You are guaranteed to be asked the medical school secondary “Why Us?” question, regardless of the program you’re receiving the secondary from. As far as secondary questions go, you may think this is one of the more basic ones to answer. After all, you know why you’re applying to the specific medical school. However, adcoms aren’t looking for a surface-level answer—they want details. Just how serious are you about their program?
This question is an opportunity to prove to adcoms that you know their program inside and out and are ecstatic about the prospect of joining it. You’re excited not only because you know it has a lot to offer you but because you know you have so much to offer the program.
In this post, we’ll break down why this prompt is asked, what admissions committees are looking for, and how to best answer it.
Medical School Secondaries
At or around the start of May, the AMCAS application opens for the following year’s medical school class. You cannot submit your application yet; submissions only open around the end of May to early June. This means you have a month to prepare your primary application. If you’re planning on beginning medical school in the fall of 2023, you need to apply in the spring of 2022.
Once you submit your primary application, you can expect your secondaries to arrive in two to four weeks. It is imperative that you complete your secondaries as soon as possible without sacrificing the quality of your answers**. Each secondary you receive should be submitted within 7-14 days of receiving it.**
Before you say it, yes—that is a quick turnaround. And it gets worse than that. Depending on how many programs you applied to (we recommend applicants apply to around 20 different medical schools), you could receive well over a dozen different secondaries, all within the same general time frame.
For more information about ideal scheduling, read our Medical School Application Timeline Guide.
That’s because, unfortunately, a secondary doesn’t necessarily indicate a program is specifically interested in you. Most medical schools send out secondary applications to nearly every one of their applicants. Secondaries are a win-win for medical schools. Adcoms can use them to better determine an applicant’s interest in their program, and schools charge applicants a fee to submit their secondaries. While these fees can range from $30-$200, the majority of schools charge around $100.
If you are a strong or even halfway decent applicant, you can expect to receive several secondaries. It is vital that you craft answers to the questions that commonly appear on secondary applications in advance so that you’re not overwhelmed when your secondaries arrive.
Why Do Schools Include a “Why Us?” Question?
Schools include a “Why us?” question to gauge an applicant’s true interest in their program. Adcoms only want to accept the most enthusiastic and dedicated applicants—applicants who will make an active and effective contribution to the program and enrich their student body.
If you respond to this question by saying you really dig the campus or want to live in the city where the program is located or regurgitate the school’s mission statement, adcoms will shrug and move on to the next applicant. Surface-level answers demonstrate to adcoms that you only have a passing interest.
Don’t be fooled by this seemingly generic question. Adcoms are looking for details. They want to know specifically why their program is the only one for you and, more importantly, why you are an excellent fit.
How to Answer the Medical School Secondary “Why Us?” Question
1 | Do Your Research (Beyond the School’s Website)
Your first step is deeply researching the school and all it has to offer. What values does the program hold? Do they specialize in a specific kind of medicine? Based on the other schools you’ve researched, what differentiates this program? Do they offer extracurriculars you’ve been actively involved in before?
Go deeper than the surface. You can begin on the school’s website, but don’t stop there—especially when it comes to schools you’re truly excited about. Do further research online, reach out to current students, and check online message boards. If you can, visit the campus yourself and take a look around. Will you be surrounded by like-minded peers who share your values and interests? Leave no stone unturned!
2 | Don’t Repeat Mission Statements
Don’t regurgitate the school’s mission statement and values in your essay, and do not simply state you hold the exact same values—explain how you exemplify them. When in your past have you demonstrated those values?
Saying you’re excited to live in the city where they’re located is bland and overdone. These responses don’t effectively illustrate to an admissions committee why you find their school unique and why you would make an excellent fit.
Admissions committees know their mission statement, and they will recognize it regurgitated back to them. Apply their mission statement and values to the past events of your life. When have you lived those values? Has your commitment to those values cost you relationships? Have your values caused you to stand up and volunteer while those around you looked the other way?
Just like with your personal statement, pick a moment from your life that exemplifies your best qualities and the values the program holds dear.
3 | Be Specific
Due to the deceptively generic nature of the question, applicants can often turn in equally generic and bland answers. This is not what adcoms are looking for.
Explain how your own past experiences make you a great fit. When have you lived the program’s values? Why will you uniquely benefit from the program? How specifically can you contribute to the school? Have you been an active participant in some of the extracurriculars they offer? Are there physicians teaching at the school you’re excited to learn from and work with?
Details and specificity will enable you to craft an answer that will stand out amongst the sea of other similar applicants.
4 | Continue Your Application Narrative
Building a cohesive narrative about who you are and why you want to be a doctor is essential to a successful primary application, and the same is true of secondaries.
Your secondaries are an opportunity to expand on the narrative you established in your primary application. Do not repeat yourself. Adcoms already have your primary application, so repeating the same story won’t give them any additional insight into your personality. Secondary applications are a chance to add something new—to shed light on another area of your life that you couldn’t cover in your primary.
If you are going to touch on an experience, moment, or lesson you’ve mentioned previously, make sure you are adding to it. It is vital that you provide a considerable amount of additional context if you choose to use the same examples in your secondaries.
It’s also important that your response to the “Why Us?” question fits well with the rest of your secondary application. Each piece of the application must provide additional context and add to your story about who you are and why you want to be a doctor.
Other Common Secondary Questions
The “Why us? question is only one of the common medical school secondary prompts you can expect to see in one form or another. Gaining an understanding of which questions will appear on secondaries will help you prepare your answers well in advance.
Some of the most common secondary questions include:
- Describe yourself…
- Why are you an excellent fit for our school?
- How will you contribute to our community?
- What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses?
- Why do you want to be a doctor?
- How will you bring diversity to our campus?
- Describe a moral or ethical dilemma you faced and what you learned.
- Describe a time when you failed. What did you learn?
- If you took time off after your undergrad, what did you use that time to achieve?
- Where do you see yourself in ten years? In fifteen years?
Don’t wait until you start to receive secondaries to begin preparing your answers to these questions. Remember, it’s important to submit your secondaries within 1 to 2 weeks of receiving them. Considering you could receive up to and including 20 different secondaries at around the same time, depending on how many schools you applied to, it’s important not to procrastinate.
Start writing your responses to common secondary questions long before you begin to receive your secondaries.
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
The expected turnaround time on secondary applications is a lot to handle, especially when you consider secondaries arrive just after applicants submit their primary applications.
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 team doctor advisors have served on medical school admissions committees, and they will help you craft stellar secondary applications tailored to each school you apply to.