9 Steps to Writing a Stellar Medical School Secondary Application


  Much of the focus of the medical school applicant prior to submitting the primary application is on the personal statement. This is for good reason, as the personal statement is an important component of the initial application which cannot be taken lightly. Equally important though is the secondary application. It is absolutely crucial not to overlook this part of the application process. Secondary essays must be handled with great attention and care. A systematic approach to secondary writing will facilitate this process. The key points outlined here provide a great framework of strategies to use and pitfalls to avoid when crafting a secondary application.  


First of all, what is the secondary application? As its name suggests, it is the second component that is sent to an applicant after they submit the primary application. They are also referred to by some programs as the “supplemental application.” Each school has a unique secondary, which contrasts the common primary which was sent to several schools through AMCAS, AACOMAS, or TMDSAS. The secondary is a chance for each school to get more information from the applicant through a series of short essay questions. Questions will be unique to each program, though there is a fair amount of overlap among them. There is a spectrum of what secondaries actually look like. Some consist of several short answer questions, while a few request a longer essay. The average secondary consists of 2-3 short essays about the applicant’s experiences and interest in that particular school. For those who submit their primary in June, secondary invitations will arrive in late June and early July, continuing throughout the summer thereafter. For more details on the background and approach, see our prior content on secondary applications   

Tips for Crafting an Outstanding Secondary


1 | Get Organized

Secondary applications can be overwhelming in that they arrive in quick succession. Each school will send a different secondary with unique essay questions. This means you will be faced with several, possibly dozens of applications within a 1-2 month period. This necessitates organization in your approach. I recommend creating a spreadsheet listing each program with the following components: name of school, date of secondary receipt, submission deadline, number of essay questions, school ranking, relative ranking of importance to you. See this example based on secondaries from last application cycle: Sample Excel Sheet for Secondary Organization This system will allow you to keep track of each school and organize your approach.  

2 | Prioritize Certain Schools

You will have to decide on which secondaries to do in which order, as you will likely get several at a time. Using the spreadsheet you created, you will have the information needed to make the decision. Here are some points to consider in choosing your possible approach:
  • Consider applying to your top choice or best fit schools first. This will allow you to get ahead of the curve of rolling admissions, maximizing your position to get an interview.
  • Consider applying to the most competitive schools first, for the same reason as above.
  • Consider submitting some secondaries for the lower ranked/lower preference schools prior to submitting higher ranked/higher preference ones. This will afford you some practice, possibly making your later secondary essays more effective. This point has merit, but can quickly be mitigated by the rapid-turnaround Med School Insiders secondary application editing that we offer. Our advisors are real doctors that have served on medical school admissions committees, so they know what it takes to stand out.
  • I would recommend some combination of the above approaches. Just as it is useful to create a spread of competitiveness in your chosen schools, you can initially have a spread of schools which you respond to so that you give yourself some safety options but also prioritize preference. Once you have done this and honed your essay writing a bit, focus on the competitive or high-priority programs.
  Infographic 4 Strategies for Submitting Secondaries    

3 | Tailor Your Response to Each Medical School 

It is important in secondary applications to be specific. You have the opportunity to research the program and be informed about its strengths/weaknesses and how those pertain to your goals. Background research and preparation is key for these essays. Take the time to look at the program website. See if you can identify a research, clinical, or community outreach aspect of the program that fits with your personal goals. It will be important in at least some essay responses to specifically answer the question “Why is this program the right fit for me?” At the same time, be honest – it will show if you embellish or stretch the truth. Along the lines of preparation and research, you can look up the previous essay prompts for schools you have applied to. This gives you more time to research, brainstorm and prepare and essay response. This may be particularly useful for your high-priority programs. The free Med School Insiders Secondary Database is updated daily with secondary prompts as soon as they are released. It also contains previous year prompts and high yield writing tips on how to appropriately answer each prompt.  

4 | Outline Prior to Writing

It is always a good idea to create an outline prior to writing an essay, but it is particularly helpful here. Because secondaries contain multiple (sometimes several) essay questions each, it is important to plan and outline an answer to each question in an individual application before writing. This will prevent you from repeating ideas or themes on questions which may overlap.  

5 | Content is King

Do not prioritize speed over quality of content. You must have well-written essays with well-crafted answers. Make sure you answer the specific question being asked, as the prompts will often be less open-ended than the personal statement. Remember to strive to answer the following overarching questions in your responses: “What makes me unique? Why am I the right fit for this program? Why am I interested in this institution in particular?” Weaving these themes into your answers will strengthen your application specifically for that institution and ensure high-quality content.  

6 | DO NOT Repeat Your Primary Application

This is a crucial piece of advice and a common pitfall for applicants. The admissions committee already has all the information in your primary. This is your opportunity to show them something new. Focus on different strengths and experiences which will demonstrate why you are a great candidate. By repeating things, you will lose the chance to sell yourself further while actually hurting the strength of your application. If you do touch on an experience that has been described before, be sure to elaborate or shine a different light on the subject.  

7 | Be Careful Copying and Pasting

With so many essay prompts coming in, you will invariably have some overlap of similar questions between schools. It is acceptable to carry over common answers to multiple applications, but be very careful when doing so. If copying and pasting a response, make sure you closely review it and ensure that it adequately answers the question. Furthermore, be sure there is no language or specific component referring to another school, which would be a clear red flag on your application. Tailor the response to the specific program if possible.  

8 | Take the Appropriate Amount of Time

One of my all-time favorite quotes is from legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden: “Be quick but don’t hurry.”   Quote from Legendary Basketball Coach John Wooden   This could not be more applicable here. It is certainly important to be timely with your responses to prevent falling behind in the rolling admissions process, but you also do not want to compromise quality. It is reasonable to take a few days to complete secondaries, particularly the more important ones. I would recommend you try to respond within one week. You can work on multiple applications concurrently to stay fresh, coming back to essays in the next day or so to review. The key is to ensure high quality. Don’t hurry. Timeliness is only helpful if the application is effective.  

9 | Get Feedback

This last piece of advice connects closely with the prior point. Most applicants know that it is crucial to have their personal statement reviewed by others. It may be harder to do so for secondaries due to sheer volume, and therefore soliciting feedback may be overlooked. While the time constraints and volume of essays is undeniable, I urge you to still seek feedback on secondary essays as often as you can. Particularly for your high-priority programs, your essays should certainly be reviewed by someone with experience in the medical school application process. A great option is the Med School Insiders Secondary Application Editing Service. Our team of doctors will provide in-depth, professional, high-yield advice to help perfect your secondary applications. Our editors can assist with any part of the secondary process, from brainstorming ideas all the way to fine-tuning the details of the essay.  We provide edits and feedback with quick turn-around time to make sure you are on time and on target with all your secondaries. Follow these 9 tips and you will be well on your way to a stellar secondary application!

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