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Secondary Applications for Medical School

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Secondary Applications for Medical School

Secondary supplemental applications play a vital role in medical school application process. The best way to tackle this additional component is to fully understand what is being asked and how to properly answer the common essay topics that are asked within the supplemental application. This post will provide you with an overview of secondary applications along with multiple essay prompt examples you may encounter during the application cycle.

What is a medical school secondary application?


When students apply to medical school, they submit a primary application which includes a personal statement, grades, activities, leadership, and MCAT scores. Upon receiving this primary application, medical schools will follow up with an invite to complete a secondary supplemental application. This supplemental application is school-specific and delivered to an applicant via an email – the same email you used in the AMCAS or AACOMAS applications. In some emails, the schools will send you directions to gain access to a portal. In the portal, you will find supplemental requirements asking for more information such as additional essays, paperwork (such as residential ID), background checks, access to other required exam scores, and other tasks.

Please note: Some medical schools may not have a secondary application/component, so do not always expect one.

What is the purpose or goal of the secondary application?

It’s essentially a way for schools to learn MORE about you through their specific questions either about your experiences, abilities, or your interest in their school. It is an INTEGRAL part of your application since it serves as another opportunity to showcase yourself and your personality beyond the primary application and statistics.

Do all schools automatically send you a secondary application?

No, some schools will screen applicants before sending a secondary application, whereas others send every applicant a secondary one. Please beware that there may be schools not present on here that apply to what is being said:

Schools that Automatically SendSchools that Screen First
AlbanyEastern Virginia
SUNY UpstateUC Riverside
Penn StateUC Davis
U MinnesotaU Washington
SUNY DownstateU Kentucky
HowardWestern Virginia U
LoyolaUC Irvine
StanfordUC Riverside
Michigan State 
Weil Cornell 
U Arizona 

NOTE: Do not try to pick schools depending on whether they require a seconding or screen first vs. automatically sending. You should try your best to pick schools based on your interests and focus on their mission, vision, organization, and opportunities.

Secondary Applications

It includes Structural, Language, and content editing for 5 Schools.

How time-consuming or intensive can secondary applications be?

Some secondary applications can be very intense with lots to do, whereas others can be simpler and less time-consuming. This depends on the length of these applications, where some may have a small number of additional questions like 1-3 while others have more such as eight essay prompts with about 300 word limit for each. Thus, it is important to plan accordingly on how much time you should dedicate to each school’s secondary and to stay organized without missing or forgetting to submit information.
It is also important to pay attention to the word limits they give you, so you do not spend extra time writing more than you can submit since they can be strict about these limits. (I mean, imagine how many applications they go through, and would they want to read more than they have to? Doubtful.)

Do secondary applications have a deadline?


It varies for each school but usually within a few weeks of receiving the secondary. An ideal golden rule is to submit within two weeks of receiving the application. But always remember to check what the actual requirement is! The earlier you submit, the better you will be because now your application is complete and open for review by the school. Additionally, most schools accept students on a rolling basis.

What is the average cost to submit a secondary?

There is usually a fee that needs to be paid upon completion and submission of each secondary. The price ranges from $30-250 (with the average being about $75 per school). However, it is possible to get fee assistance from AAMC if you qualify. Be sure to check, because you can save a lot of money! Please note that a few schools may request you to pay the fee before even getting the secondary application.

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What are some common secondary essay prompts?

Why our medical school?

Good Example Response:

 Growing up in Alabama has connected me with the culture and people in the Southeast United States. Living here my whole life has strengthened my ties to the region and its various opportunities. My college career has been focused on understanding the medically underserved from volunteering over 200 hours at Birmingham Central Hospital, witnessing healthcare in South Sudan, especially in the circumstance that led to my grandmother’s death, and my medical mission trip abroad to the Dominican Republic. Though my experiences have been international, empathy and benevolence are prevalent emotions that push physicians to help the medically underserved, which can be witnessed even in the localities of AL. These incidents caused me to reflect upon the underserved in this world and take a step to help those in need by volunteering at food banks and homeless shelters. All these experiences in which I volunteered, shadowed, and learned have allowed me to reflect on what kind of doctor I want to be in the future, and I believe that (insert medical school)’s mission statement and goals will help fulfill my future endeavors of serving the medically underserved in my home state. (This example ties the student’s experiences and home state affiliation with the medical school’s mission – to help rural/underserved and ideally be an in-state student. Pay attention to a school’s mission statement and do your best to relate some answers to them)

