll have to choose from:

  • Communication
  • Critical thinking and problem-solving
  • Cultural humility and awareness
  • Empathy and compassion
  • Ethical responsibility
  • Ingenuity and innovation
  • Reliability and dependability
  • Resilience and adaptability
  • Self-Reflection and improvement
  • Teamwork and leadership

Frequency

It’s okay if your experience only occurred once, and it’s fine if you engage every week. Your residency application just wants to be clear on how often you have an “experience.”

Frequency types to choose from include:

  • One time (not recurring)
  • Daily (recurring) (more than two days a week)
  • Weekly (recurring) (one or two days a week)
  • Monthly (recurring)
  • Quarterly (recurring)
  • Annually (recurring)

Top Tips on Filling out the ERAS Experiences Section

I have helped hundreds of medical students with their residency applications. Don’t be stressed, MedSchoolCoach is here to help. Below, you can find my top tips for filling out the ERAS Experiences Section.

Get ERAS support from a Physician Advisor and join the 97% of MedSchoolCoach clients who match into US residency spots. 

1. Write the Descriptions Like This

The description is the most important part of the Experiences Section. Give yourself plenty of time to work on these. 

Try to answer the who, what, when, where, why, and how for each experience. The basic info included may answer the who, where, and when, but in the description you need to precisely describe:

  • What — List your task(s) at this experience, your achievement(s) at this experience, what you learned.
  • Why — Answer why did you engage in this experience, for what reason is it relevant to this application.
  • How — Write how this experience demonstrated or developed characteristics that the program would find valuable, reflect how you grew.

All this must fit in only 1,020 characters. Not words, characters — that includes letters, spaces, and punctuation.

2. Write Your Most Meaningful Experiences Like This

Choose 3 of the 10 experiences to be your “most meaningful.” You get an additional 300 characters to explain why each of these is such an impactful experience.

Reflect on a “most meaningful experience” and explain why it was so impactful. Answer how it influenced you to be a stronger candidate for residency. Program directors are looking for descriptions that exemplify overcoming adversity, sophisticated introspection, and clear growth as a medical professional and as a human.

If you listed a key characteristic or primary focus area under a most meaningful experience, your 300-character description should explain why you chose that key characteristic or focus area.

WATCH: Standing Out on ERAS (Webinar)

3. Be Yourself

Programs don’t want just one type of applicant. They’re looking for a diverse range of candidates. Be true to yourself, and don’t make up or exaggerate experiences you think they want to hear.

What are you passionate about? Your passions should be evident through the Experiences Section. It’s okay if you talk about your dedication to the clarinet or to soccer or to a non-medical volunteer group, just make sure that it’s clear why this makes you a great candidate for a residency program.

4. Prioritize Relevant Work

Your number one priority is persuading the residency director that you are a good fit for that program. So, of course you should prioritize including your most relevant research, volunteering, extracurricular, and work experience in this section.

Often, any clinical experience you’ve done should be at the top of your Experiences Section. But this is where you can tailor your application toward your dream residency. If they’re highly involved in social justice, prioritize including your advocacy experiences. If they’re known for research, put your research experience at the top.

Read Next: Letter of Intent for Residency

5. Don’t Repeat Yourself

If you can help it, don’t repeat what you’ve already shown on other sections of the ERAS, such as the personal statement or letters of recommendation. Use the Experiences Section to complement the rest of your application.

There may be overlap, but focus on providing additional insight into your strength as a candidate wherever possible. In particular, your 300-character “most meaningful experiences” descriptions should not repeat information from the 1,020-character description, other activities, your MSPE Noteworthy Characteristics, or your well-crafted personal statement.

Learn More: Average Number of Residency Applications

6. Don’t Leave Blanks

Don’t leave optional fields blank if you can help it. According to an AAMC survey for the 2022/23 application cycle, about 55% of residency program directors said the “most meaningful experiences” helped them get a better picture of applicants. Around 35% used the key characteristics and primary focus areas to evaluate applications.

