Navigating Medical School Secondaries

3 min read

Congrats! You’ve finally submitted your primary applications to medical schools. But now your inbox is getting flooded with individual secondary essay prompts. For many schools, this just seems like another opportunity to squeeze additional fees from its applicants and help weed out unwilling applicants. Most secondaries cost up to $100 to submit to each school. These fees will rack up, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the total cost of application expenses.

How do we start?

  1. Start your excel file.

Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 10.17.14 PM

This is a snapshot of the headings on my actual excel document. I listed all of the schools I applied to, how much fees cost, when I received the secondary, when I submitted the secondary, when the interview was, and what the essay prompt was. This was helpful because 1) it helped me budget and allocate fees, and 2) keep track of when I should submit each secondary (see below).

2. Manage your due dates.

Because medical schools are interviewing on a rolling basis, it is advantageous for you to submit secondaries AS SOON AS YOU RECEIVE THEM. That way, you can snag early interviews. In a perfect world, we have all of our essays prewritten ahead of time and can submit as soon as they’re released. If you’re like me, that is never the case… so we can try to make things easier for ourselves by staggering our secondary submissions IN THE ORDER they were released. As a rule of thumb, try to give yourself 2-4 weeks turnaround for each secondary. So if one secondary is dragging past the 4 week mark, try to finish that one before moving onto another (probably easier!) one.

3. You can reuse essays.

Realize that all schools want to know two things:

Why do you want to come here?

Why should we take you?

Why should we take you?

This will manifest in different forms such as “how do you contribute to diversity?” “what do you bring to the class?” and “tell us about your extracurriculars.”

You essentially need to explain why you are a unique snowflake, and what you can bring differently to the class. Medical schools want to compose a diverse class; but diversity comes in different forms — upbringing, thought, creed, race, prior professions, experiences, etc. Pick a theme you want to focus on and discuss in interviews, and this will allow you to tweak your essay easily for variations of the same prompt.

Why “X” school?

This requires doing research and figuring out what is so special about the program. The first stop should be the school website. They will advertise their latest achievements, superstar faculty, curriculum, and more. Other really good resources are U.S. News Medical School Compass or MSAR 2017. Each are about $30 for the whole year. They provide a goldmine of material about each medical schools, including statistics and details about each program. I also normally do not recommend Student Doctor Net for any purpose other than to learn about programs. But read these forums at your own risk. It can be helpful to gauge details about new hospital programs, new innovations, renovations, etc. Be wary of overly critical comments and stay away from trolls!

4. Get someone to look over your essays. 

No need to make someone read them all, but maybe have someone read your first “diversity” prompt and “why X school?” prompt, so you know if you are on the right track.

5. Read over your own essays. Printed. 

With so many essays to submit, it is very possible to have glaring typos and spelling errors. Printing them out and giving them a thorough glance-over will prevent embarrassing mistakes. It is actually very common for students to submit secondaries listing the WRONG SCHOOL in their essay.

6. Pat yourself on the back and wait for interviews! Good luck!

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