Weaker Example:

I would like to attend a medical school in either an underserved or rural environment. If I were to become a physician, I would most like to practice medicine in these regions due to a general lack of available doctors and medical attention. I am particularly interested in Southern states due to my background and personal comfort with the region’s society and culture. The program at (mention medical school) satisfies this requirement of mine and will make me a happy student if I get accepted to attend. (This response is vague all around. You can specifically mention your direct ties to the state in which the program is located and/or the medical school itself. Always give anecdotes and specific details instead of blanket generalizations. There are many medical schools in the Southern United States, as opposed to only a few in a particular state and even fewer in a specific city/town. The more granular you can get, the better your connection will be with the intended reader/interviewer.

  • Why are you interested in pursuing medical school specifically (as opposed to other health fields like nursing, PA, PT, etc.)?
  • Good ExampleResponse: Originally, I had never entertained the thought of being a doctor. I was an engineer at heart, so I figured I would become an engineer. I came to Virginia Tech with that mindset, not medicine. I just did not believe that it was the right path for me, but I knew I wanted to be involved in the sciences, so I chose to do BME. I naively believed that I could make a quick and lasting impact in the world through my engineering degree. I became involved with the Engineers Without Borders chapter here at Virginia Tech. I quickly became a project lead for the South Africa program and had the opportunity to travel twice to the community for whom we are building a solar-powered water distribution system. I witnessed my impact upon the community and how grateful they were for our support. My mere presence made a lasting impact. It was also in South Africa when I visited my first orphanage. Most of the children had a cleft lip or, in the case of one young girl, a dietary restriction, but those medical issues were enough for prospective parents to turn away from them. This experience highlighted the importunate of personal connections, and my shadowing and volunteering opportunities have solidified that notion. Currently, I am in an engineering position, and I see what I lack. Each day is unfulfilling as I am unable to form a bond with those who I help. This proves that medicine is my calling.
  • What motivated you to become a physician?

  • Please select the experience that has been the most meaningful in influencing your desire to pursue a career in medicine

  • Good Example Response: Volunteering at Northside Hospital’s Cancer Resource Center greatly moved me to pursue a medical career. I worked with prostate cancer patients and helped them secure resources offered by the hospital. My most memorable experience was with my first patient, a young man clearly unwilling to discuss personal matters with a volunteer. I told him I was there to help, and he gradually opened up to me. After we discussed upcoming movies, he told me he desperately needed help. Once I signed him up for a support group and financial aid, he thanked me and relaxed. This experience was extremely meaningful because it was the first time I had strongly connected with a patient. I had actually helped him, and this sense of gratification made me feel truly passionate about joining the medical community. Because of this experience, I learned to actively listen to patients and understand their problems beyond their medical issues. I hope to use this knowledge and empathy to effectively treat patients and further enrich the efforts of a medical unit moving forward.

