If you are applying to medical school for the Class of 2024, chances are you have completed your AMCAS Personal Statement, and are in the final stages of perfecting a powerful discussion of why you want to become a physician.

Take a breath… and then begin to prepare for individual medical school’s secondary applications! The purpose of secondary (or supplemental) applications is to further differentiate among candidates, and to determine whether you’d be a good fit for the particular medical school.

Who Receives Secondaries

Most schools, such as Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, Yale School of Medicine and the University of Michigan Medical School, send all of their applicants a secondary. Some schools, such as Harvard Medical School and the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, send all “verified” applicants a secondary, meaning that they wait until AMCAS verifies the student’s transcript.

Others review the primary AMCAS application holistically, and are selective in determining who receives supplemental applications, such as Emory School of Medicine. For example, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine has three independent evaluators review the AMCAS application for academic accomplishment, motivation, personal qualities, leadership skills and educational background, and offers secondaries to only about one-third of its applicants.

A few others have no secondaries, such as University of Rochester.

The Timing of Secondaries

Try to submit your primary AMCAS application as close as possible to the first week in June, which is when the AMCAS application submission typically begins, and certainly by the end of June. The sooner you submit, the sooner your application will be reviewed.

You can expect to receive secondaries from late June through December. You may even receive secondaries before your AMCAS application is verified. If you submit your primary AMCAS application in June, you will likely be completing your secondaries in July and August. Secondary applications are time sensitive, in that the faster you return them to the institution, the more strongly you convey your enthusiasm for that school. A quality secondary application submitted within one to two weeks will increase your likelihood of getting an interview.

Secondary Essay Prompts

Once you submit your primary AMCAS, you can begin preparing for secondaries, which typically include a variety of essays on assigned topics, such as the following:

  • Define a physician.
  • Tell us about your diverse talents, experiences, opinions, and backgrounds. What would you bring to the medical school community?
  • Why do you feel that you are a good fit for our particular medical school?
  • Are you expecting to go on to medical school directly after completing your undergraduate degree? If no, explain.
  • Describe the personal accomplishment that makes you most proud. Why is this important to you?
  • Where do you see your future medical career (academic medicine, research, public health, primary care, business/law, etc.) and why?
  • Please describe a challenge you faced and how you addressed it.
Unusual prompts

While there is great overlap among many of the secondary prompts, some medical schools offer unusual prompts such as those below:

  • What challenges do you expect to arise from living and working in a complex urban environment? How will you meet them?
  • Are there any areas of medicine that are of particular interest to you? If so, please comment.
  • Write a sentence that is not true, then tell us why you wish it were.
  • What is the most fun you’ve had lately?

Secondary Application Tips

Start brainstorming, outlining and drafting the above essays so that you can respond quickly. Here are some tips for writing the most effective secondaries:

  • Provide new information. Remember that the admissions committees have already seen your transcript, primary AMCAS personal statement and activity essays.
  • Show your fit with the program. Make a compelling case for why you are a good fit for each medical school. Research the school’s academic programs and approach to clinical practice. Follow them on social media to learn more. Does the school require research or a thesis? Be specific about the resources at the medical school that you will take advantage of, and the unique strengths you will bring.
  • Answer the prompt. Though it is sometimes effective to recycle other essays (see below), always make sure you’re answering the question fully and directly.
  • Connect your past, present and future. How have your past experiences influenced the person you are today? How do your future goals link with your talents, accomplishments and values?
  • Proofread and edit. Carve out enough time in your schedule to edit several drafts for each essay. It takes time to ensure that your essays are well-written and represent you both strongly and authentically.
  • Stay organized. Create a spreadsheet listing your medical schools, dates that you received and submitted secondaries, secondary essay topics, and dates of interviews.
  • Take advantage of overlaps. Evaluate the various secondary essay prompts of your medical schools to see if there are any commonalities. Adapt essays for additional medical schools, but only if appropriate.

Applying to medical school is a challenging process, and the secondaries are no exception. For more information and guidance, contact Collegiate Gateway – we’re always happy to help.