By: Alessandra Santiago

Let’s talk secondaries. If you’ve followed the Ready, Set, Apply series until this point, you’ll be aware that the primary application opens on May 4, 2020 and you can submit your primary application as early as May 28, 2020

After you have submitted the primary application, it typically takes 4-6 weeks for AMCAS to review and verify the information you have submitted to the medical schools to which you have applied. Once the verification process is complete, the secondaries will start rolling in as early as the end of June

Most schools for which you have passed their minimum acceptable GPA and MCAT scores will send you essays to complete. You may receive all of your secondaries at once, or they may trickle in. These essays are reviewed on a rolling basis once you submit them, so be sure to complete them in a timely manner. 

Side note: as soon as you receive your secondary essays, you may want to gently nudge any letter writers who have not completed your letters at this point.

The purpose of a secondary essay is for medical schools to receive supplementary information about you as an applicant in order to assess your fit for their school. There can be quite a bit of work involved with secondaries and the cost can be high ($85-125 per submission), so these essays can be viewed as a means to gauge your interest in that particular school. If you complete the secondary and submit it as quickly as possible, you appear as a more interested candidate than an applicant who takes a month to respond.

The advised turn around time when responding to a secondary is two weeks. After you have received the secondary request, the clock begins, and it is to your best interest to establish an essay writing strategy to answer the most important secondaries you receive first. For instance, a student who applies to 30 schools might receive 30 secondary essays! This can lead to a staggering number of essays to complete in a very short turn-around.

So, think now about how you will choose to approach this. Do you have a list of a few top schools that you will commit to writing full-fledged, well-composed essays? Or, do you not have a preference, and will you try to duplicate effort as much as possible to maximize your chances on getting in anywhere? Sometimes, it comes down to choosing between time and effort vs. quality: spending a lot of time on two or three secondaries at the expense of your other secondaries can hurt the likelihood of getting into the other schools you do not prioritize.

That said, you can take advantage of the fact that some secondaries utilize similar prompts. You can check out a database of secondary essay prompts to see what types of questions are typically used. Be advised: each of these questions might be asked in a different context depending on the school from which you receive the secondary request, and you may have different character counts for the same prompt from different schools.

Some examples of common secondary essays are as follows:

Your secondaries are a chance for you to tie into other themes and/or activities you’ve mentioned elsewhere in your application. Try to add to what you have already written about, but take care not to repeat information. The secondaries provide glimpses into your character and background that an admissions panel may not have seen from your personal statement and activities sections, so do your best to write concisely and sincerely.

Assignment #14: As you write your primary application materials, keep the drafts you write for secondary prompts! Think about your strategy for tackling the secondaries. Review the database for common secondary prompts. Start brainstorming answers to those prompts.

Check back in two weeks for our next article, where we will cover when to consider re-applying if you haven’t heard back from any med schools.

If you want to learn more about navigating the Pre-Med journey, check out our Getting Into Med School: Tips and Tricks Blog.

We also have some upcoming pre-med Wilderness Medicine courses during Spring Break (just in time for application season!). For West Coast pre-meds, check out our Channel Islands Wilderness First Responder Course!