In secondary (or “supplemental”) applications, each medical school poses several prompts, tailored to provide specific information for that school. These prompts will be different for each medical school, although similarities do exist from one school to another; certain themes are repeated (i.e., how you might add to the diversity of a school, what challenges you have overcome, etc.).
Of these prompts one or more may be listed as optional. While some “optional” questions discourage applicants from responding unless they truly have new information to add to the application, most others are not optional. If you fail to answer an optional question it may appear that you’re not making enough of an effort to advance your case with that particular medical school or that you’re not fully interested in that school, which is not the impression you want to leave with a medical school. It’s in an applicant’s best interest to think about the prompt given, then write an essay to fill that “optional” space.
What should you write for the optional essay? Your response will depend on what’s been asked previously on that school’s secondary and the prompt for the optional essay. If no question has been asked about why you’re interested in that particular school, the optional essay is an opportunity to help the school understand why you’re interested. If “Why X school?” has already been asked, look at the entirety of that school’s secondary and figure out what other information you could add that would help the school understand you more comprehensively (and obviously also consider what has already been covered in your primary application). You may want to write about unique aspects of your background that would add to the medical school community (having lived in several foreign countries or overcome significant hardships or obstacles, for example). Remember that secondary applications represent an opportunity for you to help the admissions committee get to know you more comprehensively. Don’t leave any space unused.
Unfortunately, there is not a “one-size-fits-all” response since it depends entirely on what questions have already been asked on a particular secondary. Put it all in context, then decide what to address in that optional space, and do your part to help the medical school get to know you just a little bit better.
–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting