As a medical school applicant, you have done your due diligence to submit the best AMCAS application possible. You have worked hard to garner the perfect MCAT score, did your homework to select the best medical schools that tick all the boxes, gathered letters of recommendation, penned down a compelling medical school personal statement, and labored on all the primary applications. However, your job isn’t finished. Suddenly, upon receipt and verification of the AMCAS application, med schools are inundating you with school-specific secondary applications, or secondaries, that require you to write additional essays?
If you have applied to more than one medical school, submitting multiple secondary essays can be grueling to say the least. If you are confused about what a medical school secondary application is and how to go about it, let us help you navigate this supplementary phase of your med school applications.
A supplemental application is an institution-specific application, consisting of specific pathway selection and questions that help medical schools assess whether a candidate will be a good fit for a particular school’s vision and goals. Some secondary applications only incorporate handful of yes/no questions while others ask for multiple full-length essays, but regardless of the length and format of these applications, your responses to these questions help medical schools get a more holistic feel for you as an applicant.
Different medical schools look for candidates who showcase a specific set of skills and attributes, beyond academic achievement, that they believe are the hallmark of a medical professional. These traits could include strong teamwork and social skills, critical thinking and reasoning, strong communication skills, ability to learn from mistakes, compassion and empathy, sense of responsibility, service orientation, resilience and adaptability, etc. Not to mention, some schools may also want to know why you are interested in pursuing admissions in a particular program or how your goals and experiences align with their mission and vision. In short, schools want to know what gives you an edge over other applicants and why they should consider you.
Instead of thinking about the secondary application as a separate entity, consider it a continuation of the story you started narrating in your primary application. You need to remember that different parts of your application need to complement each other, and should be seen as one cohesive document.
When you are sitting down to write your secondary application, it is prudent to review your primary application to see what you have already covered, what needs elaboration, or if are there any missing pieces to the puzzle. You can either choose to elaborate on topics that you may have mentioned in passing in your AMCAS application or write on entirely new subjects as long as they are supporting and complementing your primary application narrative. Overall, your goal should be to link past experiences, accomplishments, and adversities with your future goals.
Instead of waiting to receive the prompts from the schools you applied to before starting on your secondaries— utilize the time between filling out your AMCAS application and receiving secondary essay prompts! Most schools have some common essay questions that they send out year-after-year. Look up the previous years’ prompts for each school you have applied to, and start brainstorming responses and doing preliminary research. Perhaps you can utilize this time to look deep within yourself and discover spectacular qualities, talents, and interests you would want to share with the admissions committee. If you have too many secondaries and too little time, starting early can get you an added advantage.
While it seems much easier to copy and paste your responses from one application to the next, the best approach is to tailor your responses to each school. Even if they ask the exact same essay questions.
Take your time to diligently research the program you are interested in and find out its merits and demerits, and how they align to your objectives. For instance, if you need to answer a question such as “why is this program the best fit for me? do not be tempted to write generic answers. Digging deep would uncover some research, clinical, or community aspect of the program that somehow aligns with your personal goals.
When answering another common medical school essay prompt, “Why do you want to attend X school?” you may want to peruse through the school’s website or connect with some medical students or alumni from the school. This is the best way to come up with plausible reasons why you want to attend. The key is to make sure your answers stem from personal experiences and reasons that have motivated you to pursue a career in medicine. The more genuine and personal you can make your responses the more you will stand out as an applicant who is serious about going down this path.