July is an incredibly busy month in the medical school application process. This is the time when secondary applications are in full swing. Having read thousands of secondary application essays over my career, which has spanned almost 30 years, I have tips for writing the best possible secondary essays:
- Read the prompt carefully. Don’t gloss over the prompt and write a general response. Instead, scrutinize every word and make sure you understand what the school wants to know about you. Some prompts can seem very similar from one school to the next—but there can be subtle differences. Tailor your response accordingly and be sure you have answered the prompt precisely.
- Be direct. In your essays, be as direct as possible. Most prompts are asking for specific pieces of information. Give it to the schools in a clear and concise way. Don’t be vague.
- Don’t mindlessly reuse essays from one school to another. I have often seen applicants try to reuse essays—verbatim—to save time. This rarely works well. While you may be able to use the gist of one essay from one school to another, the prompts are often subtly different—as such, they need to be read very carefully (see #1 above!) and answered with precision.
- Tailor your response to each school. If you do your due diligence, and learn about each school to which you apply, you will be able to create much more effective secondary essays. You’ll be able to show what you know and write more meaningfully about why you wish to attend a particular school or what you would contribute to its environment. If there’s one aspect of the curriculum that particularly appeals to you or a program you would want to participate in, cite this in your response.
- Help the schools get to know you. Secondary essays offer a chance for you to help each school get to know you better. The secondary prompts are thoughtfully created by each school because they want to know key pieces of information about you. As such, secondaries present a golden opportunity to elaborate on challenges you have overcome, particular passions you have, interests you hold dear, or goals for your future.
Applicants rarely anticipate accurately the extensive time and thought it takes to write secondary application essays. This is an extremely important aspect of the medical school application process; secondary applications should be given the time and effort they require to produce stellar and effective essays. If you have questions about secondaries or want help with yours please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting
Originally posted in 2016 and updated in 2017 and 2022