16 Mar 2016

Writing an Engaging Secondary Application Essay for Medical School

You’ve successfully completed the basic application for medical school. Congratulations on making it through this difficult initial process; we know how tough it can be! Now that you’ve finished the first round, however, you need to step up your application process and deal with your second hurdle: the secondary application essays.

The purpose of the secondary application is to demonstrate why you want to be a part of the specific programs to which you applied. The schools have all looked at your grade point average, prerequisite average, extracurricular activities, clubs, and pertinent experiences. Now, your task is to demonstrate to each school that you’re worth the time and effort required to train a doctor.

Listed below are some tips to help you prepare your secondary applications for medical school.

(1) Start Early

It’s wise not to wait until you’re invited for the secondary application portion before beginning to prepare your essays. Some suggest completing the secondary application less than two weeks after receiving the invitation in order to maximize your chances of being accepted. While you generally will not receive all requests for secondary application materials at the same time, you may end up needing to prioritize your responses if they start to become overwhelming.

(2) Prioritize

If you end up with more requests for secondary application essays than you feel you can adequately handle, prioritization will be key. Start by completing the materials for the programs that you are most interested in and make your way down the list from there. If you need to draw some material from one essay to fill in another, then you definitely want the less original text to go to the lower priority school.

(3) Do Your HomeworkSecondary Application For Medical School

You aced your premed classes by doing your homework and studying; now you need to apply the same practice to researching each institution before writing your secondary application essay. Most schools will ask why you want to attend their program or what makes you a good fit. Trust me, the admissions officers don’t want to hear that you’re willing to attend any school that will have you! Demonstrate that you know a thing or two about their program and that you’re worth investing in. Whether it’s a commitment to diversity, giving back to the community, or research into rare diseases, make sure to demonstrate that your values align with theirs.

Here are some aspects to consider when doing your research–many of these details are available on a university’s website:

  • Mission and Vision.

    What does the institution strive to deliver? What services are they associated with? Be able to tie the institution’s mission into your essay to demonstrate that you truly want to be a part of fulfilling that mission. Is the university more research focused? Do they prioritize treating medically underserved communities? Every organization has a set of values that define who they are and what they believe in– make sure that your values are in alignment and demonstrate this fact in your essay.

  • Curriculum and Faculty.

    These aspects will be the primary blueprints of your education, so it would be wise to have a thorough understanding of them. Try to find a connection between some of your strengths or future passions and the curriculum in order to demonstrate your desire to learn what your chosen university has to offer.

  • Check for School-Specific Tips.

    Many universities include webpages that offer school-specific secondary essay tips for how best to demonstrate that you and your future programs are perfect for one another. Check http://blog.accepted.com/resources/school-specific-med-secondary-essay-tips/ for specific tips for some of the most popular medical schools.

(4) Write Amazing Essays

Your essays need to be of the highest quality. That means you should take your time when composing them and make sure that you structure them in both a logical and effective manner to address each of the elements that are essential to a successful paper. While you may use some of the same material in multiple essays, note that each of your secondary essays will be radically different from one another—do not simply find and replace the university name while keeping all other material intact! Application reviewers are well trained to notice when students take this approach and they often weed out such applications immediately.

(5) Tackle the Prompts

Essay prompts vary widely from school to school, often based on universities’ missions and values. While there will be some degree of overlap between each program’s application, do make sure that your essays really take all of the characteristics listed in part 3 into consideration when crafting your essays.

Some common essay prompts include:

  • Autobiographical Sketch.

    This essay asks for your life story and the communities with which you have spent the majority of your time growing up. The purpose of this essay is two-fold—you will want to (1) offer a consistent narrative of how you’ve been interested in medicine since you were a child and how you have nurtured that interest, and (2) demonstrate that you have overcome a disadvantage of some kind along your journey to become a doctor. Show that you know how to overcome adversity. Make sure to tie in how your chosen university connects to your life’s narrative.

  • Overcoming Adversity.

    Medical school is incredibly difficult and there is a high rate of attrition—that’s why your future programs want to see that you are able to hang in there when things get tough. Offer an example of a time when you had to deal with something quite difficult and how your maturity, diligence, hard work, or other fantastic qualities helped pull you through. This is no time to be modest! Take credit for your resilience.

  • Explanation of Any Gaps in Education.

    Did you take a year off between high school and college to travel? Or perhaps you worked for a few years before applying to medical school. Do not think that these aspects will in any way hinder your application. Focus on the benefits of each of these experiences. If you spent time abroad, then you have experience working in diverse cultural settings. If you worked full time or had a family, then you already know how to multitask and manage time effectively. Make sure to look at the positive side of any element that you feel might detract from your application’s effectiveness and be prepared to explain any gaps in education.

  • Reasons for Applying.

    Some schools will actually ask you straightforwardly to explain why you have chosen their institution for your medical training. Use your research (from part 3) to create a list of the various aspects of the school that meld with your educational needs. Then use this list to demonstrate your commitment to these aspects of an education—for example, if you are interested in holistic health, maybe talk about a psychology class you took or your experience with Tai Chi. End by both demonstrating what you offer to your future school’s community and what your practice will be when you become a doctor. What does their program in particular offer that is essential to your future medical practice? What distinguishes their program from those at other schools?

  • Anything Else.

    A lot of programs include a shorter essay asking you to include any additional information that you feel is essential to your application. This section offers an opportunity for you to show connections between your past and your future at their university. Demonstrate that you have consistently worked toward your ultimate goal of becoming a physician with details about the communities you will serve (and how you have served them), your specialty, and/or your research interests.

In general, make anything that might detract from your overall application sound like a blessing or positive trait in disguise. Tailor any experience that might seem to be off-narrative to make it sound as though it actually contributed in some way to your growth as a physician by focusing on the characteristics developed rather than the odd nature of the experience itself. For example, one of the best essays I ever read talked about being unemployed for a year and how this experience made the writer realize the importance of providing healthcare to persons in low-income communities.

For additional tips on school-specific essay prompts, visit http://blog.accepted.com/resources/school-specific-med-secondary-essay-tips/

(6) Make Your Deadlines

Now that you have some guidance for your secondary application, put the pieces together on time to get that coveted interview. Remember to start early, do your research, and edit to perfection.

Your secondary application is one of the most important steps toward reaching your career goal, so take the time to get it right the first time by structuring your essays in a way that is engaging, interesting to read, and relatable. Keep the format as professional as you can, but feel free to incorporate a bit of your personality to lighten the mood for the reader.


Keep Writing,
Katrina Oko-Odoi
Founder & Chief Editor

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