Applying to Medical School

Three Secondary Essays to Pre-Write

After submitting the primary AMCAS application, every applicant should get a head start on some of the secondary application essays. PDr presents the triad of secondary essays to pre-write for medical school: diversity, adversity, and university.

Medical school applicants everywhere have filled out their classes and grades, completed the final version of their personal statement, and let out that sigh of relief as they clicked the submit button for the primary application. Now Only to realize that now it is time to play the waiting game. The AAMC needs time to process your application, verify your grades, and send it out to your schools. These next couple weeks of waiting could be the most painful weeks yet.

||Read What is a Secondary Application?||

Instead of checking the bright red front on the AMCAS log-in page each day (it’s not going to spontaneously jump a couple weeks, sorry), it’s highly encouraged to get a head start on some of the secondary application essays. As soon as that magical day arrives and you are verified by the AAMC, the secondary applications will inundate your inbox. Within a week, you can easily receive more than 15 schools’ secondary application, each secondary with anywhere from 1-8 of their own essay prompts. It can be overwhelming. Writing some of essays ahead of time will not only reduce the turnaround time on your secondary applications, but will also relieve some anxiety as well. After reading through PDr’s Secondary Database, here are three essay themes that appear most commonly – diversity, adversity, and university.

||Read Should I Prewrite Secondary Applications?||

Diversity – 200-300 words

  • What makes you unique, someone who will add to the Mount Sinai community?” – Mt Sinai
  • Diversity – If you wish, use this space to provide more detail about your selections (racial background, sexual identity, and social background) above and how you would bring diversity to the Northwestern community.” – Northwestern
  • Describe what you bring to the practice of medicine – your values, skills, talents, and life experiences – and how you add to the cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity of the medical profession.” – Western Michigan

It’s a bit ironic that the most universal essay prompt asks applicants to discuss diversity. A quick Ctrl+F of our Secondary Database reveals that the words diverse/diversity is used 39 times in the database. The word “unique” is mentioned 27 times. There’s no denying it, medical schools love to boast about the diversity of their students. Today’s medicine focuses on the patient, and is only effective if the medical team possesses a competent understanding and respect for the diverse patient backgrounds that will walk through their clinic doors. The more diverse a student body, the more enriched the learning environment will be, and the more proficient doctors the students will grow into.

Unfortunately, this secondary theme stumps the most applicants. Take myself as an example: an Asian-American, middle class, heterosexual male born to immigrant parents – not exactly the most diverse medical school applicant. Luckily, diversity isn’t restricted to race, gender, and social circumstance! Another article “Diversity in Secondary Medical Applications” already explores the many different aspects of diversity, so we won’t delve into it further here.

||Read Diversity in Secondary Applications||

Adversity – 200-300 words

  • Tell us about a difficult or challenging situation you have encountered and how you dealt with it. In your response, identify both the coping skills you called upon to resolve the dilemma, and the support person(s) from whom you sought advice.” – Chicago
  • Describe a problem in your life. Include how you dealt with it and how it influenced your growth.” – UCLA
  • Briefly describe a situation where you had to overcome adversity; include lessons learned and how you think it will affect your career as a future physician.” – Johns Hopkins

Another word that is found frequently throughout our secondary database is “challenge” (38 times, to be exact). Indeed, another popular theme that medical schools love to hear about is how their applicants have overcome a challenge, persevered through adversity, struggled with a moral dilemma, etc. However the prompt phrases it, the essay asks for three things:

  • What problem did you face?
  • How did you respond to the problem?
  • What did you learn from it?

And those questions are ordered in in increasing importance. Medical schools are interested in learning about how a specific challenge shaped your character, and how you will integrate this experience into your medical education. Let’s face it: Medical school is hard. It will be one of the toughest endeavors of your life – the stress, the criticism, the failure, it will add up. Medical schools want to know that they are accepting students who have dealt with this type of pressure before, and know how to handle themselves.  Use this secondary to discuss the qualities that will help you persevere throughout your medical education and beyond.

||Read Secondary Application Q&A||

University (aka. Why Our School?) 200-300 words

  • Please explain your reasons for applying to the Perelman School of Medicine and limit your response to 1,000 characters.”
  • Please use this space to write an essay in which you discuss your interest in Yale School of Medicine.”
  • Please explain why you are applying to the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine.”
  • Why have you selected the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine for your medical education? Please be as specific as possible.”

Many applicants, including myself, groan when they come across this essay prompt. If we were to be completely honest with our answers, it’d sound something like “my GPA and MCAT fall into your range of scores and I really want to just get in somewhere”. The best approach to this secondary essay question is to go on the school’s website and read up on their mission statement and their resources. What the school’s brag about online is what they want to be known for. Whatever they’re excited about, they want you to be excited about.

At the same time, really take the time to evaluate what YOU want to get out of a medical school:

  • Are you driven by a thirst for knowledge? Look into the current students’ involvement in research and science
  • Are you passionate about working with underserved populations? Chances are that there are low-income student-run clinics operated by the school.
  • Health policy? Global health? Cancer discoveries?  Innovative biotechnology? All of these and more can be spun into a discourse of why you are the perfect fit for any school.

And the beauty of this essay prompt is that almost every school boasts about the same things. Some people worry that they’ll have to re-write this essay prompt for each school. Quite the contrary! All you have to do is do your investigation online, and find the aspects of each school that fits YOUR vision (and thus your pre-written essay).

||Read Other Common Secondary Prompts||Access PDr’s Secondary Essay Database||

All schools have different word limits on their secondary essays, anywhere from 75 to 500 words, 200 and 300 being the most common number. If you decide to prewrite your secondary essays, keeping them between 250-300 words is probably a good place to start. You can always modify your essay for each school and make it more according to their mission statement. Best of luck to all the Prospective Doctors out there!

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ProspectiveDoctor.

Evan Shih

Evan Shih is a writer for ProspectiveDoctor. He is currently an internal medicine resident at UCLA. He graduated from UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine and also graduated from UCLA undergrad in 2013 with a B.S. in Physiological Science. He hopes his efforts on PDr can provide the guidance and reassurance that readers seek along the medical journey. When he’s not studying, Evan likes to hike, swim, and spend time with his family in Orange County.

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