Medical School Secondary — How to Describe Yourself


The medical school secondary “describe yourself” prompt is common across secondary applications, no matter which program you’re receiving the secondary from. While it’s quite a big question that can feel both vague and overwhelming, it’s important to remember that this is a chance for you to demonstrate to admissions committees who you are beyond your accomplishments and academic achievements.

This question is an opportunity to highlight the aspects of your personality and parts of your life you could not showcase within your primary application. In this post, we’ll break down why this question is asked, what admissions committees are looking for, and how to best answer it.


Medical School Secondaries

Around the first week of May, the AMCAS application opens for the following year’s medical school class. You have a month to prepare your primary application, as submissions open around the end of May to early June. So, if you want to start medical school in the fall of 2023, you need to apply in the spring of 2022.

After you submit your primary application, your secondary applications will take about two to four weeks to arrive. Secondaries should be completed as soon as possible—within 7-14 days—without compromising quality.

Medical School Application Timeline

For more information about ideal scheduling, read our Medical School Application Timeline Guide.

Admittedly, 7 to 14 days is not a lot of time to complete your secondaries, especially considering you will likely receive quite a few of them. At Med School Insiders, we recommend applicants apply to around 20 different medical schools, including a range of reach, target, and safety schools.

While receiving a secondary used to indicate that a program was specifically interested in you, nowadays, the majority of medical schools send out secondaries to nearly all of their applicants.

There are two primary reasons for this. First, programs can better gauge your interest in them. If you send back an excellent secondary within days of receiving it and go above and beyond to demonstrate your interest in attending the school, admissions committees are going to sit up and take notice. If you’re slow to submit and don’t show much enthusiasm, the program won’t waste its time with you.

The second reason is that medical schools collect fees from every secondary that’s submitted. While these fees range in price, from $30 to $200, most schools charge around $100.

Since sending out secondaries to the majority of applicants is a win-win for medical schools, you can expect to receive quite a few secondaries, and all within the same general time frame. That means you will have many secondary applications to complete in a very short amount of time.

We strongly recommend you prepare in advance and begin crafting your answers to the kinds of questions that most commonly appear on secondary applications.

One common secondary prompt is “describe yourself.” This can be worded in a variety of ways, including “tell us about yourself,” and so on, but the gist is the same.


Why is This Question/Prompt Asked?

It’s a tricky question because it sounds so broad. Where do you begin? How much do they want to know? It’s important to keep in mind when sitting down to respond to this question that adcoms already have your primary application, which includes your GPA, MCAT score, personal statement, coursework, and extracurriculars, so you can rest assured they do not want you to repeat your credentials. They’ve got them.

What’s the first thing you want a school to know about you? How do you want them to perceive you? While your primary application does a good job of listing all of your scholastic accomplishments, adcoms want to get to know the person behind the grades and achievements. What drives you?

The school wants to see what you will choose to focus on. How do you describe yourself, and what do you prioritize? How you choose to speak about yourself and what you choose to highlight will speak volumes about your values, and adcoms want to ensure they are only accepting applicants who they feel will be a positive addition to the student body.

It’s in the school’s best interest to get to know you better so that in the end, they can determine whether or not you will make a good fit. Adcoms aren’t just looking for students who have the highest grades and scores—they want to recruit students who have the best chance of success at their specific school. Understanding how your values and goals align with those of the school’s will help ensure your success at that institution.

Even though this question feels vague, it’s important to consider it as an opportunity. Just like your personal statement, this is a chance to take control of your narrative. Who are you? Or more importantly, who do you want admissions committees to know you are?

Learn How to Develop a Cohesive Narrative for Medical School Applications.


Medical School Secondary: How to Describe Yourself

Yes, the describe yourself / ‘tell me about yourself’ question is definitely vague, but the fact that the question is so open-ended is actually a good thing; it allows you to take charge of your own narrative and make the adcoms impression of you what you want it to be.

Essentially though, this question is seeking to uncover details about your personality, the kinds of things you didn’t have the space to cover in your primary application.

Make sure you aren’t just doubling down on points or stories you’ve already covered. The medical schools requesting secondaries already have your primary application to reference. If you want to speak about something you already mentioned in your primary application, make sure you are adding more details and new context. It should not feel like you are repeating yourself.

Take this question as an opportunity to help admissions committees get to know more.

Are you close with your family? How have they shaped you? What’s your favorite hobby? What makes you unique? Do you have a sense of humor? Are you on the more quiet and reserved side, or are you proud of your bubbly, extroverted personality? Are you a good listener? Are you good at making friends? Do you have an interesting anecdote from your past that demonstrates your skills?

Choose a few compelling facts about yourself and your upbringing that you feel comfortable expanding upon. Who raised you? Where did you grow up? What do your parents/guardians do? It’s important that whatever you choose to include, you feel comfortable speaking about. Anything you include in your secondaries is fair game to be asked about during your interviews. If you don’t think you can speak about a past event in person, it’s probably best to leave it out of your secondary essay.

Speak about your upbringing, highlight a significant event from your past and how it impacted you, discuss an important hobby, and speak about the experiences that crystallized your desire to pursue medicine.

Whatever you choose to speak about, keep in mind that you are defining the admission committee’s perception of you. How do you want to be perceived?

Lastly, ensure any context you are adding to your secondary applications compliments your primary. It’s all adding up to one complete narrative. What’s the story you are trying to tell? How do your answers to each of your secondary questions complement one another while also following the narrative you developed throughout your primary application?


Other Common Secondary Questions

The ‘Describe yourself’ or ‘tell me about yourself’ question is only one of the common medical school secondary prompts you can expect to see in one form or another. Knowing which questions you are likely to be asked on secondaries will help you prepare your answers in advance.

Some of the most common interview questions include:

  • What makes you the right fit for our school?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Why do you want to be a doctor?
  • Why this program? / Why us?
  • Describe a moral or ethical dilemma you faced and what you learned from the experience.
  • Describe a time when you failed. What did you learn?
  • Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
  • If you took time off after undergrad, what have you achieved in this time?

There’s no reason to wait until you begin receiving secondaires to begin preparing your responses to these questions. Remember, you should submit your secondaries within 7-14 days of receiving them, so start writing them well before you actually receive your secondary applications. Once you do receive a secondary, tailor your answers to suit the specific school.

Learn more about the complete secondary process and how to plan ahead in our Medical School Secondary Application Guide.


Secondary Application Editing With Med School Insiders

Secondary applications come fast, and their turnaround time can cause even the most qualified med school applicant’s head to spin. And what’s worse, they arrive at a time when many applicants are burned out by the process and need a break. After all, you’ve just spent all that time designing and refining your primary application!

We get it. We’ve been there. And we’re telling you that now is not the time to give up; now is the time to knuckle down and drive this thing home.

Med School Insiders can help. Our Medical School Secondary Application Editing services will help you write the kind of singular secondary applications that will get you noticed by your top choice medical schools. Our doctor advisors have served on medical school admissions committees and have read hundreds of secondary essays, so we know what it takes to stand out. We’ll help you craft a stellar secondary application for each school so that you can take that big step forward in your journey to becoming a doctor.


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