Medical School Secondary Application: Complete Guide

August 17

Table of Contents

Great news! You just completed your personal statement and the detailed AMCAS work and activities section, so now...

You get to write even MORE essays for nearly all the schools you applied to 🎉 🥳 😐🙄🤬

Talk about overwhelm! So here's what we've done to make secondaries easier for you, than it was for us: 

Remember, we're also a large team of med-students, so we can do what every other company or a one-person med-student can't...

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Which means at least a dozen med-students worked together to create this Complete Med-School Secondaries Guide. 

We also just have an accompanying video, presented by Smrithi, one of your MedLife Mentors who also worked on this article. She's also an M1 and admissions coach!

This video and article is filled with insights that would've made our journey much more easier and more successful. 

Also remember, if you want to work with one of us so we can help you secure your acceptance... 

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Let us know any questions! Let's continue.

What is a Secondary Application for Medical Schools?

Congratulations! Your primary application for medical school was received successfully!

As much as we wish you could relax and give yourself a pat on the back, your medical school secondary applications are currently being processed.

The opportunity to demonstrate why you want to enroll in specific medical programs will be elaborated through your secondary applications.

This is your chance to impress the admissions committee, highlight your unique interests in their program, and emphasize how you will be an asset to the incoming class. 

The secondary application is different from your personal statement essay because secondary essays are more targeted and personalized to fit the school you’re applying to.

To some extent, the secondary application process can be more arduous than finishing your primary application. 

The AAMC will send your application to the applied medical programs on your behalf after your AMCAS application has been submitted, processed, and confirmed. At that point, you will start getting requests from colleges asking you to finish the secondary applications.

Every applicant who submitted a primary application will likely receive a secondary application, regardless of their likelihood of being admitted. 

However, some institutions will examine your GPA and MCAT results to ensure you satisfy their minimal admissions requirements before sending a secondary application.

Colleges frequently reveal the kind of student they seek when asking secondary questions. 

Most schools generally pose their questions to answer the following:

Are you a good fit for us?
Are you really motivated to study here?

Additionally, the most common types of questions that medical schools prompt students to answer are about:

1) Diversity
2) Adversity
3) ‘Why us?

Unlike the AMCAS application, secondary applications are unique to each school and concentrate on their particular values and goals.

How to Prepare for Your Secondary Application to Medical School

Waiting for your secondary application could be nerve-wracking. While you will most likely receive an invitation to submit one, you will not know when it will come. 

Know that this is one of the most time-consuming (and costly) portions of your medical school application next to the admissions interview. Before you start writing your essays, make sure you’re really committed to paying for that secondary essay and completing it.

Secondary essays are critical to your overall application because they play a significant role in whether or not you will receive an interview. Schools are using them to know if you’re fit for their mission and they will ask questions that reflect this.

As long as you answer the prompts to the best of your ability and do some deep reflection on your experiences, writing good secondary essays is achievable.

Pre-Writing Your Secondary Essays

Your intent to apply to a school is instantly communicated to that school by AMCAS. In addition, many medical schools automatically send secondary applications to all candidates. 

While waiting for the application, a good measure is to pre-write at least a 500-word response to the diversity and adversity prompts. Writing 500 words leaves you with enough room to edit according to the school’s actual prompt. 

A good way to organize your essays is by creating three separate Word documents for Diversity, Adversity, and Why Us. Place your pre-written material at the top of the document and the relevant school-specific prompts and answers on subsequent pages. Grouping similar prompts allows you to easily find and reuse related material.

In addition to pre-writing, it can be useful to brainstorm a list of meaningful experiences you’ve had and your takeaways from each. A few well-selected experiences can be worked to fit a variety of different prompts! 

By the way, feel free to check out our comprehensive list of medical schools per state and the secondary essay prompts they might have. 

While pre-writing your med-school secondary essays can save you time, it’s important not to turn in a pre-written general essay as-is and make sure to customize your response to each school’s specific prompt.

A pre-written general essay may seem vague or nonspecific, and you don’t want to give schools the impression that they are not worth your time. However, if you do pre-write the answers to previous years’ secondary essay prompts, be aware that the prompts do occasionally change, and you may end up writing something you won’t use. 

