Medical School Secondary Applications Tips | MedSchoolCoach

Tips for Medical School Secondary Applications


Posted in: Applying to Medical School

The purpose of medical school secondary applications is to provide medical schools with additional information about applicants beyond what is included in the primary application. This can include personal statements, letters of recommendation, and transcripts.

A Guide to Approaching Medical School Secondary Applications

Medical schools use the additional information on secondary applications to further evaluate applicants and determine which candidates are the best fit for their program.

Completing secondary applications can be a challenging but important step in the medical school admissions process. By following these tips, you can effectively showcase your strengths and interests to medical schools and increase your chances of being accepted.


Here are the major problems people have:

  1.  Way too many of them! Medical schools all of a sudden inundate you with applications all at one time. You are now looking at a stack of 20 applications, each with 1-6 essays on them.
  2. Generic questions like “why do you want to come here?” You will feel like saying, cause it’s a medical school! Why else?! Then you will start writing the responses and inevitably copy information from the school’s website. At this point, you may feel as though everyone is doing the same thing.
  3. Repeat questions like “tell us about your most important activities.” You may think did I not just do that on my AMCAS? Why am I doing that again?!



Now these are just some of the frustrations that will come with writing secondary applications. But take a deep breath and you will get through it. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Read the instructions carefully: It is important to pay attention to the specific requirements for each secondary application. Some schools may have specific prompts for essays, while others may ask for additional information about your experiences or goals. Make sure you understand what is expected of you before you begin.

  2. Start early: Secondary applications can take a significant amount of time to complete, so it is important to start working on them as soon as possible. This will help ensure that you have enough time to thoughtfully complete each application and avoid feeling rushed or stressed.

  3. Tailor your responses: While you may be tempted to copy and paste your responses from one application to the next, it is important to tailor your responses to each school. Show that you have done your research and are genuinely interested in attending that particular program.

  4. Proofread: As with any written communication, it is important to proofread your secondary application for errors. A well-written application can make a strong impression, while a poorly written one can harm your chances of being accepted.


It is generally recommended to complete and submit your medical school secondary applications as soon as possible, as many schools have rolling admissions and may make decisions on a rolling basis. However, it is also important to make sure that you have enough time to carefully complete each application and tailor your responses to each school.

A good rule of thumb is to aim to complete and submit each secondary application within one to two weeks of receiving it. This will allow you enough time to thoroughly review the prompts and requirements, gather any necessary materials, and craft well-written responses.

However, it is important to keep in mind that some schools may have specific deadlines for secondary applications, so be sure to check the requirements for each school to which you have applied. If you need more time to complete a secondary application due to other commitments or unforeseen circumstances, it is generally acceptable to request an extension. However, you should do so as soon as possible and provide a reasonable explanation for your request.

Overall, it is important to prioritize the completion of your secondary applications and to be proactive in managing your time and meeting any deadlines. This will demonstrate your commitment to the medical school admissions process and increase your chances of being accepted.


Another question that comes up all the time is “which ones should I submit first?” It is a relevant question and the answer is really whichever one you can. 

I would tackle those that you think are really easy (i.e. have no essays or maybe just one really short one) and get them out of the way. Then, move onto schools you are targeting. If UCSD is your dream school, make sure you are submitting your application to them as soon as possible. If there is a particular school that has a really hard question, you can come back to it with a “fresher” mind at a later time.

tips for answering common medical school secondary questions 

There are a few questions I see a lot on secondary applications. Knowing what to expect and how to answer them will help the process go faster. 
  • What is your most important relationship? Who is the most influential person in your life?

This question should be relatively easy. You can, of course, choose a parent or relative, but also think outside the box to perhaps a teacher or a professor. The most important part of this, and the key to answering all questions, is not the particular person you choose or even the relationship you have with them, but to keep the reader entertained through the paragraph. If you write “my dad is important to me because he was a doctor and he showed me how to take care of patients,” it will not get you anywhere.

  • Most important activity

These questions are annoying. You just spent your AMCAS writing about your three most important activities and now they are asking you for more. There are a few approaches to take. If one activity really is most important and you wrote about it as one of your three most meaningful ones, you can write about it again. If there is something dominant in your life, write about that (i.e. you are a classical musician on the side). Things I would avoid are shadowing experiences. Really think about how important that shadowing experience was? Did following around a doctor really change your life?

  • Research

A straightforward question that you can talk about your most significant research activities. Make sure to give the reader a framework in the first few sentences – show them what the big picture of your project or lab was. Here is a do and do not:

– DO NOT start a paragraph with: “I studied receptor RLAJKNCH – r897 which showed that there was no uptake in expression when compared to JLKASN – 8343 when exposed to methyl-alpha-dioxide.”
– DO: “The purpose of our research was to understand how toxins affect cells, which in turn could be used to eventually try to come up with novel drugs. In particular, I studied…..”

  • Why do you want to come to school X?

A very popular question and one students often have trouble answering. You should research a school’s website to see what they think they offer, but your SHOULD NOT directly copy from there and say I really love your research pathway and early clinical exposure. If you say just that, your essay will be exactly the same as everyone else’s’.