Also, try to fill out all 10 experiences. Although the quality of your experience descriptions is more important than the quantity or number of experiences, fewer than 10 experiences may indicate that you haven’t accomplished much or engaged with your community.

It might not make a huge difference if you have only 9 experiences, but just remember that the competition is fierce. Competitive residency applications utilize all the available space to their advantage.

7. Don’t Use Special Formatting

The ERAS application does not use rich formatting, so paragraph breaks, indentations, and bullet points may not translate correctly to the ERAS. Instead, write concise sentences in a single paragraph to avoid formatting errors. 

I recommend using a basic text editor (like TextEdit on a Mac or Notepad on a PC), rather than MS Word or Google Docs, for drafting your descriptions and most meaningful descriptions.

8. Start As Early As You Can

Don’t force yourself to rush. Taking your time is best for everyone, and starting early allows you to take your time. Give yourself 4-6 weeks to brainstorm which experiences to include, how best to describe them, and which ones to make your “most meaningful.”

Remember: Start early on all ERAS sections, especially your LORs (letters of recommendation),, since LOR authors may need plenty of time and reminders.

9. Proofread a Lot

Any errors will decrease your chances of acceptance. Typos and grammatical errors put your communication skills and dedication to excellence into question. Triple-check your work. Use a free trial of Grammarly or ProWritingAid. Ask your family, friends, peers, and professors to proofread your Experience Section.

Should You Answer the Impactful Experiences Question?

One of the 2024 updates is the addition of the “Impactful Experiences” question. Here’s what AAMC has to say about it:

“Applicants can describe any challenges or hardships that influenced their journey to residency. This could include experiences related to family background, financial background, community setting, educational experiences, and/or general life experiences. This question is intended for applicants who have overcome major challenges or obstacles.”

56% of applicants responded to this question in 2023. If you are comfortable sharing the relevant personal details and have overcome obstacles on your path to becoming a doctor, then you should answer this question. 

This is an optional question, used as part of the more holistic application review that the AAMC now encourages program directors to use during the residency application process. 

Tread carefully: This question is meant to help residency programs understand significant challenges and hardships that have impacted an applicant’s journey. If you try to answer this question with an experience that did not actually present a significant challenge to you, you may come across as inauthentic or immature to those reading your answers.

To know if and how you should answer this question, consider the following:

  • Have you experienced substantial financial difficulty in the process of affording your education to this point (including undergrad and medical school)? If so, how did this impact you, and what did you do to overcome these difficulties?
  • Did you grow up in a community setting that doesn’t traditionally lend itself to success? If so, what about your community setting was challenging? The AAMC mentions food scarcity, crime, poverty, and lack of access to medical care as a few examples that may apply here.
  • Have you struggled with limited opportunities throughout your education to connect with mentors or access resources that would have helped you succeed more easily? Describe what resources you didn’t have and how you dealt with this to pursue a medical career.
  • Has anything you’ve encountered as part of your family situation made a large impact on your journey to becoming a physician? Have you lost a family member, served as a caregiver while pursuing your degree(s), or experienced a significant experience such as divorce? Are you the first in your family to graduate college? Discuss how these have shaped your pursuit of medicine.

Increase Your Chances at Matching with Your Dream Program

I know, we’re all trying to get the good news on Match Day. It takes a long time and hard work, but it’s doable. There’s no shame in asking for help. You’ve made it this far, now let’s take that next step on your journey to residency, together.

And when you get that residency interview, we offer coaching for that, too.

Join the 97% of MedSchoolCoach clients who match into US residency. Pair up with an expert Physician Advisor to strengthen your CV, craft a stand-out ERAS application, ace your interviews, and land a spot in your choice specialty.
Picture of Sahil Mehta MD

Sahil Mehta MD

Dr. Mehta is the founder of MedSchoolCoach and has guided thousands of successful medical school applicants. He is also a practicing physician in Boston where he specializes in vascular and interventional radiology.

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