Balancing Pre-Writing with the MCAT

Many students are simultaneously balancing applications with MCAT studies. Others may have pushed their MCAT back and are worried about how it may affect rolling admissions.

One of the most efficient ways to work on your application and be prepared to move forward as soon as your MCAT score is back is to pre-write your secondary essays. 

If you are worried about applying late in the cycle, having the essay prompts ready can help you get “caught up”. Many schools send secondary applications as soon as they receive MCAT scores (some will send before).

Writing the secondary essay can be a break from MCAT studying and help you remember your “why” as you apply to medical school and tackle the MCAT. 

Tips for balancing prewriting with MCAT Prep:

  • Dedicate a set amount of time (30 min.-1 hr.) to secondary writing. Don’t let writing secondary essays take over your day. It’s helpful to schedule out which prompts you’ll answer when to avoid falling behind or forgetting about any.

  • Have a document with common questions and your answer outlines. This allows you to to spend time on the writing and not the brainstorming. You’ll also want to revisit your personal statement to ensure that you come across as authentic and true to yourself, without repeating.

  • Prioritize: if you know a school sends secondaries out before MCAT scores come out, do their secondary essays first. This means that by the time a school receives your MCAT score, they will have already received your secondary prompts and your application will be marked as complete.

Some cautions: 

  • Make sure you aren’t using secondary essays as a justification for not studying or to avoid MCAT prep. Since it is technically for your application it can be easy to feel like you are being productive, but the MCAT should be your #1 priority. 

  • Secondary applications cost money - a lot of money. Just for an idea, they typically cost anywhere between $50-150 per school. Make sure you are actually a good fit for the school, would potentially want to go there even if it’s your only acceptance, and you’re scoring reasonably close to their MCAT requirements or recommendations on practice exams.
  • It’s important to come across as authentic and true to yourself, but make sure that you don’t repeat experiences in the same secondary. Each portion of your application should add to your complexity and multidimensional nature as an applicant. It can be helpful to make a list of all the activities you want to highlight and cross off each activity as you integrate it into your personal statement or essays.

  • When you are writing your secondaries, make sure you are concise and direct. Each word should be impactful, so don’t stretch out sentences or add fillers just to reach the character limit. The admissions committee has to read hundreds or thousands of secondary essays, meaning they appreciate essays that are to the point.

Send Your Secondary Application ONLY When You Are Asked 

You should not send your secondary application until you are formally asked to. However, in an unwise effort to advance their application, some candidates discover links and questions listed on online forums so that they can submit secondary materials early.

Medical colleges disapprove of submitting a secondary application before an invitation because it is poor application etiquette. This is the same as arriving at a party without being asked. You definitely do not want to give off the wrong impression by doing this. 

Keep Up With All of Your Communication, Including Email and Postal Mail

Large batches of emails that medical colleges frequently send to applicants may be seen as spam by email servers' filters.

Although it may seem inconvenient, we advise developing the practice of routinely checking your spam folder while you are applying. You can also favorite or star the contacts of your med schools as a priority so that their emails will not be lost. 

Answer the Essay Prompt 

Secondary essays have statement prompts that you need to answer. Given the limited word count, remember to answer the question directly instead of tiptoeing around it.

You do not want to make the mistake of submitting a poorly answered prompt or an answer that has an agenda of its own. This sends a message to the admissions committee that you may lack comprehension skills and it can make them question your readiness for med school.

Re-read your essays before submission to ensure that they are concise, with each word serving a purpose.

Showing Why You’re The Right Candidate for the Program

As you now know, med-schools require applicants to write secondary essays to know which candidates are a good fit for their mission. Thus, your essay should reflect this.

We suggest doing some research on the school you’re writing the essay for. What are their values? What requirements do they have for applicants? You can find this information on the school’s website by seeing which programs and activities they highlight. For example, a school that prioritizes service may publish articles about their students’ engagement programs with the community.

Fashion your essay around the school’s specific values and mission to show them that you are an ideal applicant. You can include a sentence about possible extracurricular or research activities you would pursue at the school to show them that you already see yourself as a highly involved member of their community.

