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Optional Questions on Medical School Secondaries

Do I have to answer optional secondary questions

We all know that secondary applications to medical school can be painful. They are chalk full of difficult questions, often which seem very hard to write in a way that differentiates you from the next applicant. There are certainly a lot of questions in regards to diversity, why you want to choose a school and perhaps your background, but there are also optional questions that come up all the time. A common question we get is “do I have to answer these optional questions on secondary applications?”

The short answer: maybe.

Sorry, we know that is not very helpful, so let’s delve a little further.

Many medical school secondary applications have open ended or vague questions such as: “Is there anything else you want to add that the admissions committee would find useful?” In order to appropriately answer this question, we recommend you think of a few things.

First, how long is the rest of the secondary? If it is a very long secondary and you already have answered 5 or 6 other questions to the best of your ability and you really have no more information to include, you do not have to. These open ended essays are great if you need to give more information, however if you feel you’ve exhausted it elsewhere, don’t just write fluff.

Let’s say though that the secondary was not very long, or that you did not get a chance to address something important in your application. In that case, by all means give the school additional info! Here are some categories to consider:

  • Academics: if you performed poorly in a few classes, or had a major dip in your grades, this is the time to explain it
  • MCAT: took the MCAT 5 times? Had a fire alarm go off in the middle of one of the tests? Here is a chance to do some explaining
  • Gaps: were you absent from school for an extended period of time for some reason? Was a family member sick? Were you sick? Did you have to take off to care for someone? This is a relevant place to put this kind of additional information!
  • Suspensions: if you have any red flags on your application such as suspensions, you really should utilize this additional space to explain them and convince the admissions committee that you are a changed person
  • Future Plans: if you are planning to take a gap year and do something great, or planning to go abroad for a while to do volunteer work, this is the place you should tell medical schools about those plans that did not make it onto your AMCAS/AACOMAS/TMDSAS primary application!
  • Connection to a School: if you have a particular connection to a school and you have not addressed it elsewhere in your secondary, this could be a good place to include that kind of relevant information.

So in summary, for the optional secondary question, take it in context with the remainder of the application. If you haven’t addressed one of the big ticket items above, you should utilize the optional secondary essay question to do so!