Instead, relate back to your experiences and how that fits in with a particular school. You could say something along the lines of “as an undergraduate, I was exposed to the world of clinical research through my project on depression. With Columbia’s required research pathway, I hope to continue this or similar projects. The Psychiatry Department at Columbia is known for its prowess in studying hospitalized patients and I know I could contribute to this.” (that is not a great sentence, but the idea is that you want to talk about how YOU fit into a school, not just what the school offers.

When answering the “why this school” question for medical school secondaries, it is important to show that you have done your research and have a genuine interest in the school. Here are a few tips for approaching this question:

    • Highlight specific programs or opportunities at the school that appeal to you: This could be a particular research focus, clinical training opportunities, or student organizations that align with your interests.
    • Explain how the school’s mission and values align with your own: This will show that you have a genuine connection to the school and are a good fit for their community.
    • Mention any connections you have to the school: This could be personal connections, such as having family members who graduated from the school, or professional connections, such as having shadowed a physician affiliated with the school.
    • Discuss any specific goals you have that can be achieved at this school: This could include your desire to work with specific faculty members or to participate in certain research or clinical training programs.
  • Long term goals

You do not have to have chosen a specialty or fellowship and write about it here. Instead, you can say you are leaning towards x and y because you have been exposed to it in the past. Or you know you love working with children, and so you’d love to do pediatrics. Again, think about how your past experiences fit into your future goals. If you have done global health trips, perhaps you want to mention that and say you eventually would love to be doing international work.

MedSchoolCoach - Secondary Application Review

  • Diversity. What do you add to the class?

Remember, diversity comes in many flavors. Skin color is certainly one of them, but there is so much more. Let’s be honest, if you are an Asian, you are not diverse when it comes to applying to medical school. Same thing if you are Caucasian. But how about diversity in your field of study in college? In your interests? In your talents as a musician? Or a computer programmer? If you really cannot think of a single thing that distinguishes you, you may be in the wrong field. There is something interesting about you. Find it.

  • Describe a challenge you have overcome

Lots of students say I’ve never had a challenge. While it may be true you have not grown up homeless, that does not mean there isn’t something out there that has been a hiccup in your life. That said, you should not overplay the time you broke your little toe and couldn’t get to class on time. Examples may include a death in the family, a time when you had to adjust to a new life outside of the home, a time when your brother was going through depression and you had to help him, etc.

The above are simply ideas! The real important points to remember again are:

  1. Keep it interesting. Boring writing gets looked over.
  2. Relate what you are saying back to things you have done or genuinely want to do.
  3. Follow instructions.

Medical School Secondary Essay Examples

Below, we provide 4 separate sample secondary essays for medical school!

Example 1: Experience Focused

As a volunteer at the local hospital, I have had the opportunity to observe and assist healthcare professionals as they care for their patients. This experience has only further cemented my desire to become a physician.

During my time volunteering, I was struck by the compassion and dedication of the doctors and nurses I worked with. Whether it was a small act of kindness, such as holding a patient’s hand while they received treatment, or a more involved task, such as coordinating care between different departments, the healthcare professionals I encountered consistently went above and beyond to ensure that their patients received the best possible care.

In addition to witnessing the compassion of healthcare professionals, I also had the opportunity to see the tangible impact that their work has on the lives of their patients. Whether it was helping to manage a patient’s chronic condition or providing emergency care in a crisis situation, the doctors and nurses I worked with had the ability to make a real difference in the lives of their patients.

This experience has further motivated me to pursue a career in medicine. I am confident that I have the compassion and dedication necessary to be an effective physician, and I am eager to have the opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of others through my work.

Overall, my service work experience has strengthened my desire to become a physician and has given me the motivation and inspiration to pursue this career path. I am confident that, with hard work and dedication, I can make a meaningful contribution to the field of medicine.

Example 2: Diversity Focused (300 words)

As a first-generation immigrant, I have always been aware of the cultural barriers that can prevent individuals from accessing quality healthcare. Growing up, I saw firsthand the difficulties that my parents and other members of my community faced when seeking medical care, and this experience has played a significant role in shaping my desire to become a physician.

I am deeply committed to increasing access to healthcare for underserved communities and to providing culturally competent care to patients from diverse backgrounds. I believe that having a diverse physician workforce is essential to meeting the healthcare needs of our country’s increasingly diverse population.

During my undergraduate studies, I had the opportunity to work with a local organization that provided free healthcare services to underserved communities. This experience further solidified my desire to pursue a career in medicine and inspired me to become an advocate for improving healthcare access for marginalized populations.

I am confident that my cultural background and experiences have prepared me to be a compassionate and culturally sensitive physician. I am excited about the opportunity to attend [Medical School] and to contribute to the school’s efforts to increase diversity in the healthcare workforce. [Medical School] is known for its commitment to diversity and inclusivity, and I believe that this is the perfect place for me to continue my journey towards becoming a physician who is dedicated to improving healthcare access for all.

