What is the “Secondary Application” for Medical Schools?

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The medical school application process may seem a never-ending process.  Once you’ve completed the primary application, sent your MCAT scores, acquired letters of recommendation, and paid an already high number of application fees, you’ll be surprised to know that you’re probably still not finished.  The secondary application essay(s) is an additional round in the medical school application process.  Here is some advice on how to manage these essays at a time when writing another personal statement may seem an impossible task:

Be prepared to pay a few more additional fees:  Each secondary application essay will cost you anywhere from $25-$100.  Be prepared for this expense and budget it into your application costs.

On placement in RadiologyDon’t get too excited: You may think that receiving a request for a secondary application essay means you’re in the running for admission to medical school.  These requests are sent in June, but they do not necessarily signal your imminent acceptance.  These secondary application essays are another way to distinguish your application from your competition.

Answer the essay questions:  After so much writing, you may be tempted to recycle your essays, particularly if they seem “close” to what your medical school secondary application essay is asking for.  Recycle parts of your essays if it seems appropriate, but it is vital that you directly answer the questions asked in the secondary application.  Medical schools want to make sure that you are a right fit for their incoming class; secondary application essays aim to identify if you will or will not “fit” into the school culture and add diversity to its first-year class.  Be too generic, and you risk not showing a medical admissions committee specifically WHY its medical school is the ideal one for you.

Don’t drag your feet: Requests for secondary application essays are sent over the summer and generally without deadline.  That does not mean that you should put off submitting your essays.  Though you may feel burnt out from your medical school essay writing, building up your endurance through the writing process is critical. The endurance you need to finish your secondary application essays will be but a small drop compared to the amount you’ll need to shore up to finally reach the end of the fourth year of medical school. 

Be prepared to write your secondary application essays, but don’t over-prepare: Medical schools change their secondary application essays every year.  However, there are consistent themes that you can expect to write on.  These include:

  • Why medicine and your future in medicine
  • How you add diversity to the medical school community
  • Special circumstances and unique situations
  • Post-graduate experience or any leave of absences
  • How you are a “fit” for a particular medical school
  • Difficult challenges or experiences
  • Leadership activities
  • Non-academic activities

Because there is no one definitive list of secondary application essays, you should probably not try to “predict” what a medical school will ask you to write about in your secondary application essays.  It’s best to wait for the requests to roll in and attack them individually rather than make an attempt at being proactive.  This is the one case where your urge to overachieve and plan ahead can actually prove non-beneficial.

The secondary application essays are just as important as your primary essays.  Just as you did with your primary medical school application, you’ll want to put your best effort forward.  You’ll never know what essay will be your key to admission to medical school! — Post by Madelaine Kingsbury.

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