2021 Medical School Secondary Application Guide

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Congratulations! You have successfully submitted your primary medical school application. It’s a monumental undertaking, and while we wish you could just sit back with a cold drink and pat yourself on the back, your medical school secondary applications are on their way.

Your secondary applications are your chance to show the medical schools of your dreams why you want to attend their program in particular. This is the time to really sell yourself to an admissions committee, demonstrate your unique interest in their specific program, and highlight how you will specifically add value to the incoming class.

 

Primary Application vs. Secondaries

The primary application is a single application submitted through AMCAS, AACOMAS, or TMDSAS that is then sent to dozens of medical schools, whereas a secondary application is only submitted to the specific school that sent it. You will only submit one primary application, but you will (hopefully!) send out several secondaries.

While receiving a secondary used to be a promising sign that a medical school was interested in you, the process has become much less selective. Many schools now send out secondaries to all applicants without first screening their primary applications. This is largely because medical school admissions committees want to see which applicants are truly interested in attending their school and if you fail to submit a secondary in a reasonable time frame, it indicates that they are a lower priority school for you.

 

Medical School Secondary Deadlines and Timeline

Expect the AMCAS application to open during the first week of May for the following year’s medical school class. Although it opens during this time, you cannot actually submit your primary application until the end of May or early June. This means you have about a month to fully prepare your application. For example, if you plan on starting medical school in the fall of 2023, you must begin the application process in the spring of 2022. After you submit your primary application, you can expect to receive secondaries within two to four weeks.

Secondary applications should be completed as soon as possible without sacrificing quality.

Ideally, you will complete and submit your secondaries within 7-14 days of receiving them. This is not a lot of time, so it’s important to prepare for your secondaries well in advance to ensure you deliver a quality response within this short time frame.

After your secondaries are submitted, invitations for interviews will arrive between August and September and continue into the spring of the following year. Although you may receive an invitation at any point during this time, it’s imperative that you begin interview prep long before you start receiving invitations.

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

Medical School Application Timeline

 

Medical School Secondary Application Cost

Not only can attending medical school be astronomically expensive but applying to medical school comes with its fair share of extra fees as well. Many medical schools charge an additional fee for secondary applications. These fees range in cost, with the majority being around $100 per school—though, depending on the prestige of the school, fees could range from $30-$200.

Whereas your primary application fee goes to AMCAS (or AACOMAS or TMDSAS, depending on where you apply), secondary application fees are paid directly to the schools. Either way, the medical school comes out on top—they can collect additional fees, learn if you’re truly interested in attending their school, and gain a greater understanding of you as an applicant by asking more targeted questions.

 

Medical School Secondary Questions

Unlike the primary application, each medical school has a unique secondary application that asks a few targeted questions. Although the exact questions and number of questions will be different depending on the school, admissions committees are generally looking for responses to these themes:

  • “Why this school?”
  • “Why are you the perfect fit for this school in particular?”
  • “What makes you unique?”

The questions won’t look exactly like that, but it’s important to address these themes in your responses. Some secondaries consist of several short essay questions, while others ask for a longer essay. In general, expect to answer between two to eight essay questions, the length of which will vary greatly.

Example Medical School Secondary Prompts:

  • Why have you chosen to apply to our program, and how will we help make you the physician you aspire to be?
  • The mission statement of our medical school is “X.” Please state why you are a great fit for our community.
  • Indicate any special experiences, unusual factors, or other information you feel would be helpful in evaluating you, i.e., education, employment, extracurricular activities, or prevailing over adversity.
  • Please describe a moral or ethical dilemma that was particularly memorable and what you learned from this experience.
  • If you took time off after undergrad, what have you achieved in this time?

For more of these types of questions, we’ve 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 in the United States, including essay prompts, fees, CASPer requirement, whether they screen applications, and much more.

 

Medical School Secondary Strategies

1 | Submit Your Secondaries Within 1-2 Weeks

It is imperative that you submit your secondaries as soon as possible (within 7-14 days) without hindering the quality of your responses. Undeniably, this is not a long time to deliver a thoughtful, convincing response. That said, your chances of acceptance decrease the longer you wait to submit due to rolling submissions.

Starting early is one of the most important things you can do to safeguard your acceptance to medical school.

Learn more in our article How Late Can You Submit Your Primary Application? (Without Consequence).

2 | Draft Secondaries in Advance

It’s important to keep in mind that if you apply to 20 or 30 schools, most of them will verify your application and send you secondaries around the same time. You’ll also likely receive additional secondaries over the course of the following weeks.

If you thought 7-14 days was a short time frame before, it’s an especially short one the more secondaries you receive, and the more they pile up, the more difficult it will become to submit quality responses within the two-week window.

This is why we suggest writing your secondaries in advance. While the questions will vary slightly from school to school, most schools use the same or very similar questions from the preceding year. Although this isn’t always the case, it’s still good to draft answers to the questions you anticipate you will receive. This is especially important to do for the schools you’re most interested in attending.

Prewriting your secondaries will better enable you to stick to the 7-14 day timeline without hampering the quality of your essays.

Visit our free Secondary Essay Prompts Database to get a better sense of what questions you may be asked.

