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Medical School Secondary Application Strategies

Welcome to PDr’s Weekly Weigh-in! Each week, we ask medical students and physicians to weigh in on some of our most frequently asked pre-med questions.

This week’s question: What was your strategy for prioritizing which secondary applications to submit first?

Evan Laveman, DGSOM MS3
I tried to get as many secondaries done before I had received them by looking up previous prompts from that school. The prewriting strategy ended up helping me a lot, since I got most of my secondaries in two large waves, and I don’t think I could have produced quality secondaries if I was trying to write them all in real time. Beyond prewriting, I triaged secondaries based off of length, difficulty, and how much I wanted to go to the school. For example, if I get a secondary that was comprised of 4 straightforward 200 word questions that I had some material for already, I would try to check that one off the list within a day. However, for secondaries like UCSD, which required me to conjure up essentially another personal statement, I would write a few series of drafts, let them get cold, rewrite them, and make sure to get them in within 2 weeks. I tried to submit them as quickly as possible without sacrificing any quality, although I did abide to the 2 week rule pretty strictly. Remember that a few days won’t make a difference in your candidacy, but a poorly written secondary will. For the schools I really wanted to go to, I would drop everything else I was doing when I got their secondary, and would devote 2-3 days to the writing process. When UCLA came across the table, I delayed whatever else I was working on by a day or two, and focused solely on writing, rewriting, and polishing that one secondary. By the end of secondary season, when I had already received a healthy amount of secondaries, I started to not fill out secondaries that were going to take too much work or were to a school that I wasn’t that excited about. When I had already hit my target number of secondaries, and had been writing short responses for a month, and Ohio State asked me to write them a short story on altruism, Ohio State was no longer on my school list. I would say the takeaway suggestion is to start writing early. Depending on how many schools you apply to, the secondaries can burn you out pretty quickly, so it’s in your best interest to spread out that work over a longer period of time.

|| Read: WWI- The Diversity Secondary Essay ||

Emily Singer, DGSOM MS3
My key to secondaries was organization. I made an Excel workbook with a master spreadsheet that included the names of all of the schools I applied to, the date I received a secondary, date I submitted the secondary, and any further information, including interview dates, and accepted/waitlist/rejected status. I gave each school it’s own spreadsheet, where I kept a list of the essay prompts. Flipping between spreadsheets, I was able to determine where the prompts overlapped. I pre-wrote essays for the schools I most wanted to go to, and as applications started rolling in in real-time, I prioritized first by where each school fell in my preference list and second by the timing (to have the shortest turnaround time). I made sure to have polished essays ready for my top choice schools BEFORE I ever received the secondary so that I could turn it back in almost immediately. I recommend reading through the ProspectiveDoctor Secondary Database and creating your own organizational system to stay on top of secondaries this application season.

|| Read: Secondary Essay Practical Advice ||

Brandon Brown, UCSF MS2
I did some pre-writing of secondary essays, but not as much as I should have. I prioritized those from my top choices and sent off the easier ones first. Reflecting back, I could have done a much better job. I was obsessed with getting the secondary applications sent out as soon as I could, but in some cases, it resulted in lower quality essays. I was shooting for a turnaround of two days at the maximum, and I don’t think there is any benefit to submitting a few days or a week earlier. I’m pretty sure one poorly written secondary cost me an interview. So learn from my mistakes. Try to get your secondaries out within two weeks, but don’t rush to the point of sacrificing quality. Develop your own systematic way of handling secondaries with some quality control.

About Emily Chiu

Emily Chiu
Emily Chiu is the Director of Logistics at ProspectiveDoctor.com. She is currently a third-year undergraduate student at UCLA. If you have any questions about her work, or are interested in contributing to ProspectiveDoctor.com, please contact her at emilychiu@prospectivedoctor.com. Follow ProspectiveDoctor on Twitter, @ProspectiveDr.