Applying to Medical School

Secondary Application Practical Advice

The medical school secondary application is a crucial part in the admissions process but often times it is overlooked. Here are some rules you can follow to ensure you write the best secondary application possible.

1. Have set answers for the most common questions

The most common (and usually the most important) secondary application essay prompts are:

-What makes you distinct/unique? How will you add to the diversity of our school?

-Describe a personal challenge and how you over came it.

-Why do you want to attend X school?

Take a significant amount of time to answer these two questions before you even actually start getting secondaries from schools; it is incredibly important to answer these questions well. Once you have answers that you are pleased with, you can recycle them for multiple schools. If you are having a difficult time answering the first question, ask yourself, “How can I make a meaningful social, educational and scientific contribution to this medical school community (faculty and fellow medical students)?”

 2. Research each school

Another common question is, “Why do you want to attend X school?” When answering this question, try to connect it back to your answer to the “what makes you unique” question. You are basically trying to show that you and the school are compatible. You may simply be thinking, “Because I just want to get into at least one medical school!” or “Because you’re a medical school in Chicago!” Nevertheless, you must figure out specific reasons why you and that school would be a great fit. Meticulously peruse through the school’s website. Ask current medical students or alumni from the school. Call the school. Do you have any connection to the school outside of its website? If not, try to make one. There are many ways to develop reasons why you want to attend. Be sure you can answer this question well because most likely you will be asked this question during your interview as well.

3. Answer the questions on separate document

The first thing you should do when you get a secondary application is copy and paste all the essay prompts and questions onto a separate text-editing program. Avoid writing directly on the application site or portal. Mac users should work on TextEdit and PC users should work on Notepad. You can use Microsoft Word but be careful of any special formatting. You want to copy and paste text only; you do not want your application to be unreadable because of an avoidable formatting error.

Answering the questions on a separate document allows you to make multiple edits without having to worry about Internet connection or bugs on the application portal. You can also share these documents with others who can revise your essays.

4. Work on multiple applications at the same time

The obvious and conventional approach to the secondary application is to complete AND submit each school’s secondary one at a time. I don’t think this is the best approach. Yes, you should work on one school’s secondary at a time, but I do not think you should submit the application as soon as you are done. Save it and let it sit there while you work on other schools’ applications. Maybe a day or two later, return to the finished secondary and reread/edit it. Working on other essays in between completion and actually submission might give you new or better ideas. Taking time off between edits also allows you to see errors you may not have seen before.

5. Do not rush

Completing your secondary application as soon as possible is stress relieving but it is not necessarily the best thing for your admissions outlook. Avoid the temptation of quickly finishing your secondary just for the sake of being complete. In general, give yourself at least 3 or 4 days to finish a secondary. It is great if you can produce a high quality application sooner (especially because you will have so many to fill out), but don’t compromise quality for the sake of speed. If you are completing a secondary for a school you really want to attend, rewrite and edit multiple times. Ask trusted friends and advisors to read over your essays. If you really want to attend a specific school, I would not submit its application first.

6. Do not go too slow

Many schools give a deadline for submitting the secondary application. Do not procrastinate all the way to the deadline. Give yourself ample time to write quality essays but at the same time, you must be wise. If you focus one whole week on just one secondary, you will fall behind on completely the others.  Prioritize your time and know the time when another edit will not do you any good.

7. Be specific

Admissions committees are reading hundreds to thousands of essays. Therefore avoid writing a “safe” essay that they have seen before. Safe essays are general and unoriginal. You must tailor your responses to incorporate your specific experiences (if possible), beliefs, or qualities while still properly answering the question.

 8. Proofread heavily

Do not let silly writing mistakes hurt your candidacy. If you are recycling answers, do not forget to change the schools’ names. You do not want to write NYU School of Medicine for Columbia’s secondary.



Edward Chang

Edward Chang is the Co-founder and Director of Operations of He graduated from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and is currently a urology resident at the University of Washington. He also attended UCLA as an undergraduate, graduating with a major in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology. If you are interested in contributing to, please contact him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @EdwardChangMD and Prospective Doctor @ProspectiveDr.

Related Articles

Back to top button