Remember that the medical school admissions committee wants a candidate who is intelligent, passionate about medicine, service-oriented, a leader, a team player, responsible, involved, and authentic.

Schools don’t want one-dimensional students; they want individuals who will become dynamic and adaptive physicians. When reflecting on your experiences, choose those that highlight as many of these great qualities as possible, and be vivid in your description of your involvement (remember to show, not tell!)

10 Tips for Medical School Secondary Applications

Secondary applications for medical school are meant to give medical schools more details about applicants than what is contained in the primary application. This can include transcripts, reference letters, and personal statements

Medical schools use these extra details to assess applicants further and choose the ones who are the best fit for their program.

Completing secondary applications can be a challenging but crucial stage in the admissions process to medical school. 

Using these suggestions, you can convince medical schools of your strengths and interests to raise your odds of acceptance.

Answer the Question Directly 

Instead of primary applications, secondary applications ask particular questions about your objectives, experiences, and viewpoints on various subjects, such as your choice to attend medical school.

The admissions committee read your secondary essays to see how they add to the information in your main application. 

Your secondary application is another test to see if you can adequately comprehend instructions (this time, specific instructions from the school), and concentrate on responding to the question posed.

Concentrate on New Content

Secondaries are a fantastic opportunity to elaborate on aspects that received less attention in your primary application. But, of course, you have to put in a little work.

You might want to mention some research expertise in your secondary applications if, for instance, your personal statement discusses a primary care experience. 

Examining how research has deepened or broadened your interests would demonstrate that you are a more diverse applicant than your initial application indicated. 

Cite Meaningful Experiences

One experience could help you develop teamwork abilities, allow you to exercise leadership, and better understand how to forge meaningful patient-caregiver relationships. 

Additionally, they teach you to advocate for those who need your care and teach you how to deal with access and resource problems.

By highlighting the elements of your experience that best demonstrate your values, interests, and goals, you can help schools understand how you fit with the medical school's values. 

Even simpler to customize are more all-encompassing inquiries, such as asking about a difficulty you have encountered. You continuously encounter problems, so choosing the approach that will help you express my viewpoint the best is simple.

Be Highly Organized

Create a spreadsheet or document to keep track of all the application links, essay questions, passwords, usernames, due dates, and other details related to supplementary applications. 

You can quickly track all the data required to access your secondary applications in this manner.

You should also have a method in place for monitoring the progress of your secondary applications. You do not want to put in all that effort only to neglect to press the application's "submit" button.

Be Authentic

This is your opportunity to show the admissions committee what sets you apart from other applicants. “Standing out” doesn’t mean being a superstar in every category, but reflecting authentically on the experiences you have had and how they have shaped you.

Since your journey is unique to you, highlighting it in your secondary essahard worky immediately puts you in a position that’s unique to everybody else. Sure, you might mention your determination and your hardwork in trying to get to med-school, but so do a hundred (even thousand) other applicants! 

Customize Your Answers

It is crucial to customize your responses for each institution despite the temptation to copy and paste your answers from one application to the next. 

Demonstrate your research and sincere interest in enrolling in that specific program.

Align and modify your answers depending on the school's mission and values. Remember that each medical school is different.

Recycling Essays

Since you’re going to be writing many essays for the prompts, you might become tempted by the idea of reusing or recycling your essays. This is acceptable as long as you don’t rush through recycling them. You just have to make sure:

  • The essay actually answers the prompt at hand.
  • The essay is geared toward the school you’re sending it to.
  • If you mention a school’s name, check if it’s the school you’re sending it to! 

In order to avoid accidental switch-ups, you might want to mark areas that should be personalized to each school. For example, if you mention that you value research, it’s astute to mention a particular research program that each school has.

If you mark all of these areas in a generalized essay, personalizing the essay to each school becomes much easier. While this will prevent submitting an essay with obvious errors, always make sure to double-check and give each secondary a comprehensive read-through before submission.

It’s also important to note here that many schools will tag questions as optional. If there’s an experience or value that you haven't had the opportunity to communicate with the admissions board, this is your opportunity. If you are considering saving a few experiences for your interview - don’t!

