Applying to medical school is a completely different experience from applying to undergraduate schools. A huge difference between the two is secondary applications. Medical school secondaries are sent out after your primary application has been submitted and verified by AMCAS.
Secondaries give you the opportunity to speak more about yourself, share your unique experiences, and explain why you want to attend that particular school. Ultimately, this is where you convince the admissions committee that you’re their ideal candidate.
Secondaries are an incredibly important aspect of applying to medical school, which is why you need to begin preparing for and writing secondaries in advance. Learn how to get organized early and how to begin writing your secondaries before you receive them.
For more information, read our Medical School Secondary Application Guide, which covers timelines, costs, common questions, and secondary strategies.
What Are Medical School Secondaries?
Most medical schools have secondaries—but the dates they’re sent out, when they’re due, and what questions they include are completely dependent on the medical school. Some medical schools will send out secondaries to every applicant who has successfully submitted a primary application to their school. Other schools will only send secondaries to applicants who have “made it to the next round,” so to speak. This typically means selecting students based on MCAT and GPA cutoffs.
The questions on secondaries may differ between schools, but many of them have common prompts, the most popular being: “Why this particular school?” and “How will you add to our student population/make it more diverse?” Other common themes include overcoming adversity, dealing with failure, expanding upon a meaningful experience, your career goals, and who the most influential person in your life is.
Secondaries typically arrive two to four weeks after a medical school receives your primary application. Once schools receive your verified primary application, secondaries are fair game.
How to Start Secondaries Early
Timing is everything for secondaries.
Unlike the primary application, secondaries are not held or verified and then sent out all at once. When a school sends you a request to fill out their secondary application, you can submit it almost immediately.
In addition, many schools don’t set deadlines for their secondaries, or if they do, they’re very late. So, how should you approach this confusing timing?
Taking a break can be good—after all, applying to medical school is a marathon, not a sprint. But you don’t want to wait too long because medical school interview invitations are given on a rolling basis. If you submit your primary application soon after applications open, you’ll (hopefully) start receiving secondaries throughout July and August.
The sooner you submit your secondary application, the more likely you will receive an interview for that particular school. We recommend you submit your secondaries within 1-2 weeks of receiving them.
This may seem like an incredibly short turnaround window—because it is. If you’re like the average applicant, you’ve applied to around 20 schools. Many of those will send out secondaries. How are you supposed to get all of those done so quickly?!
1 | Get Organized
Just like you made a list of the medical schools you wanted to apply to, likely ranked in order of which ones you wanted to attend most, you should create a list for secondaries. Determine which secondaries you want to submit first based on which schools you most want to attend and which programs are generally more competitive.
You should also prioritize responding to the schools that ask the most questions in their secondary application. Answering a large variety of questions will give you more material to recycle in other secondaries.
2 | Answer Common Questions In Advance
Schools repeat a lot of the same questions, so you can begin writing your answers to these early. Once you actually receive your secondaries, you can then edit and adjust your answers to match the school’s specific secondary questions.
One very common question is: “How will you add to our community?” This prompt is often difficult for people to answer. If the prompt uses the word “diversity,” students may feel like they need to find some way they qualify as a minority and explain the hardships and unique perspective they will bring to campus. **But you don’t need to be a minority to bring a unique perspective!
Don’t feel like you need to write about where you came from. Just reflect on what experiences have become a defining part of who you are and show how you would bring a unique perspective and commitment to the student body.
For example, I’m a white female from a pretty decent socioeconomic background. I guess I could write about the hardships of being a female, but that hasn’t defined who I am. I haven’t organized feminist rallies or started student organizations to promote women in medicine. I could write about the fact that I’m a lesbian, which has definitely come with hardships, but again—it’s not a defining feature of who I am or what my career goals are.
Instead, what makes me unique is my taking a year off in the middle of college to work for humanitarian aid organizations and travel the world. THAT experience defined my career goals and lit a fire in my heart, driving me to want to become a doctor.
3 | Research Each School in Advance
Secondaries usually include several essay questions, but a very common question that almost all schools include is: “Why this particular school?” To answer this question, you’ll need to use specifics about that school’s program. You’ll need to show the admissions committee why their school is perfect for you and why you are perfect for the school.
This requires significant research on your part. You can use the school’s website as your primary resource, but if you can, try to dig a bit deeper. Figure out what specifically sets this school apart from the rest.
Does it have more opportunities for the kind of research you’re interested in? Does it have a unique global health program that perfectly aligns with your career goals? Read their mission statement and see if it describes you. Show, don’t tell the committee that you will help make their school a brighter and better place. Make it seem like they need you in this upcoming class.
4 | Look at Previous Years’ Prompts
You do NOT need to wait until you receive the secondary prompts to begin writing! In fact, you really shouldn’t. If you wait until you get the requests to complete secondary essays, you’ll likely be strapped for time and won’t be able to submit them quickly.
Along with drafting answers to common secondary essay prompts, you should try to look for secondary prompts from previous years. Schools rarely change secondary questions from one year to the next, so you’ll have a decent idea of what questions to expect. This way, you can draft your answers as you prepare your primary as well as while awaiting secondaries to come through.
We created a free Secondary Essay Prompts Database that is continuously updated. It includes the most recent information about the secondary requirements for a wide range of specific medical schools.
5 | Avoid Common Writing and Editing Mistakes
Some schools may read secondaries even more closely than they read primaries. For that reason, writing stand out secondaries is incredibly important.**
Referencing your primary is great to promote cohesion in your application and show how everything fits together. But don’t waste secondary space telling a story you’ve already told before. Use these extra prompts as opportunities to show different sides of yourself and really convince the admissions committee why they should select you.
Since you’re likely going to be filling out many secondaries, and since many of them may overlap, it will be tempting to copy and paste portions of your answers. BE CAREFUL. If you accidentally copy and paste a reference to a particular school (for example, I love the research of Professor X), and that ends up in your essay for a different school, that’s a careless mistake that will severely hurt your application.
Secondary Application Editing
If you want additional guidance on writing secondaries, check out Med School Insider’s Secondary Application Editing Service. We have expert doctors on our team dedicated to helping you succeed. They’ll help you brainstorm, craft, and edit your secondaries to perfection so that you can maximize your chance of getting into your top schools.