Six Most Common Medical School Secondary Essays to Pre-Write

So you finally submitted your primary medical school application and let out a giant sigh of relief only to immediately realize you have thirty schools that are about to send you even more essays to write. You may even have earned yourself a writing minor after all of these essays are complete.

The bad news is, you’re going to need to write a lot.  A single-spaced page is about 500 words. Many students apply to around 30 schools.  Assuming each school’s secondary essay is around 500 words, some quick back of the envelope math bring us to around 15 single spaced pages of writing just for secondary essays!  To make matters worse, you’re expected to turn them around quickly (don’t wait more than 2 weeks after receiving them).  

The good news is, while every medical school bills themselves as unique, there are more similarities between two schools than differences.  They are all looking for similar information to identify whether you would be a good fit or a good physician. As a result, all that writing isn’t going to be unique.  You’ll be able to re-use a lot of material from school to school with some tweaking, shuffling, and editing.  When done right, this will save you tons of time without affecting the final product of your essay. Even better news, most medical schools don’t change their prompts much from year to year.  A quick Google Search will show you all of their prompts from the last cycle which you can even use to pre-write your essays as you’re waiting for AMCAS to verify your grades. To help get you started, we’ve created a list of the 6 most common secondary essay prompts along with tips on how to answer them.  While the word count will vary from school to school, it will be a good starting point.

1. WHY OUR MEDICAL SCHOOL SCHOOL?

Medical schools love to feel wanted or special.  They want to know that you’re not just copying and pasting the same prompt from school to school.   As a result, this prompt makes it harder to re-use well.  Be sure not to mention Yale when you’re writing about Georgetown.

However, by starting off your essay with an anecdote from your experiences or past, you’ll be able to have a template that will remain pretty similar. What’s important for this prompt in particular is to do your research beyond just a surface level.  Dive into their website and find out about the school’s values, mission, what extracurricular they offer, what type of patient population they see, where their clinical sites are, and what makes them different than the other medical schools you’ve taken a look at. Use your past experiences to connect to the specifics of the school and why given your experiences, you would be a great fit.  Lastly, don’t be afraid to talk personal!  If you have family in the area or a significant other who has a job nearby, that’s also a great reason to value a particular school. It’s also important for them to know as well: having a strong support system nearby is helpful during tough times in medical school.

2. HOW WILL YOU ADD TO OUR SCHOOL’S DIVERSITY?

A diverse class is very important to medical schools and for good reason: you learn a lot from your classmates.  Traditionally, students immediately think about this in the context of race and culture.  Talking about your cultural competence can be a powerful diversity essay.  Working with people of different backgrounds, values, ages, and sexual orientations is part of a physician’s job, so demonstrating through your experiences that you’ve been able to advocate on behalf of patients or people outside of your normal realm is valuable.

However that’s not the only way to show diversity.  Think outside of the box: are you an engineer? An athlete?  A non-traditional candidate who worked abroad for a while?  Think of what makes you unique and how you can add diversity in that way.  

3. DESCRIBING A SIGNIFICANT CHALLENGE/FAILURE.

The road to becoming a doctor is not easy and is guaranteed to present you with significant challenges and failures along the way. Medical schools want to learn about your resilience, how you cope with stress, and how you handle overcoming challenges. While certain topics shouldn’t be discussed openly like those that raise additional red flags, many topics are fair game.

Common scenarios include ones that involved difficult communication, pushed you to the point of almost quitting, or tested your ethical boundaries. Failures can represent anything from poor communication, an oversight, or an inability to adapt to a situation.  Be honest, describe how you dealt with the situation, and highlight what you learned from it.

4. HOW WILL YOU SPEND YOUR GAP YEAR?

The prompt may be optional for some applicants or very important for other. Schools want to understand what you did with your time off and why you didn’t apply during your junior year of undergrad.  Briefly discussing your gap year plans or what you have been doing is totally fine.  You can of course highlight the valuable insights your experiences have allowed you to gain.

5. DESCRIBE YOUR FUTURE CAREER GOALS.

You are not expected to have a specialty already picked out and 4 papers in the given field.  In fact, that could even sometimes be viewed as a potential negative if you’re not coming in with an open mind.  What you should understand though is what is motivating you to pursue medicine and what you are looking for. Was it working with patients and getting to know them deeply that is what inspired you?  You may require a specialty that has a lot of longitudinal connection and long appointment times.  Was it the variety of medicine?  Being able to teach, conduct research, and see patients all at the same time makes academic medicine very appealing.

The prompt is really just trying to get at where you see yourself going in the future.  Medical schools want leaders in the field, so even if you are not certain about practicing in an academic setting, you should keep the option open. Remember, it’s okay to be uncertain because undoubtedly it’ll change!  

6. IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU WANT US TO KNOW?

The vague nature of this question often gives applicants anxiety. “What else should I tell them?”  The point of this space is to mostly give students a chance to explain any issues from poor grades, withdrawals, or deficiencies.  If you have a major weakness or red flag that hasn’t been addressed sufficiently in the primary application, this is the place to take control of the narrative.  If you don’t have any glaring weaknesses or unconventional issues that you need medical schools to know about, it’s best to leave this section blank.

Remember, secondary essays are very redundant but schools find their own way to throw in a wrinkle or two that will require some editing.  While this won’t cover all variations of these prompts, it is a good starting point for pre-writing your secondary applications.