Schools use secondary essays to decide whether or not you receive an interview, so don’t hold anything back. However, if an answer really doesn’t come, don’t force it! It’s better to leave an optional prompt blank than to answer it inappropriately.

Work on Several Applications Simultaneously

Filling out and submitting the secondary application for each school separately is the precise and customary method. This is not the most excellent strategy, in my opinion. While we agree that you should focus on one secondary school at the moment, we do not believe you should submit the application immediately.

While you work on the applications for other institutions, save it and leave it sitting there. 

Please return to the completed secondary and reread/edit it a day or two later. Between finishing an essay and submitting it, you might come up with fresh or improved concepts. Taking a break in between changes also lets you spot mistakes you might not have noticed previously.


Do not allow careless writing errors to jeopardize your chances of getting to medical school. 

Do not substitute a different school name if you recycle answers. This is a common mistake that most students commit. Do not be one of them.

Additionally, be mindful of your grammar and spelling mistakes. If you must hire an editor to proofread your essays, do so.

Submit Promptly

The bulk of medical schools accept students on a rolling basis. Therefore, sending your application as soon as possible would be in your best interest. 

Think about all the other applicants who might be in front of you in the review queue if you file tomorrow rather than today.

Maintain your motivation, take the initiative, and finish those additional applications as quickly as possible without compromising quality.

Common Questions and Prompts on Secondary Applications for Medical Schools 

Every medical school has a specific secondary application that differs from the main application and includes a few focused questions. 

Admissions committees typically look for responses to these themes, though the particular questions and quantity will vary based on the school.

You can find a list of all prompts, by school, on this article:

Secondary Essay Prompts For Medical School Applications

Below are some examples.

  • Why did you decide to apply to our school, and how will we assist you in becoming the doctor you want to be?
  • Our medical school's goal statement is "X." Describe why you would be an excellent addition to our community.
  • Indicate any unique circumstances, noteworthy traits, or other details you believe would be helpful in assessing you. This may include your education, employment, extracurricular activities, or ability to overcome obstacles.
  • Please share a memorable moral or ethical quandary you encountered and the lessons you took away from it.
  • What would you have accomplished in this period if you had taken a break after your undergraduate degree?
  • What do you think were the leading causes for not being accepted if you previously applied to medical school but were not accepted? What have you done since to address these?
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the medical environment. Please describe how, in your opinion, the COVID-19 epidemic has changed the medical setting.
  • Describe briefly how you hope to use your medical training to improve treatment for underserved or marginalized populations.
  • Has anything prevented you from attending graduate, professional, or college-level coursework? If so, could you explain? Also, please clarify if your post-graduate history contains significant gaps in activity or employment.
  • Give us one piece of information about yourself that will assist the admissions committee in deciding whether or not to admit you to our school.
  • Where do you see yourself in the next fifteen to twenty years with your medical career?
  • Tell us anything about yourself you'd like us to know that isn't covered in your AMCAS application or this secondary application.
  • Learning from others is enhanced in educational environments with people from different backgrounds and experiences. Give details about your personal traits or life events that would benefit your classmates' education.
  • Give an example of a patient-healthcare system exchange. A personal experience within the healthcare system, a memorable encounter with a family member or friend within the healthcare system, or a direct patient observation (in person or virtually) during a shadowing experience could all qualify. What did this experience teach you?
  • After finishing your undergraduate studies, do you intend to enroll in medical school right away? If not, kindly describe your pursuits between completing college and submitting your application.
  • Please give a brief (maximum 250 words) account of when you had to change course, work with others, or otherwise advance personally and as a team member to achieve.
  • Leadership, Curiosity, and Commitment are the three pillars of our program. Describe how you have exhibited one or more of these qualities on your journey to becoming a doctor. Which aspects offer the most significant potential for personal development, and why?
  • As you consider a career where you will interact with people who are both similar to you and different from you, provide additional information that expands your self-identity, including gender identification, racial and ethnic self-description, geographic origin, socioeconomic status, academic achievements, and other characteristics that define who you are.
  • Describe a circumstance in which you decided to stand up for someone different from you or a cause or concept that was not the same as yours. Describe what you mean by advocating. What potential dangers might your decision to be an advocate bring?
  • Sometimes it can be demoralizing to fail to achieve an objective or a goal. What lessons have you taken away from your failures and losses, and how has this affected your thinking?
  • What has been your most humiliating experience, and how will that impact how you deal with patients and colleagues?
  • Communication, teamwork, and leadership all function together. As a contributor and a leader, what do you respect most? What qualities do you have as a leader and a team player, and how do you use them daily?
  • Several traits are necessary for critical reasoning. First, research expertise improves one's capacity for critical analysis. Describe when you applied critical thinking to a research project or another circumstance. How will the ability to think critically be helpful in your future career?
  • Race, gender, education, wealth, disability, location, and sexual orientation are all possible causes of health inequities. Our program's collective stance against systematic racism and injustice is Moments to Movement (M2M). The term refers to moving past moments of passive reflection and taking a more proactive role as we work to create long-lasting change for our patients, their families, and each other. Please describe how you view racial disparities in health and healthcare and how they relate to them.
  • What impact has the COVID-19 epidemic had on your decision to attend medical school? Have these circumstances altered your perspective on medicine's place in society?
  • We aim to educate doctors who can relate to various patient populations, even though they may not come from comparable backgrounds. Tell us about a time when you felt more able to comprehend people different from you and what you took away from that experience.
  • Select the experience from your list of "most meaningful experiences" on the AMCAS application that has most influenced your decision to pursue a profession in medicine. Why did that encounter play such a significant role in your choice-making?
  • X School of Medicine aims to help people meet their healthcare needs through education, patient care, research, and community service. The school takes a holistic approach to identifying and selecting a diverse student population. What specific methods do you think could help with this mission?
  • You must be adaptable and dedicated to developing and using essential interactive and learning skills to succeed as a student at X School of Medicine and as a practicing physician. Give examples of your experiences showing how you've contributed to a team, engaged in lifelong learning, taken the initiative to identify and address your learning needs and goals, and experienced the small group tutorial process employed in a problem-based learning environment.
  • Please list any lessons learned, hardships endured, difficulties overcome, or opportunities created due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Describe how these insights have influenced your reasons for attending medical school and your preparation for it in terms of your academic, research, job, volunteer work, and clinical experiences.

