Writing Quality Secondary Essays

Updated: Nov 29, 2019

The final pre-interview test


Secondary applications are a final test before schools send you an interview. Ideally, medical schools want to send out as few acceptances as needed to fill their class. If admissions teams aren’t thoroughly convinced of your attachment to their school, they have no reason to offer one of their coveted spots to you. Usually, the secondary essay is where you convince the medical school of your desire to attend their school specifically. Include logical and plausible reasons for why you’d attend that school above all others.


Other common prompts include space to write about how you demonstrate certain qualities. Don’t repeat information from your personal statement. A different story from the same overall experience is usually fine as long as the lessons learned and details are clearly distinct from your personal statement. Not every school will ask you to write an essay.


Here are a couple of ideas to get started writing a convincing and distinct essay to prove your interest in a school

  1. Start by really understanding the unique aspects of this school by looking through their website

  2. Check to see if your undergraduate school has a list of alumni that now attend a medical school. Consider reaching out to them and asking some questions. Ask them what sets their school apart and what they emphasize most.

  3. It can be a good idea to talk about the school’s location. If you have family (or other) ties in the area, this can be a strong argument for your interest in that particular school. 

  4. Avoid generic phrases. There are hundreds of other applicants attempting to do the same thing you are. Do a little bit of extra work to really make your essay convincing.

  5. For your top choice medical schools, consider getting your essays reviewed by friends, family, and your school’s writing/English lab. Typos, bad grammar, and other errors will reflect poorly.

  6. As a side note, I noticed at least two grammar or typing errors in one of my secondary essays to a relatively competitive school and I was still interviewed and accepted. Avoid them but don’t go crazy if you submit an essay and you notice a small error after the fact.

Before you start writing the rest of your secondary essays, consider starting a small idea board. Write down key qualities that you possess. Consider typing out 3-5 “glory stories” from your past experiences. These will be events that can be adapted to show various personal qualities and might relate to multiple lessons learned. Use these as your skeleton for future essays and you won’t have to start from scratch every time.


For example: I helped the Carter family plant potatoes on their land. They needed a way to sustain their family while the parents looked for work. I helped them connect with people to find jobs. I learned hard work, service, compassion for families with financial hardship, etc.


This fictional story can be adapted to demonstrate various qualities and serve as a highlight of an interesting secondary essay. As always, show, don’t tell. Tell a specific story without outright bragging. This will make your essay more engaging, sincere, personal, unique, and convincing.


Can I submit the same essay to multiple schools?


While there are some secondary essay prompts that are very similar, you will greatly benefit from editing each essay to fit the school to which you are applying. Using similar ideas while ensuring that you fully and coherently answer each prompt will save you time and maximize your previous work.


Timing


Timing is critical to all parts of your application. The sooner you submit your secondary, the sooner the school sees your interest and can begin the process of review for interview invitations. Try to submit your applications within 2 weeks of receiving them, at the latest. Some schools provide a timing suggestion. For your favorite schools, submit a polished secondary application as soon as you can while ensuring you’ve demonstrated your best work.


The Fee


Many people claim that secondary application fees are a way for medical schools to make a profit. It takes many resources to review applications, host interviewees, and create second look day events. They are not making money off of these application fees. It may be a taxing expense for some applicants but ideally, you’ll only have to do it once. For some students whose families make below the AAMC margins for “Fee Assistance,” you can receive a set amount of secondary application fee waivers. Not all schools participate, but most do. If your family makes less than 300% of the national poverty level for your family size, then you’ll be eligible for some primary and secondary application fee waivers!


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