    • Describe a challenging situation you have overcome.
    • How can you add to the diversity of our program? What have you learned from your experiences?
    • Address any weaknesses and how you overcame them.
    • If you have any academic inconsistencies you would like to address, please do so here (MCAT, grades, etc.).
    • Good Example Response: The transition from a high school to a college curriculum was challenging. In my experience, high school classes relied on memorization skills, while my college curriculum required memorization and a more comprehensive understanding of application within these subjects. I was also struggling with time management as I was working two jobs while taking challenging classes. Unfortunately, I did not learn my lesson until the end of my sophomore year. Despite spending endless hours on classes and extracurricular activities, I saw my grades plummet because I had not been focusing my limited time on truly understanding the material. To succeed, I turned from the easier route, cleared up my schedule, and dedicated my time towards comprehensively learning the problems before me. The changes did not happen overnight, but I believe I turned my life around. I have made great strides in terms of academic achievement, and I am confident that through this experience, I understand what is necessary to succeed in medical school.
    • Weaker Example Response: I scored very poorly in my earlier undergrad classes because they were different than what I anticipated. It took me a long time to adjust but eventually, I was able to bring my grades up. Hopefully, I will not repeat these mistakes in medical school and will put my best put forward.(This response leaves loopholes in your character and is not detailed enough to be worth mentioning at this level. Try to be specific about the setbacks, how you resolved any weakness, and anyway you can reassure they will not hinder your performance moving forward. You use “hopefully” as if you can
      • not control and prevent the mistake again)
    • Address other things you would like to talk about that are not available in the rest of your application
      • Good way to add updates since secondaries can be submitted weeks to months after submitting your primary AMCAS application
    • If you have already graduated, what have you done since undergrad?
    • If you have previously applied to our medical school, what is new to your application?
    • Describe a significant leadership position you had and what you learned from it or what it meant to you.
    • Describe how the COVID-19 pandemic may have interrupted activities on your application and what you learned from it.
    • Where do you see yourself in 5 years after graduating from medical school?
    • What is your greatest non-academic achievement?
    • Tell me about yourself (sometimes asks for an interesting fact that someone would be surprised to know).
    • What characteristics do you think are important for a physician to have? Pick one and give an example of a time you embodied it.
    • What will be your support system in medical school?
    • Where do you see yourself most likely practicing medicine?
    • What do you believe is a physician’s role in the community?
    • ** There will sometimes be questions specific to those doing a dual degree such as MD/PhD or MD/MPH etc.
    • Please describe your interest in public health and how you wish to combine it with your career in medicine.
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What else can be found on the secondary application besides essay prompts?


Some in-state schools will ask you to upload proof of in-state residence. This could be an ID, background check, or medical documentation. It may just be some paperwork that needs signing that is specific to the school prior to a potential interview invite.

What are schools looking for in the responses to the additional essay prompts found in the secondary application?


They want to know you are mission compliant and a good fit for their program. Check the website and try to incorporate the school’s mission without going overboar

How can I manage the plethora of secondary applications that I will be receiving?


Do your best to stay organized. One thing you can do is make an Excel sheet with the following information:

  • list of school names

  • when you received their secondary

  • when is the due date (if they gave you one)

  • what other requirements they ask for

    • CASPer
    • Snapshot
    • Duet
    • AAMC Preview
    • Residential ID

  • when you have completed/submitted everything

 You can proactively find previous year essay topics on forums like Student Doctor Network (SDN). Usually, they are the same from year to year with possibly slight changes so that you can plan accordingly through this. If the exact questions are different, your prepared answers may be useful to answer these other questions or even help answer questions from other schools since themes and ideas are generally repeated among secondaries.

What are the “do’s” of writing a secondary?

  • Do make each essay specific to the question/prompt being asked
  • Do have others proofread your essays just like your personal statement
    • Make sure there are no errors
  • Do use a spreadsheet to organize which essays and other details for the application that goes along with each school
  • Do take breaks to give yourself the best creative juices to answer the secondary essays

What are the “don’ts” of writing a secondary?

  • Don’t cut and paste parts of other essays without making sure your essay is sensible once finished
  • Don’t simply repeat information from your primary application or other secondary essay prompts
  • Don’t go off-topic from the prompt – directly address the question being asked
  • Don’t take too long to complete and thus end up submit late
  • Don’t sacrifice quality for speed (ex: answering 3-5 prompts a day in higher quality is better than 15-20 poorly written ones that do not offer value to you as an applicant).

Written By: Varun Yarabarla

Varun graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology with a Bachelor’s in Biomedical Engineering and is currently a 4th-year medical student at PCOM and will be applying for an Anesthesiology Residency this upcoming ERAS cycle. He has helped numerous pre-medical students and medical students with writing their personal statements, improving their interviewing skills, and providing many tips about the application process.

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