Tag Archives: personal statement

Applying to Med School: The Importance of Secondary Applications

If you are applying to medical school for the Class of 2023, chances are you have completed your AMCAS Personal Statement, and are in the final stages of perfecting a powerful discussion of why you want to become a physician.

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

Who Receives Secondaries

Most schools, such as Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, Yale School of Medicine and the University of Michigan Medical School, send all of their applicants a secondary. Some schools, such as Harvard Medical School and the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, send all “verified” applicants a secondary, meaning that they wait until AMCAS verifies the student’s transcript.

Others review the primary AMCAS application holistically, and are selective in determining who receives supplemental applications, such as Emory School of Medicine. For example, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine has three independent evaluators review the AMCAS application for academic accomplishment, motivation, personal qualities, leadership skills and educational background, and offers secondaries to only about one-third of its applicants.

A few others have no secondaries, such as University of Rochester.

The Timing of Secondaries

Try to submit your primary AMCAS application as close as possible to the first week in June, which is when the AMCAS application submission typically begins, and certainly by the end of June. The sooner you submit, the sooner your application will be reviewed.

You can expect to receive secondaries from late June through December. You may even receive secondaries before your AMCAS application is verified. 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. 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, which typically include a variety of essays on assigned topics, such as the following:

  • Define a physician.
  • 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 such as those below:

  • 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 quickly. Here are some tips for writing the most effective secondaries:

  • Provide new information. Remember that the admissions committees have already seen your transcript, primary AMCAS personal statement and activity essays.
  • 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 academic programs and approach to clinical practice. 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 recycle other essays (see below), always make sure you’re answering the question fully and directly.
  • 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?
  • 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.
  • 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.

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

Applying to Med School: The Importance of Secondary Applications

If you are applying to medical school for the Class of 2020, chances are you have completed your AMCAS Personal Statement, and are in the final stages of perfecting a powerful discussion of why you want to become a physician. Take a breath… and then begin to prepare for individual medical school’s secondary applications! The purpose of secondary, or supplemental, applications is to further differentiate among candidates, and to determine whether you’d be a good fit for the particular medical school.

Who Receives Secondaries

Most schools, such as Harvard Medical School, the Alpert Medical School of Brown University and the University of Michigan Medical School, send all of their applicants a secondary. Others review the primary AMCAS application holistically, and are selective in determining who receives supplemental applications. For example, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine has three independent evaluators review the AMCAS application for academic accomplishment, motivation, personal qualities, leadership skills and educational background, and offers secondaries to only about one-third of its applicants.

The Timing of Secondaries

Try to submit your primary AMCAS application as close as possible to June 2nd, the day that the 2015 AMCAS application submission begins, and certainly by the end of June. The sooner you submit, the sooner your application will be reviewed.

You can expect to receive secondaries from late June through December. You may even receive secondaries before your AMCAS application is verified. 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 stronger your enthusiasm for that school comes across. 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, which typically include a variety of essays on assigned topics, such as the following:

  • Define a physician.
  • 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?
  • If you are not attending college during the upcoming academic year, what are your plans?
  • Describe the personal accomplishment that makes you most proud. Why is this important to you?
  • Please describe a challenge you faced and how you addressed it.
  • Is there any additional information you would like to share?

Start brainstorming, outlining and drafting the above essays so that you can respond quickly. Here are some tips for writing the most effective secondaries:

  • Provide new information. Remember that the admissions committees have already seen your transcript, primary AMCAS personal statement and activity essays.
  • Be specific. Make a compelling case for why you are a good fit for each medical school. Research the school’s academic programs and approach to clinical practice. 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 recycle other essays (see below), always make sure you’re answering the question fully and directly.
  • 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?
  • 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 represent you strongly and authentically, and are well-written.

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

Applying to Med School: Make Your Personal Statement Count

Because medical schools receive thousands of applications from applicants with strong GPAs and MCAT scores, these qualifications are not, on their own, enough to set you apart. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, 10.5 percent of applicants with combined GPAs of 3.8-4.0 and MCAT scores of 36-38, (where 4.0 is the highest possible GPA and 38 represents the 99th percentile), were not accepted to a single medical school. And given that admissions committees are sifting through record-high numbers of applications each cycle, it’s doubly important for applicants to do everything they can to stand out through their personal characteristics.

One of the best ways to set yourself apart is with a well-written and interesting personal essay. This is, of course, easier said than done. Many students, especially premeds, find crafting effective personal statements particularly difficult. Many may lack significant writing experience as a result of science-heavy undergraduate curricula. They may not realize how different medical school personal statements are from college essays.  Or they simply may not be aware of how much reflection and introspection it requires to prepare, edit, and polish a strong personal statement.

To help you out, here are some tips to get started:

Set aside time to reflect. Strong writing requires strong thinking!

Often, the most difficult and time-consuming part of writing an essay (or anything else) has little to do with the actual writing. An effective personal essay is the product of many hours of self-reflection; it takes time and patience to find creative and meaningful themes, before you even craft your first sentence.

Remember, this is your moment to be creative! Think outside the box, review your experiences, consider your motivations and personal qualities. Though you probably won’t end up including all of your related experiences, organizing your thoughts will give you a better picture of your potential essay topics.

Choose interesting, unique themes and supporting experiences.

There are many themes that could make for a successful personal essay – the trick is finding one that will allow you to showcase both your reasons for wanting to pursue medicine, and your appeal as a candidate. As such, choose topics that genuinely reflect and connect your unique personal qualities and accomplishments.

For example, suppose you’ve done clinical research in other countries, studied public health, love foreign language and did a home stay in Spain one summer.  All of these experiences share a global perspective; your essay will be stronger by connecting these activities with a common thread, rather than treating them as separate components.

Tell a story.

As with any personal statement, a great rule of thumb is “show, don’t tell.” The personal essay is a great opportunity to introduce some narrative, or anecdotal content, that brings your experiences, accomplishments and ambitions to life. When you talk about experiences that have motivated and reinforced your desire to practice medicine, use detailed representative stories. Similarly, you might think about the individuals who have shaped your life and influenced your career choice, and tell a story about that person and your relationship to him or her. Doing so is not only more convincing, but more unique – no one else has had exactly the same experiences.

Avoid approaches that are over-used, ineffective or risky.

The cliché. “I want to become a physician because I like science and I want to help people.” “I want to make a difference.” Medical schools assume that you possess the desire to enhance patients’ quality of life.  They are seeking confirmation that you are familiar with what’s necessary to acquire medical education and to serve as a physician.

 The epiphany into medicine. “I knew right then that I was meant to be a doctor.” Choosing a medical career should be the result of many thoughtful, conscious, and reflective decisions, not an instantaneous realization.

 The narrative resume.  Choose several significant and distinguishing experiences to elaborate on; do not rehash all of your activities and achievements. Show another side of you not reflected in transcripts or recommendation letters.

The arrogant or grandiose. Describe your accomplishments with humility.  It’s expected that your greatest contributions to the field of medicine are yet to come.  When setting future goals, it’s good to be ambitious, but temper your dreams with a sense of realism.

Get a second opinion.

Every writer needs an editor. So make sure to get a professor, premed advisor, or other individual whose opinion you trust to read your essay, and give you feedback.

And, of course, don’t hesitate to contact Collegiate Gateway – we’re always happy to help.