3 | Don’t Accidentally Send a Different School’s Name

While this may seem like an obvious tip, it happens more often than you might think.

As stated just above, medical schools often ask the same common types of questions. Some will be specific to the school, whereas others will be more generic. In these cases, you may recycle your responses between schools to save time.

While expedient, copy and paste can be your enemy here—especially if you’re submitting a lot of secondaries. Always, always, always make sure you proofread your secondary applications carefully. As you can imagine, sending a different school’s name doesn’t leave a good impression with admissions committees.

Always triple-check your secondaries before you submit, and consider asking a trusted friend or family member to read them over as well.

4 | Take Time Crafting the “Why Us” Question

This is a very common question on secondary applications. It’s also deceptively generic, which sometimes leads applicants to provide equally generic, ineffectual responses.

Do not regurgitate the school’s mission statement and values in your essay, and don’t simply say you’re excited to live in the city where they’re located. These responses don’t effectively illustrate to an admissions committee why you find their school unique and why you would make an excellent fit. The first step is researching the school. What differentiates them from the other programs you’ve researched? What are their values? What type of medicine do they specialize in? Do they offer extracurriculars that you’ve been intimately involved in?

Then, relate how your own experiences make you an excellent fit. How would you contribute to the school? How would you uniquely benefit from the specific program? Why do their extracurricular offerings speak to you specifically? Are there physicians you’re excited to learn from and work with in the program? How do your past experiences exemplify the school’s values?

5 | Anyone Can Add Diversity to a Medical School Class

It’s a common misconception that just because you don’t come from a specific ethnocultural or socioeconomic background, you can’t add diversity to a medical school class. Diversity comes in many forms. What unique qualities, interests, skills, experiences, goals, or values do you possess? Are you an expert violinist who has learned dedication and discipline through years of musical study? Have you honed your leadership skills after years of serving as the captain of a sports team or the president of the student council?

Focus on your personal story and the qualities, skills, and experiences that make you unique. Building a strong narrative is a crucial aspect of a successful application. If you are an immigrant or your parents are, how has that experience shaped you?

No matter how you approach this question, describe how the experience made you feel, what you learned, the qualities you developed as a result, and how you will apply the lessons learned to your medical education and future career.

6 | Make a Plan and Prioritize Your Secondaries

Prioritize responding to the schools that ask the most questions in their secondary application. Starting with the most intensive secondary means you will have more material to recycle, and it will give you a better idea of how long the process will take you.

Don’t just wing it or complete the secondaries in the order that you receive them. Prioritize the schools you’re most interested in attending and, once again, draft secondaries in advance to give yourself the best chance of responding within the two-week time frame.

7 | Put Heavy Emphasis Into Proofreading

This really cannot be overstated: proofread your work. In addition to rooting out typos and grammar mistakes, with so many interchanging school names, the risk of sending the wrong name is very real.

We recommend using editing apps like Grammarly and Hemingway Editor to catch the more obvious errors, but it’s important not to rely on bots alone. While impressive, these apps lack the nuance and understanding of regular human beings, and can easily miss some pretty glaring mistakes and spelling errors.

Spelling and grammar mistakes are an automatic red flag to admissions committees. They demonstrate carelessness—a deeply unattractive quality in an aspiring physician. Read over your work carefully and repeatedly, and ask others you trust to do the same.

Don’t risk your acceptance by trying to take all this on yourself. Essay editing services can provide the objective help that friends, family, and mentors simply can’t.

 

Medical School Secondaries FAQ

When Will I Receive Secondaries?

You can expect your secondary applications to arrive within two to four weeks after submitting your primary application. Aim to have them completed and submitted within one to two weeks (7-14 days.)

Will I Receive a Secondary From Every School I Apply to?

You will very likely receive a secondary application from almost all of the schools you apply to. Very few medical schools don’t send one, largely because most schools can collect a fee from secondary applications and because they help admissions committees know which applicants are truly interested in their school.

This does, unfortunately, mean you will complete several secondaries for schools that won’t necessarily give you an interview. This is all part of the (admittedly frustrating) process. Promptly completing your secondaries provides you with the best chance of eventual acceptance.

When Are Secondaries Due?

Technically, secondary applications are not due until much later in the year, but the sooner you complete them, the better your chances of acceptance. We recommend you submit your secondaries within one to two weeks (7-14 days) of receiving them.

This will move the process along and give you more time to focus on your interview prep.

Med School Insiders offers a course on How to Ace the Medical School Interview that provides thorough and thoughtful training to prepare you for the interview process.

Do I Need to Complete Optional Questions?

Technically no, as the questions are optional. If you truly do not have a good answer, it’s better to leave the question blank. That said, take care to dig deep and consider the questions thoughtfully. Every optional question and essay is another chance to highlight your unique strengths, past experiences, values, and dreams for the future. If the question can further establish your cohesive personal narrative, take the time to answer it thoroughly.

 

Secondary Application Editing With Med School Insiders

Secondary applications are time-consuming, stressful, and exhausting. After all of the work you put in setting up and refining your primary application, it’s very common for applicants to experience a significant dip in energy when it comes time to complete secondaries. It’s important that you don’t give up at this crucial time.

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

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