There is no rest for the medical school applicant! A few weeks after you submit your AMCAS application, med schools will start mailing secondary applications, composed primarily of a short list of essay questions. Here's how to tackle them.
Who receives Secondary Applications?
Most schools indiscriminately send secondary applications, meaning that every living, breathing candidate who submitted a primary application will likely get a secondary one, regardless of their chances for admission. There are, however, a few student-friendly schools that will review GPA and MCAT scores to be sure you meet their minimum admissions standards before they send a secondary application. In many cases, schools betray what type of student they are looking for in the type of secondary question they ask. If you have strong answers for their questions, it is possible you have the characteristics they are most looking for in an applicant.
Writing the Secondary Essay
Check out our top strategies for writing your secondary essays and relieve some med school application stress.
1. Answer the Question Being Asked
Unlike primary applications, secondary applications ask specific questions about your goals, experiences, and your personal views on a range of topics, including your decision to go to medical school. Your secondaries will be read to see how they complement what you have said in your primary application. At the most basic level, your secondary application is another test to see whether you can adequately understand directions (this time, the school’s specific directions), and focus yourself to answer the question that was asked.
2. Focus on New Material
If you are willing to put in a little effort, secondaries are a great time to elaborate on elements that received less attention in your primary application. For example, if you write in your personal statement about a primary care experience, you may want to point out some research experience in your secondary applications. A discussion of how research broadened or deepened your interest would show that you are an even broader applicant than your initial application suggested.
3. Every Word Counts
If you are given enough room on certain questions, you may want to follow the thesis, body, and conclusion structure that you would use for a longer essay. Don’t, however, try to squeeze in extra words by using a font more than a point smaller than your AMCAS application. That approach always appears forced, and you come across as a rule bender—not an ideal image to portray to med schools.
4. Know What To Expect
Secondary questions run the gamut from personal to political to pointless. If you want to see what a school’s secondary application entails ahead of time, many premed advisors keep a file with the previous year’s secondary applications. To give you an idea of what to expect, here are a few questions from recent applications.
- "What do you consider to be the role of the physician in the community?" (Emory University)
- "What personal accomplishment are you most proud of and why? " (University of California, Irvine)
- "What has been your most humbling experience and how will that experience affect your interactions with your peers and patients? " (Duke University)
- "Tell us about a difficult or challenging situation you have encountered and how you dealt with it ." (University of Chicago)
- "Where do you see your future medical career (academic medicine, research, public health, primary care, business/law, etc.) and why? " (New York University)
5. Make a Game Plan
As you begin to receive secondary applications, you will have a few potential approaches.
Focus your energy first on the schools that you would most like to attend.
Hold off sending secondaries to the more competitive schools until you’ve sent out a few to the less competitive ones. For many students, their last secondaries will be better written than their first.
Reply first to schools whose secondaries ask questions to which you can easily give solid answers. This allows you to work your way up to the more difficult applications.
Practice writing secondary statements even before you get your first ones, so that you can send out well-written, personalized responses to your top choices first.
Only you can know which approach will work best for you! Check out more tips about writing the personal statement for medical school.
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