Applying to Medical School

Medical School Secondary Applications Guide

If you are unfamiliar with medical school secondary applications and you would like to know the basic guidelines of completing them, take advantage of this comprehensive question and answer.

Q: What is a secondary or supplementary application? 

After your designated medical schools receive your primary application, each school will send you a secondary application. That means if you applied to 20 schools, you will be filling out 20 separate secondary applications. Most schools automatically send you an application, but some schools screen applicants pre-secondary. The questions on the secondary applications vary tremendously from school to school. The purpose of the secondary application is to extract more information from the applicant offering you another great opportunity to stand out.

Q: I received a lot of secondary applications. Does that mean all these schools are interested in me? 

Not necessarily. Most schools will send you a secondary application as long as you submitted a primary application to their school. Very few schools do a pre-secondary screen.

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Q: How important is the secondary? Is it as important as the primary?

Every piece of your application is important and the secondary is no exception. With that being said, it is difficult to determine whether the secondary or primary is more important. An admissions officer may not be impressed by your personal statement but decide to give you an interview because he or she really liked your secondary essay responses. On the flip side, your secondary responses could be bland but you might get an interview based off your accomplishments and personal statement. The secondary is often also known as a supplementary application. It is supposed to complement or add onto your primary.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that every school sees the same primary application while you submit separate secondaries to each individual school. That means, technically, it is not as bad if you mess up on a secondary application.

Q: A secondary essay prompt is asking for information that is already covered on my primary. Can I repeat information?

Nevertheless, do not do this if the school specifically instructs you not too. Also, do not copy and paste anything. If you didn’t have enough space on your primary to write everything you wanted, use this secondary application opportunity to supplement what you had previously written.

Q: How quickly should I turn in my secondary?

Generally it is best to turn in the secondary at least within two weeks after you received it. If the school gives you a submission deadline, try to submit at least two or three days before that deadline. You can imagine that it is extremely difficult and time-consuming to fill out each secondary application. Balance your time and figure out your priorities. Even though you would like to put forth your best effort for each application, focus more on the schools you would really like to go to. Submitting the secondaries sooner is good, but you do not want to rush this process. Do not sacrifice quality for the sake of turning in your application quickly.

Q: Can I recycle some of my essays? 

Yes but be careful. Make sure to adhere to each school’s specific guidelines. Also, ask yourself, “Is my answer properly answering this prompt?” Two schools might be asking similar questions but they may be worded differently. This might require two versions of the same answer. For example:

1. What makes you unique? How will you contribute to our school’s medical community?


2. Are there any special experiences, unique factors, or other information that would help the admissions committee in evaluating you?

Q: Do I need to fill out the optional section if there is one? 

The answer to this is unclear. Technically you do not need to. Applicants receive interviews without filling it out. Nonetheless, the optional section is a good opportunity to write a unique essay that might help the admissions committee get to know you better. Here are some potential topics:

1. Write about an important activity you recently started.

2. If the application does not have a “why X school section”, write why you want to attend the school.

Q: What do I do if a school’s secondary application does not have any essay prompts?

Simply fill out what is necessary and submit.

Q: Is there a place where I can see a school’s essay prompts before they actually send me one? has a secondary essay prompt database where you can find secondaries from each school.’s school specific discussions also always posts the secondary essay prompts on its forum. You can look at all the previous years’ prompts but they won’t necessarily be the same for when you apply. If you are later in the application cycle, you can see the most recent secondary prompts as they become available.

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Renee Marinelli MD

Renee graduated magna cum laude from California State University San Marcos with a bachelor’s degree in Biology. While attending school, she worked for a neurosurgeon where she led clinical trials. Renee attended the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine where she served on the admissions committee and interviewed many applicants. In medical school, Renee met her future husband, a military scholarship student. After medical school, both Renee and her husband attended family medicine residency in Hawaii where she also served on the residency admissions committee. She has mentored and assisted many students in the medical school admissions process and brings a wealth of experience serving on both medical school and residency admission committees. She is excited to continue to provide guidance to students while spending quality time with her son.

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