Application Essentials III: Secondary Applications

December 17, 2012
Alex Macnow

Medical School Secondary ApplicationsYou’ve crafted a masterful personal statement, you’ve chosen your favorite 15 activities*, you’ve meticulously entered every class you’ve ever taken — verbatim**, and you’ve finally hit that blue “submit” button on your AMCAS application.

Everything’s going fantastically since you dominated the MCAT.

But now it’s time to turn your attention to that growing pile of letters:  not acceptances (just yet!), but secondaries.  These school-specific applications feature a host of essays — and they’re the next step on the  path to medical school.  As part of our continuing series on holistic review in admissions, let’s look at a few FAQs about secondaries.

What are secondary applications?

Unlike your AMCAS application, which is identical between all the schools you’re applying to, secondary applications are administered by each school directly.  As such, they are focused towards the interests of that school.  Secondary applications run the gamut in terms of length and involvement:  some are only a handful of yes-or-no questions, while others require up to four full-length essays.  The “average” secondary application (if there really is such a thing) has one to two short essays, and asks for a bit of additional biographical or academic data.

Will I get a secondary application from every school to which I apply?

The short answer is:  probably.  Few schools turn down applicants before the secondary application stage.  For the most part, an application is not really considered “complete” until the secondary has been received, and thus will not be reviewed until that point.  There is anecdotal evidence that some schools do screen before distributing secondaries, but you should expect to receive a secondary from pretty much all of the schools to which you apply.

How much do secondary applications cost?

This also varies school to school, but secondary applications are about $100 on average.  If you have not checked it out yet, make sure to query AAMC’s Fee Assistance Program (FAP).  They can help reduce the cost of applications.

What are common questions on secondary applications?

Again, this is school-specific, but here are some common ones:

  • What are you interested in [our school]?
  • How would you add to the diversity of our school?
  • What is a challenging situation you’ve had to overcome?
  • One is one non-medical activity that has had a significant impact on you?
  • If you took a leave of absence, or have already graduated, what have you done since undergrad?
  • What specialty(ies) do you think you might be interested in?

Do secondary applications have deadlines?

Most school’s deadlines are in December or January; however, some schools will give you a deadline based on when you receive your secondary application (for example, “You have two weeks from when you receive this application to complete it.”).  Even if the deadline is a while off, be strict with yourself to turn secondaries around quickly.  When I was applying, I gave myself 72 hours maximum to turn around a secondary from when I received it.  That might have been a bit stringent, but set yourself a similar goal (perhaps 1 week would be more manageable).  Without a self-imposed deadline, secondaries start to pile up and you get paralyzed with the amount of work that needs to be done.

How do I write so many essays?

It is important to be efficient when writing secondary applications.  Since “Why are you interested in our school” is a common question to almost all secondary applications, choose aspects that matter to you in a medical school in general that can then be tailored to each school.  In other words, you may have a common skeleton for this essay focusing on your interest in research opportunities, free student-run clinics and a devotion to the surrounding community, which can then be filled in with specific details about each school:  “[Your school’s] commitment to research, such as [insert significant research programs that encourage you to apply to that school] piques my interest in your school.”  This adaptability of the essay is critical to being able to turn around those secondaries quickly.  It is no less honest — you should only be choosing characteristics of a school that do indeed make you want to go to that school — and it gives your essays structure!

What are they looking for in the essays?

Even if the essay is not the classic “Why our school?” question, it is critical to link your essays back to the school from which you got the application.  Cite specific examples of programs, projects, or characteristics of a school that make you a fitting candidate.  Other than that, it’s all about honesty.  Just like the personal statement, you want activities and achievements that speak for themselves, rather than pandering to what you think the admissions committee “wants to hear.”

For those of you who have already received secondary applications, what strategies worked for you to help get the job done?  Did you find that it was difficult to stay on top of returning them on time?

*One can list up to 15 activities in the AMCAS application.  Often, between employment, medical- and non-medical activities, awards, publications, etc., students have to narrow down their achievements and “pick their best”.

**When putting your classes and grades into the AMCAS application, everything must appear precisely the same as your transcript.  On my own application, “Analytical Techniques I” had to be changed by AAMC to “Analytcl TechI,” as it was written in my transcript.

This article is Part III in a seven-part series on Holistic Admissions.  For more information, check out:

Alex Macnow

Alex Macnow I graduated from Boston University with a BA in Musicology and am currently a fourth year in medical school at the University of Pennsylvania. I took Kaplan to prep for my MCAT. After such a great experience with my course, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to teach and tutor hundreds of pre-health students for the MCAT, DAT, OAT and PCAT in both our Boston – Haymarket and Philadelphia Kaplan Centers. I am one of the Content Managers for Kaplan's new MCAT 2015 course. When I’m not preparing for residency or teaching MCAT, I enjoy playing classical piano, exploring new cuisines and traveling on road trips.

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