Example 3: Research Focused (300 words)

As an undergraduate, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to conduct research in the field of [medical field]. This experience has not only taught me valuable scientific skills, but it has also strengthened my desire to pursue a career in medicine.

During my research experience, I had the chance to work with a team of scientists who were dedicated to finding solutions to some of the most pressing health challenges of our time. I was inspired by their passion and dedication, and I came to see research as a powerful tool for improving the lives of patients.

In addition to gaining scientific skills, my research experience also taught me the importance of collaboration and teamwork. I learned how to work effectively with others to achieve a common goal, and I developed strong communication skills that I believe will be essential as a physician.

I am confident that my research experience has prepared me to be a strong and dedicated physician. I am excited about the opportunity to attend [Medical School] and to continue my journey towards a career in medicine. I believe that [Medical School] is the perfect place for me to continue my education and to develop my skills as a researcher and a physician.

Example 4: Health Care Challenges (500 words)

As a future physician, I believe it is important to be aware of the challenges that the healthcare system faces today. There are many complex issues that are facing the healthcare industry, and it will be up to my generation of physicians to help find solutions and improve the system for the benefit of our patients.

One of the biggest challenges in healthcare today is access to care. Despite advances in medicine and technology, many individuals still struggle to access the healthcare they need, especially those in underserved or marginalized communities. This can be due to a variety of factors, including lack of insurance coverage, language barriers, and geographic isolation.

Another major challenge in healthcare is the high cost of care. The United States has one of the most expensive healthcare systems in the world, and many individuals struggle to afford the cost of medical treatment. This can result in individuals delaying or avoiding seeking care, which can lead to more serious health problems down the line.

A third challenge in healthcare is the shortage of healthcare providers, particularly in certain areas of the country. This can result in long wait times for appointments and difficulty accessing care when it is needed.

Finally, healthcare disparities continue to be a significant challenge in the U.S. Many marginalized communities, including racial and ethnic minorities and LGBTQ+ individuals, continue to face barriers to care and often have poorer health outcomes as a result.

As a future physician, I am committed to addressing these challenges and working to improve the healthcare system for the benefit of all patients. I believe that by increasing access to care, reducing the cost of care, addressing provider shortages, and addressing healthcare disparities, we can make meaningful progress in improving the health of our communities.

Reusing Secondary Essays from Prior Applications – Should I Do It?

It is generally not advisable to reuse secondary essays from a previous application for medical school. While some of the information in your previous essays may still be relevant, it is important to tailor your application to the specific school you are applying to. Each medical school has its own mission, values, programs, and opportunities, and it is important to highlight how you align with and will fit into their specific community.

Additionally, it is possible that the school you are applying to this time around may have different essay prompts or may be looking for different information in their secondary essays. It is important to carefully read and follow the prompts provided by each school and to tailor your responses to meet their specific needs and requirements.

Think of this from the perspective of an admissions committee member. If you were rejected a prior year, what have you done to improve your application? Are you a different person, a person who has grown? If so, you obviously want to highlight that! Remember, you weren’t accepted the first year for a reason. It is generally better to take the time to write fresh essays for each school rather than trying to reuse old ones. Sometimes, you may feel your answers are still very relevant, and in that case all good!

Related: How to Choose Where to Apply to Medical School

Frequently Asked Questions about Medical School Secondary Applications

Do all applicants get secondary applications from schools?

Not all applicants will receive secondary applications from medical schools. Medical schools generally have a limited number of spots available and receive a large number of applications, so they often use a selective process to choose which applicants to invite to complete secondary applications.

There are a number of factors that medical schools consider when deciding which applicants to invite to complete secondary applications, including grades, test scores, recommendations, and personal statements. Some schools may also consider additional factors, such as an applicant’s involvement in extracurricular activities, service work, or research experience.

If you are invited to complete a secondary application, it is generally a good sign that the school is interested in your application and is considering you for admission. However, it is important to note that receiving a secondary application does not guarantee admission, and you will still need to demonstrate your fit for the school and your potential as a future physician through your responses to the secondary prompts.

How many prompts does each school have?

The number of essay prompts that each medical school has for secondaries can vary. Some schools may have just one or two prompts, while others may have several. It is important to carefully read and follow the prompts provided by each school and to tailor your responses to meet their specific needs and requirements.

Final Thoughts on Secondaries

The medical school secondary essays are your chance to tell the admissions committee more about you as an individual. These questions vary from prompts that ask you to write about a significant experience, to those that inquire about your motivations for pursuing a career in medicine. No matter what the prompt asks, make sure to take the time to craft thoughtful and engaging responses that give reviewers a window into who you are beyond your test scores and GPA. And once you submit your applications, don’t forget to prepare for your interviews!

Get Secondary Editing Support from MedSchoolCoach

If you need help editing your secondary applications, the Physician Advisors at MedSchoolCoach will help you brainstorm content while our Writing Advisors will help you draft, revise, and edit your essays. They know how significant secondary applications are and as a result, work tirelessly to ensure you get the attention needed to create a masterpiece.

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