If you’re applying to medical school this cycle and were able to get your primary application in by the end of June, July puts you in the first (of many) waiting game. As you are refreshing the AMCAS page to check the status of your primary application, you can make use of the down time to prepare yourself for secondaries. Depending on how many schools you are applying to, once your application does get verified, your inbox will seemingly immediately explode with secondaries. Many people feel that they have to submit their secondaries right away (more on that next month), but the sheer volume of essays can be overwhelming. Here are some of the essays you can start thinking about during your weeks “off” to help make the secondary submission process easier. On the whole, aim to write these essays in approximately 300 words, and adjust later for specific word limits, schools, and question wording.
1. The Diversity Question
Many schools will ask some semblance of the question “How will you bring diversity to our campus?” Students are often overwhelmed by this, but it’s important to think about all of your experiences when trying to answer. Admissions committees are not only looking for ethnic and socioeconomic diversity, but also diversity in educational, professional, and extracurricular experiences. If you pursued an interesting educational path prior to medical school, consider how that would add to a med school class. If you are hoping to bring a diverse background of extracurricular experience to your medical education and future practice, write about that. Anything that you feel makes you stand out is an acceptable topic.
2. A Personal Challenge
As you likely already have heard, medical school at times can be extremely challenging, and medical schools want to know that you can handle and rebound from personal challenges. The question will usually be pretty straightforward, like “Tell us about a time you overcame a personal challenge,” This essay can be a great opportunity to personalize your application by highlighting an area that is important to you. An important word of advice: don’t turn this essay into a “humble brag.” This can be similar to the ‘what is your biggest weakness?” question you might get during an interview, and you don’t want to be the person who says something like “My biggest challenge was caring too much.” Be honest in picking something that was challenging for you and something that you worked hard to overcome. It can be academic, social, family, or professional, as long as it is a topic that is personally meaningful.
Right up there with the challenging part of medicine is the important element of teamwork that is present in every aspect of the field. This is another thing medical schools like to delve into - your ability to work with a team. Schools may ask about a time when you used teamwork to solve a problem or overcome a challenge (like above). Consider the teams you have worked with in the past, whether a lab group, a extracurricular board, or team at work. Generally, choosing to write about working with a team who you really jived with will lead to a more sincere essay; think about that as you are planning your work.
4. Why Us?
For this essay, DON’T write a generic essay and substitute different school names for every secondary. Not only can this lead to some unfortunate copy-paste errors, but it also does not allow you to personalize your thoughts for each school. Instead, take these few weeks to think about the aspects of medical school that are important to you. Do you really want to work with an underserved patient population? Pursue a specific area of research that you have worked in previously? Start your own service project with institutional support? Identifying these core values will allow you to quickly search for programs that match your values within any specific school, and will greatly expedite the process of writing individual essays.
There is no clear cut rule for preparing for secondary essays, but I remember finding it helpful to have pre-written some of these common topics before I received a rush of applications. Even if you don’t want to sit down and start writing right away, taking some time to brainstorm about these topics will make the secondary process go much more smoothly. Good luck!
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