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How to Prepare for Medical School Secondaries

Secondaries are coming up fast! Processed AMCAS applications will be sent to medical schools starting June 30th, which means secondary applications will be rolling in as early as July. You can look through the AAMC Pre-Med calendar for a full list of important dates.

With most students applying to 20 or more med schools, it is important that you stay on top of the secondary application process. The art of writing med school secondaries takes time, but it should be your goal to complete and return each application within 2 weeks of receiving it. With such a short, recommended time frame, and with so many applications to complete, preparing ahead of time is extremely important. We have broken secondary prep down into 4 key steps for you: 1) Prioritizing your school list, 2) Getting organized, 3) Outlining your essays early, and 4) Doing school research.

1. Prioritize Your School List

When 20 secondaries come flying your way all in the same week, you need to make sure your priorities are set. Schools evaluate your secondary applications, in part, by how soon they receive them back after sending them out. A quicker turnaround is an indication of your interest in your school. That being said, you never want to compromise quality for quickness.

As you prioritize which schools you will address first, think through two key factors: 1) Your top-choice schools and 2) Your top-choice safety schools. You never want to neglect your “safety” schools in this process. At least 1-2 of them should get some preference when you’re preparing for your secondaries. The medical school admissions process is highly competitive, sometimes to the point where no school is a true safety. By all means, work extremely hard on your dream school’s secondary, but take a hard look at your medical school list, and make sure you’re giving yourself the best shot possible.

2. Get Organized

This is probably the most important step to take between turning in your AMCAS and waiting for secondaries. Get yourself organized. I always think spreadsheets are the best for big tasks like this one. Make a list of all of the schools you applied to, take down the secondary essay questions they ask for, and see if there are trends across schools.

Create a folder in your email or use googledocs to keep everything in one spot. Use your calendar to set reminders for when you’re shooting to turn in a specific secondary. Remember: completing them within two weeks is the goal.

3. Start Writing Now

There are a few general types of questions that you will see again and again across different schools. It’s good to start writing frameworks for the most common ones rather than starting from scratch. For example, many different schools ask a medical school “Diversity Essay”, which is essentially, “How are you different from other applicants, and how does that difference impact your ability to contribute in medical school and beyond?”

Other common questions are: Expand on your most meaningful experience; What sort of medicine do you hope to practice; Who is the most influential person in your life; Why this particular medical school?

4. Do Your School Research

The most common secondary essay is probably the “Why School X?” question. And if it doesn’t show up in your secondaries, it will definitely be asked during interviews. Making sure you understand the differences between schools is key. For example, Johns Hopkins is known for its focus on research and medical innovation, which you can clearly grasp just by reading the school’s admissions page. Not mentioning this in your secondary would be a missed opportunity. Similarly, if you’re applying to Texas schools and are interested in something like Alzheimer’s research, knowing that UT Southwestern houses the best research center in Texas is important. Do your school-specific research, and make notes of the differences between schools.

As you prepare for secondary applications, stay organized, be proactive, and make sure to keep an eye on the calendar!

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