If you are applying to medical school for the Class of 2027, chances are you are in the final stages of perfecting a powerful account of why you want to become a physician in your AMCAS Personal Statement.

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

Who Receives Secondaries

Most med schools, such as Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and SurgeonsHarvard Medical School, the University of Michigan Medical School, the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, and Yale School of Medicine, send all “verified” applicants a secondary.

Others are selective in determining who receives supplemental applications, and base their screening on a variety of factors important to the institution. For example, Emory School of Medicine sends secondaries to applicants who meet a minimum MCAT score. Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, on the other hand, applies a holistic review; multiple independent evaluators review the AMCAS application for academic accomplishment, motivation, personal qualities, leadership skills and educational background, and the school offers secondaries to only about two-thirds of its applicants. Other med schools, such as Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, do not require that applicants have already submitted an MCAT score in order to receive the secondary.

The Timing of Secondaries

Try to submit your primary AMCAS application as close as possible to the day AMCAS application submission opens. This date is typically late May or early June; this year, it is May 28, 2022. The sooner you submit, the sooner your transcript will be verified, and the sooner you will receive secondaries.

You can expect to receive secondaries from late June through December. 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. Some schools, like UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, require that secondary applications be submitted within two weeks of the invitation to complete them. Other schools have a set deadline; for example, Emory University School of Medicine sets December 1 as the deadline to submit secondaries regardless of the date received. Regardless of official requirements, 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 by pre-drafting responses to common essay questions. Even if your school’s secondary application questions differ slightly from what you’ve prepared, drafting in advance will give you substantive material to work with and shape in a short timeframe. Some common secondary application essay prompts are:

  • What do you consider to be the role of the physician in the community?
  • 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, including:

  • 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 in a timely and high-quality manner. Here are some tips for writing the most effective secondaries, both in terms of your process and content of your essays. Be organized and strategic in your process, and genuine and creative in your content!


  • 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.
  • 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.


  • Provide new information. Remember that the admissions committees have already seen your transcript, primary AMCAS personal statement, and activity essays. While some of the questions ask for information you’ve already covered, try to answer the prompts in a new way that does not repeat information in your primary application.
  • 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 mission statement, academic programs, and approach to clinical experience. 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 adapt other secondary essays you’ve written (see above), always make sure you’re answering the question fully and directly. This doesn’t always necessitate starting from scratch, but can mean tweaking existing essays so that they address this prompt in particular.
  • 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?

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

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