Once again, for a full list of all prompts, by school, check out:

Secondary Essay Prompts For Medical School Applications

Additional FAQs – Secondary Application Medical Schools: Complete Guide

Will I Get a Secondary From Every School I Applied To?

Most likely. Before the secondary application step, few schools reject applicants. 

Typically, a secondary is not deemed "complete" until the application has been submitted, so the application will not be reviewed until then.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that some schools review applicants before sending out secondary applications. 

Still, you should anticipate receiving a secondary from most medical schools you apply to.

How Much is Secondary Application to Medical School?

The cost of medical school can be expensive, and additional costs are also associated with applying. 

For secondary applications, many medical colleges charge an additional fee. Most of these fees are around USD 100 per school, but based on the school's reputation, they could cost as much as USD 200.

Secondary application fees are paid directly to the schools instead of primary application fees, which are sent to AMCAS (or AACOMAS or TMDSAS, based on where you apply).

Is There a Deadline When Submitting Secondary Applications?

Most medical schools set their secondary application deadlines in December or January. Still, some will set their limit based on when they receive your secondary application. 

For instance, it might state that you have two weeks to submit the application after receiving it.

Be rigorous with yourself and work hard to complete the secondaries as soon as possible, even if the deadline is not for a while. 

Getting your information in sooner is always preferable to later when applying to medical school, as with all other parts of the process.

Try making a spreadsheet with the essay subjects, the due dates, the relevant websites, and the login details for each site to aid in organization. These parts are straightforward to mix up, mainly if you receive many secondaries at once. The secret is organization.

Closing Remarks

This article provided an overview of the med-school secondary applications, why they’re important, and some strategies for writing your secondary applications such as pre-writing your answers and keeping in mind a few goals for the essay.

The medical school secondary applications should be treated with the same care and attention as your primary applications. These essays show the med-school admissions committee if you share their values and goals as well as all the necessary and unique experiences you’ve been through on your journey. 

You've got this, future doc! 

You're no longer alone on your journey to becoming a physician

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